Keep in mind that Costa Rica does not have a publicly known street nomenclature system. Many important streets in San José have names and most people know those names, but outside of the capital (and even within the capital) directions are given using well known buildings, stores, or other structures as references.
Most major tourist destinations in Costa Rica are serviced by at least two daily buses from and to San José. The advantages of public transportation in Costa Rica are that tickets are cheap (rarely more than $7 US per person) and they cover most towns around the country. However, nearly the entire bus system is based on routes in and out of San José and this can add significant travel time. The buses are also not booked with a reservation system so it is possible to not have a seat on popular routes. However, many do have assigned seats once you buy a ticket at the station and so get there early to be sure you get your bus.
In San José there is not one central bus station, but rather several different ones, with each station roughly serving a different area of the country, with some exceptions. For example, most of the service to the Caribbean side of the country leaves from the Terminal Gran Caribe. However, in November 2012 the direct service to the far south Caribbean coast moved to the Puntarenas bus station, which mostly serves the west side of the country. Still, you can still get to the Caribe side by taking a bus (on the Autotransportes Caribeños line) from the Terminal Gran Caribe to Limón, and then transferring there to another bus south (the Mepe line). In short, do some research beforehand so you don't get lost looking for your bus. Often you can just call or email your final destination (e.g. your hotel) and they will tell you what bus to take, where to catch it and how often it runs.
One great advantage of renting a car is that you can visit many of the secluded beaches and mountain areas. And with the power of the Internet, you can now rent just about any vehicle online and have it waiting for you when you arrive.
For 350-700 USD a week you can rent a econocar/mid size 4WD. Insurance is the majority of this cost and it is not optional. Four-wheel-drive is good for extensive traveling outside the Central Valley, especially in the wet season. In the dry season going from La Fortuna to Monteverde via a direct route was over a boulder strewn 15-30 MPH road. Four-wheel-drive was also useful on the Nicoya coast.(above based on 2001 roads). It's often possible to rent a car with a local driver from the various tour companies, if driving yourself seems a bit daunting.
Due to the condition of most roads outside San Jose, car insurance, even with a zero-deductible option, generally does not cover tires and rims. Car rental companies require a guaranty deposit from 750 USD during the rental period and a credit card is necessary for this process. Using an insurance program provided by some types of gold or platinum credit cards is a good advantage, since these credit cards would cover small scratches, small dents as well as the entire rented vehicle in case of collision or theft.
You have to exercise caution when renting a car in Costa Rica; where it is not uncommon for rental companies to claim "damage" they insist you inflicted on the vehicle. It is by far the best policy to rent a car through a Costa Rican travel agent. If you are traveling on a package, your agent will sort this out. Otherwise, go into an ICT-accredited travel agent in San Jose and ask them to arrange rental for you. This should be no more expensive than renting on your own and will help guard against false claims of damage and other accusations; rental companies will be less willing to make trouble with an agent who regularly sends them clients than with individual customers who they may not see again.
Make sure to check the car carefully before you sign off on the damage sheet. Check the oil, brake fluid, fuel gauge (to make sure it's full) and that there is a spare tire with a good air pressure and a jack. Look up the Spanish word for "scratches" (rayas) and other relevant terminology first, so you can at least scrutinize the rental company's assessment. Ask them to write down all the minor damages, not just check on the drawing, and keep a copy of this document on you.
Take the maximum insurance (around $15-20 per day); because of the country's high accident rate, you need to be covered for damage to the vehicle, yourself, any third party and public property.
For about 420 USD a week, depending on the bike and the season, you can rent a dual sport bike or a chopper. A motorcycle rental company requires a guaranty deposit from 600 USD during the rental period. The road conditions are very bad so be prepared especially if you easily get car sick.
Another easy way to get around Costa Rica is to use the services of mini-vans. At most of the hotels, the receptionist is able to assist travelers who want to travel across the country by arranging for the services of a driver. Rates are reasonable (US$29 per person, for example, to get from San Jose to Tamarindo in April 2007) The drivers know the roads well; the vans are clean and comfortable; and they take you from door to door.
Taxis are available in most large cities. They are usually inexpensive, charging only a few dollars to get most anywhere within the city. The meter is called "la maria"; ask the driver to turn it on immediately upon getting in the car, or he may leave it off and make up his own, more expensive, price when you get to your destination. Also try checking it wasn't running before you got in, the initial fare shouldn't be higher than 600. Most Drivers know familiar routes such as San Jose to Santa Ana and you can find the rate by asking "Cuanto para ir a _____" and he will tell you the flat rate. This can keep you from paying too much because the driver will not make unnecessary detours. Official taxis are red with a yellow triangle on the side. They also have yellow triangles on the side of the car which will have a number in it. If the number matches the number listed on the license plate, it is an official taxi. Do not get in if the numbers do not match. "Pirate Taxis", though sometimes cheaper, are NOT SAFE. Do not risk it. If you are alone, especially. If you are female, ride in the back seat, as riding in the front with the driver can be seen as suggestive. Caution should be exercised when using this service, extra caution. It's not recommended to ride non-red cabs.
Hitchhiking is far more common in rural areas than in urban areas. If you choose to hitchhike, Costa Ricans are generally very friendly and helpful, particularly in more rural areas where traffic on the dirt roads can be light. As always, be gracious and offer a bit of money, which will probably be declined due to the kindness.
There are two internal airlines that connect the major tourist towns. You are limited to 25 or 30 pounds of carry-on luggage per person, depending on the airline. Nature Air allows more luggage per person, as their planes are larger and are also twin-engine. The main airlines are NatureAir and Sansa.
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