For local trips to San Jose from our hotel, we took the local bus. We got the van shuttle to the airport and got the bus there into the city. The only problem was understanding where the bus was going as the dispatchers didn't speak English and our Spanish is rudimentary at best. We would then go to the San Jose bus station in the Coca Cola District and get a bus back to the airport. Sometimes we could get off within walking distance of the hotel.
The first day, the bus from the city back to the hotel (near the airport) was 45 cents each (1996 prices). After that we regularly used this bus to get to the city. There are several bus terminals in San José. It is important to know which bus terminal serves your bus route.
There is an extensive bus system that the locals use in Costa Rica but we did not try it. Long-distance buses are usually crowded, especially on a fin de semana (a weekend) or a día de fiesta (a holiday).
Spend as little time in San Jose as you can! We wanted to use it as a base to make day trips tot he counrty, but it was a wrong idea. Roads are narrow, traffic is heavy so each day we wasted about an hour just to get out of the capital. When you finally get out, roads become much better quality and traffic is light.
We took buses twice to the rain forest area. Be prepared that while you travel inside the bus, your luggage will be on the top of it. So, don't take your nicest, or you heaviest suitcase, better to have a light duffel bag or backpack. Watch that when the bus stops before your destination your bag stay on it or gets back on it.
In San José an often used way of transportation is the citybus. These lines busses cross the whole citycentre and even goes to the suburbs and they are really usefull to cover big distances in the huge city, when you don't want to spend too much money on a taxi.
Of course the problem is that you will have to know exactly where you're going: the information at the busstops is not that clear, and on the busses itself is not much information either, so if you only need to cover a bigger distance once, it might be a lot easier to take a taxi after all.
But when you know what bus to take, it is a perfect way of transportation. It is pretty fast, quite on time, not too busy (except for peak-hours of course) and it is very, very cheap. For a trip of 40 minutes from the centre to one of the suburbs you only pay 40 cents.
All busses come to San Jose, from San Jose you can travel to everwhere from there...
Just take the bus, you need to buy the tickets at the bus stations.
Watch your belongings in the busses, keep tour eye on it.
There are a lot of busstations everyone for an other direction... so make sure you are at the good station. check the lonely planet or an other travelguide
The busses are good and a nice way to travel, busses can get crowded so buying a ticket guaranteeds a chair
There are two comapnies that offer scheduled van services to tourists - Greyline and Interbus. They are at least 20 times more expansive than public transportation, but has air conditioning and takes you door-to-door. Depending on how far you are travelling, the price ranges from US$5 to US$30. There are also private van service if you want to travel at a different time from the schedule - for over US$100!
There are many long distance bus terminals scattered around downtown San Jose. It is a good idea to have a San Jose map with you and know exactly which terminal to take the bus. You can get a map from the tourist info booth at the airport or downtown (beneath Plaza de la Cultura and in the Post Office Building on Calle 2 between Ave 1 and 3).
Try to get a direct (directo) bus and a window seat. There is no air conditioning in the bus. Get to the bus terminal 30 min before, if you don't have a reservation. It's not necessary to make one unless it is a busy route. The long distance bus always make a 10-min washroom stop before the final destination. The bus fare is very affordable in compare to tourist buses.
We didn't rent a car as it would have put a huge load on our budget (prefered to invest the money in activities like sportfishing!). Since we learned that the public bus service was pretty efficient and cheap, we went for it. And it was true.
For each trip, we never paid more than 8$ for two peoples. Buses departed on time (give or take 10 minutes), with the exception of one that was 1 hour late. They were usually very nice and comfortable (think of a deluxe coach of the 70's). You carry your hand luggage with you (on some trips, it's better to keep them with you, like San Jose to Fortuna, on other trip, you can use the overhead compartment) and your suitcase goes under the bus (on some trip, they'll give you ticket for it, depending on the risk for the trip I guess).
You can buy your ticket ahead of time, if you'll be boarding at a terminal. They'll give you a receipt with your reserved seat numbers. It's worth it if you plan on using a popular and thus heavily crowded trip. Otherwise, you'll end up in front, aligned with all the others that bought their tickets (they pack the bus row by row). If you think there wont be many peoples on the bus (check the day before), don't buy a ticket and choose your seat (they'll charge you inside). Back rows usually give more space for the legs...
On long trips, the driver might stop at a soda in the middle of the trip. Gives you time to go to the bathroom, freshen up and buy food and drinks. There will also be vendors boarding.
It takes longer than driving on your own (bus is slower and stops everywhere!), although some trips have an express schedule service (they usually depart very early in the morning but wont make any stop... a 4h trip becomes a 3h trip). And it's probably bumpier than a car ride. But you can enjoy the scenery and see the country and it's peoples. You wont have to learn the road, the signs, the itinerary (pretty tricky as some tourists we met there told us). And you'll save money... to put toward good use there!
San José has a quite nice system of buses covering the principal routes from downtown to other areas and vice versa. The price is cheap (100-130 colones depending on the route) and it's comfortable.
There are also near four bus stations, from which Coca Cola is the most relevant since from it depart most of local buses and transportation to other provinces and touristic areas, also at cheap prices (I got a round-trip of 1500 colones to go to Quepos, to spend the weekend at Manuel Antonio beach, and the trip was OK). However, you should be careful of not being alone at night at this place, because you could be the victim of some people trying to fool or steal tourists.
The best way to travel around Costa Rica is definitely by bus. It's also pretty cheap which is a good thing for backpackers.
Since tourism tributes to Costa Rica's national income, it is quite easy to get around.
Do NOT rent any bikes of motors beause the roads are extremely bad. When we were in Costa Rica we saw lot of accidents. The bus takes quite a long time to get somewhere, but you will, ALIVE.
SJO AIRPORT SHUTTLE SERVICE in modern vans covers all fights 24 hour service starts from $20 one way