Pura Vida! If you are heading to Costa Rica, you are in for such a wonderful trip!

Costa Rica is home to rainforests, hot springs, volcanoes, beaches for surfing and/or relaxing, yoga retreats, and so much more. You’ll be needing to get yourself around the country, so I suggest reading up on my quick travel guide before you head out.

Here’s my Quick Guide to Overland Travel in Costa Rica

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– Shared Shuttles –

If you’re short on vacation time and aren’t on a super tight budget, shuttles are for you! These are mini buses seating up to 12 people. They’ll pick up right from your accommodation and drop you at your next accommodation. They have AC, will make a few stops for the toilet/lunch, and are the most efficient form of transport. You can arrange them directly with your accommodation, whether in a hotel or hostel, or I can do it all for you!

Here’s an idea of pricing (per person) :

  • San Jose – La Fortuna : $54
  • La Fortuna – Monteverde (combo of shuttle bus and boat to get across Lake Arenal and save time) : $35
  • Monteverde – Tamarindo : $45-52
  • Puerto Viejo – San Jose : $52
  • Puerto Viejo – Bocas del Toro (Panama) : $27

Some reliable shuttle bus companies include INTERBUS, Grey Line, Easy Ride, and Tropical Tours.

Border Crossing

Crossing the border to a neighboring country in a shuttle is extremely speedy since there are usually just a handful of people in the shuttle. They’ll guide you through the process and wait for everyone to complete customs to continue on. Timing is based on if everyone has their documents in order and if you’re traveling in peak season.

– Public Bus –

If you have a relaxed schedule and want to save some $$$, then I suggest the public bus system! They’re typically very reliable, on time, inexpensive, and often comfortable as long as you have a seat.

There are two types of buses: directo and colectivo. Directo will go to the destination with just a few stops, collectivo will make many stops to pick up/drop off passengers along the way and are pretty slow. If you’re somewhat time conscious, make sure you’re on a directo.

Tips

  • Buses do not have toilets but will make frequent rest stops.
  • If they have AC, they can get pretty chilly, so it’s best to bring a light jacket just in case. If you get on and the windows are open, they probably don’t have AC and you’ll want to grab a window seat.
  • Schedules change often, so make sure to double check all departure times.
  • During peak season, buses can be very crowded, so it’s smart to book your ticket in advance or be sure to get to the station early.
  • Pricing ranges from $1 to $20 and can be paid in local colones or USD at the terminal window and sometimes to the driver directly. *Note that you’ll almost always get a better rate by paying in colones.
  • Public buses can be harder to organize in areas like the Oso peninsula and in the south of the Nicoya peninsula. They run less frequently and you’ll most likely have to take a few connections just to get where you want to go. But that’s part of the adventure right?!

From San Jose

There are a few central bus stations in the city and it can get a bit confusing which is the right one to depart from. Terminal 7-10 is a fairly new station and the hub for long distance buses going North. The TUASA bus stop is the hub for going to/from the airport. For heading anywhere South, you may need to head to Terminal Atlantico Norte or MEPE – best to check with your hotel or online!

Border Crossing

Public buses are very efficient for crossing into a neighboring country. When buying your ticket, they’ll require your passport details and will make a list of the people that are on the bus. They will bring you to the border, wait for everyone to pass customs (and often will guide you through the process of getting exit stamps, paying exit fees, etc.), and continue on after all passengers have finished. They’ll also help offload luggage since you’ll need to get it checked before entering a neighboring country.

This can prolong travel time if someone on the public bus doesn’t have their documents in order, so plan your schedule accordingly.

– Car Rental –

If you’re feeling adventurous and have the funds, renting a car will give you ultimate freedom and access to more remote locations.

Tips

  • Driving at night can be very dangerous due to low street lighting, wild animals crossing, reckless local drivers, weather, and much more.
  • It’s strongly suggested to rent a 4WD to be ready for any road or weather.
  • Costa Rica requires a mandatory Liability insurance, which is often never included in the price you see online. It’s typically $19/day and if you don’t provide proof of this insurance prior to arriving at the desk, they’ll charge you up front.
  • Costa Rica also requires a CDW (Collision Damage Waiver) which most credit cards and travel insurances will include. If you know you have it, you can provide proof (a written letter, not just a copy of the brochure) upon picking up the car to waive the fee.
  • Make sure to thoroughly inspect the car before driving off the lot with it.
  • The major roads are in much better condition than they used to be, but always be ready for potholes, broken down cars, animals, flooding, and sudden fog.
  • Never leave anything in your car overnight and always lock it. Try to park in a private or guarded lot.

TRAVELLER TIP : If you plan to stay in hostels throughout your journey and want to make some up for some of the gas costs, there are always backpackers looking to catch a ride. Don’t be shy when talking about your rental car and you’re sure to find some eager passengers. If you don’t want anyone hitching a ride, keep it on the down-low.

Border Crossing

The majority of car rental companies in Costa Rica will not allow you take the car across any land border. It’s important to check this out first if you’re thinking of popping over to Panama or Nicaragua for a couple days.

– Uber –

YES, Costa Rica has Uber! [and shhh, it’s less expensive than taking the local cabs] However, cabis do not like Uber so it’s not smart to speak about it with anyone in the public transportation industry. You’ll find the most amount of Uber drivers in San Jose and it’s a fantastic way to get anywhere you need to go in the city and surrounding neighborhoods, especially if you don’t have the time for the public bus.

Outside of San Jose, like in La Fortuna, maybe 1 or 2 drivers will pop up on the app if you’re lucky. We had no such luck successfully getting a ride anywhere but in San Jose, but that could be because of low season.

– Useful Links –


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Photo Cred:   Shuttle || Bus

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