Getting Around Costa Rica:

A Guide to Transportation Options and Costs

Costa Rica, known for its stunning landscapes, rich biodiversity, and vibrant culture, offers travelers a plethora of transportation options to explore its diverse regions. Whether you’re navigating bustling cities, traversing lush rainforests, or relaxing on pristine beaches, understanding the transportation choices, average costs, and what to expect will enhance your travel experience.

No matter what form of transportation you decide to take, you will want to know where you’re going so first, let’s talk about maps and navigation.

Maps & Navigation

Waze is the preferred map application with the locals, however, Google maps works fine too. There are quirks with each of them but general they are quite reliable. Be aware, there are many areas through the mountains and such where you will not have signal so it is advisable to download maps beforehand.

Many people opt for a good old-fashioned paper map. Some places even sell laminated maps of Costa Rica you can bring on your trip.

Traffic & Driving Habits

Urban areas may experience heavy traffic, especially during peak hours. Driving habits can be different from what you’re accustomed to, so exercise caution and patience. Respect local road rules and be aware of pedestrians and wildlife.

Transportation Options

Transportation options covered:

Rent a Car

Renting a car provides the freedom to explore remote areas and scenic routes at your own pace, however, it is the most expensive option. Major rental companies operate at airports and urban centers. The best part about renting a car is that for an additional cost you can usually rent a portable Wi-Fi unit to use in and outside the car. In addition to the high cost, rental options can sometimes be scarce so be sure to plan ahead.

Do I need 4WD? 

It depends on how you like to adventure. There are remote places that you will need four-wheel-drive to get to so it’s good to check the areas you would like to go first. 

Driving Tips and Expectations

Avoid driving at night as you cannot see the numerous giant potholes as well and road lighting can be scarce. There are not many police and people drive fast, passing at any time so pay attention. In the mountains there are hardly any shoulders on the roads and dangerous curves without guardrails. There are also a lot of one-way bridges so make sure to brush up on your basic Spanish so you can read the road signs.


Costa Rica boasts an extensive and affordable bus network that connects major cities and towns. Public buses are a popular choice for budget travelers, offering a cost-effective way to experience the country and immerse into the culture. 

The downside is that it takes longer to get where you are going and schedules are sometimes hard to find or not correct. You may have to change between different lines and take several different buses to get where you want to go. There are limited stops for bathrooms and food, usually only one on the longer trips like going across the country. Checked bags are generally safe, but keep a close eye on anything stored in the overhead racks, as theft happens. 

Tip: It’s good to book your tickets beforehand as the buses sometimes fill up.

Picture from Ecoterra


Shared shuttle services are popular for transporting tourists and are quicker and more comfortable than the public buses. While cost is higher than buses, they are a more convenient and reliable option, especially for those who prefer not to drive. Normally they are flexible about stopping once and possibly more or for a longer time for an extra fee. 

The main companies are EcoterraEasyRide, Interbus, Monkey Ride and Tropical Tours. Many have one to two options per day and often have a minimum number of riders so be sure to check especially if you’re traveling solo in the off-season.


Taxis are readily available in urban areas and are a safe and convenient option for short distances or when you prefer door-to-door service. In San Jose many of the official ones are red but most are not marked or just have a small sign. While metered taxis are common in cities, negotiate fares in advance for longer trips or in rural areas.

Taxis can be quite expensive and sometimes the vehicles are not in good condition or they don’t have insurance. In the more rural areas you can sometimes even catch a ride on a quad or a motorcycle for cheap.


While possibly technically illegal in Costa Rica, Uber operates and is widely used in bigger cities. It is typically cheaper than taxis but is not available in rural areas.

Domestic Flights

Costa Rica has several domestic airports, making air travel a time-efficient option. While this option is more expensive, it’s worth considering for maximizing your time at various destinations.

Sansa Air is the national airline and has the most options. There is also Green Airways and Skyway CR. Smaller airlines sometimes provide charter flights which can be a beneficial choice particularly for group travel.

Boats - Ferries and Private Transfers

Traveling on a ferry resembles a scenic tour, offering the opportunity to observe marine life such as dolphins and whales during the appropriate seasons. While expenses may differ, our experience suggests that the journey is both soothing and enjoyable, providing a distinctive and unique experience.

The Puntarenas Paquera Ferry If you’re headed to the Santa Teresa or Montezuma areas this ferry is a cheap, fun shortcut and you can even take a car across. 

Sierpe to Drake Bay – This public boat runs multiple times a day. There are also many options for boat transport around the area like fishing boats and tours. Many hotels include private water transport.  

Jacó to Montezuma This water shuttle is a one-hour trip between Jacó and Montezuma, which is the fastest way to travel to/from this corner of the country. 

Arenal to Monteverde – This taxi boat can save you a lot of time and is a beautiful ride across Lake Arenal. 

Golfito and Puerto Jímenez – On the other side of the peninsula, a ferry travels between Golfito and Puerto Jímenez in about 30 minutes.

Tortuguero – On the Caribbean side, if you’re not flying, a boat is required to reach Tortuguero, either 1½ hours from La Pavona (departing throughout the day) or three hours from Moín, near Limón (departing in the mornings only). 

Gulfito Dulce – in the south near Playa Pavones and Puerto Jimenez there are taxi boats available.

Puntarenas Ferry

Cost Summary of All Options

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