Costa Rica Transportation:
How to Get Here
Flying in to Costa Rica
In Costa Rica there are two international airports to which you can arrive. The major airport is the Juan Santa Maria Airport (SJO) outside of San Jose in Alajuela. The other is the airport in Liberia, which is northwest of San Jose. I’ll discuss the San Jose airport here, as that is the one you’ll fly into if you are coming to the Caribbean. For details on the airport, take a look at my post Flying In To San Jose.
Aside from the major airlines that fly into San Jose, smaller airlines that sometimes offer good deals are JetBlue, SpiritAir and Taca. For travel within Costa Rica there are two small airlines NatureAir and Sansa. There is an airport in Limon, a city one hour north of Puerto Viejo, however there are no airlines flying scheduled flights to Limon airport at this time. NatureAir offers charter flights to Limon.
When planning your trip to the Caribbean, bear in mind that it is a five hour drive from the airport to Puerto Viejo and that it gets dark at 6 p.m. Consequently, if your flight arrives after noon, it may work out better to stay over night in the San Jose area and get an early start for the Caribbean the next morning.
For your return flight home, many people prefer to leave for San Jose the day before the flight so as to be sure to get to the airport in time. Costa Rica is the land of Murphy’s Law (Anything that can go wrong will go wrong). Route 32, the main highway between San Jose and the Caribbean, is a two lane road that at times has been blocked by traffic backups, accidents, road work and even land slides. The best plans and intentions can be delayed. If your flight leaves after 4:30 in the evening and you head out early in the morning, you’ll probably make it to the airport in time.
Getting to the Caribbean
There are a number of ways to get from the airport to Puerto Viejo in the Caribbean. I offer a guide service and I can pick you up. Check my Guide Service pages for details and contact me for the cost.
Below you’ll find some great information on:
Private Shuttle Service – A carefree and easy way from San Jose to Puerto Viejo
Driving – if you choose to rent a car
Public Bus – the most economical way to go
Rafting – For the adventurous – you can take a raft trip to get out here!
Private Shuttle Service
This is a good choice for your first trip to Costa Rica as it is easy and stress free. I recommend Interbus. Myself, my Guide Service clients and my guests at Hidden Jungle Beach House have used them many times. They are prompt, professional and great to work with. The cost for one person is $47.00 (children under 12 years old – half price). I can help to make sure all goes as planned.
SAME DAY PRIVATE SHUTTLE: This is a faster but less economical way to get to the Caribbean. You will be picked up at the airport by a private driver in a van and taken directly to Puerto Viejo. The cost is $230.00. CONTACT ME TO RESERVE YOUR TRIP ON INTERBUS
or the SAME DAY SHUTTLE.
If you take Interbus you’ll need to stay over night in the San Jose area on the day you arrive because the shuttles leave early in the morning. You can stay at my favorite B&B Vida Tropical in Alajuela, near the airport. They charge $35.00 for a single person and include an excellent breakfast. Enjoy a lovely evening at Vida Tropical. Alejuela is a nice little town. You can take a walk in the afternoon and enjoy a pleasant dinner at Jalepeños. This charming restaurant belongs to the owners of Vida Tropical. It has great food at good prices.
The Interbus shuttles only leave from a few major hotels. The Vida Tropical desk clerk will call you a taxi ($5.00) for the nearest Interbus pickup location. Have a nice comfortable, air conditioned ride in the shuttle van, with a few more people headed out to Puerto Viejo. You’ll stop to eat after about two hours. Any time you need to stop for the bathroom or to take a picture, the bus driver will gladly accommodate you. These drivers are really nice, especially if you try to speak Spanish to them. And they will take you right to our place, Hidden Jungle Beach House, in Puerto Viejo.
You can rent a car and drive yourself. The trip from the airport to Puerto Viejo takes about 5 hours. It gets dark at 6 p.m. If you are not familiar with the country it can be dangerous to drive in the dark. There are bad roads with potholes and obstacles you may not see and it is easy to get lost. If your flight comes in later than noon, I suggest you postpone your drive until the next day.
The San Jose airport is not actually in San Jose, it is in Alajuela, a city west of San Jose. The road to the Caribbean and of course to Puerto Viejo – Route 32 – is on the east side of San Jose. It can take an hour or more just to get from the east side to the west, depending on traffic. People generally take the “pista” (highway) which runs past the airport and smack into the middle of the city. I used to go that way and I’ve been delayed by heavy traffic and lost, many times. There are almost no street signs. If you get lost and you don’t speak Spanish it can be difficult. A GPS may help. I recommend using one. After living here for a few years I learned of a better way across the city but it is difficult to explain. I tell you all about it in my Travel Journal post The Secret Way Around San Jose. If you are adventurous and you want to try this route ask me about it. I may be able to direct you.
If you are renting a car, don’t have it delivered to you at the airport unless your flight arrives in the morning and you wish to drive out to the Caribbean the same day. I recommend you stay the night near the airport on the day you fly in and have your car delivered to your hotel the next morning. This will save you from getting lost or stuck in traffic on your way to the hotel and it gives you a chance to rest up after your trip and start fresh for your drive the next day.Vida Tropical B&B in Alajuela is a lovely place to stay. Take a taxi there from the airport. The next morning you can ask the hosts at your hotel to tell you the best way to get to route 32 from there.
Once you get to route 32 it’s a breeze. You begin by going up over the Zurqui – the high mountain range of the Braulio Carrillo rain forest. It is a gorgeous drive up, up and up higher. The roads are windy and considered a bit dangerous due to the speeding 18 wheelers flying along. (The photo above is an accident I came upon one day.) But as long as it is a nice day and you are cautious it’s no problem and can be quite fun. Do not do it in the rain at night. I can tell you from experience. I recount the story here in my Trip to San Jose piece.
The other side of the Zurqui takes you down onto the Caribbean Slope. After that it’s a straight shot east to the city of Limon – straight, flat and a pretty drive.
Navigating past Limon is not difficult. You don’t go through the downtown area. Just stay on the main road and make a right turn where the sign says “Puerto Viejo.” This is at a main intersection and is easy to see. It is before the port. You’ll exit the town fast and soon enjoy your first sight of the ocean. It’s just beautiful! This is the road that takes you to Puerto Viejo. You’ll pass the Limon Airport on your right. You’ll be on this road for about an hour.
Along the way you will sometimes see the ocean to your left, sometimes only jungle. You’ll cross bridges like the one in the photo above. It is a lovely drive on a pretty good, paved, two lane road – but there are occasional pot holes, so watch out. There is only one confusing spot. At the town of Westfalia, about twenty minutes past Limon, the main road appears to go straight but it really curves to the left. As long as you stay to the left you will be following the shoreline towards Puerto Viejo. After about an hour you will come to an intersection at Hone Creek. Continue straight towards Puerto Viejo. There is a sign.
Driving Directions to Hidden Jungle Beach House
About 3 1/2 miles past Hone Creek you will see the ocean. Look for a bar called “The Point”. Look at your odometer.
To get to Hidden Jungle Beach House, make a right exactly 5 tenths of a mile (1/2 mile) after The Point. at Kaya’s Place Hotel.(WE HAVE NO STREET SIGN for Hidden Jungle Beach House.) Then make your first left into my driveway. Drive past the blue house in the front and park in the yard behind it. You’ll see my house. Do not drive over the little cement bridge. Park and walk. (If you drive into the town of Puerto Viejo, you have gone too far.)
Walking Directions to Hidden Jungle Beach House from the town of Puerto Viejo
Take the main street out of town in the direction of Limon. You’ll go over a little bridge at the edge of town. The beach will be on your right. Keep going about 3/10 mile. Make your first left.WE HAVE NO SIGN for Hidden Jungle Beach House. You’ll see white painted palm trees on the beach side and you’ll see Kaya’s Place across the street. Make a left on the road just before Kaya’s place. Then make your first left into my driveway. Pass the blue house in the front and go to my house at the end of the driveway. Another alternative is to take a taxi from town for $2.00. Have the driver call me for directions: 8917-1201.
The Public Bus
NOTE: CHANGE OF LOCATION OF SAN JOSE BUS STATION
– As of November 28, 2012 the buses for Puerto Viejo will not originate at the Gran Terminal del Caribe. The new terminal is called Atlantico Norte and it is on Avenida 9, calle 12, Barrio Mexico, San Jose.
The public bus is the most economical way to travel. The bus system in Costa Rica is on time and efficient. It’s a great way to experience some cultural immersion.
To take the bus the same day you arrive, your flight will need to arrive no later than 1:00 p.m. as it can take while to get through customs, out of the airport and across San Jose to the bus terminal. The buses leave for Puerto Viejo at 6 and 10a.m., Noon, 2p.m. and the last bus leaves at 4:00.
Transportes Mepe is the name of the bus company that goes to the Caribbean.
The airport bus stop is out on the main street in front of the airport. Start by walking out of the airport’s first floor exit.
Cross the street and walk to your right around to the main street.
Go to your right again, Cross the airport entrance road…
And walk up to the bus stop. Make sure you get the correct bus going to the terminal for Puerto Viejo de Talamanca. The bus terminal for the direct buses to Puerto Vijeo has been changed from the Gran Terminal Caribe to a different terminal. The new one is called Atlantico Norte and it is on Avenida 9, calle 12, Barrio Mexico, San Jose. Make sure you purchase your ticket for Puerto Viejo de Talamanca as there is another Puerto Viejo in the same province.
It is a lovely 4 1/2 hour ride, enjoy it. After a few hours, the bus will stop for a ten minute break to eat and use the rest room. The bus passes the port city of Limon, which is the first place you’ll see the ocean. From there you have about another hour to go before reaching Puerto Viejo. The bus stops in the center of town but Hidden Jungle Beach House is just before the entrance to town. Ask the bus driver to stop at Kaya’s Place. Take the road by Kaya’s Place (right next to their sign). Make your first left and you are here!
The buses to the Caribbean sometimes sell out. Purchase or reserve your tickets in advance if possible. Tickets are only sold at the Bus Terminals. You can call the Transportes Mepe office in San José to reserve a ticket but you’ll have to speak Spanish. No credit card is needed but you must go to the ticket window at least 30 minutes before the bus leaves to get your reserved ticket. If you cannot reserve a ticket, just be sure to get an early start and if the first bus is full you can wait for the next one.
Yes! You can take a raft trip from San Jose to Puerto Viejo. Well… you are not on a raft all the way. That would take too long and besides, the river does not flow from there to here. You take a van with the raft company, to the beautiful Pacuare river, they give you breakfast, take you out for half a day, give you lunch and then deliver you safely to Puerto Viejo in time for dinner.
A number of my guests have arrived this way – or made the return trip back to San Jose – and they loved it. I have rafted on the Pacuare and it was great fun. It reminded me very much of rafting at Glacier National Park, back in Montana where I am from: the charming guides, the equipment, the rules even the guides jokes were all much the same. Of course the terrain was fascinatingly different.
I highly recommend this as a memorable way of getting from San Jose to the Caribbean and a great introduction to Costa Rica. The raft company gives you lockers to keep your baggage safe while on the river. They give you a great breakfast and lunch. They stop and let you swim in a most lovely and pristine place. And it is a pretty good deal – $99.00 per person. Let me know if you are interested in this trip and I’ll book it for you.
Each form of transportation has its benefits.
Through my personal guide service, I pick you up you get a guided tour with inside information on San Jose and the surrounding area. Along the way we can stop and sight see, while I tell you about the history of Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast. I’ll point out all the interesting places and we can stop and eat at a restaurant that serves fresh Tilapia from their ponds. (Photo Above) We can even take a dip in the pool.
The private shuttle service, Interbus, is a good choice for your first trip to Costa Rica. It is much easier and relatively stress free compared to taking the bus. And you don’t have to lug your luggage from plane to bus to taxi to bus to your hotel. This frees you up to simply look around and enjoy yourself.CONTACT ME TO RESERVE YOUR TRIP ON INTERBUS.
Driving gives you freedom and independence but for newcomers, it is my least recommended way to travel. You have to go through San Jose, which can be nerve wracking. It is easy to get lost. The traffic is terrible and the drivers are crazy. You’ve got to plan your trip so that you are not driving in the dark, and if there is construction or an accident you can be delayed for hours. And you don’t really need a car in Puerto Viejo. You can go anywhere you want to go by taxi, bus, bike or on foot. I say save your car rental expenses and use the cash for fun excursions when you get here.
Besides the obvious economic advantage of taking the bus, it can be fun. You can practice your Spanish with the person sitting next to you. Most people you meet will be friendly and congenial. When you get tired of looking out the window at the gigantic plants or the infinite pineapple fields you can people watch and learn something about the culture. The bus ride can also be long and tedious on a hot afternoon. But the seats are comfortable. That is the time to take a nap.
And of course for the most adventurous, rafting is the way to go!
Whatever way you decide to get here – just get here! I’ll be waiting.