Getting Around Costa Rica

Getting Around Costa Rica

Something important that all visitors to Costa Rica need to know and will quickly realize is that regular addresses (house or building numbers with street names) do not really exist.  Within the last couple of years, many towns and cities have put up street signs, but most of the locals are not familiar with them yet and won't know what you are talking about if you ask them for a specific address.   Same thing will happen if you show them a map with all the streets labelled; they probably won't understand what they are looking at.


Transportation in Costa Rica

The common way for ticos to give directions is to estimate distances in meters (not blocks) from important landmarks (churches, banks, schools, etc.)  "Excuse me, can you tell me how to get to the Italian restaurant?"  "Sure!  It's 300 meters east and 75 meters south of Central Park."  The tricky thing with this system is that many ticos refer to landmarks that are no longer in existence.   "Two hundred meters south of the old oak tree" is not helpful when the oak tree is no longer there!  Don't be surprised if you have to ask two or three people before actually getting to your destination.  Another issue here is that most ticos will give you directions, regardless if they actually know where the place is or not.  They are friendly people and just want to be helpful.  They don't feel comfortable telling you that they don't know.


If you are travelling with a smart phone with a built-in GPS, the Waze app will be your best bet.  Like any GPS, you enter a location and it sets a route for you to follow.  In addition to this, Waze alerts you of approaching police, accidents, traffic jams or other hazards in real time, which will help you choose the fastest route.  This app works because other Waze users are constantly sending updates.  Reports say there are at least 300,000 users in San Jose alone!


What apps should you download before moving to Costa Rica?

You will have many options when it comes to public transportation in Costa Rica:  buses, trains, taxis, etc, with buses being the most popular and cost efficient.  Buses within the Central Valley will not cost you more than 2USD, and if you are travelling within one town or city, you can expect to spend a fraction of a dollar.  Schedules vary from company to company and from town to town, but are quite regular.  For example, buses from Barva to Heredia run at least every fifteen minutes depending on the time of day, and buses from Heredia to San Jose leave every couple of minutes.  Most lines start running at 5am and stop for the night around 11pm.  Don't expect luxury, of course, and you must pay in colones and preferably with coins or small bills. 


Buses are definitely the cheapest way to travel around the country as well.  All buses traveling to the coasts or tourist areas outside of the Central Valley leave from San Jose, and depending on where and when you are going, you probably need to buy tickets ahead of time, which usually needs to be done at the station the bus departs from. 


For example, to go to Jaco Beach on the Pacific coast, the bus leaves from the Coca-Cola Station in San Jose.  Depending on the season, there are about eight scheduled buses a day to and from Jaco.  But to go to Puerto Viejo on the Caribbean coast, you need to get to the Caribbean Terminal in San Jose, and as it is a longer trip (about four hours), there are fewer buses per day that head that way.  Unfortunately most schedules and prices you find on the companies' websites are not accurate or updated.  Phone calls, once you are in the country, are the easiest way to get the most accurate information.


If you go on an organized tour with a company, you will find the ride much more comfortable, but obviously you pay for it.  These companies will typically pick you up in Heredia as well.

 Costa Rica Excursions

The train is currently running between Heredia and San Jose and between Cartago and San Jose.  A line between Heredia and Alajuela is in the works.  The station in Heredia is downtown behind the Pali (where the Busetas Heredianas leave), and the final stop in San Jose is by the Antigua Aduana, a short walk from Central Avenue.  Currently the train will run you a dollar and some change.  If you need to end up in San Jose Downtown, the train is a great option as it is air-conditioned and traffic does not affect the speed at which it runs.


Regarding taxis, we recommend taking official taxis.  You will recognize these as being red in color and having a yellow triangle on the side or roof.  Official taxis always need to use the meter (known here as the "maria") and charge a standard rate, where pirate taxis can charge whatever they want.  Every town has a "taxi stop" where you can almost always find available taxis waiting, and they can also easily be called to wherever you are (the school, your house, etc.).  You'll find taking a taxi in Costa Rica is much cheaper than taking a taxi in the States or Canada also.  Fairly new to Costa Rica, Uber is also an option.  Convenient and normally cheaper than a red taxi, Uber is also great because you don't have to carry cash as you can connect your account to your bank card.


Regardless of which form of transportation you choose, we suggest taking precaution with your belongings.  Always know where everything is, preferably keeping it within reach, and be aware of your surroundings, including the people.  Be alert, especially if you are not confident of where you are going.  And, of course, enjoy your time seeing and experiencing this beautiful country!  Contact us to save your seat in our course!