Whether you're looking to spend your vacation in a hammock on a quiet beach or you want to see all the country's volcanoes, rainforests and beaches in a week, we've got you covered. From puddle jumpers to public buses here's the information you need to know about Costa Rica's most popular ways to travel.read more close
Costa Rica's public bus system is often toted as the best in Central America with routes that encompass the entire country. It's a cheap, effective way to get around within and between destinations and is the best choice for backpackers, couples and small groups travelling on a tight budget.
Most inter-city buses have A/C and some put on movies. You can store your luggage underneath the bus or put it in overhead bins. Make sure you get a ticket for your luggage if you put underneath the bus though, that will help prevent it from getting stolen – an infrequent but possible dilemma.
Every city has at least one central bus station while San Jose has multiple, so make sure to find out which bus station your bus leaves from. Once you're at the station, finding your bus can be challenging. Oftentimes, the signs (which are in Spanish) don't necessarily match the destination of the bus underneath them. However, most employees and drivers are friendly and will help you find the right bus.
Costa Rica's bus system is government-subsidized, so national travel is very inexpensive - expect to pay less than $15 to ride anywhere in the country, even to the Panamanian border. Only certain buses allow for advance ticket purchases or assigned seats. While there is no on-board bathroom, Costa Rican bus drivers often stop for bathroom and food breaks. Some of the local buses do not have bells to signal the driver to stop. Do as the Costa Ricans do: let out a whistle or call out "parada," which means stop.
Abstract : Take the bus if you are traveling on a budget and want to meet locals.
There's a freedom to renting a car unmatched by all the other transportation options and it's worth considering. The country's highways are rife with natural beauty and there's no better way to soak it in than renting a car and cruising with the windows down, stopping to take pictures and settling down at any roadside restaurant you just happen to come across. Car rentals are good for couples and families who want to see a lot of the country and don't mind driving over the occasional pot hole, dealing with aggressive drivers or getting lost on a side road trying to find your hotel.
To rent a vehicle in Costa Rica, you must:
Have a valid license from your home country or an international driver's license
Be 21 or older
Have a major credit card with enough credit to cover the total cost of the rental
Rentals cost between $6 and $200 a day plus mandatory car insurance and gas making them the second most expensive way to travel. Also, rental cars are known to be targeted by thieves so make sure to never leave anything inside the vehicle.
Abstract: Rent a car if you can allocate $200 a day in transportation
Private shuttles provide connections between most major tourist destinations – including to and from the country's airports. The country's main carriers are Greyhound and Interbus. Private shuttles are faster, more convenient and more luxurious than buses but that comes at a cost. Private shuttles cost between $45 and $100 per person with discounts for larger groups.
Families, couples and backpackers will find shuttles helpful for a quick way to get from A to B, ideal for travelling on a tight schedule. Private shuttles have A/C, more leg room than buses do and offer a little more security for your belongings. They are also a good way to meet other travelers headed to the same destination.
Take a shuttle if you want to meet tourist travelers and want a little bit more comfort.
By far the most fun way to travel, adventure connections are tours that take you from one place to another. For example, a common adventure connection involves whitewater rafting down the Pacuare River. The tour will pick you up from your hotel in San Jose, Puerto Viejo or Arenal and can drop you off in a different destination after the tour. Another common adventure connect involves mountain biking around Lake Arenal to a boat that takes you across the lake where a van picks you up and transports you to Monteverde. Other adventure connections involve horseback riding, whitewater rafting, hiking and more.
Adventure connections can actually be an efficient and cost effective way to travel. Why bother taking a bus to a destination when you can have an adventure along the way? These connections often cost as much as a regular tour, around $50 to $100, plus $10 for the connection, making them about as expensive as a shuttle or renting a car, plus it gives you more time to enjoy your vacation.
Take an adventure connection if you are going to do a tour at a specific destination and did not rent a car.
Costa Rica has two domestic airlines, Nature Air and Sansa, offering daily flights to many major tourist destinations. While flying’s the most expensive way to get around Costa Rica, it definitely has its benefits: A seven-hour drive from Arenal to Manuel Antonio is a mere 35-minute flight; A six-hour drive from San Jose to Tamarindo is a 45-minute flight. Round-trip flights cost anywhere from $80 to $200.
Taxis in Costa Rica are an inexpensive and convenient way to travel. You can hail a cab 24 hours a day, and for most trips, a taxi will be quicker than the bus. They may be hired for short trips just a few blocks away or hired for an entire day. Compared to the U.S., taxi fares in Costa Rica are very cheap. Taxi fares begin at 570 CRC (approximately $1.25), going up depending on distance and traffic congestion.
Costa Rica's taxis can be divided into three groups: Cooperativas (semi-independent companies), private taxis, and pirate taxis. We highly recommend taking only official taxis, identified by their red color and yellow triangle on the door, because only these taxis are regulated by law. Official taxis are required to use the meter at all times, which helps assure that you are charged a fair price. If the driver refuses to use the meter, get out and hail another. Pirate taxis, which come in all colors and models, do not have a meter, and will charge you per kilometer.
The newest addition to Costa Rica's public transportation offerings is San Jose̢'s urban train, also known as the commuter rail. The schedule is designed to service commuters, and trains only run Monday through Friday between morning and evening rush hours (5:30 a.m. - 9:00 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.).
The train is comfortable and very efficient, since it travels long routes, eliminating the need to catch two or more buses to navigate the capital’s downtown. There are three basic routes – Heredia-San Pedro (via downtown San Jose), San Pedro-Pavas (Rohrmoser), and San Jose-Belen de Heredia – that run whole or partial trips.
Costa Rica is a challenging, but not impossible, country to tour by bike. Mountain roads, non-existent shoulders and drivers that have little respect for two-wheeled vehicles can make rides a harrowing experience. With some planning and a good map, however, bike touring can be a fabulous way to see the beauty of Costa Rica in a way that no tour van or rental car would allow.
The most important consideration is your bike. There are a handful of shops in the Central Valley that carry quality bicycles, although the selection will pale to that of a shop in North America. Many cyclists bring their own bike that they are comfortable with. Other necessary equipment includes extra tubes and a patch kit, a tire pump, a multi-tool and water bottles or a hydration system.
Before arriving, prepare for your tour by being in the proper shape, practicing riding with a heavy load, and learning some basic repairs. As you plan your trip, look for roads that are not heavily-trafficked routes. This will allow you to enjoy the scenery without worrying so much about the dangers of major highways. Weather in Costa Rica can vary dramatically based on season and altitude, so come with a windbreaker as well as lots of sunscreen and always wear a helmet.