Jumping on a plane to Costa Rica is one of the more manageable tasks when planning a vacation. First, you don’t have to do the “flying.” Second, you must get to your city’s airport with your car, ride from a friend or family member, or Uber. The hotels are already booked, and the bags are packed now.
One of the most complex decisions when planning your trip to Costa Rica is “How do you get around Costa Rica?” And we say this from living down here to being down here for months. Choosing transportation can be one of the more stressful parts of being down in Costa Rica because driving around and getting transportation is more challenging.
So, let’s dig deep into what is available in Costa Rica, and then we will let you decide what you should do.
Car Rentals and Driving Around Costa Rica
We have discussed this topic in our article, Driving in Costa Rica. Is it Safe?, on our Costa Rica Travel Blog. Many people want to rent a car and make their way through the country to give it a more adventurous feel.
Let us chat briefly about this and why we do not advise driving during your trip to Costa Rica.
First and foremost, one of the primary issues is the dangerous conditions of certain roads. It ranges from hazardous and curvey roads to wet roads in the off-season, along with slow construction trucks and cows that have the right away.
Second, many aggressive drivers are on the road, and we are not just talking about the Ticos. If there is a double line, you will probably get passed. If there are big trucks that will hold up traffic, many people will pass on a curve. Also, the number of motorcyclists that are out passing cars can be very overwhelming and dangerous.
Another problem when renting a car in Costa Rica is that many robbers frequently target rental vehicles. It has even been witnessed (on a restaurant camera) that robbers go into cars as if it was their own, grab all the bags, and walk down the street as if they were heading to the beach with their belongings.
So, what other options are there? Plenty, continue reading below.
This is one of our top recommendations. You should spend a bit extra (it isn’t much more) and use private tourism transportation services; either you hire them for your trip or use shared transportation services between destinations. You will not only be more secure, but you will also have the advantage of having a bilingual driver that can make your trip more enjoyable and educational.
Coming out of either airport in Costa Rica, Liberia, and San Jose, you will see many drivers waiting for their guests, whether a hotel shuttle, a shuttle to a car rental, or a transportation shuttle service.
Taking a shuttle from the airport can be less stressful but can also limit you. Most shuttles will take you to and from the airport to your hotel. Depending on where you stay, you may or may not need additional transportation. Many visitors will walk from hotels to their town, but not all towns have good roads or sidewalks.
If you opt for a shuttle service, you may be staying in a specific town for a while vs. exploring Costa Rica, and this is what we want you to do. We have more options. Keep reading!
Using Public Transportation in Costa Rica
When we talk about public transportation in Costa Rica, we refer to buses, taxis, and a couple of train lines.
Most Costa Ricans rely on this kind of transportation, especially buses. You can be confident that a bus will take you there no matter how far you need to get to Costa Rica. The problem is regularity and time. Not all destinations in Costa Rica have a bus coming in and out at all times or even every day of the week. Because many of those rides need to serve passengers through the entire route, they take a very long time to reach the final destination.
But if you have time, you can Google the timetable for almost any bus route in Costa Rica and carefully organize your trip.
We know that a local bus ride can be a fun and exciting experience, but we believe there are more comfortable, secure, and time-effective ways of getting to see Costa Rica. Do you want to take a bus on your family trip to Costa Rica? On your honeymoon? Likely not.
Now, taxis are a different story. The one problem taxi drivers have in Costa Rica is their tendency to make the route longer than necessary to charge you more than needed. Taxi drivers use a “María” device that measures distance and time during the trip to determine the final price. To avoid this problem, take a cab from your hotel, and ask reception how much the ride should cost, and you can say it upfront to your driver.
Or if you are in a rural area of Costa Rica, you most likely will be exempt from this issue since you can negotiate (upfront) the cost of the ride.
There are only a few train lines in Costa Rica and the ones that function daily connect the principal cities of the Central Valley with the capital and have been created to help people get to their jobs with less traffic.
Using APPs like UBER in Costa Rica
Let’s start by talking about UBER. This popular app began operations in Costa Rica in 2015 and has rapidly become the preferred private transportation by Costa Ricans. But there are several problems with using UBER in Costa Rica when you are not from here.
The first and most crucial problem is that this operation is illegal but is being used by all. The only reason it keeps operating is a gap in the Costa Rican legislation regulating activities “on the web” or through applications.
Now, how does this affect you? Well, suppose you are stopped by a traffic policeman while using the services of an UBER driver, and you cannot trick the officer into believing your driver is not an UBER driver. In that case, they will stop your driver and leave you stranded in the middle of wherever you are. If you are a Tico, that is okay because you can find your way again, but if you are foreign to the country, this could be a significant setback in your experience.
Another good reason to rule UBER out of your transportation options is that it’s only available in the Central Valley. For example, in Costa Rica, there are over 22,000 UBER drivers, the primary income source for nearly 50% of them. Still, they are mainly in the Central Valley (meaning the main cities of San José, Heredia, Alajuela, and Cartago provinces). So unless you plan on staying in the Central Valley for your entire trip, relying on this type of transportation is not a good idea.
In late 2018, a study by a research institute at the Universidad Nacional de Costa Rica showed that 9 out of 10 Costa Ricans want this kind of service to be legalized and appropriately taxed so they can thrive. Still, the Costa Rican government has clarified that this is not a priority. Therefore, UBER and other Costa Rican on-demand private transportation Apps like Nova, Easy Taxi, and Rides 506 will have to wait to be capable of giving an appropriate and secure service to everybody, Ticos and visitors alike.
It is undoubtedly the most efficient way to move around Costa Rica and to get to see the most out of it, not only because you can hop from one corner of the country to the other but also because you can see it from the air!
For example, flying from Nosara to San Jose is breathtaking! The views from the small airplanes are stunning, but getting to the airports can be tricky since many of the domestic flights airports are incredibly tiny.
As you can see, many planes, trains, Ubers, and automobiles are being used in Costa Rica, but you have to figure out what works best for you and your situation, whether with your family or friends or on a honeymoon. You have plenty of options, and we would be happy to chat with you about what is available.
Here at Costa Rica Escapes, we look for opportunities to take our clients on private transportation, as this allows us to connect with our clients and have a connection that will last a lifetime and not just a 1-2 hour shuttle ride to the hotel and back.
John Rabenau has been working in the eco-tourism & adventure travel industry in Costa Rica since 2002. He has worked in a variety of capacities from Outdoor Educator & Principle Guide to Itinerary Design Manager & Business Owner for numerous organizations. He has grown Costa Rica Escapes into one of the most reputable Costa Rica travel agencies since its creation in 2006, hosting more than 5,000 people with custom vacation itineraries.