Transportation in Costa Rica: Getting AroundYour options for transportation in Costa Rica are rental cars, buses, tourist shuttles, and planes. There are also ferries available between the Osa and Nicoya Peninsulas and the mainland. Below I've provided an overview of the various options so you can choose which combination may be best for your traveling needs.
PlanesThere are two domestic airlines available to tourists: SANSA and NatureAir. Both service airports throughout the country and flying can be really helpful if you have a short time in country and want to see as many sights as possible.
At the time of writing, SANSA airfares ranged from $56 to $95 depending on where you're going. NatureAir is slightly more expensive on certain flights, but they're pretty competitive and somewhat more reliable. Either way, flying isn't a great budget option for transportation in Costa Rica, but it's surely effective time wise.
Car RentalGetting around by rental car is a great transportation option in terms of freedom, and it can be relatively budget conscious if you're traveling with friends or family. I'd recommend renting a 4x4 since it allows you access to more parts of the country, especially some of the most beautiful areas, like Monteverde and both
You can get an entry-level 4x4 for around $45-55 per day in low season, adding another $10 or so per day for high season. The age requirement is 21 for some companies, 25 for others. Check out my guide to Costa Rica car rentals - and don't forget to buy a great map, the waterproof one to the right is my favorite by far.
BusesBuses are the best budget option for transportation in Costa Rica. Virtually all Costa Rica towns can be reaches by bus. Between towns there are often two types of bus service available, directos which are faster and don't make stops in between destinations, and corrientes or normales which pick up passengers all along their routes.
Most directos running between San Jose and major tourist towns are relatively modern with A/C and toilets. Directos cost more than corrientes but the difference is nominal and well worth it. Using directos you won't pay much more than $10 or $12 dollars even for really long distances.
Due to their popularity though, it's important that you buy your ticket or boleto two or three hours in advance, otherwise they often sell out. I've spent more time than I'd like in bus stations because I didn't purchase my ticket ahead of time - this is not fun. As for local bus fares, they rarely cost more than a fraction of a dollar and you pay once you board.
Tourist Buses & Private ShuttlesThis Costa Rica transportation option falls between public buses and rental cars in terms of convenience. Shuttles are faster and more secure than buses, but they're more expensive too. I opted to use a shuttle by Grayline Fantasy Bus when I was first traveling in Costa Rica with over $1500 in dive equipment because I didn't want my stuff out of my sight at any point on the trip.
Prices range from around $25-40 depending on where you're heading. Interbus is the other tourist bus company running between major tourist destinations. Here are their company websites: Grayline and Interbus.
For customized itineraries try looking up Costa Rica Shuttle, Coach Costa Rica, and Transport Costa Rica Monteverde - they should be able to accomodate most of your needs for transportation in Costa Rica.
Ferries and Water TaxisBetween Puntarenas and the Nicoya Peninsula there are two ferries that depart several times a day from the northwest dock and head to Paquera or Playa Naranjo. It's necessary to buy tickets before boarding either ferry and for those taking cars it's a good idea to buy a few hours ahead of time. Prices are $3 for passengers, $10 for vehicles. The schedules change all the time so check with the ticketing office for current departure times.
There are also a water taxis or lanchas that run between the town of Puerto Jimenez on the Osa Peninsula and Golfito on the mainland. The boats depart Golfito daily from the main dock or muelle at 6am, 11am, and 3pm. They return at 6am, 8:45am, 11am and 2pm. The trip is 90min and costs $6. You can hire your own boat for around $8.
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