Getting Around in Costa Rica
Costa Rica is a small, relatively modern country with the well-maintained Interamericana highway running through it. One would think that travel would be a painless experience. Costa Rica, however, has a notoriously bad transportation system. The roads in many places are more potholes than pavement and the only major travel hub is San Jose.
Even though travel can be a huge pain in the butt, however, a lot of time or a lot of money can make things a whole lot easier. When traveling by land, visitors can rent a car, take the public bus, or ride tourist buses. There are quite a few small airports dotting the country for those with some extra funds and not a lot of time who would like to fly from destination to destination. And in some places, travel by boat is a fun option.
Travelling Around Costa Rica by Land
The cheapest way to travel around Costa Rica is by public bus. All buses, except those servicing the less-traveled routes in more remote areas, are pretty comfortable and often air-conditioned. If you are interested in the chicken bus experience, you’ll have better luck finding it in Nicaragua or El Salvador. The problem with public buses is that they will stop a lot; we’re talking about every 10 feet in towns where the bus driver knows a lot of people. A two hour trip by car can easily stretch into three or four hours on the public bus. The most infuriating thing about the public bus system is that all buses leave from San Jose. Period. This means that even if you start out an hour closer to your destination than San Jose, you still have to go to the capital city to catch a bus to your destination. It is a disheartening thing to stare out from your bus window at the town you left two hours before.
The next option is to make a reservation for a seat on a tourist bus. These are smaller buses or large vans that seat anywhere from 10-20 people. The ride is very comfortable, it stops only for lunch and bathroom breaks, and they often travel between places not serviced by the public bus system. While you’d pay about $5 for a public bus ride depending on the destination, however, a tourist bus ride charges upwards of $30. For many, the extra cost is well worth it for the convenience. Some of the tourist bus companies will even pick you up right fromany Costa Rica hotels.
Another option is to rent a car, which provides adventurous visitors with the most freedom. It is also probably the quickest way to get around Costa Rica by land. Driving on poor roads surrounded by drivers who may or may not have their license can be rather stressful, though, so this option is only recommended for travelers who have already driven in a developing country or have nerves of steel. If you do decide to rent a car, be sure to get a navigation system.
Getting to Your Costa Rica Destinations by Air
Flying from destination to destination is the most expensive way to travel around Costa Rica, but it is also the quickest. A ten-hour drive can be reduced to an hour and a half when flying. To get the best rates, be sure to book your flights well in advance. The two main Costa Rica airlines are Sansa and Taca, so go to their websites and compare prices and flight schedules to see what works best for you. Be aware that the planes are small and that not all destinations can be reached by an airplane.
While Costa Rica is a modern country and amenities are abundant in most places, there are still some destinations that are difficult to reach by air or by land. Although there may be a few flights in and out of these more remote places, they are often full. You will find that travel by boat is often the most logistically sound option, plus it can add a bit of mystery and excitement to your trip.