When I planned our Costa Rica trip, I had no idea how expensive car rental in the country would be. I was quoted $400 or more for the smallest cars available for my dates in January. Our costs would have been a lot more because we wanted a vehicle with four-wheel drive, just in case. By contrast, car rental on our last trip to Hawaii was about $200 and we were upgraded to a Cadillac SUV. On top of the cost of accommodations, airfare, activities and food, the quotes were too much for me on top of our nervousness of not knowing where we were going. We weren’t sure if it was a good idea to drive ourselves. We decided instead to use alternative modes of transportation during our trip. Here’s how we were able to go nine days without a car:
- We took taxis and airport shuttles to and from the hotel in San Jose. It’s a great idea to find a hotel with a free airport shuttle.
- We took a $90 flight to Tortuguero for two nights. The only way to get to the small village of Tortuguero, which is known for the sea turtles who nest on the beaches, is via boat or flight. To drive here we would have had to drive 4-5 hours to a village, pay for parking and then take a boat to the lodge. A flight was actually a lot faster and not much more expensive. In fact, it might have even been the same cost when you factor in gas, parking and the boat ride. There are tours that offer two-day trips to Tortuguero but we prefer being on our own.
- We paid $150 for boat transportation/tour from Tortuguero to Puerto Viejo, our next destination. This was part wildlife tour and part transportation because we stopped to look at animals often. It is about an hour and a half or two hours down rivers and canals to Moin, followed by an hour in a shuttle. Because our boat left without us, we received a private boat ride and private car transportation to our bed and breakfast.
- For the four days in Puerto Viejo area, we walked and rode bikes from town to town. They are close enough that this is possible and bikes are a popular mode of transportation here. We also took a $4 taxi one night.
- We rode a local bus for less than $10 each to Cahuita roadtrip to explore the national park. It was a nice little day trip.
- Our raft tour picked us up in Puerto Viejo and dropped us off at our next destination, La Fortuna, as part of the cost of the tour. It’s such a good deal! The rafting tour costs the same whether you are dropped off at the same place or whether you go to another town!
- We booked private shuttle service from Arenal to San Jose for about $75 on our last day.
Advice from Lonely Planet:
- The local bus is a cheap and reliable way to get around. According to Lonely Planet, you can travel domestically for less than $20 for the longest route, but note that it would take hours of travel time.
- Expect to pay $15-$25 a day in insurance to rent a car. “Full insurance through the rental agency can be up to $50 a day,” Lonely Planet says.
- There are no addresses in Costa Rica, so you might want to rent a GPS if you do rent a car.
- Outside of San Jose, negotiate the taxi fare before getting in. (Even in San Jose I asked for an estimate of how much it would be and watched the meter.)