Costa Rica Transportation Guide & Booking Service
Costa Rica Transportation Guide & Booking Service
There are a variety of options for moving between destinations in Costa Rica - domestic flights, rental cars, shuttles, private vans, ferries, public bus, and even horseback. Your travel routes, budget, and length of stay are all important factors to consider when deciding on one or a combination of these options, and the guide below can help with a detailed description of each travel mode. While transportation modes may vary in flexibility and comfort, each is an opportunity to take in Costa Rica’s amazing scenery.
Getting Around in Costa Rica – Things You Should Know
Traveling to Costa Rica with a long list of things to see? Getting around the country is as simple as choosing from the four transportation options in this article…
last updated: 01/28/2020
You’ve decided that Costa Rica is your dream destination. There are beautiful beaches, majestic volcanoes, and adventure-filled rainforests and canopies to explore — but how do you get there? The most frequent methods of getting around in Costa Rica are rental cars, shuttle buses, private vans, ferries, or domestic planes. Although Costa Rica is not big, a typical vacation will take you to different parts of the country that may be three to four hours apart. Therefore, remember to consider the distance between destinations when you start planning your travel itinerary (and here’s where our Anywhere Expert Guides can help)
While different transportation modes may vary in flexibility and comfort, each of them is an opportunity to take in Costa Rica’s amazing scenery. Here are a few frequently asked questions from Anywhere Travelers about how to get around in Costa Rica:
How convenient are shuttle transports in Costa Rica?
There are many shared shuttle transport options in Costa Rica, especially between popular destinations. They are typically air-conditioned minibus (or coasters) that have multiple departure times throughout the day. For your convenience, some of these shuttles can pick you up and drop you off at your hotel. Be sure to reserve shuttle buses in advance, and make sure you keep your vouchers on hand when you board! Expect some bumpy roads when the trips are longer distance journeys, but drivers will typically stop for breaks to let you stretch your legs!
Shuttles are an economical option to get around Costa Rica. You can swap stories with your fellow travelers or simply relax.
Anywhere Experts recommend this method of transport for travelers who are looking for economical ways of getting from place to place, especially for group sizes of 1 – 3 people. However, if the size of your party size is larger then you can also consider private transport with more flexible departure times and a better price.
Are there private transports I can reserve?
Spend more of your vacation on your own time when you choose private transportation.
Want to thoroughly relax and know that every leg of your journey is taken care of? Private transport is the easiest — and the most popular — way to go. It’s safe, convenient, and flexible for your group’s need. It allows for opportunities to enjoy Costa Rica’s beautiful scenery in a relaxed state. You can even arrange for some free stops along the way to visit souvenir stores or enjoy a meal in a restaurant. Drivers are typically knowledgeable guides who can point out things of interest on the way to your destination. Don’t miss the chance to ask for their recommendations — locals knows best!
“On our way to La Fortuna to the airport, our driver was amazing and tells us all about Costa Rica and the towns we drove through. He even pulled over and helped us rescue a sloth that was trying to cross the road, which meant a lot to us and was an unforgettable experience. He pointed out some poison dart frogs as we walked back to the van. Overall he was great and we would have happily driven with him anywhere” – Hayley
Rest assured that at Anywhere, we collaborate with the most reliable vehicle providers who are professional and help you move about the country safely.
Can I rent a car to go around Costa Rica? What are the roads like?
Yes, you absolutely can. For travelers who prefer flexibility between sightseeing and discovering hidden gems, a rental car is a good option. You can rent a car for the entire trip or just part of it. However, keep in mind that road conditions in Costa Rica may not be the most ideal for first time travelers. Some travelers make the mistake of underestimating driving distances, and encounter challenges such as missing road signs or bad directions. Road infrastructure in Costa Rica is not as updated as you would expect, so it’s likely you’ll be driving on dirt roads on the way to eco-lodges or across narrow bridges.
Rugged roads often lead to great adventures, like these “5 Exciting Costa Rica Activities That Make A Great Story.”
You can rent a car, but for some terrain, the driving is best left to the professionals.
To rent a car and drive in Costa Rica, you’ll need to be at least 21 years old and have an official state-issued driver’s license. A credit card is necessary to cover the liability deposit when you rent a car. (What do I need to rent a car in Costa Rica?)
At Anywhere.com, you can find rental options that include compact cars, full-size cars, compact 4WDs, and more. We suggest having an idea of what destinations you’ll be visiting so you’re selecting the right vehicle for your travel needs.
What are approximate driving times between destinations in Costa Rica?
The general rule of thumb is 30 mph (50 km/hour). Take a look on Google map and estimate the approximate distance to gauge your driving time. Most main roads are two lanes with very little room to pass, and it is frequently shared by trucks that can slow down the lane. From Alajeula SJO airport to popular destinations such as Manuel Antonio, Arenal, and Monteverde, it usually takes 3 – 4.5 hours. We advise reserving private transport so you can take a well-deserved rest after a long international flight!
What is the fastest way to get around Costa Rica?
Ground transportation typically take many hours on rough and mountainous roads. Depending on your travel route, a domestic flight may be the most convenient and fastest option! Costa Rica has two domestic flight providers — Sansa and Nature Air. Both airlines operate out of Alajuela-SJO airport. If you only have limited time during your Costa Rica trip, a flight can cut travel time to just 35 minutes to your destination! Be mindful that domestic airlines have strict reservation, cancellation, and luggage restriction policies, so make sure to confirm your information with your trip planner before you book!
Domestic flights are an excellent way to visit diverse regions in the span of a single vacation.
Interested in learning more about how to get around? Here are more frequently asked questions. Don’t worry, because when you start planning a trip with Anywhere, we promise seamless transportation recommendations between destinations. Travel hassle-free and ensure peace of mind during your vacation!
Frequently asked questions
Can’t find the answer you’re looking for? Reach out to ourlocal experts.
- What Are the Baggage Restrictions For Shuttles in Costa Rica?
Passengers are allowed to bring a carry-on bag and a big piece of luggage. If you have any additional luggage, there's a fee of $10 USD for each extra item. This needs to be both reported to the shuttle company and paid for in advance.
- Are Pets Allowed In Costa Rica Shuttles?
With the exception of a seeing eye dog, passengers cannot travel with animals in shuttles. If you do have a guide dog and will be using a shuttle service, we need prior notification.
- Can I Take Public Buses Around Costa Rica?
Public buses are the most common means of transportation for Costa Ricans and connect nearly every city, town and village. Public buses are economical, but they are less comfortable, slower, and less secure for your belongings. If you plan on spending a lot of time in Costa Rica or are on a tight budget, it is advisable to utilize the public bus system at least once - this way you can decide whether or not it works for you and your travel plans. Shuttles, private transports, and domestic flights are alternative modes of transportation that are recommended if you have less time in the country or prefer to be secure and comfortable.
- How Do I Find My Shuttle Service At the Airport in Costa Rica?
There are no shuttle services directly from the SJO or LIR airports. For visitors arriving to SJO and wanting to schedule a shuttle, the meeting spot is at the Dennis Restaurant, which is located about 5 minutes away from the airport. You'll need to take a taxi to get there, and it should cost approximately $4 USD. The Liberia airport meeting place is at the Best Western El Sitio, which is located about 15 minutes away from the airport. The cost for a taxi ride there is about $15 USD. Notice this info does not apply when you book private transfers which are certainly able to pick you up right at the SJO or LIR.
- I Arrive in Costa Rica At 2 PM - Can I Still Make The 3 PM Shuttle?
If your international flight arrives at 2 PM we don't recommend reserving the 3 PM shuttle. It usually takes about 45 minutes to pass through customs, although it can take much longer. The shuttle does not leave from the airport and if you miss the shuttle there isn't a refund. If you're arriving from any of the airports, you should arrive at least 2 hours before a scheduled departure time.
- What Are The Baggage Restrictions on Domestic Flights in Costa Rica?
There are two airlines in Costa Rica that offer daily domestic flight service, Sansa and Nature Air, and both have different luggage restrictions.Sansa's policy allows for 1 piece of luggage with a maximum weight of 25 lbs/12 kgs and a maximum size of 45 linear inches/114 centimeters (length + height + width) and 1 carry on with a maximum weight of 10 lbs, each additional pound is charged at a rate of $1 per pound.
Nature Air's policy allows 40 lbs per person for checked-in baggage free of charge.
In addition a small handbag up to 10 lbs can be carried on (please note that these aircraft's don't have overhead baggage compartments).
Total baggage weighing over 50 lbs will be charged an additional fee at a rate of 1-5 pounds $7, 6-15 pounds $20, 16-30 pounds $40, 31-60 pounds $60.
For more information about luggage restrictions for both Sansa & Nature Air follow the links below:
- What Destinations Offer Domestic Flights in Costa Rica?
Domestic flights are available to and from the following destinations: downtown San José, Alajuela-SJO, Arenal, Manuel Antonio, Tamarindo, Liberia, Sámara, Tortuguero, Drake Bay, Puerto Jiménez, Golfito, Palmar Norte, Barra del Colorado, Tambor, and Bocas del Toro in Panamá. For more information about schedules, prices and booking, please vist our domestic flight page.
- What Is a Costa Rica Taxi-Boat-Taxi Service?
A taxi-boat-taxi is a transfer service between destinations where travel along both land and water is necessary. Minibuses pick up customers at hotels in the starting destination (i.e. Arenal) and then bring them to a place where they board a boat for the next segment of the transfer (i.e. Lake Arenal). Finally, on the other side of the water, they are met by another minibus that will drop them off at their destination hotel (i.e. in Monteverde). The Monteverde and Arenal taxi-boat-taxi service runs between the destinations two times a day. A taxi-boat-taxi shuttle also operates between Montezuma and Jacó, which is a significant time saver for visiters wishing to avoid the long transit by ground and car ferry which is the traditional way to navigate between those two places.
- What Are the Driving Times Between Destinations in Costa Rica?
The travel time can vary significantly between destinations, but a general rule of thumb is 30 mph (50 km/hour).Thus, if the distance between destinations is 125 miles (200 km), you should plan on it taking about four hours to get from one place to another.
The main roads that connect destinations are two lane highways with no, or very little, room to pass. These are the same routes that transport the freights arriving and departing from the seaports.
These very large and heavy trucks struggle on the hills and can often slow the pace of travel to an excruciatingly slow rate.
The time it takes to get between destinations really depends on the destinations that you are traveling to. The following is a rundown of the amount of time it will generally take to travel between some of the more popular places:
Alajuela-SJO to Arenal - 3 hrs.
Alajuela SJO to Monteverde - 4.5 hrs.
Arenal to Tamarindo - 4 hrs.
Monteverde to Sámara - 3.5 hrs.
Liberia to Tamarindo - 1 hr.
Liberia to Arenal - 3 hrs.
Alajuela-SJO to Puerto Viejo, Limon - 5 hrs.
Alajuela-SJO to Mal País - 5-6 hrs.
- What Are the Roads Like In Costa Rica?
The roads in Costa Rica vary significantly depending on the route that you are traveling. Roads between most destinations are two-lane, paved roads that wind up and around the mountainous terrain throughout the country.If you find yourself driving in the country, it is best to drive defensively and avoid driving at night, since the reflective paint that outlines the roads is faded or non-existent, making the curves extremely dangerous for unfamiliar drivers. Lots of hotels or smaller destinations are without a paved road or entrance, so chances are good that at some point you will find yourself along a dirt road during your trip to Costa Rica. Many bridges narrow to a single lane, so drivers must be ready to yield (ceda) to the direction with the right of way.
For your first visit to Costa Rica we generally recommend taking private transports or shuttles to get a feel for the driving conditions. This way, the next time that you visit you will already understand the driving conditions and can decide whether or not to rent a car.
The roads of Costa Rica are no doubt navigable, but the terrain prohibits a freeway system throughout most of the country, and without street signs it is very easy to get lost. Vehicles equipped with GPS devices have significantly improved visitors' ability to tour the country at their own pace. Should you decide to drive, we strongly suggest equipping the vehicle with a GPS unit.
- What Is the Difference Between Private and Shuttle Transports in Costa Rica?
Private transportation is a door-to-door service that exclusively transports your party only. Departure times are scheduled based upon the time of your choosing and each route allows for one hour of free stoppage time - for meals or breaks - along the way.You can take side trips to national parks and souvenir shops, or even enjoy a tour that is located between your travel destinations (although it needs to be prearranged and may require paying additional fees).
In contrast, shuttles are a shared and scheduled ride that is not always door-to-door. Shuttles will not pick you up at airports, they will not pick you up or drop you off at all a hotel, they can take longer to get travel between destinations, and they do not always arrive exactly at the scheduled time (usually, it's +/- 10-15 minutes of the scheduled time). When using both private transportation and shuttle services, please remember to have both your voucher on hand and your luggage ready.
- How Will I Find My Private Transport At the Airport in Costa Rica?
The driver will have your flight arrival time and airline details, so he'll be prepared to meet you even if your flight is delayed. After going through customs and getting your luggage, you'll exit the airport terminal and spot your driver. He'll be wearing an Anywhere Costa Rica t-shirt and holding a sign with your name written on it.
- Can We Plan a Day Trip To Arenal From Monteverde, Costa Rica Or From Arenal, Costa Rica To Monteverde?
You can plan to do a day trip, but you should know a few things first. The daytime in Costa Rica lasts from about 5:45 AM to 5:45 PM year-round. The distance between Arenal and Monteverde takes about 3 - 3 1/2 hours to drive if you go around Lake Arenal, and about 2 1/2 - 3 hours via a boat across Lake Arenal. Thus, a day trip requires between 5-7 hours of transit, which leaves only a few hours to enjoy your time in Arenal or Monteverde before you must return. Try and stay at least one night at a hotel in either Monteverde or Arenal if possible.However, even worse than a day trip from Monteverde to Arenal or vice versa is a day trip from the beaches of Guanacaste to Arenal or Monteverde for the day. From the Guanacaste coastline, it requires 8 hours of driving time to reach these destinations in a single day.
No doubt you can find companies that sell day trips to Arenal or to Monteverde from the coast, but rarely do the visitors realize the logistics involved because "it looks so close on the map." In general, we are able to provide round trip service for people if they insist on a day trip but only as a last resort if it is impossible to re-organize the itinerary to include an overnight stay at a hotel. Logistic trip planning is an important service we provide for our customers who want to see different places around the country. We can recommend the best order of travel to maximize vacation time and minimize travel time.
Private transport service offers a safe, convenient, and flexible way to travel anywhere within Costa Rica.
Private transport can be scheduled anytime you wish and from any airport, hotel, private home or identifiable landmark in Costa Rica. All the vehicles used for private transportation are air conditioned, well-maintained minibuses driven by reliable and punctual Costa Rican professionals, who are eager to help your group move safely about the country.
Please note: Blockout dates for any car type from December 15th, 2021 to January 15th,2022.
For travelers who prefer independence and flexibility or simply better access to hidden beaches, a rental car may be a good option for either the whole trip or just part of it. In general, rental cars are only a good option for adventure-minded travelers, who do not mind a few challenges along the way. Rental cars are generally not recommended for first time visitors to Costa Rica, because Costa Rica driving conditions can be intimidating and directional road signs are often missing. Nevertheless, with a positive, resilient, and adventurous outlook, as well as a good road map/GPS, first time visitors can successfully navigate the country.
We offer rental choices that include compact cars, full-size cars, compact 4WDs, full-size 4WDs, and vans. It is very important to have an idea of what destinations you plan on visiting in order to choose the best vehicle for your travel needs. Compact 4WD vehicles are the most popular rentals in Costa Rica, because they are economical, and they enable travelers to navigate the entire country. But depending on the number of passengers, travel destinations, and amount of luggage, a full-size 4WD or one of the other vehicle types may be more appropriate.
We work with multiple rental car providers so that we can offer a wide selection of vehicle models and pickup locations. Pickup locations include the San Jose and Liberia International Airports as well as dozens of destinations throughout Costa Rica.
Shuttle service is a shared transportation option in an air-conditioned minibus between popular destinations.
Shuttle routes operate daily, and in some cases there are multiple departure times throughout the day. However, shuttles are by no means a public bus. They are subject to availability and must be reserved in advance.
Costa Rica is about the size of West Virginia, but ground transportation can take many hours on its rough, windy, and mountainous roads.
Depending on your travel route, domestic flights may be the most convenient and sensible option. Traveling between some destinations can take up to 8 hours by ground, while a domestic flight can cut that travel time to 35 minutes - a major time saver, especially if you have only a short time in Costa Rica.