Our trip was a fly and drive vacation which we purchased through Gate 1 Travel, so we flew into San Jose, got on the shuttle, headed to the Adobe Airport Office, rented a Hyundai Tucson AWD/SUV and drove it to our destination(s). There are a few highways in Costa Rica, but most of the roads are divided (with traffic in each direction) and many of the places you will want to visit are reached by taking dirt roads. So get the SUV!!!
Also, most of the places you will want to visit in Costa Rica don't have a street address (as you are use to in North America, Europe, etc.), so I highly suggest that you rent a GPS with the your car/SUV rental. Believe me, you will definitely use it and it will be your best friend. Well worth the investment.
This is only about the driving:
Don't forget about the toll roads especially all around and going in and out of San Jose. Not expensive as it's less than a US dollar, but if you are short on cash and only have a credit card or ATM card, it's a pain in the butt.
As well, even if pay to buy the extra insurance on a rental vehicle, and have it covered for loss or damage (provided that you credit car company does not cover such incidents) you will NOT get the tires insured for damage or flats. Seriously, there is no coverage that you can buy on the tires!
GPS is always extra (but necessary) and starts at $10/day.
There are pothole, and speed bumps that you won't see until you are on top of them, so drive carefully.
Have a calculator ready to figure out the cost of filling up your gas tank, because the attendants feel no way about keeping a $2-5USD tip without telling you. They simply keep the change.
Driving up the mountains to the central part of Costa Rica after dark can get you into twisty turns territory in complete darkness and thick fog. Not an experience you want to endure as a novice since it takes 3 or more hours from San Jose to Arenal after sunset.
San Jose does not have clear street signs, and is difficult to traverse even with a GPS. As well it has an interesting cast of characters at night if you know what I mean. If you are not there with an agenda, then you really have no business being in San Jose as a tourist after dark.
If you want to know what to expect on the resorts and hotels you'll be staying at, leave me a message. We just came back from Costa Rica on Sept 30th 2012.
If you are taking a "bus" from the airport to your hotel, you will probably be in a van. I would recommend getting picked up and dropped off at the airport because the roads are long, fairly dangerous, and are poorly marked. The drivers can also be very helpful, especially in pointing out landmarks and animals that you may miss on your own!
(Our driver took a detour to show us the energy producing wind turbines and stopped to point out toucans, monkeys, and a badger-type animal specific to the region!!)
**If you get motion sickness AT ALL, make sure to pack dramamine!!!
Arriving at the new and modern Juan Santamaria Airport, we quickly cleared immigration and got the cherished stamp for Costa Rica in our passports. The airport is approximately 30 - 45 minutes from downtown San Jose, allowing for traffic. Originally we planned to take the free airport shuttle provided by the hotel we had booked for 2 nights in downtown San Jose. Although we would have to wait around the airport a couple of hours for that shuttle to arrive based on their pre-set schedule, we could have passed the time comfortably enough. However, we didn't do this.
Previous research on how to get to San Jose from the airport warned tourists not to take unauthorized, unlicensed taxis from the airport --- licensed taxis are bright orange/red. However, upon exiting the airport, we were swarmed by "taxi" drivers and tried to bypass them which was almost impossible. A man approached us wearing an official-looking shirt with the name of the airport authority on it. Against my better judgement we accepted his offer which was that he would call our hotel, get their approval for us to take his cab, and that the hotel would pay him. Yeah, right!! His taxi wasn't even bright orange!!
However, he was as good as his word---he took us directly to our hotel AND our hotel DID PAY the fare!! He also gave us a receipt, signed and stamped with his full name and contact information should we need it or perhaps to prove he was a licensed taxi driver --- we were never sure what it was for.
I wouldn't recommend taking this method of getting to your destination, but for us it turned out OK this time.
COST: Expect to pay $25 - $30 for two persons for a taxi to downtown San Jose hotels (2012 price). You may be able to negotiate a better price if business is slow for the driver. For solo travelers, it would be a good deal if you could share a taxi with another traveler to split the price the location is convenient.
This airport is located about 20 km away from San Jose and it's the biggest one in Costa Rica. Several American and Canadian companies offer regular flights to San Jose - if you're flying in from Europe, direct flights are available from Madrid with Iberia. With only 17 gates it isn't exactly a huge airport so it's very easy to get around, but it can get pretty busy so you do need to show up a couple hours before your flight if you want to have enough time to pay your US$28 departure fee (cash or credit card, the counter is located next to the check-in area), check in, drop your luggage, and go through security. The terminal is nice and modern, there are several souvenir shops (the Britt shops offer free chocolate-covered fruit and nut samples!), a food court and a couple of restaurants, including one where you can order nice, healthy meals (something I usually look for before hopping on a plane), or eat one last casado before leaving the country :o)
Danny Jiminez - www.costaricadriver.com - This is the very first time I have written any review, and we have traveled many places. I wanted to make sure I wrote one about Danny, because we had an awesome vacation, and a lot of that was because of Danny. First of all, I would like to say that we enjoyed Danny very much. He has a gentle, humble personality, and that is very refreshing, coming from the United States. He is honest, friendly and has a great sense of humor. We were able to leave him in charge of our things in the van, while we explored the beautiful parks and sights in Costa Rica, and didn't have to worry about it. We could also sit back and enjoy the scenery on the many drives that we took with him. We hired Danny for the entire 9 days we were in Costa Rica, and paid a daily flat rate (well worth it, and he has competitive rates too.) He took us wherever we wanted to go, and it was like having our own private tour guide, catered to what we wanted to do. He really became part of the family, and it was hard saying goodbye!
I believe we were able to see much more of Costa Rica because he took care of the driving. Not only did he drive, he communicated quite a bit for us, (he speaks very good English), translating and setting up some guides for us for Monteverde, Cano Negros, and Arenal National Parks. He also took us to some local restaurants, off the tourist beaten path. He took away a lot of the stress and hassle part of travelling, leaving just enjoyment and relaxation for us. We saw a lot of wildlife!
There were 5 of us travelling with him, my husband, two teenagers, and my husband's elderly aunt. There was one hike that he took with us, and it was particularly challenging for our aunt, and he was right there, helping her along the steep, muddy trail.
Danny is the best! He will not disappoint you - very safe driver and always on time. I think he deserves 5+++ stars! I noticed only one poor review on him and in my opinion, it did not warrant that poor rating. From what I read, that review was not fair, as a lot of it had to do with circumstances beyond his control. I saw it and hired him anyway because I went with my gut feeling.
The roads are very bad in some parts of Costa Rica, and we had considered renting a car. Yes, it will cost a little more to hire a driver, but after seeing the road conditions there, especially going to Monteverde, there is a strong possibility that we would have gotten lost. There are no signs saying which way to go on a fork in the road - you just have to know! Also, the road could bang up a rental car pretty badly if you hit a pothole unexpectedly. Coming back from Monteverde especially, it was dark and foggy and the visibility was very bad. Danny knows the country and knows the roads. We don't.
So that is my review. Danny, if you read this - THANK YOU! We really enjoyed our time with you and hope to come back to Costa Rica again!
To fly home from SJO in San Jose you have to pay a $26 departure tax.
The counter where you pay this indicates that they accept VISA, among other credit cards. However, they DO NOT actually swipe it as a regular credit card. Instead, they charge it as a CASH ADVANCE. They don't tell you this either, they just swipe it and give you the paper that indicates that you have "paid" so that you can get on your flight.
You will have to pay off your card immediately when you arrive back home in order to negate any finance charges that will begin to grow from the cash advance. I caught mine early and it only got up to $0.30 (30 cents) but if I hadn't paid attention it could have gotten a lot worse.
So try to pay the departure tax in cash (they accept both USD and Colones) if you can. If not, pay off your card as soon as you get home to avoid the finance charge from the cash advance that they will charge it as.
Whatever you do, do NOT rent from Dollar Rent A Car in Costa Rica. First, they rented out the car that I had reserved, then the car breaks down on the way to the airport. After I hitchhiked back to the rental office, they apologized and offered me a refund, of which I have not received, even after contacting the regional manager. I would advise anyone to rent a car anywhere other than Dollar Rent A Car.
OK, I read these before, and to be honest, and yeah my opinion, I have no idea what they are all talking about. I rented a car for 10 days and I thought the roads were just fine. We drove from Bahia Drake in the south all the way to Guancaste with ZERO problems. Were the roads perfect, no, but more than fine, and we even went off road, and no, we did not have a 4x4 or SUV, but a small economy car. Been to many US cities where the roads are a lot worse.
We spent the first 4 days thinking that we would not need to rent a car. We could just hop on a bus or tsake a taxi. Buses, we waited 3 hours for a local bus to show up. In most countries like CR, local buses are at least on the hour if not the half hour to and from local towns. Not the case here. Also, again we thought, how much can taxis be, this isn't New York. One taxi wanted 50$, yeah, US$ to go 13 kilometers. And it wasn't like he wasn't getting it, he was. We weren't just gringo's, that was the going rate. We ended up renting a car though budget and our trip was 100% better from then on. We had freedom to come and go as we please, on our time and not have to worry about a private driver. As far as getting lost, well, that is on you, if you can't read a map or folow road signs, then yeah, you could get lost. But where is your sense of adventure! Drive the speed limit and be careful, get insurance and you'll be fine. I was surprised at how easy it was. I have driven in many foreign countries and this was one of the easiest. Before we left I read about how terrible the roads were. Never saw it. Were there holes and ruts in places, yeah, but like I said, Chicago, Minneapolis, San Fran, DC, Sooooo much worse!
I decided to visit the Arenal volcano area and Tabacon Hot Springs area from the San Jose area.
THE TRAVEL SLUT TIP: Rather than booking transportation North to these areas, for the same price you can book a one-day bus tour to these resort areas and then make arrangements (at no additional costs) to have the bus leave you at the last stop and then pick you up a couple days later for your return to San Jose. I did this and I not only saved some money, but I received a commentary on Costa Rica history & culture, visited a farmer's market, gift store and had a nice lunch in addition to spending an afternoon at the hot springs.
We discovered when we were staying in Jac , that the tourist bus travels from San Jose to the Carribean Coast not from Jaco . So we had to travel back to San Jose first....good to know when you're figuring out your itinery.
The bus was great though....convenient and reliable. and $25.00 .You can book it from almost any hotel
Interbus is a system of 8 passenger Volkswagon vans that you can get to take you point-to-point in CR. We took one from San Jose to Arenal, Arenal to Manuel Antonio and Manuel Antonio to San Jose. All the drivers were very friendly and spoke some English. They stop along the way for bathroom break and snacks. The buses (vans really) that we took were all new, very clean, air-conditioned ones. They will pick you up at your hotel and drop you off at the next one. It cost about $60 for the two of us for each trip. Not bad if you ask me. If you don't plan on rambling around CR, I highly recommend Interbus. The roads have hardly any signs and the drivers/roads are crazy! You should make reservations in advance, especially during the dry season. I suggest tipping your driver 10% or so if the service is good.
We rented a car for $24 per day including casualty insurance! We were in Costa Rica at the end of their rainy season, and had very little trouble getting around in our 4-cylinder compact car. The roads in this country are great compared to most in Latin America, and you can find a great map here.
Another group we saw paid nearly $100 per day for a 4-wheel drive vehicle, and I doubt they saw much that we didn't see ourselves.
Windjammer Barefoot Cruises operates the M/V Amazing Grace from Playa Herradura down to Drakes Bay, Quepos and Golfito and onward into Panama's Isla Coiba, Islas Secas, and Las Perlas ending at Balboa, Panama. Very inexpensive way to see some very hard to get to places. South American captain and crew all speak English and Spanish.
And then there's also private bus. We never used them as they are much more expensive (probably by a factor of ten... a 4$ ride would cost 40$) and we never had a use for them. But they could offer a schedule that better suit your needs.
But don't go for them just because you don't know the public service!
Okay, we used the private shuttle in our 2005 trip! We used it from Alajuela to Jaco. A bus ride would have been around 3-4$ each, the shuttle was 17$ each but pick us up at our hotel (we saved the taxi fare). The trip was so much more enjoyable than a public tour (the road to Jaco can be difficult!), comfy seats, air conditioned, music, 30 minutes stop for lunch, friendly staff, ...
We also used a private shuttle when our bus was an hour late in Jaco. They pick us up at the bus station, saying they were going empty to Quepos. We paid 10$ each.
I recommend the private shuttle for the long bumpy rides (still use the private bus to catch the color of the country on short easier itineraries).
I'm posting the web site of the company we use, but there must be a lot more available.
San Pablo De Turrubares, Costa Rica (Formerly La Finca Que Ama Hotel)
Good for: Business
I don’t know how many of you have stayed in an all inclusive hotel before... but this resort was so...more
Very friendly an to other d helpful staff. The newer rooms are excellent. good value relative...more