Traveling is an all-encompassing emotional roller coaster with usually the first question being, How do I get from the airport to my destination? With it being the tropical paradise it is, Costa Rica has evolved rather quickly in the area of airport transfer and provides multiple options to getting to your relaxing stay. With Jaco Beach acting as the closest beach to the capital, San Jose, the options of where to go, what to do, and how to do it all, become a little easier to access than the rest of the country, but this post will provide support no matter where your final destination will be.
When you first arrive in Costa Rica you pass through the typical whirlwind of a process: leaving the plane, stamping your visa, getting your luggage, and moving through customs. After customs comes the exciting part. Once you reach those doors to exit the airport, you are not quite in relax-mode. You are instantly “greeted” with a mob of people. Some with signs, some shouting their transfer service in your direction, and, mostly, you are amongst a group of other travelers trying to figure out the system of transportation. Suffice it to say, it can be a little overwhelming. I will lay out three different approaches for transfering from the airport to your main Costa Rican destination with Jaco Beach being the example destination. Jaco Beach is a highly sought out Pacific beach town and provides a good baseline as you plan your travel. There are three options I suggest to you; I highly recommend Option Three but either will get you to your spot.
Option one, I call Taxi Roulette.
This option qualifies as your first chosen Costa Rican adventure. You will have your pick of drivers and their taxis. The vehicles vary in size; from standard car to a 6-to-8 person van. Most are colored red in Costa Rica but you will find orange as well. Do not drive yourself crazy (pun intended) and pick the first trusting looking driver you see and ask “How much?” This is where you begin your first negotiation experience in Costa Rica. A typical taxi ride should use a meter, but with a 75 minute drive to Jaco Beach the meter doesn't matter the cost should range from $80 and $120. I have friends that have negotiated down to as low as $60 and a few that have ended up paying $140. It all depends on how far you want to take the haggle, but in my experience and opinion if you are paying over $100, it’s a hustle. You may have more leverage with more than one traveler because the price per person should bring the cost down. Also, If you are concerned about luggage space, do not be. The driver will make it fit. Once you get in that taxi, which will most likely not be the most comfortable seat, my only advice is embrace the driving culture and try to enjoy the scenery. This ride, with no traffic, should be one hour and twenty minutes. At the beginning it will feel a little nutty and at times unsafe, but most of the drivers know what they are doing and will take great care of you.
Option two, I call Snail Mail.
This option is for the traveler who is comfortable going a little off schedule and savvy with bus commuting/traveling. The public transit system functions well here in Costa Rica, so it’s a matter of the value of your time. The main bus terminal sits a little deeper into San Jose (as the airport sits right on the outer edge). The bus schedule typically runs on time, is easily accessible, and keeps you on the budget travel track. When you exit the airport you can lug your bags to the bus stop which is about a ten minute walk. Hopefully you are lucky enough with timing and you catch the bus dropping off. At this point you can hop on and hopefully find a seat (tickets can be purchased ahead to secure a seat, but they allow more people on for standing room). This bus will head to the main bus terminal, Terminal 7-10. From here you are able to navigate the schedule. If you want to skip the step of taking the bus from the airport to Terminal 7-10 you can grab a taxi or an Uber. Uber will run you between 12 and 15 dollars and a taxi probably closer to 20 dollars. This is a 15 minute ride to terminal 7-10. The bus you catch to Jaco Beach will be two and a half hours, just enough time to nap or listen to your favorite podcasts. Again, this a perfectly viable option but before choosing, determine what your time is worth and and what kind of peace of mind you want as you travel the country.
Option three, I call The No Worries Route.
I highly recommend this as the way to go. The first step here is try to remember if you know anyone in Jaco. If yes and they have a car and are reliable maybe you can arrange through them, but, if not, you will quickly make a new friend through scheduling a reliable transfer service. This takes all the thinking out of the equation. The cost is predictable because you book it ahead and will range from $40 a person to $80 a person. Once you step out of the airport there will be a driver and a sign waiting for you. That’s really all the work you have to do, play the Where’s Waldo game and find your name. Usually the sign is like an old-school lemonade stand sign (paper or cardboard) with your name on it, and there is a small possibility that you see a tablet being used as a sign. Once you spot him in the crowd, take a deep breath and relax. They will insist on helping with the bags/luggage and you should take full advantage of that because its your vacation. The van is comfortable, spacious, and air conditioner is running. Most importantly, the driver will be friendly. If they speak a little English, they will be open to pointing out interesting things during the drive, almost as if you’re getting a mini tour as a bonus. This experience gives you all the peace and comfort you need to start your visit. Usually once you use transfer service you never go back.
No matter what mode you choose, the day drive will provide a little more traffic with more big rigs passing each other (definitely a sight to see), but, overall, it feels more safe because of the daylight. The night drive is what it is: dark. Drivers passing each other while flashing their high-beams on and off, all while taking the winding highway through the hills of the rainforest. Like I said… embrace and enjoy because you will soon be in paradise and feel like a transportation pro. If you you decide to rent a car from the airport, more power to you just make sure to have your GPS ready, and be patient as you go because the road laws/rules are more of a suggested guideline.
Pura Vida and Safe Travels!