We know that traveling throughout Costa Rica can be confusing at times, which is why we’ve come up with this easy guide to getting around. We hope that this helps you to see all the beauty this amazing country has to offer!
Traveling short distances…
Ask the locals! Ticos are super friendly and knowledgeable about how to get around, especially in San Jose. They know where most big landmarks are, like parks and bus stops. We suggest asking store owners first, though, because they work in the area and know it well. Talking to the locals is also a good way to learn more about Costa Rican culture.
The Waze app has found a way around the whole “no addresses” thing here in Costa Rica: users are constantly sending in new information to improve and update its maps. This means it is the closest thing you will get to real-time transportation information. You can receive notifications for traffic jams, accidents, and low gas prices as well.
As in the rest of the world, GoogleMaps is another reliable app to help you get around here in Costa Rica. The best thing about it is that you can use it without data. This is helpful if you’re only traveling to the country for a short time and don’t have an international data plan. The app has some addresses for businesses, street names, and bus stops, but don’t count on it to have everything you need.
The bus system in Costa Rica can be a bit confusing, as there are several different companies that run different routes, and the bus stops are not always marked. The buses are colored differently for the company they belong to. As mentioned before, the bus stops are sometimes in Waze and GoogleMaps, but the locals also know where they are. Sometimes the bus stop will be a big station, and other times it will be an unmarked point on the sidewalk. In areas outside of San Jose, you can usually flag down buses that are passing and they will stop for you. Often, the name of the city or neighborhood the bus is going to is noted at the front of the bus, with a few other landmarks listed (for example: Mall San Pedro, Universidad Latina, Vargas Araya). Other times, the bus just lists two names (for example: Heredia – Alajuela). You can ask the bus driver where the bus is going, if you are unsure. The public bus usually costs somewhere between 200 and 600 colones.
The downsides about the public buses in Costa Rica are that they are confusing at first, they can get crowded, luggage space is limited, and they take a while to get through traffic. However, they are cheap and abundant, so they are your best bet if you don’t have a car.
Taxis are another alternative to buses, and can be a lot quicker. All taxis in the cities are supposed to have a meter, which you must make sure is turned on when you enter the cab. Unfortunately, some taxi drivers will attempt to charge you more than you should be charged, so watch out for that. It is a good idea to ask the taxi driver before you get in the car how much it will be to get to where you need to go.
Uber is up-and-coming in Costa Rica, and is often more cost-effective than taxis. The drivers are friendly and usually offer candy or water when they pick you up. The driver will always have their phone or tablet visible with Waze or GoogleMaps pulled up, so you know you’re not being taken for a drive around. Uber also has a set rate for transport, so you will not be overcharged. After you arrive at your destination, your credit card will automatically be charged for the trip, so you don’t have to handle any cash.
To go a little farther…
There are multiple bus stations throughout San Jose that will take you to other places in Costa Rica, so if you are landing at Juan Santamaria Airport, you are set. There are also bus stations in other places in Costa Rica that will take you back to San Jose, or other locations. Again, the bus system can be confusing at first, but there is information on the internet to help you figure it out. This website is helpful. You can also call the bus companies to find out when and where the buses leave from, or ask the locals.
Renting a Car
There are rent-a-cars in Costa Rica, in the airport, in San Jose and other cities and some rural areas. Lots of these cars are four-wheel drives, but they’re not used only for rural roads since potholes abound in main streets in major cities. Some legal facts that a driver and car renter should be aware of, are: driving age is eighteen and over but if you’re a foreigner, you must be 21 years old and always carry a passport; a tourist’s driver’s license is valid only for three months after arrival, after which he/she has to apply for a Costa Rican license. People who have never driven in Costa Rica before must be psychologically prepared to do so. Some drivers here are reckless and rude, especially in a major city. Driving outside of San Jose is not nearly as stressful, but one must beware of potholes and sharp curves, especially in mountainous regions.
If land traveling gets a little boring, you might want to try out aerial means. There are some local airlines that offer flights to several locations, and they aren’t that expensive. Two local airlines are SANSA and Travelair which is more costly, but many claim them to be more reliable when it comes to reservations. NatureAir also travels to Tortuguero, a city that is difficult to get to by other means. Aero Costa Sol also offers trips inside Costa Rica, and sometimes to neighboring countries like Panama and Nicaragua. Most planes leave San Jose from the international airport, Juan Santamaria. There are also other local airports throughout Costa Rica that you can get to by private plane.
So, as you can see, Costa Rica has plenty of options for traveling throughout the country. Although they may not be that advanced, they are abundant and usually cheap. Safe travels!