Getting Around Costa Rica
SANSA (www.flysansa.com) operates services between San José and provincial towns and tourist resorts, including Tortuguero, Tamarindo, La Fortuna (gateway to Arenal Volcano), Costa Esmeralda, Quepos and Golfito.
A number of companies also provide internal charter flights using small planes, one of which is SkyWay (skywaycr.com) which operates domestic flights to a number of destinations including Drake Bay and Corcovado.
Much of Costa Rica is riddled with atrocious roads, so if you can afford to fly, it makes your life a lot more comfortable. Bear in mind however, that flights almost always go through San José, so unless you're going that way anyway, you have to change.
Stretches of the Pan-American Highway leading to and from the major cities tend to be OK and the quality of the roads around San José is good too. However, if you are out of the cities, many roads aren't that great, with a mix of gravel, potholes and perilously mountainous roads. Be very careful driving, especially if you're in a hire car and want to get your deposit back. If you're a nervous driver, think about public transport instead.
Side of the roadRight
The standard of the roads ranges from generally very good in the highlands to abysmal in many rural regions. Potholes are frequent, many roads remain unpaved, and during wet season landslides are common.
The Inter-American Highway or Pan-American Highway (Pan-Americana) runs through Costa Rica from La Cruz on the Nicaraguan border through San José to Paso Canoas on the Panamanian border. Liberia and San José are en route and the 32 goes out to Limón towards the Caribbean coast.
Many of Costa Rica's highways have tolls on them. All tolls accept cash and having low denomination notes or coins ready is advisable. Toll costs are generally low and the quality of the roads are typically better than elsewhere.
You must be over 21 to hire a car in Costa Rica. Having an International Driving Permit is recommended but you are likely to be able to use just a full licence from your own country. You need a credit card for the deposit which usually costs at least as much as the car hire.
There are many different car hire companies in Costa Rica, predominantly in San José and at the main airport, but it's recommended to either book a car through a local travel agency or be exceptionally careful to note and confirm any damage or scratches to the vehicle before you drive off.
Also ensure that the vehicle comes with a good spare tyre and a jack just in case.
Taxis are numerous and inexpensive in San José. The taxis are coloured red (except those serving Juan Santamaría International Airport, which are orange). Taxis are usually metered, but few drivers use the meters as they figure they can extract more money from tourists by not doing so. Make sure they put it on and that it hasn't already been running, or ask your hotel concierge how much a fare should be, and negotiate with the driver to an agreed amount before setting off. For those who prefer to order a taxi via an app, Uber operates in San José.
Motorbikes: As it isn't the main way of getting around, hiring one isn't a popular approach that tourists would take. Having said that, ElePhant MOTO (www.elephantmotocostarica.com) provides well-serviced bikes for rental. A driver's license is required for motorcycles bigger than 500cc and do note that special documents to cross any borders are not included.
Bicycles: Cycling in Costa Rica is to be done with caution due to the hilly terrain and congested traffic conditions. Much of the interior is mountainous with huge trucks and coaches on narrow roads, making cycling dangerous and exhausting, perhaps more suitable for extreme sports cyclists. But the coastal roads are flatter, wider, and very beautiful. Hiring bicycles isn't cheap – expect to pay over US$20 per day, although you can negotiate weekly rates. Ask at your hotel if they rent bikes or can recommend anywhere.
Public transport in Costa Rica ranges from large coach companies such as the Tica Bus (www.ticabus.com) and TransNica (transnica.com) to small shuttle buses in the Nicoya Peninsula, where passengers are packed together and often jostled around for longer journeys. Bus travel, while sometimes long and potentially frustrating, is inexpensive and often quite an interesting experience.
A speed limit of up to 90kph (56mph) is enforced on most highways. However, Costa Ricans are notoriously reckless drivers who pay little heed to speed limits and traffic regulations. Be careful going through towns, as the speed limit drops. If you speed or drink drive, the Costa Rican traffic police can fine you heavily, so it's suggested that you don't do anything to antagonise them and, if you are pulled over, be extremely nice. Never try to bribe them. Use of seat belts is mandatory.
If you break down in Costa Rica, you need to call your car hire company. If you think it's a problem that can be fixed, there are service stations along the Pan-American Highway which tend to have mechanics or can get in contact with them. If you do break down, the first thing you need to do is look for two reflecting triangles which should be in the boot. Put them in the front and back of your car so that other drivers can see you're broken down.
Drivers must have a national licence or International Driving Permit. You must be 21 years of age to rent from car hire agencies, although some require drivers be at least 25 years of age.
San José has privately run bus services, charging fares on a two-zone system. The buses are crazy and fast moving; to find one going your way, ask a local – destinations are usually listed on the front windows but aren't clear.
Train lines are limited to commuter routes connecting San José with Pavas, Belén and Heredia.