What are the options for transportation in Costa Rica?

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Answered by: Gabrielle, An Expert in the Traveling in Costa Rica Category
With two international airports, a cheap and convenient domestic airline network, hundreds of bus routes, private drivers, car rentals, and taxis, transportation options in Costa Rica are seemingly limitless. But despite these many choices, a heavy rainstorm or poorly planned roadwork can hinder any journey, turning the best laid plans into a nightmare. Also, one of the most prominent parts of Costa Rican culture is its people's easygoing nature, which can mean both flexibility with regards to plans, or, what is often the perspective of non-Latino cultures, an inconvenient disregard for time. Either way, this is certain to affect at least one leg of your journey. It's best to be advised of all of the available options before traveling, as to avoid a headache if things happen to go wrong once you arrive.



The largest airport in Costa Rica (and the second busiest in Central America, after Tocumen International Airport in Panamá) is the Juan Santamaria International Airport, located in Alajuela. It receives the majority of foreign tourists arriving in the country, though some do chose to fly to the country's secondary international airport, located in Liberia, Guanacaste. The Alajuela airport also is the main terminal for Sansa Air, a domestic airline that flies to many locations throughout the country. Commonly used also is Nature Air, a carbon-neutral domestic airline based at Tobías Bolaños International Airport in San José. Tourists arriving in Juan Santamaria are advised to arrange private transfers, as the bus system, though extensive, can be confusing without a fluent knowledge of Spanish. Taxi drivers also wait outside the main terminal to pick up visitors who have not made prior arrangements.

Licensed taxis in Costa Rica are red, with a yellow triangular label on the side. These taxis are the only ones that should be trusted for reliable service, though private taxi drivers do operate as well. Drivers are known to take advantage of tourists, taking them on a longer route to their destination if it is apparent that they don't know their way around. The best way to avoid this is to have some idea of how long your trip should take, ask the taxi driver if they have a "Maria" (a meter), and watch to make sure they reset it at the beginning of your ride.



Tourists traveling on a budget may choose to take advantage of public buses, which depart from various stations throughout San José, and provide service to nearly every destination in the country. Rates are low, ranging from five U.S. dollars to twenty, depending on the destination. Be advised that this is one of the few systems in Costa Rica that operates on a strict schedule; buses depart at their designated hour and rarely wait for late arrivals.

Within the city of San José there are a variety of public bus routes. With fares of between twenty cents and one dollar, this is a much cheaper option for navigating the city, though, like many forms of transportation in Costa Rica, very dangerous at times. Theft on public buses is very common, so travelers are advised to keep a very close watch on belongings at all times, whether riding, exiting, or even walking on the streets.

Renting a car provides a good opportunity to visit more remote areas of the country without having to depend on drivers or buses. Travelers should seek ICT accredited rentals, and make sure to check fluid levels so as not to be charged unnecessarily. Also be advised that addresses don't exist in Costa Rica; locals are guided by landmarks (for example, 500 meters south of the pharmacy), so make sure to know the specific name and location of your destination.

Transportation in Costa Rica can be an exciting adventure for the intrepid traveler, as well as easy and relaxing for those who plan ahead. Just do your research and remember that stressing about the details hardly ever helps in Latino cultures, and chances are you'll find you enjoy your trip.

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