At first, Costa Rica transportation can seem a little confusing. Like traveling in any new country, it can be tricky to figure out the cheapest, easiest, most direct option when you don’t have any experience with the systems. Luckily, there are lots of options for getting around Costa Rica. From buses to shuttles, to small planes, there are tons of different choices so that you can make traveling from place to place seamless and easy. Here is a brief overview of the different options to aid with your planning and help you create a successful journey.
Of course, renting a car is always a good option. Most people tend to not even consider this option because in some places it is expensive, but prices are pretty affordable in Costa Rica. Some of the common companies that are located around the country are Economy, Alamo, or Avis. You can also check out www.carrentals.com for a good overview! A car rental ranges from about $45 to $80 per day depending on the size of the car and the insurance package. This can be a really good option for getting around, especially if you are with a group because you can all share the cost of the car. It also gives you the most freedom. You get to decide what time you want to leave, you can stop anywhere you want along the way for breaks or to do some sightseeing, and you can turn up the jams and make it a fun road trip.
The main roads are all paved and well maintained, but some of the less used roads are not in the best condition, made out of dirt with potholes and bumps. This can make what should be a short drive take a little longer, but overall the roads are getting a lot better. It is also important to remember that if it is the rainy season, some of the smaller roads might have water over them from rivers getting full. If you are in a car, make sure you get out and check it out before crossing or wait for someone else to go first. Another very important thing to know about renting a car is that you always need to have your passport when driving. Sometimes there are road checks or if you are speeding, you might be stopped by the police. That being said, the police are a little bit corrupt in various ways so it is always worth it to try and pay them off rather than getting a ticket. Overall, driving in Costa Rica is fairly safe and although the rules aren’t quite as strict as they are in a place like the United States, in general, they are the same and there are traffic police around to make sure people are staying safe.
For shorter rides, taxis are also a safe and pretty affordable option for getting from place to place. If you have a bunch of bags and surfboards it might be best to get a car of your own, but for shorter day trips taxis are awesome. In most towns, it is pretty easy to find a good taxi. They will have a sign either inside on the dashboard or on the roof. However, in San Jose, sometimes there are taxis who do rip people off so it might be a better bet to just use Uber. So far, San Jose is the only place in Costa Rica with Uber, but it is soon going to be coming to towns like Tamarindo! So keep your eyes out for that as it will be a good option in the future.
There are also a number of shuttle and bus options for getting around Costa Rica. These run between different towns and beaches so that you can get to all of your surf destinations. The benefit of taking a shuttle or a bus is that all you have to do is sit back, relax, and enjoy the views while you are transported to your destination. You don’t need to worry about getting directions or driving – you can just sleep and take in the scenery! All you need to do is check out the routes. The public buses that run daily between towns are super cheap, and you can easily hop on one of those at any normal bus stop if you are not going too far. You could even string together a series of public bus routes in order to get further for really cheap, it would just take a little planning. For a bigger trip, a shuttle is probably the best option. These are larger vans or buses that go between towns at set times. There are many different companies depending on the region of Costa Rica that you are traveling in that have scheduled trips daily to various common destinations. Everything can be booked online super easily! You can usually pick if you would like a private shuttle, which would mean just you and your group, or if it is going to be a big bus or something with more people. Many people fly into San Jose to start their Costa Rica surf trip so there are two main shuttle companies to get to some of the main destinations.
- Alfaro (http://empresaalfaro.com) is one of the main bus companies that can take you from the airport to your surf destination or back to the airport after your trip is over, and the routes are very affordable.
- Interbus (https://www.interbusonline.com) is one of the most common shuttle companies, with most routes leaving from San Jose to go to La Fortuna, Liberia, all of the beaches along the Pacific Coast from Papagayo to Tamarindo, down to Jaco, and also a line all the way to Puerto Viejo.
- Gray Line (https://www.graylinecostarica.com) is another top company and they have routes from San Jose to Manuel Antonio, Guanacaste, Arenal, Monteverde, and Jaco Beach. They also have an unlimited weekly bus pass which allows you to take as many of their shuttles as you want for an entire week which is a super great option!
- For the Guanacaste area, in particular, to get to popular surfing spots like Tamarindo, Nosara, or Santa Teresa, Tropical Tours Shuttles is a great option. (https://tropicaltourshuttles.com).
If you are traveling in a bigger group, it might be worth looking into hiring a private shuttle with your own driver for the time that you are visiting. That way, you can schedule everything exactly how you want it based on where you want to go when, and have a nice private van just for you and your group. This is obviously a bit more expensive than a public shuttle, but it might be worth it depending on where you want to go, the size of your group, and how flexible your timing is.
If your time is short and you would rather get from point A to point B quickly, there are domestic flights around the country. Flying is also a fun way to see some of the scenery from a new perspective – a bird’s eye view. The mountains, rivers, cities, and ocean all look gorgeous from above. Flying is a much more direct way to get around since sometimes the curve of the road and have to make their way around mountains or rivers rather than just going directly to the destination, which can take some extra time. However, there aren’t airports in all places, so it won’t be able to get you everywhere. The good news is, the airports that are around are small and stress-free. The check-in process is very simple – you just need to show your ID and weigh yourself and your bags. And there is hardly ever a line! And if there is, it will only be the other people on your same plane, which is not a very large number anyway.
The main airports to fly in and out of are Juan Santamaria, the main airport in San Jose, and Daniel Oduber Quirós, the airport in Liberia. These are available for international flights. Tobias Bolaños is the secondary airport in San Jose, and then from there the smaller airports such as Punta Islita, Tambor, or Arenal serve as access points to some of the more remote areas in Costa Rica. For most of the smaller airports, the flights leave from San Jose. However, there are some available flights in between them as well. Flights generally range from $40 – $180 each way, depending on the distance and the airline. The planes are small and not as luxurious as big airlines, but they have everything you need and your flights will likely not be longer than about 30 minutes anyway!
- A few of the main airlines to look into are SANSA (https://flysansa.com)
- Aerobell (https://www.aerobell.com)
There is something super exhilarating about flying in a small plane – so even if you don’t want to use that as a means for transport, a little flight is definitely worth checking into while you are in Costa Rica. Especially in the Tamarindo area, there is a great company called Fly With Us (www.flywithus.aero). Your pilot will take you in a small roofless plane or helicopter in order to see the gorgeous sights of the Guanacaste region and Pacific Coast from the air. The flights range from 20 minutes to one hour and will surely be some of the greatest moments of your trip.
You will definitely not be left stranded anywhere on your Costa Rica surf trip. Between all of the public transport, easily bookable shuttles, and even the option of planes, you can easily get from place to place without spending too much money! With a bit of research and coordination, getting around Costa Rica will be a breeze. We will see you soon! Contact us for any assistance for your next trip!