Excerpted from Living Abroad in Costa Rica
at Carate airstrip
How will I get around Costa Rica?
Domestic airlines use small planes to make their short hops (20
to 40 minutes) to places like Tortuguero, Puerto Jimenez, or Tamarindo.
Planes carry from four to fifteen passengers, and round-trip fares
cost from $80 - $200. Residents pay significantly lower fares.
If you want to see a lot of the country but don’t have much
time, you’ll want to use these puddle-jumpers to cut hours
and even days off your travel time.
the domestic branch of TACA
(the national airline); they fly out of Juan Santamaría Airport
just outside of San Jose.
(toll free from the U.S. or Canada 800/235-9272) flies out of Tobías
Bolaños Airport in the Pavas section of San Jose.
Costa Rica has a great bus system–cheap, extensive, comfortable,
and often on time. You can get just about anyplace in the country
for under $15. It’s also a great way to see the country without
the expense or hassle of a car, and to make contact with locals,
who use buses as their daily transport. Popular destinations–like
Jacó, Liberia, and Limón–are served by both
direct (directo) buses and the kind (called normal or corriente) that stop a lot along the way. Routes to crossroads towns like Liberia
often leave from San José every hour from early morning to
late evening, while less-visited destinations may be served by just
one or two buses per day. Buy tickets a day or two in advance whenever
possible–seats sell out fast. Popular routes are served by
buses with comfortable seats and decent legroom; many resemble Greyhounds
in the U.S. Urban or shorter-distance buses may be renovated U.S.
school buses, with those unpadded seats that hold two small children
but only one and a half adults.
In San José, there’s no central bus station; instead
there are many departure points throughout the city. The tourist
office right next to the Gold Museum downtown has maps that show
where a variety of long- and short-distance buses leave and arrive.
Most points are in decent areas, but be especially careful at the
central San José bus depot known as La Coca Cola (near 1st
Avenue and 16th Street)– your bags can disappear in the time
it takes to check your watch.
Shuttle bus companies
Bus and Interbus
will take you to over 40 destinations in their air-conditioned vans.
Routes leaving from San José pick up passengers at hotels
throughout the city; one-way fares range from $20 - $40. If you
want more comfort than you’d get on a regular bus, these shuttle
services can be very useful, though they’re not always as
reliable as you’d like. Especially if you’re catching
one in a town outside the Central Valley, check and double check
departure times, and book ahead. Both companies also offer airport
Renting a car
Though it’s expensive to rent a car here and the roads are
quite a challenge, a car gives you a great deal of freedom and lets
you see every nook and cranny of the country. You don’t have
to worry about bus schedules or packing light–just load up
the car at your leisure, and take off into the wild green yonder.
Most rentals are standard shift, and you’ll probably want
to rent a 4 x 4 with high clearance, unless you’re sure you’ll
be on major roads for your entire trip. In my experience it pays
to rent a medium- sized rather than the smallest four-wheel drive–you’ll
appreciate the extra weight when you’re trying to ford a river.
Insurance for Rental Cars
When you rent a car in Costa Rica you need to pay for mandatory
basic insurance, which doesn’t give very much coverage. Most
renters opt to buy more insurance; some let their credit card cover
the high deductible (often from $750 - $1,500!) that goes along
with basic insurance. Be sure to check that your card indeed offers
this benefit. And be ready for surprises–a friend thought
American Express would cover him, but found that there was a clause
that said the coverage didn’t hold if the driver went "off-road"—
that is, on unpaved roads. Most of the roads in Costa Rica are unpaved.
He ended up having to pay a few hundred dollars to repair a small
Rental car companies will charge for the most minute of scratches,
so be sure to look the car over very carefully before driving off
the lot. Things like rearview mirrors and tires are often not covered
by insurance; you pay if they get ripped off. That’s why it’s
so important to park the car in a safe place.