Transportation Options in Costa Rica

Are you heading down to Costa Rica for a nice vacation? Every year, more than one million people come to Costa Rica, many of them escaping the cold and snow in the U.S. or Canada. But whether you’re attending your best friend’s destination wedding for a long weekend (or the bachelorette party beforehand!), surfing with your dudes for a week, or just relaxing in Costa Rica’s unparalleled nature for a family vacation, you all have one important consideration – how to get around once you’re there).

But first, you’ll have to actually arrive in Costa Rica!

To do so, most people fly into the main international airport right outside the capital city of San Jose, Juan Santamaría International Airport (SJO). From there, they sightsee for a day or so before getting on to the real vacation at the beach. From SJO, you can grab a private car, taxi, shuttle van, or bus to your destination, which is about 3.5 to 4 hours to the popular surf town of Tamarindo in the Pacific Northwest.

Getting Around in Costa Rica

But it will only take you about 1.5 to 2 hours tops to escape to Playa Jaco, which is easily accessible from San Jose so a frequent beach getaway for locals. If you’re going east to the Caribbean Coast, there’s a good chance you’ll end up at the surf and dive haven of Puerto Viejo near Limon, which will take you about 5 to 6 hours – no fun!

If you plan on spending a lot of time in Tamarindo or even Arenal Volcano and the Monteverde mountain area, another great option is to fly into Liberia airport in Guanacaste province, Daniel Oduber Quirós International Airport (LIR). I actually prefer to fly in and out of LIR, and it’s still plenty big and sophisticated to handle plenty of international travel. From there, it will only take you 90 minutes or less to reach Tamarindo (and it’s also a convenient halfway point from Tamarindo to reach the northern border with Nicaragua and then see San Juan del Sur).

In terms of cost, that list I gave you (private car, taxi, shuttle van, or bus) is in order of most expensive to least. A private car service can easily cost you $100 or so to get from San Jose to Tamarindo or Jaco, and the price goes down from there as you go through these options. But I’d also avoid the inclination to be a cheapskate and take local buses, as the bus stops tend not to be the safest and savory of places.

If you want to get around, any good hotel or resort will have plenty of information and options on how to book, along with price lists. You can also easily rent a car out of Liberia or San Jose airports, and that’s a good option if you have your whole family with you and you’re not afraid to brave the roads and navigate on your own. Just make sure to get the full insurance because break-ins and accidents are common!

If you’re not a fan of long overland drives (like me), there’s another option: domestic flights within Costa Rica. In fact, you might be amazed to hear that this small nation has more than 40 airports! However, outside of San Jose, Liberia, and maybe the city of Limon, most of the airports are tiny – usually with just a dirt airstrip! There are two national airlines, Sansa and Nature Air, that serve the majority of domestic routes within Costa Rica, and several other small, independent airlines.

Flights usually aren’t cheap, but it’s still worth it if you want to save time and enjoy more of your vacation on the beach – not on the road. You’ll also have an amazing aviation experience flying far lower than commercial jet lines, so you’ll be able to see some of the most scenic jungles, mountains, and coastlines out of the plane window.

Enjoy Costa Rica!