How do you get around Costa Rica?
There are several options for transportation in Costa Rica. However, driving can be extremely challenging to the most experienced driver. Roads are often in poor condition, and large potholes are common and could cause severe damage to vehicles. Traffic laws and speed limits are often ignored, turn signals are rarely used, passing on dangerous stretches of highway is common, and pedestrians are not given the right of way. Heavy traffic provides the opportunity for thieves to steal property that is left in plain view from vehicles. Another challenge confronting drivers is the lack of street signs/names, making finding an address tough even with a GPS.
Walking – Pay attention to where you’re putting your feet. Many of the sidewalks show their age and have uneven pavement or even gaping holes to underground utilities. If you do run across a section of road or pavement that has temporary warning pylons, make sure to take them seriously.
We advise to use tennis shoes in San José and not flip flops. The streets are dirty, just like any other city.
When walking it’s best to be aware of your surroundings. Read our 15 San José, Costa Rica Safety Tips.
Taxis – Some blogs and other sites will tell you not to take a taxi and that everything is walkable. While this is true, if you are going to a location that is more than a few blocks, either take a bus or a taxi.
Make sure you are taking an “official taxi.” There are pirate taxis out there, do NOT take these. Official taxis in Costa Rica are red/orange and usually, have the sign on the top of the car as well as stickers on the side.
Pirate taxis are not regulated, not adequately insured, and poorly maintained. Even official taxi cars can be in pretty poor condition. We have had good luck with taxis in Costa Rica mainly because my husband is a Tico, and can speak the language fluently.
When you book your hotel, get a recommendation on a van to pick you up. Do not go out of the airport and use a taxi. They will more than likely cost more than you would like. Also, the taxi guys outside of the airport usually look and act pretty shady. A taxi to and from downtown San José, for instance, the Park Inn by Radisson or the national theater should cost you about 11,000 CRC.
If you must take a taxi from the airport, you might see orange taxis, instead of red. These group of taxis is exclusive for the airport, and they charge a bit more.
The San Jose airport is crammed full of people “wanting to help you” outside of the airport. Keep your head down and walk fast with your luggage close by your side.
- If you are in San José and the taxi has a Puntarenas plate, do not take it. Official taxis in Costa Rica can only pick up passengers within their province.
- Ask your hotel to call a taxi for you if you are going to a location not walkable. This way you will know the price coming back you should pay going back to the hotel. The other option is to ask the driver to pick you up at the same location at a certain time.
- Don’t let anyone other than your driver handle your luggage. Even then, watch closely as there are reports that drivers pilfer your bags and carry-ons while putting them in the trunk. Be sure to watch until the trunk is closed.
General Tips for Taxis in Costa Rica:
- Be courteous to your driver and their property. Their taxi is their income; so don’t do anything you wouldn’t want to be done to your car (slamming the door, leaving trash, etc.).
- For solo female travelers or couples, it’s better if you sit in the backseat.
- Try to speak Spanish when answering your driver. Unless you are fluent in Spanish, they will probably figure out you are a tourist, but knowing the language will help you and your driver.
- Have change with you and small bills (preferably colones). Some cab drivers will tell you that they don’t have change and try to take all your cash. No need to tip the drivers! Just pay what they are charging you.
- Most of the time if you have a smartphone you can use your GPS. The driver might know a shortcut, but use this to give you a good sense of where you are going. If you don’t have a smartphone, a traditional map is helpful to find out where you need to go.
Interbus – This is my favorite way to travel to a destination from San José. There are many fantastic companies to book your bus to get you around Costa Rica safely. A bus to and from the airport to your hotel in San José will cost you about $10. The prices are very reasonable, the drivers professional and courteous, and the buses are well maintained. The buses usually hold about 12-18 people and the seats are comfortable. You can’t go wrong with this service.
Many companies will arrange your trip for you if you are going multiple places, and perhaps give a discount if you want to hire a shuttle for your entire trip. However, we have used Interbus to go to just one location, and you can also use them for day trips.
It’s best to book your trip online or via phone through the company instead of your hotel. This will save you some money.
Rental Car – I do not recommend driving in the San José area. We have met many tourists who have done it, but the traffic in San José is beyond crazy. Many roads in the city and Costa Rica, in general, are not well marked. There are large roundabouts in the city that to me seem like death traps if I had to drive. Motorcycles, buses, and taxis weave in and out of traffic and stop signs and red lights at times can mean just look and go. There is a saying in Costa Rica, “when you hit it you will know.” This is because there are many areas where you can’t see the car coming around the curb.
If you want to drive my suggestion is to take an Interbus out of San José and get to your destination. Then from that location rent a car. This will give you the freedom to explore more of the area you are in without the inconvenience of driving in San José.
However, if you rent a car, you can read my tips on renting a car in Costa Rica.
In general, remember that you might look at a map and say things like, “We can drive that in an hour.” No, you can’t. There are mountains, traffic, accidents, bad roads, and of course, as there are no street signs nor addresses, and you will likely get lost. If you can possibly be delayed, you will be. The general rule is that you will probably average 20-30 MPH (30 KPH – 45 KPH) for travel around the country. For example, if you see a place that is 200 KM away (about 132 miles), plan on three or four + hours to get there.
Public Transpiration – Taking the bus is the cheapest way to get around San José or to go to any other destination in Costa Rica. The bus has spacious seats, AC and luggage storage. However, it takes much longer to get to where you want to go. For A Southern Traveler, the bus, in my opinion, is more for budget travelers or backpackers because it’s the cheapest option.
- San Jose has many different bus stations, depending on where you are planning to travel to next. Exercise extreme caution when hanging out near the following bus stations: Coca-Cola, Alfaro, San Carlos (books will call it Atlantico Norte, but no one knows it as this), Caribe. These are not good places to hang about and when arriving and leaving, take a cab straight there and flag one down immediately.