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Getting Around

Last Updated: Apr 27, 2012

yellow public bus
 - Costa Rica

Domestic Airlines

There are two regional airlines serving Costa Rica, Nature Air and Sansa. Nature Air is based at the Tobias Bolanos Airport in Pavas, four miles west of San Jose, and about 20 minutes from Alajuela. Sansa flights depart from a terminal adjacent to the Juan Santamaria International Airport. Both airlines offer adventure passes for unlimited numbers of flights to any of their destinations in Costa Rica. Visitors can also charter planes for small groups.

Car Rental

Renting a car in Costa Rica is a great way to explore the country. Travelers can set their own schedules and visit some of the more remote destinations that are often hard to reach by public bus. 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

Public Buses

Costa Rica has one of the best public transportation systems in Latin America, almost exclusively centered around bus travel. Local city buses will take you almost anywhere within city limits, and intercity buses are inexpensive, comfortable, and widely available.

In addition to being a very inexpensive and comfortable way to travel, taking the bus leaves the tricky, potholed driving responsibilities to someone who is much more accustomed to Costa Rica's road conditions. And while the bus driver maneuvers mountain roads and bumper-to-bumper traffic, you can sit back, relax, and enjoy Costa Rica's beautiful scenery.

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.

Shuttle Services

There are several shuttle companies including Interbus and Grayline that offer door-to-door service between most major destinations. The shuttles are air-conditioned, seat 6-14 people and make regular restroom and snack stops. Travelers can reserve tickets in advance online, or call to reserve spots a few days prior to travel. The minibuses will pick you up at most hotels and/or the airport and drop you off at your destination hotel. 

Taxis

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.

Urban Train

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.

Bicycle Touring

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.

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