Costa Rica: Local Travel Info
Where the sun always shines
Internal flights and major international airports
The capital, San José has two major international airports – Juan Santamaria and Tobías Bolaños. Limón is the country’s main Caribbean port and hosts most of its Afro-Caribbean population. Its international airport is named after the city. Liberia, a small city in the Guanacaste province is a popular destination for tourists with little rain and consistent heat. Its airport is Daniel Oduber International. Most other Costa Rican cities have an airport for internal travel.
Getting to and from the airport
In San José, Juan Santamaria can be reached by taxi, bus or shuttle and is only 20km from the city. Taxis should only be taken with red and yellow diamonds on as unofficial ones operate at their usual extortionate rates. There is a 6 departure tax in Costa Rica as well which needs to be paid in cash or via VISA. It should be noted the airport does not serve several major countries or airlines. The other San José airport supports only three airlines.
In Liberia, Daniel Oduber Quiros International serves most major international airlines and is in constant competition with Juan Santamaria, which it aims to be larger than. It is a fair distance from the nearest city, depending on where you are going. Shuttles can be taken to the airport, again which vary in price depending on distance. Again you should be careful to take licensed taxis though some unlicensed ones charge less; it’s probably not worth the risk. Many car-rental agencies don’t have desks at the airport either, probably as it is so small – having only been founded in 1993.
Travel costs in Costa Rica
Buses are generally quite cheap in most parts of Costa Rica and could cost as little as 1 Euro, especially cheap considering the vast distances they cover to different cities, though it could take you up to two hours. For longer journeys you may need to book in advance and it could cost you up to 8 Euros for a 5-hour journey. Trains are not an overly popular form of transportation Trains run between Heredia and San José though is fairly expensive compared to the bus.
Renting a car in Costa Rica
Car rental prices in Costa Rica are reputed to be very high, and end up costing more than your hotel. This used to be the case, but not anymore. There are ways to get a bargain despite the usual high rental car prices. Check both the major players (most of which have offices in and around either San José or Liberia), as well as local Costa Rican companies, who are known to offer things like hotel vouchers. There will always be agents in the country who speak English and the best way to ensure you’re getting the best deal is by planning meticulously ahead. For a small car, prices can start at around 25 Euros a day (Budget) and whilst they may not all have offices at the airports, ask whether they will either send a taxi for you or deliver the car to the airport – if you don’t ask, you won’t get in Costa Rica.
Driving License requirements in Costa Rica
Insurance requirements have certainly relaxed in previous years and it is possible to do the usual credit card allocation of funds electronically to cover your deposit and your insurance. You must have a valid passport and drivers’ license to rent a car, and note visa requirements, this cannot have expired (it’s usually 30-90 days). Be aware that if you do manage to rent from an airport, some will charge you a daily tax, so it’s best to arrange a pick up away from it for the best deal. As with everything – check and plan ahead.
Driving rules in Costa Rica
Everyone drives in Costa Rica and the highway authorities are trying desperately to maintain roads that can keep up with all of the expected and unexpected traffic. Costa Ricans drive on the right and beware; some bridges are one way and most have no guard-rails. Beware of potholes and uncovered manholes which aren’t as frequent as they used to be. In terms of driving skill, it doesn’t have the best reputation, so unless you are a confident driver, perhaps give it a miss. And as for driving at night, well probably best not to – some highways can be especially dangerous and you are very rarely notified in advance about merging lanes and sudden turns. It certainly shows what you can take for granted about driving back home. If you do have an accident, you are required to wait until both the police and your insurance agent turn up – there are legal implications should you decide to flee. Traffic laws exist but many flaunt them and the police are not exactly strict about enforcement.
Buses in Costa Rica
Buses in Costa Rica are probably the safest and cheapest way to get around, though as there are very few trains, it’s the main mode of transportation. Some buses can be reserved in advance, particularly long haul ones, and you can buy tickets if the bus stop has an office or from the driver should it not. Some routes will assign you specific seats; others won’t, so you may find yourself at very close quarters jostling if you’re at the back of the line. Generally reliable and can cost as little as 1 Euro or 8-12 Euros for longer journeys.
Taxis in Costa Rica
Taxis can be as good a way to get around as buses and can also be fairly inexpensive. They are also mostly plentiful, which you can tell by the red car (or orange if you’re at the airport) if they’re official. Be careful with your belongings when you are in one, or any vehicle in Costa Rica as jacking and attacks through windows aren’t uncommon. Also don’t assume anything is un-steal able. There are taxi stands about that are fairly recognizable and make sure the driver’s meter is working – it is illegal for it not to be. Most drivers are courteous, though if you ask for a particularly busy area of town or such a short way.
Cycling in Costa Rica
Don’t expect to find many bike hire outlets in Costa Rica, you may even need to bring your own if you intend to cycle in Costa Rica. Cycling in Costa Rica at the best of times is tough - the roads are horrible, most have next to no shoulder and the cars don't respect cyclists. Be careful to not try this around November as this is when the most rain falls. Whilst cycling can be an effective way of getting about – try to stay off road if possible, though cycling on weekends should produce a lot less traffic. Be careful when leaving your bike as well, this is not particularly advised due to possible theft issues, especially in San José.
Water Transport in Costa Rica
Several Costa Rican communities are accessible by car only after a ferry crossing. The longest ferry voyage is across the Gulf of Nicoya from Puntarenas to the southern part of the Nicoya Peninsula. This trip offers a choice of two ferries. Each passage takes about an hour, and you have to allow an hour for waiting in line. If you aren't there at least an hour early, you could find yourself waiting for the next ferry. Prices are very cheap indeed, ranging from 1-3 Euros. There are also water-taxis that take tourists to and from a wide variety of places around the Dulce Golfo area.
Hitchhiking in Costa Rica
If you’re thinking of hitching in Costa Rica, take all the precautions you would at home, such as not accepting a ride with someone who has been drinking or, if you’re female, not accepting a ride from a carload of guys. It’s always best to travel in pairs, but if you’re hitchhiking that may mean a longer wait. Gringos are in the habit of passing you up and most Costa Ricans might think you’re rich enough to take the bus which, given the low cost and safety, is probably a much better idea.