travel advice through costa rica in june?
June 20, 2006 9:37 PM   Subscribe

we're headed to costa rica at the end of the week for a honeymoon/ backpacking trip and we're wondering if anyone has any insight into getting around: public transport, shuttles, or driving?

we've tried our best to list the pros and cons of transportation between destinations because we want to maximize our time and our experiences and to minimize all possible "complications" associated with getting around.

i even looked into interbus shuttles, but that seems like the costs would build with their services.

driving seems like it provides the most freedom, but the most opportunity for things to fall apart. plus, i'm worried that we'll be at a distinct disadvantage-- cost and safety- wise-- because neither of us drive manual and the experts suggest 4wd during june.

does anyone have any advice?
(especially on driving automatic)

ps. extra credit points for your favorite accomodations, experiences, restaurants, etc.
posted by ronv to Travel & Transportation around Costa Rica (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
While not transportation advice or even my own experience, Rob at has an entertaining and (possibly) helpful travelogue of his trip to Costa Rica from 2000.
posted by rossination at 9:47 PM on June 20, 2006

Go to a bookstore and buy this tomorrow.
posted by birdherder at 9:56 PM on June 20, 2006

Response by poster: birdherder: we've got it! is there anything specific in there we should look for?
posted by ronv at 9:59 PM on June 20, 2006

My girlfriend and I just went to costa rica last month and debated about those exact same three options. Since we only had 7 days, we decided to take shuttles and taxis for the most part. If cost is a factor: a public bus costs around $1-2 but a shuttle can be anywhere from from $20-$50 per person. The shuttles are basically minivans that are well air-conditioned.

We flew into Liberia and wanted to go to Monteverde and Arenal first and then the beaches on the Pacfiic Side like Playa Tamarindo. Going from Liberia to Monteverde is tricky because you have to catch the public bus at the right time and we didn't want to chance it so we got private transportation from Liberia to Monteverde arranged through our hotel. This was the most expensive transportation, around $120 for two people. The bus schedules are a little sketchy, but if you're flying into somewhere like San Jose it'll be much easier.

If you're going to Monteverde, I highly recommend Las Orquideas, the owner was very helpful and knowledgable and the room was very nice for the money (although leaving your window open is a great way to acquire bugs in your room for the evening). We went to the Santa Elena Cloude Reserve which was really pretty and did some ziplines.

$20 per person gets you on a shuttle and then a boat and then another shuttle from Monteverde to Arenal, where the volcano is. If you're lucky you'll get to see the lava flow. When we were Arenal we stayed at Cerro Chato Lodge which was a decent place and the owner was really nice and helpful. We went "white water" rafting and to the hot springs.

Honestly, I felt like we could have shown up in either Monteverde or Arenal and found a pretty good place to stay for cheap.

I had reserved a shuttle through Interbus to take us from La Fortuna (Arenal) to Playa Tamarindo, which was $58 for two people.

Playa Tamarindo was a little disappointing, pretty touristy and a bit more expensive than I thought it would be, but we got a really awesome cabana on the beach for about $70 a night with a loft and a big bed. If you're planning on going here I definitely recommend getting a reservation in advance, many of the hotels and hostels were sold out.

We did that for about two nights and then headed towards a less crowded beach via taxi for about $10.

If you add all that up, it probably cost about the same as renting a car without all the hassle - apparently you can't drive at night because the roads are really sketchy and you're forced to buy insurance, this is from the research I did, not from personal experience.

I think the public buses would be fine, there are schedules online, although the ones that I found seemed to be conflicting. Here's one that I was looking at.

Here's some pictures of my trip.
posted by bertrandom at 10:38 PM on June 20, 2006

My (ex) boyfriend and I traveled for two weeks all over Costa Rica using public buses. It was fine - very cheap and rather crowded. At various points people thought we were a little strange (gringos on the bus... ) but we were able to get where ever we wanted.

I will say this: it was very tiring and if I were to go back to Costa Rica I would definitely rent a car. On one bus ride we had to stand up for 14 hours. And there were definitely places we found more tricky to go than others. But it all depends on the experience you want - at that time we want very much to interact with local people and not feel separated from the experience of traveling. Driving stick is not that hard, get a friend to teach you before you go.
posted by zia at 11:21 PM on June 20, 2006

Three friends and I went last spring and rented a 4wd - I wouldn't do it any other way. We did this on the advice of one in the group that had been before and had bad experiences w/ public transport - long crowded bus rides, buses breaking down, etc.

Either way, this allowed us the freedom to explore at our own pace, and not be a slave to a bus or shuttle schedule. Also, I believe we paid around $600 US for 7 days. This wasn't bad at all, split between the four of us.
posted by slhack3r at 6:48 AM on June 21, 2006

rented a 4x4 there last summer and though it cost ~$700 it was a great way to get everywhere in minimal time. Roads are rough (especially up to Monte Verde) and if you rent, do get a 4x4 not a regular car. Buses looked good and inexpensive but too restricting for a brief adventure.

Two places we really enjoyed (besides Monte Verde) were Brasilito on the west coast and Cahuita on the Caribbean. Both are fairly undeveloped and inexpensive (we stayed in low cost hotels, our money all being spent on the vehicle) but beautiful. I'd like to live in either.
posted by anadem at 10:01 AM on June 21, 2006

We were in Costa Rica in October a few years ago and we rented a 4x4. It was a little Diahatsu number that broke down on us. When I go back, I'm getting a Toyota Tacoma. The roads are really bad in many places. Even the Pan American highway is a pot-holed two lane road. Also, drivers there are pretty crazy. I did see a lot of tourist transports going around, but, we never road them.

If you are driving around, keep in mind that it will probably take you at least twice as long as you think it will because the roads are crap and super twisty. You can also count on Ferry's not running on time.

My other piece of advise, is keep an eye on your stuff. The Tico's will never rob you, but, if they have an opportunity to grab your stuff, they probably will. I lost a rather expensive camera and my wallet in Costa right out of our hotel room.
posted by trbrts at 11:22 AM on June 21, 2006

My wife and I rented a RAV4 for a week and had by far the best car we saw on the road. Driving was expensive and rather scary, but it gave us the freedom to get to Monteverde/Santa Elena, Rio Pacuare, Bahia Drake, Arenal, Poas, and a few other places (not in that order!), all in 9 days.

If I had it to do over again I think I'd do it the same way. However, I disagree with the opinion above that you should just learn stick before you go. There isn't time for that. Driving in CR is crazy, and not being familiar with a stickshift would put it beyond fun-crazy and into dangerous-crazy. So if you can't get ahold of an automatic, I'd say take shuttles. If you want to go to Bahia Drake (I certainly recommend it) there's a plane that'll fly you there.

Have fun!
posted by gurple at 1:52 PM on June 21, 2006

Response by poster: thanks all!
does anyone have any experience with automatic, though?

it's "green season" and it's probably raining every night: would renting an automatic get us stuck in the mud, or, at worst, get us killed right quick?
posted by ronv at 2:41 PM on June 21, 2006

My wife and I several years ago took the bus from San Jose to Manuel Antonio on the Pacific. Based on the bus trip, we flew back to the capital.

We were trying to save money with the bus, but it took about four hours (much of it after dark, so we couldn't see much anyway), and at some point I noticed a guy leaning out the bus door giving the driver instructions on how not to drive off the side of the road. Also, a Tico in the seat behind us had some death virus that caused him to hack violently every 20 seconds into the teeniest little hankerchief. But of course, YMMV.

Anyway, we decided to fly back in a small jet. Getting there: 4-5 hours. Getting back: 20 minutes, and the view is amazing (on such a short trip, it's a low altitude flight). You didn't ask about flying, but if you want to maximize your vacation time, consider it.
posted by hhc5 at 6:38 PM on June 21, 2006

My partner and I traveled for a week in CR this year and used Nature Air to get from San Jose to Quepos then to Arenal and then back to San Jose. It sounds like you're trying to balance speed against price. I'm glad we flew because we saved at least a day. We figured for the two of us, flying cost about as much as driving ($450 for both). However, we did have to spend money on taxis. They weren't too expensive ($5-$10 for a medium hop). But that might not fit into your budget.

If you do decide to fly, most people I spoke with prefer Nature Air. You do have to transfer from the Santa Maria airport in San Jose to another airport (Tobías Bolaños) but it's easy to get a cab at the airport. The planes are small and they do weigh you and your bags (at the airports that have scales!).

FYI, regardless, you'll have a great time. The country is beautiful and the people are very nice and proud of their country.
posted by robabroad at 12:13 PM on June 22, 2006

Response by poster: got back at the beginning of july. thanks for all the advice. costa rica was amazing.

there's simply not enough time to do everything, so maybe a more caribbean- focused trip in in store for the future...
posted by ronv at 6:33 PM on July 13, 2006

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