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Costa Rica Transportation: 12 Ways To Get Around Costa Rica

Costa Rica Transportation: 12 Ways To Get Around Costa Rica

Last updated on August 13th, 2021 at 05:44 pm EST

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How to travel around Costa Rica

Two of the best things about Costa Rica are its geographical size and the fact that jam-packed into its small space is so much to see and do. This country doesn’t just permit cross-region travel, it encourages hitting the road and fitting varied experiences into one visit. Gone are the days of week-long vacations spent lounging in one place. Several Costa Rica transportation options make the rainforest, cloud forest, volcanoes, canals, mountains, and beaches all possible experiences during one trip, even with little time and money to spend.

If you plan to visit two or more Costa Rica destinations, you’re probably wondering how to get from place to place. Fortunately, there are plenty of Costa Rica transportation options to choose from. Each differs across vehicle/plane types, passenger capacity, scheduled stops, routes, luggage options, the transfer of children and pets, price, and scheduling, so be sure to read our comparison below in order to find Costa Rica transportation options that best suit your budget, preferences, and needs.

Costa Rica transportation option #1: shared shuttle services

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Click here to access our free Costa Rica discount codes

General info, vehicle types, and passenger capacity

Shared shuttle services are one of the most common modes of Costa Rica transportation. They offer transportation in an air-conditioned tourist van that typically seats 8-12 passengers. The service type is shared with other travelers and is not private to your particular travel group.

Scheduled stops

Most shared shuttle services offer direct transfers, which means they don’t make impromptu stops along any route. Most shared shuttle services provide a scheduled bathrooms stop, however.

Routes

Shared shuttle services connect Costa Rica’s most popular destinations. The following list is non-exhaustive, but it provides an idea of the types of places shared shuttle services travel to:

  • The country’s two international airports located in Alajuela (San Jose) and Liberia.
  • Popular inland destinations such as La Fortuna / Arenal, Monteverde / Santa Elena, Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui, and Rincon de la Vieja.
  • Popular coastal destinations including Papagayo, Playas del Coco, Playa Hermosa, Brasilito, Playa Flamingo, Tamarindo, Samara, Tambor, Montezuma, Santa Teresa, Puntarenas, Jaco, Quepos / Manuel Antonio, Dominical, Uvita, Sierpe, Cahuita, and Puerto Viejo de Talamanca.

Luggage options

Carry-on luggage is kept with you at your seat. Checked luggage is stored at the back of the vehicle or secured above the vehicle. According to the policies of the shared shuttle service provider you book with, there may be a limit to the amount of luggage you can travel with. Large items, such as surfboards, may require payment of an additional fee.

Children and pets

Reduced rates for children are usually offered. Children up to the age of twelve travel with a car seat. If your family does not plan to travel with a child car seat, one (typically free of charge) can be requested through the shared shuttle service provider.

Pets (with the exception of guide dogs) are not permitted in shared shuttle service vehicles.

Price

Shared shuttle services are reasonably priced. Exact prices vary by route but generally fall in the $40-60 range (shared shuttle services to far-flung locations can run closer to $90). Transfers are priced per person, per one-way service.

Scheduling

Shared shuttle services have set departure times. Depending on the degree of popularity of the route you are interested in, one or two departure times may be available per day (typically one in the morning and sometimes another in the afternoon). Departure times are set by the shared shuttle service provider and are non-negotiable.

Costa Rica transportation option #2: private transfer services

General info, vehicle types, and passenger capacity

Private transfer services are a popular method of Costa Rica transportation used by travel groups typically consisting of four or more people. They offer transportation in an air-conditioned tourist van that typically seats 8-12 passengers. Larger vehicles (that can carry up to 30 passengers) are also available to accommodate bigger groups.  Unlike shared shuttle services, private transfer services are not shared with unknown travelers. They are private to your particular travel group.

Scheduled stops

Private transfer services provide direct travel between destinations, however, you’re welcome to request stops along a route. Note that some private transfer service providers limit the amount of complimentary stop time per route to one hour and charge a small fee for additional stops in order to cover the driver’s time. Stop time can be used for impromptu bathroom breaks, restaurant visits, taking photos, etc.

Routes

Private transfer services travel to almost every Costa Rica destination that’s reachable by vehicle. This is one of their advantages; they provide access to places that don’t fall along shared shuttle service routes. See the “shared shuttle services” section above for a non-exhaustive list of places where shared shuttle services travel. If your chosen destinations don’t appear on that list, there’s a good chance you can still reach them by using a private transfer service.

Luggage options

Since private transfer services offer the luxury of having the transportation vehicle all to yourself, you can place your luggage where you want. Store it at the back of the vehicle or secure it above the vehicle if you wish, or keep it with you at your seat. According to the policies of the private transfer service provider you book with, there may be a limit to the amount of luggage you can travel with. Large items, such as surfboards, may (but usually don’t) require payment of an additional fee.

Children and pets

Children up to the age of twelve travel with a car seat. If your family does not plan to travel with a child car seat, one (typically free of charge) can be requested through the private transfer service provider.

Pets (with the exception of guide dogs) are not permitted in private transfer service vehicles.

Price

Private transfer services are priced per group, per one-way service. This is the biggest difference between private transfer services and shared shuttle services; private transfer services are not priced per person. Exact prices vary by route but generally fall in the $100-400 range. If you plan to travel with a group, you can divide the cost of the private transfer service across each group member. Though private transfer services appear expensive (they are priced for the entire vehicle and not per passenger), depending on the number of people you plan to travel with, they may be the most cost-effective Costa Rica transportation option.

Scheduling

Private transfer services do not have set departure times; you’re free to select your own. Note that some private transfer service providers offer departure times 24-hours daily and others limit departure time selection to their regular operating hours, such as from 6:00am to 7:00pm, for example. If you need to arrange Costa Rica transportation according to a set schedule, private transfer services offer supreme flexibility.

Costa Rica transportation option #3: car rentals

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General info, vehicle types, and passenger capacity

Rental cars provide an opportunity to stumble upon unique and authentic areas of the country you may otherwise miss if you take the direct routes provided by other modes of transportation. Rent a car in Costa Rica only if you feel comfortable driving abroad, if you’re knowledgeable of Costa Rica’s roads and driving laws, if you have access to (or plan to rent) a GPS or map system for navigational support, and if you have a bold sense of adventure.

Small, midsize, and intermediate 4×4 vehicles, as well as vans, trucks, and non-4×4 sedans, are available to rent in Costa Rica. Both manual transmission and automatic transmission vehicles are offered.

Scheduled stops and routes

Rental cars provide significant freedom to make stops along driving routes. They also provide freedom to travel to every Costa Rica destination that’s reachable by vehicle, provided you feel comfortable navigating Costa Rica’s often arduous back roads. If you’d prefer to stick to well-maintained roads, it’s possible to travel across the country (from the northwest at Nicaragua to the southeast at Panama, as well as from the Caribbean side to the Pacific side) via fast-paced, paved highways.

Luggage options

Depending on how many people will occupy the car, you can store your luggage in the backseat, in the trunk, or in a rooftop carrier (sometimes called a canasta).

Children and pets

Children up to the age of twelve travel with a car seat. If your family does not plan to travel with a child car seat, one can be rented (for an additional fee) through the car rental agency.

Pets (with the exception of guide dogs) are usually not permitted in rental cars.

Price

Car rentals are priced per day or per week depending on how long you need the vehicle. Rates are usually calculated on a 24-hour basis, with the clock starting from the moment you pick up the car. Some car rental agencies provide a grace period within which you’re permitted to return the car after the scheduled return time without being charged for an extra rental day.

Though car rentals appear expensive (they are priced for the entire vehicle and not per passenger), depending on the number of people you plan to travel with, they may be the most cost-effective Costa Rica transportation option. Factors that can increase the cost of a car rental include the vehicle’s size, model, and transmission type; the number of days you need the vehicle, the car’s pick-up and return locations, the extent of insurance you wish to purchase, and optional add-ons.

Scheduling

Having a rental car is ideal if you want to explore Costa Rica at your own pace and according to your own schedule. Within the regular operating hours of your preferred car rental agency, you can choose your desired car pick-up and return times, as well as the total number of days you’d like to have the vehicle. Other decisions you can make for yourself include the time of day you’d like to hit the road, the roads you’d like to take, and the pace at which you travel.

Planning to rent a car in Costa Rica? Don’t miss our related blog posts:

Renting A Car In Costa Rica: Should You Do It?

How Not To Fall For Costa Rica Car Rental Scams

Costa Rica Car Rental Insurance

This Is The Costa Rica Car Rental Agency We Rent Cars Through

Costa Rica transportation option #4: domestic flights

General info, plane types, and passenger capacity

A handful of local airlines provide domestic flights that connect Costa Rican destinations. Flights are commonly provided using Cessna Grand Caravan planes, which typically seat 8-14 people.

Scheduled stops

Most domestic airlines offer direct flights to San Jose from destinations around Costa Rica. If you plan to fly between two destinations, you may find that a stopover in San Jose is required.

Routes

Domestic flights connect several of Costa Rica’s popular destinations and a handful of less popular locales. The following list is non-exhaustive, but it provides an idea of the types of places that have domestic airports and welcome domestic flights:

  • The country’s two international airports located in Alajuela (San Jose) and Liberia.
  • Popular destinations such as La Fortuna, Quepos / Manuel Antonio, Tortuguero, Tamarindo, Nosara, Drake Bay, and Puerto Jimenez.
  • Less popular destinations including Limon, Tambor, San Isidro de El General, Palmar, and Golfito.
  • Costa Rica’s neighbor to the northwest, Nicaragua.

Luggage options

Domestic airlines typically allow one piece of complimentary carry-on luggage (plus personal items; see below for details) and charge an additional fee for excess baggage. Luggage policies and fees are sometimes determined by ticket types or the use of a discount code, so have the domestic airline confirm what policies and fees apply to your particular reservation.

Luggage policies vary across domestic airlines. However, a good rule to follow suggests that you should keep your complimentary piece of carry-on luggage under 10 lbs and smaller than 20 linear inches. Excess baggage fees also vary. Budget $1.50 (USD) for each extra pound of luggage you plan to take on the plane. Examples of personal items you’re usually allowed to take on domestic flights free of charge include a purse, book, camera, pair of binoculars, or a laptop. Large items, including fishing poles, golf clubs, scuba diving equipment, and bikes, are accepted on most domestic flights (availability permitting) and typically have a flat fee for one-way transport (budget $30 per item).

Children and pets

Some domestic airlines allow young children (typically under the age of 2) to fly for free when they sit on their parent’s lap. Reduced rates for older children are usually offered. Identification for each child must be provided upon check-in.

Pets (with the exception of guide dogs that weigh less than 88 lbs) are not permitted on domestic flights.

Price

Airfare for domestic flights varies according to several factors including the route, date of travel, and ticket type. Domestic flights are priced per person, per one-way service.

Depending on which domestic airport you fly into and/or out of, you may need to pay an added fee or departure tax to access private land. Have the domestic airline confirm what fees/taxes will apply to your particular reservation.

Since most domestic airports sit outside of city/town centers, don’t forget to budget for ground transportation between the airport and your final destination, such as a hotel. Taxis and private transfer services are good options for covering this leg of the trip.

Scheduling

Domestic flights can be an expensive mode of Costa Rica transportation, but they can significantly reduce travel time between destinations.

Domestic flights have set departure times. The popularity of the route and the travel season determine the number of flights that are available each day. Departure times are set by the airline and are non-negotiable.

Costa Rica transportation option #5: city-to-city transportation-inclusive tours

Did you know you can use day tours to save time and money while traveling around Costa Rica? Learn how by reading our related blog post:

Costa Rica Tour Transportation: How To Use Tours To Travel Between Destinations

General info, vehicle types, and passenger capacity

City-to-city transportation-inclusive tours are one of the least talked about modes of Costa Rica transportation. They’re also one of our favorite ways to get around the country. In a nutshell, they’re much like shared shuttle services in that they offer transportation in an air-conditioned tourist van that typically seats 8-12 passengers. They’re also shared with other travelers and are not private to your particular travel group. Unlike shared shuttle services, however, city-to-city transportation-inclusive tours make a scheduled stop along the way to allow passengers to participate in an adventure or nature tour.

Scheduled stops

City-to-city transportation-inclusive tours make at least one scheduled stop along each route. The scheduled stop is the essence of the transportation type: it allows passengers to participate in an adventure or nature tour partway through the transfer service. Several white-water rafting tours on Costa Rica’s Pacuare River are city-to-city transportation-inclusive tours. Here’s how they operate: you’ll get picked up in the morning at one destination (San Jose, for example), be transported to the river, participate in the rafting tour, then be transported from the river to a new destination (La Fortuna, for example) upon completion of the tour. City-to-city transportation-inclusive tours are a great way to break up long travel days. They help divide lengthy routes into two parts, split by time spent experiencing a fun or educational Costa Rican activity.

In addition to the Pacuare River rafting tour mentioned above, the following is a list of other activities that can be experienced as city-to-city transportation-inclusive tours:

  • White-water rafting tours on other rivers
  • Safari float tours
  • National park tours
  • Canyoneering tours
  • Waterfall jumping tours
  • Ziplining tours
  • Tortuguero tours
  • Crocodile tours

If you’d like to receive more details about the exact tours that offer complimentary transportation between two destinations, leave us a comment below and we can confirm tour prices and operator names.

Routes

City-to-city transportation-inclusive tours connect a number of Costa Rica’s popular destinations. The following list is non-exhaustive, but it provides an idea of the types of places where you can be picked up and dropped off if you choose to travel using city-to-city transportation-inclusive tours:

  • The country’s two international airports located in Alajuela (San Jose) and Liberia.
  • Popular inland destinations such as La Fortuna / Arenal, Monteverde / Santa Elena, and Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui.
  • Popular coastal destinations including Papagayo, Playas del Coco, Playa Hermosa, Brasilito, Playa Flamingo, Tamarindo, Samara, Puntarenas, Jaco, Quepos / Manuel Antonio, Cahuita, and Puerto Viejo de Talamanca.

Luggage options

Carry-on luggage is kept with you at your seat. Checked luggage is stored at the back of the vehicle or secured above the vehicle. According to the policies of the tour operator you book the city-to-city transportation-inclusive tour with, there may be a limit to the amount of luggage you can travel with. Large items, such as surfboards, may require payment of an additional fee.

Children and pets

Some tour operators offer reduced tour rates for children. Children who are transported in tourism vehicles are not required to use a car seat.

Pets (with the exception of guide dogs) are not permitted in vehicles used to carry out city-to-city transportation-inclusive tours.

Price

City-to-city transportation-inclusive tours are priced per person. Exact prices vary by tour and route but generally fall in the $50-150 range. Note that with this Costa Rica transportation option, you’re not paying for the transportation service itself, you’re paying for a tour experience that happens to provide a complimentary transportation service between two destinations. If you choose to reserve the Pacuare River rafting tour that we offer a $14 per person discount for here, for example, our discounted rate of $85 per person (original price $99 per person) is for the white-water rafting tour experience that automatically includes free transportation between any two of the following destinations: San Jose, Alajuela, La Fortuna / Arenal, Cahuita, Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, and Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui.

Some tour operators offer the option to turn regular tours into city-to-city transportation-inclusive tours with the payment of additional fees (the fees help them cover the cost of providing onward transportation to a new destination following tour completion). In these cases, you can avoid payment of an added fee by simply returning to the same destination you departed from in the morning. If you wish to take advantage of onward transportation and travel to a new destination, choose a tour operator that automatically includes the cost of transportation between two different destinations in their rates so you can use their tours to get around Costa Rica and at no additional cost.

If you’re looking to save money on your trip, city-to-city transportation-inclusive tours are a smart Costa Rica transportation option. By using them to travel between destinations, you can save yourself the cost of other modes of transportation that you’d otherwise need to pay for to get to where you want to go.

Scheduling

City-to-city transportation-inclusive tours have set departure times because they run according to organized day tour schedules. Depending on the specific tour/activity that you are interested in, one or more departure times may be available per day. Departure times are set by the tour operators and are non-negotiable.

If you’re looking to save travel time throughout your trip, city-to-city transportation-inclusive tours can help. Instead of scheduling part of a day to get to a destination and part of another day participating in tours and activities, city-to-city transportation-inclusive tours allow for both to be experienced at the same time.

Costa Rica transportation option #6: small boats and water taxis

General info, boat types, and passenger capacity

Boat transportation (sometimes called “water taxis”) are common modes of Costa Rica transportation used to travel between coastal destinations. Boats vary in structure, size, and passenger capacity. Some boats are slow-moving, have a roof to protect from the elements, and provide leisurely trips across lakes and bays. Others are roofless speedboats that zip across gulfs and the open ocean. Most seat anywhere from 8-24 people.

Scheduled stops

Most boat and water taxi services provide direct transfers, which means they don’t make impromptu stops along the way.

Routes

Boats and water taxis don’t a few coastal destinations in Costa Rica. The following list is non-exhaustive, but it provides an idea of the types of places boats and water taxis travel to:

  • The van-boat-van service, also known as the jeep-boat-jeep service or the taxi-boat-taxi service, is a combined ground and boat transportation service that connects the popular inland destinations of La Fortuna / Arenal and Monteverde / Santa Elena which sit on opposite sides of Lake Arenal. You can learn more about the van-boat-van service by reading our related blog post: How To Make A Day Trip To Monteverde From La Fortuna / Arenal (Or Vice Versa).
  • Other boat services, including water taxi services (sometimes called taxi boat services) connect several coastal destinations including Papagayo, Playas del Coco, Playa Hermosa, Tamarindo, Playa Grande, Montezuma, Santa Teresa, Jaco, Sierpe, Drake Bay, Puerto Jimenez, and Golfito.

Luggage options

Most boats have enclosed compartments for luggage storage during boat rides.

Luggage policies vary across boat transfer service providers, but you’re typically allowed to bring one suitcase or large backpack and one small bag on board. For routes that cross lakes, bays, gulfs, and/or oceans, a good rule to follow suggests that you should keep the suitcase or large backpack under 50 lbs. For routes that cross canals (including travel to and from Tortuguero, for example), it’s best to keep your luggage under 25 lbs. Bringing excess baggage on board isn’t always permitted, but when it is, baggage fees typically apply. Budget $10 (USD) for each extra piece of luggage, assuming the boat transfer service provider will allow you to have it. Have the boat transfer service provider confirm whether large items, such as surfboards and bikes, are able to be transported, and if so, whether they require payment of an additional fee.

Children and pets

Reduced rates for children are usually offered.

Some boat transfer service providers are pet-friendly and welcome pets that are in a crate.

Price

Boat rides and water taxis are reasonably priced. Exact prices vary by route but generally fall in the $20-50 range. Both transfer types are priced per person, per one-way service.

Scheduling

Boat rides and water taxis have set departure times. Some transfers run once or twice daily, and others run more regularly throughout the day. Departure times are set by the boat transfer service provider and are non-negotiable.

Costa Rica transportation option #7: ferries

General info, boat types, and passenger capacity

Ferries aren’t a popular way to get around Costa Rica, but a few that cross the Nicoya Gulf help shorten travel between the city of Puntarenas (on the central Pacific coast) and destinations on the Nicoya Peninsula. Ferries used for the route vary in structure, size, and passenger capacity, but they’re large enough to carry many travelers and vehicles.

Coonatramar https://coonatramar.com/

Scheduled stops

Ferries provide direct transfers (they don’t make impromptu stops along the way).

Routes

Current ferry routes include the following:

  • From Puntarenas (central Pacific coast) to Paquera (Nicoya Peninsula) and vice versa
  • From Puntarenas (central Pacific coast) to Playa Naranjo (Nicoya Peninsula) and vice versa

Luggage options

Ferries don’t enforce strict luggage policies; most travelers are able to bring all of their luggage on board without a problem and at no extra cost. There are no storage compartments on the ferries, however, so whatever you choose to carry on the ferry you’ll need to keep with you at your seat. Ferry seating is not assigned; you’re welcome to roam about the ferry (with your luggage in tow) to take in various views of the gulf during the ride.

Children and pets

Reduced rates for children are usually offered.

Pets (with the exception of guide dogs) are not permitted on ferries.

Price

Ferry rides are inexpensive. Exact prices vary by route but generally fall in the $1-2 range (budget $20-30 if you plan to drive a vehicle on the ferry). Ferries are priced per person, per one-way service.

Scheduling

Ferries have set departure times and run every few hours throughout the day. Departure times are set by the ferry service provider and are non-negotiable.

Costa Rica transportation option #8: taxis

General info, vehicle types, and passenger capacity

Red taxis (and orange airport taxis) are Costa Rica’s official taxi service. They operate in towns and cities throughout the country, with the exception of car-free communities like Tortuguero. Unofficial taxi services (called piratas) are unlicensed, lone drivers who offer informal and unregulated rides. Many use red-colored vehicles, so it’s easy to mistake them for official red taxis. To ensure you’re using an official red taxi service, look for the yellow triangle that contains a code printed in black on the vehicle’s side door.

Most taxis are sedan vehicles that can accommodate 4 passengers plus the driver. If you’re traveling with a group of more than 4 people, plan to hire two taxi drivers, or specifically request a taxi that uses an SUV or a van. Accessible taxis are available upon request.

Scheduled stops

Similar to the taxi services you’re likely accustomed to at home, taxis in Costa Rica can take you wherever you need to go and make stops when necessary.

Routes

Taxis travel to almost every Costa Rica destination that’s reachable by vehicle. They’re best used for travel around towns and cities, or to sights/attractions on the outskirts of towns and cities. For cross-country travel (i.e., travel between destinations), private transfer services are typically safer, more comfortable, and more affordable.

Luggage options

Place your luggage where you want. Store it in the backseat, in the trunk, or keep it with you at your seat. According to the model and size of the taxi, there may be a limit to the amount of luggage you can travel with. Large items, such as surfboards, are difficult to transport by taxi unless you specifically request a large vehicle.

Children and pets

Children up to the age of twelve travel with a car seat. Most taxis do not keep car seats on hand, so be sure to travel with your own or specifically request a taxi that can offer the equipment.

Pets (with the exception of guide dogs) are not permitted in taxi vehicles.

Price

Taxi services are priced per kilometer, per one-way service. Exact prices fall in the $1-1.50 range; budget roughly $11 for a 10-kilometer drive. If you plan to travel with a group, you can divide the cost of the taxi service across each group member. If you keep trips short, taxis are an affordable mode of Costa Rica transportation, even for lone travelers.

Make sure the driver turns on the maria (meter) when you enter the vehicle. You’ll pay the most for the first kilometer, then a slightly lower rate for each kilometer thereafter. You’ll also pay more for the driver’s time if you need him or her to wait for you while you make a stop. Taxi services taken after 10:00pm have a surcharge. See this page for a confirmation of all current mileage rates for official red taxis.

Airport taxis charge different rates though the model is the same (the first kilometer is the most expensive; you’ll also pay more for a driver’s wait time). See this page for a confirmation of all current mileage rates for orange airport taxis.

Scheduling

Taxi services run throughout the day. Most hotels, tour operators, and restaurants can call you a taxi free of charge. You can also call the local taxi dispatch service that operates in the town/city you’re visiting if you would prefer to arrange a taxi yourself. Note that most dispatch operators do not speak English.

To grab a taxi in town, hail one on the street or ask a local where you can find the parada de taxis (taxi stop). It usually borders a central park or church.

Costa Rica transportation option #9: public bus

General info, vehicle types, and passenger capacity

You may be surprised to learn that Costa Rica has a well-established public transit system. Local buses are used widely and primarily by Costa Rican residents, but a small percentage of international visitors rely on them too. If you’re looking to have an authentic travel experience or to move around Costa Rica on a tight budget, public bus rides are a good option.

Despite popular belief, most buses in Costa Rica aren’t “chicken buses”. They’re full-size buses that offer sliding windows (a few have air conditioning) and padded seats.

Scheduled stops

The number of scheduled stops you’ll make while riding a public bus depends on whether you board a bus signed as a directo (direct) or a colectivo (collective). A bus signed as a directo will provide you with direct (or near direct) service between two destinations. In a few cases, one brief stop is made along the way. A bus signed as a colectivo will make several stops before arriving at its final destination. It’s the bus type most often traveled by Costa Ricans who reside in small towns on the outskirts of major cities. It’s also the slowest and typically the cheapest form of public transportation.

Routes

Public buses travel to almost every Costa Rica destination that’s reachable by vehicle, including small communities that are often bypassed by other modes of Costa Rica transportation.

Luggage options

If you plan to travel with significant luggage, you’ll likely find traveling by public bus to be a royal pain. Some buses offer enclosed compartments under the bus where suitcases and large backpacks can be stored, but if you plan to use them and don’t want your belongings stolen, you’ll need to score a window seat and keep your eyes on the compartments whenever the bus stops.

If you plan to carry your luggage on the bus, know that seat spacing is tight and doesn’t provide ample room for suitcases. Medium-size backpacks and small suitcases can usually fit by your feet if you don’t mind sitting uncomfortably. Most bus ceilings have a rack that can hold small luggage items, but you’ll need to keep an eye on items stored there too because belongings disappear quickly.

Even if you plan to travel light, remain aware of your belongings at all times while riding the bus. Though we consider ourselves seasoned riders, we’ve had our camera snatched while on the bus and don’t want to see the same happen to you.

Children and pets

Coming soon!

Pricing

Public buses are the most cost-effective mode of Costa Rica transportation. Exact prices vary by route and whether the bus is a directo or a colectivo but generally fall in the $1-10 range. Tickets are priced per person and per one-way service.

Scheduling

Public buses have set departure times that are non-negotiable. However, buses run on the regular between the early morning and the late evening so it’s usually easy to find a bus that will take you wherever you need to go.

Costa Rica transportation option #10: charter flights

General info, plane types, and passenger capacity

A few individuals and private businesses offer charter flights that connect Costa Rican destinations. Flights can be provided using a wide variety of planes, including De Havilland Twin Otter planes, Britten Norman Islander planes, King Air planes, Piper Seneca/Aztec planes, and Cessna Caravan/Cardinal planes, which seat anywhere from 3-18 people. Unlike domestic flights, charter flights are not shared with unknown travelers. They are private to your particular travel group.

Scheduled stops

Charter flights are usually direct flights.

Routes

Charter flights travel to almost every Costa Rica destination that’s reachable by plane. This is one of their advantages; they provide access to places that only have an airstrip and don’t always require arrivals/departures via a domestic airport. See the “domestic flights” section above for a non-exhaustive list of places where charter flights can travel. Additional destinations include any private property that provides an airstrip. Though Costa Rica has nearly 100 private airstrips, the maintenance of many is unregulated.

Luggage options

Luggage policies and fees vary significantly across charter flight providers. Have the charter flight provider confirm what policies and fees will apply to your particular reservation.

Children and pets

Several charter flight providers are pet-friendly and welcome you to bring your fur baby(ies) on board.

Price

Airfare for charter flights varies according to several factors including the route and the date of travel. Charter flights are priced per group, per one-way service, unless you book a round-trip flight. This is the biggest difference between charter flights and domestic flights; charter flights are not priced per person. If you plan to travel with a group, you can divide the cost of the charter flight across each group member. Though charter flights appear expensive (they are priced for the entire plane and not per passenger), depending on the number of people you plan to travel with, they may be the most cost-effective Costa Rica transportation option.

Depending on which domestic airport you fly into and/or out of, you may need to pay an added fee or departure tax to access private land. Have the charter flight provider confirm which fees/taxes apply to your particular reservation.

Scheduling

Charter flights, like domestic flights, can be an expensive mode of Costa Rica transportation, but they can significantly reduce travel time between destinations.

Charter flights usually do not have set departure times; you’re often free to select your own. If you need to arrange Costa Rica transportation according to a set schedule, charter flights offer supreme flexibility.

Costa Rica transportation option #11: bikes, ATVs, and other equipment rentals

General info, equipment types, and passenger capacity

If you’re looking for an informal way to travel in and around Costa Rica destinations (as opposed to between destinations), consider using transportation equipment. Bikes, ATVs, golf carts, and scooters are available to rent (they’re especially popular in beach towns and other coastal communities) and encourage unguided exploration. Most pieces of equipment transport one or two people, but some large buggy-style ATVs can accommodate 4 passengers.

Scheduled stops and routes

Equipment rentals encourage unguided exploration; they invite you to map out your own routes and make stops whenever necessary.

Luggage options

Leave your luggage at your accommodation when you set out to explore a destination on a bike, in an ATV, in a golf cart, or on a scooter. Most equipment rentals don’t offer storage areas for your belongings. If you must bring items with you, store them in a small day pack that you can carry on your back or store on your lap.

Children and pets

Have the equipment rental provider confirm what rental policies apply to your particular reservation. Most ATV providers require children to be at least 16 years of age and have a valid driver’s license to drive an ATV. Younger children are usually permitted to ride 2-person ATVs with a parent or guardian.

Price

Equipment rentals are an extremely cost-effective mode of inner-city Costa Rica transportation. Exact prices vary by equipment type and rental period but generally fall in the $10-40 range. Rentals are priced per equipment piece (i.e., per bike, per ATV, per golf cart, and per scooter) typically per hour or day.

Scheduling

Equipment rentals offer the option to explore destinations at your own pace and according to your own schedule. Within the regular operating hours of your preferred rental provider, you can choose your desired equipment rental pick-up and return times.

Costa Rica transportation option #12: walking

General info

Several destinations in Costa Rica, including most beach towns and the popular inland destinations of San Jose, Liberia, and La Fortuna / Arenal, are spread out over flat land that invites leisurely strolls. If you don’t want to pay for taxis or equipment rentals, with a decent amount of energy you can get around on foot.

Scheduled stops and routes

If you plan to walk around destinations in Costa Rica, you’ll give yourself the freedom to wander and stop wherever and whenever you wish.

Luggage options

Dragging luggage around any town isn’t a pleasant experience. With the exception of a small day pack that you can carry on your back, leave all luggage at your accommodation when you set out to explore Costa Rica on foot.

Children and pets

Like adults, children and pets are welcome to walk around Costa Rica destinations. Note that sidewalks can be nonexistent, broken/bumpy, and difficult to maneuver with child strollers. Bring a backpack child carrier to Costa Rica if you have one to make walking around town a breeze.

If you plan to bring pets to Costa Rica, keep them on a leash when you visit town centers. Anticipate encounters with stray street dogs and know that most restaurants and shops aren’t pet-friendly.

Price

100% gratis (free)!

Scheduling

Like rental cars and equipment rentals, walking provides an opportunity to explore destinations at your own pace and according to your own schedule. Only roam about popular areas (or places you’re familiar with) during daylight hours. For additional safety tips, don’t miss our related blog post Is Costa Rica Safe? Yes, If You Do This.

QUESTION TO COMMENT ON: Which type of service is your preferred mode of transportation and why?

Pura vida!

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Costa Rica Transportation: 12 Ways To Get Around Costa Rica
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Costa Rica Transportation: 12 Ways To Get Around Costa Rica
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We compare/contrast 12 types of Costa Rica transportation, plus offer free discounts for shuttles and car rentals. Learn more!
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The Official Costa Rica Travel Blog
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