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Living Abroad in Costa Rica
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"Puddle-jumper" lands at Carate airstrip
Excerpted from Living Abroad in Costa Rica

How will I get around Costa Rica?

By air
By bus
By car

By air

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.

SANSA is the domestic branch of TACA (the national airline); they fly out of Juan Santamaría Airport just outside of San Jose.

NatureAir (toll free from the U.S. or Canada 800/235-9272) flies out of Tobías Bolaños Airport in the Pavas section of San Jose.

By Bus

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

Grayline/Fantasy 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 shuttle service.

By car

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 scrape.

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.




For more information, see Living Abroad in Costa Rica.

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