In this series, we’ll be providing all the information you need as a first-time traveller to Costa Rica. All the questions you need answered but didn’t know who to ask will be covered to make your trip as fun, safe and productive as possible.
What is the best way to get around on a budget in Costa Rica?
It’s not that expensive to get around in Costa Rica – the exception being if you hire a car with a driver-guide. Otherwise you have several options to get around on a budget. I don’t really recommend using public transportation because while there are plenty of busses, they can be packed, it will be difficult with luggage and you don’t really get to enjoy the scenery along the way.
Renting your own car is good if you want to explore things at your own pace. Adobe and Mapache are reputable car rental companies that you can use (I use them for my clients). It’s a good idea to have your route mapped out before you start just to make sure that you are on a practical route. Main things to remember here are:
There will be a refundable deposit held out of your credit card that can be up to US$1500 until the safe return of the car.
There is a mandatory insurance that you have to take with the car rental – costs around US$12 – $17 per day depending on the company.
The road system is not the best in Costa Rica. It’s a good idea to get a 4WD vehicle. Expect potholes, unpaved roads even going into major tourist attractions, wildlife on the road and unruly local drivers. Basically actual driving time to get somewhere can take way longer than what the mileage suggests, so do your research ahead of time.
Never ever ever try to drive anywhere after dark. Even if you set out during day but it’s going to be dark by the time you get to your destination, don’t do it! I know this may sound paranoid, but trust me, it’s not.
If you prefer to be on a set itinerary you can join a fully-guided or semi-guided/seat-in tour. With these options you will have your accommodation, transfers etc. pre-booked, so this reduces the amount of money you need to take with you when you go.
A fully guided tour is basically with a set group of people and an accompanying guide throughout. The size of the group varies depending on the tour operator. These include pre-determined excursions/sight-seeing as well.
On a semi-guided tour you are free to dictate your itinerary during the planning phase. In fact, if you do a bit of research and plan properly, you can even do this without booking through an actual travel agent. In this case the itinerary is pre-planned to decide how much time you want to spend at each location and your hotels are booked accordingly. Then you can book your transfers from each hotel to the next though a seat-in transfer operator like InterBus which offers scheduled shuttle transfers specifically for tourist transport. Once the hotels and transfers are set in place, you can decide to pre-arrange excursions at each destination – or you can leave the days free to arrange excursions locally when you get to Costa Rica.
Taxis are an easy and cheap in many areas to go from a hotel to any local attraction or restaurant. If you take a taxi, make sure the meter is at “0” and to agree on a firm price with the taxi driver before you start.