With Costa Rica’s zigzagging roads and spread out destinations, getting from point A to point B can be either half the fun or the most frustrating part of your trip. But if you’re planning to visit areas on Costa Rica’s southern Nicoya Peninsula like Montezuma, Mal Pais, or Santa Teresa, one great option is to take the Puntarenas Ferry. This ferry accommodates passengers but you can also take your car. In this post, we’ll explain when using the ferry makes sense and give you all the details to make your ride as stress free as possible.
About the Puntarenas Ferry
The Puntarenas Ferry travels between the ports of Puntarenas on the Central Pacific Coast and Paquera on the Nicoya Peninsula. The ride across the bay is 11 nautical miles and takes about 70 minutes. The large ship holds 170 cars and up to 700 passengers but is rarely full. Because of the size, the ferry is very steady in the water and you can hardly feel any movement from waves or winds. The views along the way are beautiful too and make for a nice break from driving or riding the bus. Our first ride on the Puntarenas Ferry was back in 2007 when we took the public bus from San Jose to Montezuma. On a more recent trip, we had a rental car and chose to take the ferry to save time driving.
Tip: Riding the ferry can cut off hours of travel time if you are accessing the Southern Nicoya Peninsula from the Central Pacific Coast/San Jose or vice-versa. If you are coming from or going to Guanacaste or points up the coast, it probably makes more sense to drive the roads along the peninsula instead.
How it Works
Taking the Bus
If you are riding a direct bus between San Jose and Santa Teresa or Montezuma, your driver will pull up to the ferry landing in either Puntarenas or Paquera. You’ll then get a ticket from the driver for the ferry (included in the bus fare), get your bags from under the bus, and wait in a designated area while the bus parks on the boat. When it’s time to board, you’ll walk onto the ferry with your bags and then board the same bus again on the other side. If you are taking collective buses to Puntarenas or Paquera (buses that make local stops between destinations), read the instructions below for how to buy your ticket at the ferry dock.
Boarding the Ferry with a Car
If you’re planning to take your car across, the process is a little different and there are more steps. Below we’ll give instructions for both the Puntarenas Ferry terminal and the Paquera Ferry terminal.
In Puntarenas, much of the city is built on a long point that juts out into the ocean. To get to the ferry terminal, just follow the main road, Avenue Central, all the way to the end of the point and take a right. The terminal is located around the corner from a small water park and lighthouse. This area is a little confusing since the docks are hard to see and there are a lot of different buildings. People are also likely to come up to you and offer their help. They do this in exchange for a tip at the end. The process is easy enough to do on your own, though.
The first step is to get your car in line (You do this before you buy tickets). Look for a yellow gate and blue sign (pictured below) that says Entrada de Pasajeros/Passenger Entry. To the right of this gate/sign, there is a large paved area where the cars, vans, trucks, and buses line up. Don’t be scared, just drive in and get in line. Stay to the left if there is room. A ferry employee will guide you to the right spot and hand you a laminated ticket. You can turn off your car at this point.
Note: If you are running late or it is very busy (weekends/holidays), sometimes the line can extend down the street. Try to arrive at least 45 minutes early to avoid having to rush.
Once you have parked, you will need to buy tickets for each person in your car and the car itself. To do this, go directly across the street to the small building that says Boleteria Ferry a Paquera (pictured below). Only one person has to go, but be sure to bring the laminated ticket that you received for the car.
At the Boleteria building, you will probably have to wait in a short line to get your tickets. The fares are displayed on the wall (see the end of this post for fares too). They only accept cash and do not take $50 or $100 bills. They will take the laminated ticket and give you a paper one for the car and one for each passenger. Once you have your tickets, you can return to your car. They prefer that only the driver remain in the car during boarding so other passengers usually get out and walk onto the ferry when the time comes. If you have young kids or older passengers though, they will probably allow it. As you drive on, ferry employees will guide you to a parking spot on the ship. Lock everything up and go find your group on the upper decks.
The ferry terminal in Paquera is much smaller and less hectic than the one in Puntarenas. The process is almost the same too. To get to the ferry terminal, you take the road (Route 621) past the Pali grocery store and gas station in Paquera and follow it to the end. When you arrive, park in one of the lines with help from the ferry employee and go inside the building to buy your tickets. Only one person has to go; the other passengers can stay with the car/luggage. Inside the building, look for the blue ticket counter (pictured below).
At the counter, make sure to buy a ticket for your car and each passenger. The fares are displayed on the adjacent wall (see the end of this post too). They only accept cash and do not take $50 or $100 bills. Once you have your tickets, you can return to your car. If you have extra time, there is a cafeteria-style restaurant in the building on the Paquera side that sells food and drinks. There’s a restroom too.
As in Puntarenas, they prefer that only the driver remain in the car during boarding so other passengers usually get out and walk onto the ferry when the time comes. If you have young kids or older passengers though, they will probably allow it. When it is time to board, ferry employees will guide you onto the boat to a parking spot. Lock everything up and go find your group on the upper decks.
The Ferry Ride
The ferry has an open parking deck on the bottom and two upper decks for passengers and crew. If you’re taking your car across, you’ll go up to the passenger decks after you park. The same is true for the bus. No one except crew is allowed on the vehicle deck during the trip so that your belongings are kept secure. Nonetheless, it is always a good idea to carry your valuables (cash, passports, etc.) on you.
The top deck has a canopy to help block the sun but is otherwise open to the elements. This is the best place in our opinion to catch great views of the gulf and small islands. There is a snack bar on this deck that sells basic things like chips, empanadas, water, beer, and sodas.
Tip: Be careful of the sun. Even with the shade of the canopy, we got a sunburn during the 70-minute ride. Also if you are wearing a hat, hold onto it. We saw a lady’s brand new sun hat get blown overboard by the wind.
If you’re not up for the open air, the middle deck is fully enclosed with air conditioning, a larger snack bar that has more types of food and drink, and TVs with kid’s shows playing. The seats are also more comfortable, with some couch-style seating. Each deck is also handicap accessible via a small elevator; just ask a ferry employee for help.
Puntarenas Ferry Schedule
Leaves from Puntarenas at: 5:00 a.m., 9:00 a.m., 11:00 a.m., 2:00 p.m., 5:00 p.m., and 8:30 p.m.
Leaves from Paquera at: 5:30 a.m., 9:00 a.m., 11:00 a.m., 2:00 p.m., 5:00 p.m., and 8:00 p.m.
Adults: ₡810 (about $1.50)
Children Under 12: ₡485 (about $1)
Regular Sized Vehicle: ₡11,400 (about $21)
Motorcycle: ₡3,400 (about $6)
Bicycle: ₡2,200 (about $4)
Note: To double check the schedule or rates, visit the Naviera Tambor website.
If you’re looking to cut some driving time off your next trip to the Nicoya Peninsula, we highly recommend taking the ferry between Puntarenas and Paquera. The ride is beautiful and you won’t regret it.
Have you taken the Puntarenas Ferry? Leave us a comment about your experience below (Email subscribers click here to post your comment online).
Looking for more information to help plan your trip to the Nicoya Peninsula? Check out these posts:
- Road Trip to Mal Pais: Why we loved our road trip to Mal Pais and Santa Teresa. Awesome beaches to check out, an overview of restaurants and activities, and how to get to this remote destination.
- Montezuma: A Bohemian Beach Town: Our Guide to the best restaurants, hotels and other activities that you won’t want to miss on your visit to Montezuma.
- Rental Car Discount: Find out how to save on a rental car for your trip, plus extras like a free second driver, free drop off at hotels, and discounted GPS.