Learning about how to use the public transportation in any new country is always a little tricky. When it comes to Trains, Planes and Automobiles in Costa Rica, you want to avoid some of the potential pitfalls that you might encounter on your vacation. You will need to learn the tips and tricks, how to pay, what to pay, what to pay with, how to be safe, and how to make sure you make the best decision so that you get where you need to go safely, and within your budget. Today, we’re going to look at some of the public transportation options in Costa Rica, and which one will be best for you based on your plans and budget. Here are the train, plane and automobile facts you need to know.
There are 18 domestic airports in Costa Rica that offer regular flights around the country. Barra del Colorado Airport, Playa Sámara – Carrillo Airport, Coto 47 Airport, Drake Bay Airport, Golfito Airport, Guápiles Airport, Arenal Airport, Los Chiles Airport, Nosara Airport, Palmar Sur Airport, Puerto Jiménez, airport, Punta Islita Airport, Quepos La Managua Airpor, San Isidro de El General Airport, Tamarindo Airport, Tambor Airport, Tortuguero Airport, Upala Airport.
All airports offer reliable and relatively inexpensive transportation between their home cities. Most flights within Costa Rica are within $100 USD, and usually offer free shuttle services to and from the airport. This is the most expensive way of transportation in Costa Rica .Flying can often be less personally taxing and be a much, MUCH quicker way to travel than over land while on your vacation. If you want to avoid the stress of driving, and don’t want the long and the personal security concerns related to bus travel, air travel is the way to go.
Trains are a very popular option for people traveling longer distances in Costa Rica. The two major railway lines in Costa Rica are the San Jose Light Railway, which runs Monday to Friday, and the Tico Train Tour that runs on Weekends. Railroads in Costa Rica are owned by Incofer (Instituto Costarricense de Ferrocarriles).
In 2006, Incofer operated suburban commuter trains from San José to San Pedro, Universidad Latina (4 km East) and to Pavas (6 km West). It also has trains to Heredia, plus freight trains San José – Caldera (Pacific port, 91 km). A private company – AmericaTravel – organizes occasional weekend tourist trains (The Tico Train Tour) from San José to Caldera. The San Jose Light Railway is more focused on actual transportation but due to earthquake damage in 1991, many areas remain inaccessible. You can visit here for more information and for tickets: http://www.trenurbano.co.cr/horario_tren_urbano.aspx
3) Automobiles (Buses):
Yeah, buses are a cheep way to get around, but they add a level of difficulty to traveling that you might want to avoid in order to get the most out of your vacation. If you are backpacking through the country for months, using the bus in Costa Rica will save you a lot of money. However, buses are slow, they make frequent stops, and you really need to keep a close eye on your belongings. They don’t stop in every city, so if you are going to a smaller community, you might need to find transportation from where you get dropped off.
Buses are notoriously crowded (standing room only), they are not air conditioned, and have very small seats. Also, the schedules change frequently and without notice. If you’re going to use this option, you should be checking ahead of time to make sure that the buses are running as scheduled, that there will be room for you, and that they will be stopping where you want to go. This is an option for an adventurer, but if you’re looking for a relaxing vacation, taking the bus might not be ideal.
4) Automobiles 2 (Taxis):
Of course, the smaller and more intimate the market you get into, the more you must be weary of people trying to take advantage of your lack of familiarity with the local system. There are over 14,000 taxis in Costa Rica. Trade tariffs have made it very expensive for Costa Ricans to own their own cars, so the 5 million residents use taxis very frequently. While taking a taxi can be an easy way of getting around, there are a few things you should keep in mind. First of all, there is something called a “pirate taxi”. Legitimate, licensed and insured drivers have the red cars with the yellow sign on top. You shouldn’t even consider using another car when looking for a taxi, no matter how charming the driver. The pirate taxis are a common source of fraud and outright robbery.
Be prepared to negotiate. You should insist on your driver using their metering system, and in certain places like San Jose, this is the law. If your driver refuses to turn on the meter, and claims they don’t understand what you want, say “La maria, por favor” (the meter, please) and they should get the point. If you want to negotiate a flat rate, count on paying about $30 for a 30-minute ride. Also, don’t tip. It’s not expected like in Canada and the US, and the drivers make enough by charging extra for tourists already. These are good for transportation in Costa Rica.
5) Automobiles 3 (Car Rentals):
One thing you will notice in Costa Rica is that there are many less cars on the road than in Canada, the US and Europe. The 52% import tax on cars less than three years old has made it very difficult for locals to become individual car owners.
Tourists are typically allowed to rent a car for up to 90 days. After 90 days, you are required to get a Costa Rican driver’s license. When you rent a car, you will also be required to place a deposit. Generally, this runs from $700 to $1,500 USD and depends on the type of insurance the customer chooses. The rental company puts a hold for this amount on your credit card and releases it when you return the car and GPS device in good, working condition. The deposit is not released immediately, however, but rather requires around 3-4 weeks to be placed back onto your credit card. The fines for driving infractions are hefty. You can be charged over $500 for talking on a cell phone, driving over 12 MPH over the speed limit, and making an illegal U-turn. Also, the roads are not well maintained, and can make it hazardous for smaller vehicles, especially for drivers who are not used to driving on them.
The benefits of renting your own car are pretty obvious. You can stop where you want and explore smaller, more remote locations that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to visit. But, unless you are an experienced traveler in Costa Rica, this mode of transportation is not recommended. The roads are rough, there are many twists and turns, GPS and maps can be difficult to interpret, and the signage is often very inadequate. Unless you’re an expert, or just going on short day-trips, it is better to use the other forms of transportation covered. Really, it will save you time, energy and sanity in the end.
6) Automobiles 4 (Hire a Driver):
If you’re staying with a reputable vacation planning company, it shouldn’t be a problem for them to provide cheap and reliable transportation to and from any of your day trips through a driver for hire that they know, trust, and use frequently. Hiring a private van service on your own can be daunting. Prices and the quality of your trip can vary greatly, but the benefits can be great if you have the help of a local professional planning your travel.
A low price can mean a poor-quality trip in an unreliable vehicle. At the same time, it can be easy to be taken advantage of by someone charging a high price who might not have a premium service to offer. If you’re shopping around, make sure to do your homework. It’s not a good idea to take the lowest quote if it means ruining your day, vacation or life! If you want to hire a professional driver who is trustworthy and offers great service, it will cost a little more than the lowest bid. Also, if you get the guidance and recommendation of a local professional, then you can be relatively guaranteed that you will be provided with reliable service.
7) Horseback Riding?
Yes, horseback riding! Sometimes the old ways are the best ways. It might be counter-intuitive, but sometimes taking a horse can be the more efficient and enjoyable option. For example, the Arenal Volcano is only 20 km from Monteverde. A horseback ride short cut will bring you through the beauty of the natural surroundings and delivery you to your destination much more quickly than the 100 km trip by car through very bad back roads. Always keep your transportation opportunities open to what is the most advantageous for where you’re going and what you want to experience. As always, having the experience of a local expert will be sure to help you have exactly the experience you’re hoping for. These are not good for transportation in Costa Rica.
For personal, knowledgeable help planning your trip to Costa Rica, or for information about our beautiful, private rental properties in the area, please visit casadecostarica.com.
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