Getting Around Costa Rica

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Getting Around Costa Rica


Planes

Nature Air takes you from Pavas to Bocos del Toro Panama.
Nature Air takes you from Pavas to Bocos del Toro Panama.

As you might imagine, flying is perhaps the best way to get around Costa Rica. Because the country is relatively small, flights are short and not overly expensive. The domestic airlines of Costa Rica are Sansa and Nature Air. Sansa is located at a separate terminal in the Juan Santamaría International Airport (San Jose Airport). Sansa provides a free shuttle service from its San José office to the airport. Nature Air is located in the Tobías Bolaños International Airport in Pavas, approximately 4 miles from San José. Both airlines conveniently fly to most of the top tourist destinations such as: Tamarindo, Tortuguero, La Fortuna, Tambor (Nicoya Peninsula), Golfito and Drake Bay on the Osa Peninsula, Limon, Nosara, Quepos/Manuel Antonio, Punta Islita, Dominical, Barra de Colorado. If it’s not your exact location- they can get you close. A few reminders, these are small planes and it can be a bumpy ride, so if you’re scared of flying, well then…. Also, because of their size, flights can often be delayed due to the ever changing weather that IS Costa Rica. Also, book early during the high season (late Nov-late April), these small planes fill up fast.

Go directly to their websites and book online:

NatureAir

Sansa


Buses

This is by far the cheapest way to get around Costa Rica. This is the major mode of transportation for most Ticos, so buses literally go just about anywhere (figuring it all out is more often the problem). Basically, there are two types: Local buses are the cheapest and slowest. They can often stop, literally, every 100 meters or so along the more popular Tico routes, stretching a 2-hour by car, into a 5-hour by bus. Frequently the local buses aren’t in the best of shape. Express buses are often much nicer (although usually without bathrooms), and run between San José and most beach towns and major cities. Often times an 'Express buss' can take much longer then a regular bus. I mention bathrooms, it should be noted; bus drivers here will stop if you need to go the bathroom, stop meaning on the side of the highway.

For more on traveling around Costa Rica by bus check out our Costa Rica by Buses page full of helpful information, videos, bus schedules, and more.


Shuttles

Two companies in Costa Rica run regular, fixed-schedule departures in passenger vans and small buses to most of the major tourist destinations in the country. Gray Line has approximately 10 departures leaving San José each morning and heading or connecting to Jacó, Manuel Antonio, Playa Hermosa, Liberia, La Fortuna, Tamarindo, and playas Conchal and Flamingo. They provide daily return trips to San José from these destinations and also a variety of interconnecting routes. Interbus is a similar service, but with a little more connections. These two services are obviously a little more expensive than regular buses, but they are quicker, usually more comfortable, and will stop when you ask them too. And they offer pickup and drop off services at many hotels. The downside- if you’re the first to get picked up or last dropped off, you may have to sit through a long period of subsequent stops before finally reaching your destination.


Info and Reservations:

You can book Interbus and Gray Line directly on their websites but we actually prefer the Gecko Trail shuttle page which lists all the different shuttle company schedules together so you can pick the one that works for you. Oddly enough, Interbus also makes changing their ticket MORE restrictive if booked through their own website than if booked through an agency so this works better for changes and cancellations. Or you can go directly to their transportation planner which shows you all the options (shuttle, private and other) for a particular route.

Cars

Here at Travel Costa Rica Now, we love traveling the country by car, mostly due to the convenience it affords. But before you decide to rent a car, you need to read these three articles:

This should help you get your bearings.
This should help you get your bearings.
Driving in Costa Rica

Driving in San Jose

Renting a Car in Costa Rica


Ferry

Three different ferries run across the Gulf of Nicoya. Two are car ferries; one from Puntarenas to Playa Naranjo, and one from Puntarenas to Paquera (this is the way to Montezuma and Malpais/Santa Teresa area). The third is a passenger ferry that operates between Puntarenas and Paquera. There’s also a once-daily passenger ferry between the southern cities of Golfito and Puerto Jiménez.

Hitchhiking

Many locals use this method of getting around; especially outside of San José as it is quite common. Many locals will even ask for a ride if you’re driving a car (with a machete in tow, also common). I know many people that have hitchhiked their way around Costa Rica, but it takes a certain personality, and I’ll leave you to make that judgment. If you choose to hitchhike, keep in mind that if a bus doesn’t go to your destination, there probably aren’t too many cars going there either.

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