Costa Rica has worked hard to develop a very stable, high quality with excellent service tourism industry. Therefore, when it comes to transportation and lodging, visitors can expect it all.
Regarding lodging, you can choose from extremely luxurious and exclusive lodges to very basic backpacker hostels and everything in between. When it comes to transportation you will experience the same options, having to choose from public transportation like buses and regulated taxis, to the option of using worldwide known app-driven services like Uber, to flying, or having the possibility to rent a car or to book private transportation with a professional tourism agency like Costa Rica Escapes.
We know that you are already thinking about your transportation options, which you will eventually narrow down depending on your budget for money and time, your personal preferences and your experiences in other parts of the world.
We aim to help you make a more informed decision because things that you might be tempted to use–due to transportation habits in your own country–like Uber services or Airbnb lodging accommodations are not necessarily the best options in Costa Rica.
We believe that the best way to make your trip to Costa Rica extremely memorable, easy, relaxing and safe is to resort to real experts in all the elements of your trip, from planning, to lodging, to transportation and activities, even if it means that you pay a little bit more. Why save a few bucks and risk a bad experience during any part of your trip?
Types of Transportation in Costa Rica
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 rapidly has 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 important problem is that this operation is illegal, and the only reason it keeps operating is because there is a gap in the Costa Rican legislation about how to regulate activities that happen “on the web” or through applications.
Now, how does this affect you? Well, if you happen to be stopped by a traffic police officer while using the services of an UBER driver, and you are not capable of tricking the officer into believing your driver is not an UBER driver, they will stop your driver, and they will leave you stranded in the middle of wherever you are. If you are a Tico, well, that is not so bad because you can find your way again, but if you are foreign to the country, then this could be a significant setback in your experience.
Another good reason to rule UBER out of your transportation options is that it’s not that available outside the Central Valley. In Costa Rica, there are over 22,000 UBER drivers, and this is the primary source of income for nearly 50% of them, but they are mostly in the Central Valley (meaning, the main cities of San José, Heredia, Alajuela, and Cartago provinces). So unless you are planning on staying in the Central Valley for your entire trip, to rely in 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 services to be legalized and appropriately taxed so they can thrive, but the Costa Rican government has made it clear that this is not a priority. Therefore, not only UBER, but 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.
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.
The majority of Costa Ricans rely on this kind of transportation, especially buses. You can be confident that no matter how far you need to get in Costa Rica, there will be a bus that will take you there. The problem is regularity and time. Not all destinations in Costa Rica have a bus coming in and out at all times of the day, or even every day of the week, and because many of those rides need to serve passengers through the entire route, they tend to take a very long time to reach the final destination.
But if time is not a problem for you, then you can Google the timetable for almost any bus route in Costa Rica and then very carefully organize your trip.
We know that a local bus ride can be a fun and exciting experience, but we do believe that there are more comfortable, secure and time-effective ways of getting to see Costa Rica. Do you really 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 a bit longer than necessary to charge you more than needed. This is because they use a particular device called “María” that measures distance and time during the trip to come up with the final price. To avoid this problem, take a cab from your hotel, and ask at the reception for an idea of how much the ride should cost and you can say it up front 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.
Driving around Costa Rica
We have discussed this topic before in our article, Driving in Costa Rica. Is it Safe?, on our Costa Rica Travel Blog. A lot of people want to rent a car and make their way through the country, maybe to give it a more adventurous feel? We do not advise driving during your trip in Costa Rica, mostly due to the dangerous conditions of certain roads, the aggressive driving of many Ticos, and the fact that robbers frequently target rental cars.
Private transportation and tourism services
Our advice to you: spend the little bit extra (it isn’t that much more) and use private tourism transportation services, either you hire them for your trip, or you use some of the 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.
Flying around Costa Rica
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! The views from the small airplanes are cute stunning.
Types of Lodging in Costa Rica
Using sites like Airbnb and VRBO in Costa Rica
Apps like these are common when booking lodging for your vacation in the USA. But in Costa Rica, this is not the best option…yet.
Nobody regulates the service that these lodging websites give to visitors, except for the actual owner of the place and the site, and sometimes those owners do not understand the concept of quality service (or service at all). Many times in Costa Rica, people have a spare room or a small apartment or house somewhere that is not being rented, and they see it as an opportunity to rent it to tourists, without understanding that visitors need and want more than a bed to spend the night. You are looking for safety, comfort, and maybe a little bit of pampering.
We highly suggest you take the more traditional route and choose reputable, well-established accommodations for your visit to Costa Rica. This way you can be confident you will enjoy your stay, and there will be no unpleasant surprises. Our network of professional lodging accommodations is unmatched and sure to make your authentic, safe, smooth and within (a reasonable) budget.
All-Inclusive Resorts in Costa Rica
We have also talked about the all-inclusive resorts in Costa Rica in our article, All-Inclusive Costa Rica Family Vacation Experiences: Authenticity vs Resorts. The bottom line is that we believe that these kinds of resorts lack the essence and spirit of Costa Rica and give you a generic experience that you could have many other places in the world.
We do understand the convenience of choosing this kind of lodging, but have many other lodging options that allow you to keep the comfort without sacrificing the opportunity to experience Costa Rica’s true culture.
Bed and Breakfasts in Costa Rica
Most bed and breakfasts in Costa Rica are small places run by Costa Rican families. They can be very charming, and they will very likely give you a taste of the real Costa Rican lifestyle and a closer look to Costa Rican culture. But one thing that is important to remember is that when you stay at a bed and breakfast, privacy and personal space are not necessarily there. If you like getting to know your hosts, talking to other guests and sharing meal probably at the same table with everybody, then make sure to book a couple of nights at a bed and breakfast in Costa Rica. We have some of the best in the country within our network.
Cabinas and Hostels in Costa Rica
Like anywhere else in the world, hostels are very basic and cheap lodging options where you will share a lot of your personal space, and you will inevitably interact with a lot of people from all over the world. If you like hostels, then don’t worry, you will find one in almost every popular destination in Costa Rica. The risks with hostels are similar to other developing countries.
Cabinas, on the other hand, are basic accommodations that you can find almost anywhere in Costa Rica. They are probably one of the preferred lodging options for Ticos because they tend to be inexpensive and they give Ticos some freedom to make them their own during their stay.
The thing to consider with cabinas is that there is no consistency with what you will get and they may not serve all of your needs. They are all a squarish room, usually separated from the other cabinas, with some basic beds and a basic bathroom. That’s where the consistency stops. Some of them might have a kitchenette with minimum appliances and cutlery. Nothing fancy. So before you book one, make sure you look at the room or at pictures of the place you will be staying at, so you are sure you like it.
Our Suggestion for the Best Lodging Options in Costa Rica
There are extraordinary bed and breakfasts, cabinas, lodges, and hotels in Costa Rica. Those are the special places that are hard to find in the sea of options that come up on Google when you are looking for lodging in Costa Rica, and this is when we remind you that to find those special places you need to rely on experts.
Unique, authentic lodging options in Costa Rica are those places that respect and protect nature and honor the culture of Costa Rica. They are the places that go the extra mile to make sure you not only have a wonderful time, but you can experience the true Costa Rica. That is what makes your Costa Rica vacation experience unique and memorable.
Work with Experts for your Lodging & Transporation Needs in Costa Rica
Finding the perfect lodging or appropriate transportation for your trip is not about choosing from a generic list or using what you’re used to in your hometown. Identifying ideal lodging for your trip comes from discovering what you truly want and need for your trip, and then having travel experts customize the options just for you…options that you will only get by talking to itinerary planners with years of experience like Costa Rica Escapes. Please contact us and let us help you plan your perfect trip to Costa Rica, or use the form below.
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.