Shuttles in Costa Rica: How They Work and When to Use Them

Transportation is usually one of the most stressful parts of a planning a trip to Costa Rica. There is so much conflicting information about road conditions, safety, and if you should chance driving on your own. Our Driving in Costa Rica post may help convince you one way or the other. But if you have already decided that you’d rather not drive, this post is for you. Here, we will explain when you may want to use shuttles, the difference between private and shared shuttles, and how we can help you book the right ones.

 

Shuttles in Costa Rica

 

When to Use Shuttles

You may be considering a shuttle if:

  • You’re uncomfortable driving or taking the bus in a foreign country
  • You arrive late and don’t want to drive at night
  • You want to sit back and enjoy the beautiful scenery on the way to your destination
  • You have a group larger than 5 (most rental cars hold only 5 passengers comfortably with luggage). You can always rent a car locally once you get to your destination and unload your bags. See our Rental Car Discount if you plan to rent a car.

General Information

In Costa Rica, shuttle van transfers are an extremely popular way to get around. When you visit, you are bound to see countless numbers of these vans at the airport and zipping along highways or on backroads. Compared to many other developing countries, Costa Rica’s shuttle industry is very professional and the service is reliable. Tourism is the country’s number one source of revenue so the industry is very developed.

Types of Shuttles

There are two types of shuttle options available in Costa Rica: private and shared. With either, you will be riding in a small-to-medium sized van that is air conditioned, insured, and properly licensed by the government (both vans and drivers require special permits). Shuttle vans typically hold between 5 and 14 passengers, including space for luggage. The drivers usually speak at least basic English and some are fluent.

Main Differences Between Shared and Private Shuttles

Here are the main differences between shared and private shuttles.

Number of People

Shared shuttles have other passengers onboard, while private ones carry only you and your traveling party.

Pick up Time and Location

Shared shuttles run on a set schedule and pick up only at certain places, mostly hotels (i.e., hotel-to-hotel service). Private shuttles, on the other hand, will pick you up at a custom time and place, including vacation rentals.

Airport Pick-ups

Because shared shuttles run on a set schedule, your flight has to get in early enough to make the designated time(s). Most shared shuttles cannot do pick-ups at the airport so you have to take a taxi to the nearest pick up location.

Private shuttles can pick you up right at the airport when your flight arrives. The driver will be waiting outside the airport door holding a sign with your name on it.

Length of Trip

Shared shuttles take a bit longer because they have to make stops to pick up and drop off other passengers. We once had friends take a shared shuttle from San Jose to La Fortuna. The ride was estimated to take about 3.5 hours. Instead, it ended up taking close to 5 hours! The reason was that they were picked up first and dropped off last. Their San Jose hotel was located on the outskirts of the downtown and their La Fortuna lodge was also far from town, towards Lake Arenal. They had to sit and wait while the van loaded and unloaded passengers from about eight other hotels before they finally got to where they needed to go. The reverse could also happen of course, making your trip the shortest.

Private vans are direct so take about the same amount of time as if you drove yourself.

Time for Stops

Shared shuttles include a short stop to use the restroom or eat a quick snack. Most private shuttles include an hour for time to stop along the way (if desired) to see a quick attraction, grab a bite to eat, stop at the grocery store, etc.

Luggage

With shared shuttles, you are limited to one carry-on and one piece of luggage per person. Surfboards and other bulky items are not allowed.

Private shuttles have enough room for several pieces of luggage per person (within reason, of course).

Car Seats

Both shared and private shuttles can provide car seats and booster seats free of charge. They just need to be requested in advance. 

A Mini Tour

Many private shuttle drivers will break up the trip with some casual conversation about Costa Rica and maybe point out something cool along the way. We have heard back from clients who have had the driver stop for them to see a sloth in a tree! Shared shuttles do not include this.

Cost Comparison Between Shared and Private Shuttles

A big deciding factor for everyone is cost. Of the two options, shared shuttles generally cost less at first glance. They typically range from about $45-65 per person, depending on the exact connection. Children 12 years and younger are half price with most companies. Shared rides can be a great deal for a lot of people. They can add up, however, if you have a larger family or group. We usually recommend private shuttles for a family of four or larger because the price is the same or even lower, depending on the ages of the children.

Private shuttle prices vary widely depending on the distance you are traveling and how common the route is. To give you a general idea, expect to pay around $175-$200 (total, not per person) to get somewhere that is 2-3 hours away. For an accurate list of private shuttle rates, visit our Private Shuttle Van Transfers page. If you scroll towards the bottom, you’ll see a list of some popular routes with pricing.

Here’s a quick comparison for a shuttle route between SJO Airport and La Fortuna:

Shared Shuttle: $54 per person. Leaves only at 8:00 a.m. or 3:00 p.m.

Private Shuttle: $174 (up to 5 passengers). Leaves at a custom time.

As you can see from this example, the shared option is much more affordable if you are an individual or small group, but the schedule needs to work for you. If you are a group of 4 or more adults or teens, the private shuttle ends up being the more affordable option. It is also more convenient since the pick-up time is flexible.

 

Shared Interbus Shuttle in Costa Rica
Loading into an Interbus shared shuttle

 

Booking Your Shuttles

Once you have decided what shuttles you need, it’s time to pick the right companies. You don’t want to be the person chugging along the highway in a shuttle van that is billowing black smoke! This is where we can help. We’ve guided many people over the years with their shuttle needs. In the process, we’ve learned who to trust for different routes. The drivers and companies we use are reliable and professional, and will pick you up at the requested time. Their vans are modern and comfortable.  

If you need a private shuttle, just go to our Private Shuttle Van Transfers page. We have a form where you can contact us and let us know your needs. If you are looking for help with shared shuttles, check out our Discounts Page. We have some information there about how we can save you 10% on shared shuttles through Interbus.

With either type of shuttle, we recommend booking several weeks in advance. This is especially important if you are traveling near holidays like Christmas, New Year’s, or Easter Week (Semana Santa). At those times, transportation options in Costa Rica get very booked up and the best companies are sometimes unavailable (this is true with rental cars too). Prices for shuttle vans don’t fluctuate, so you are better off reserving your spot well ahead of time.

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We hope that this post has helped you figure out how shuttles work in Costa Rica and what types you’ll need for your upcoming trip. In our opinion, using shuttles is the most convenient way to get around if you don’t want to drive. As a bonus, the van drivers are usually very friendly and will sometimes share some of their local knowledge with you.

 

Still have questions about taking a private or shared shuttle in Costa Rica? Leave us a comment below. (Email subscribers, click here to post your comment online.)

Looking for more help planning your Costa Rica transportation? These articles might help:

 

 

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34 Comments

  1. Your readers should be aware that dogs are not permitted in shared vans. I believe this applies to support animals as well. For private van restrictions, contact the company.

  2. Hey guys good to see you online. Hope the little one is fine. I have an excellent private service I have used for 4 years now. If appropriate I can post his info if you would like.

    1. Thanks Bill. Yes, Sam is doing great. He’s 2 now! For the private shuttle contact, we work with several reliable companies already but it never hurts to have another one. We’ll email you for the contact so that we have it for other people who we help as well.

  3. Hi,
    Do you have any recommendations for shared shuttle companies?
    Specifically looking to travel from Monteverde to Sierpe.
    Thanks 🙂

  4. Hi Jenn and Matt,
    I have spent most of the day reading your website as a friend and I are travelling to Costa Rica in January. We have about 10 days there. I am keen to hire a car but my friend is apprehensive – neither of us speak Spanish and she thinks it will be an added stress – I think it will be an adventure! Is it really that hard to navigate our way around?
    Thanks, Erin

    1. Hi Lydia, Last time we checked, a company called Grayline did but it was still quite expensive. A private shuttle is an option that we could help you book, but it’s $350. You could also take the public bus, but it’s a long trip due to multiple connections and just due to the fact that it’s a long distance from Sierpe to San Jose.

  5. I’m considering a flight that gets into SJO at 7:30pm. I’ve read lots of posts that discourage driving at night. However, is it safe to take a private shuttle from SJO to Arenal at night? Or do you recommend staying the night near the airport and heading to Arenal the next morning? Thank you!

    1. Hi Julia, You can take a taxi from the airport (we recommend an official airport taxi) or arrange a shuttle in advance to get to downtown SJ. The advantage of the shuttle is that someone is waiting for you when you arrive and you’re prepaid. If you’d like help arranging one, please contact us at our Private Shuttle Booking page.

  6. Hi Jenn and Matt,

    I will be traveling from Liberia airport (land around 1pm) to my hostel in Playa Hermosa Guanacaste and am wondering what my best travel options are. This airport transfer company had good reviews on TripAdvisor, but am wondering if you’ve heard of it/know its legitimacy: http://liberiacostaricaairporttransfers.com/guanacaste-routes/.

    Alternatively, I can take a bus from the Airport to Liberia and from Liberia to Playa Hermosa. I will be traveling alone and it will be my first trip to Costa Rica, so am wondering whether or not you would recommend this route.

    Thank you!

    1. Hi Shana, We haven’t heard of that particular shuttle company but they could be fine. The company that we work with for LIR to Playa Hermosa charges the same amount ($75) for this as a private transfer, and they are very reputable. Let us know if you’d like any help making the arrangements for this – you can contact us through our Private Shuttle Booking page if you’re interested.

      The public bus would be fine, but you would have to walk out to the main road, which is a decent walk, and wait since the bus doesn’t run all that often. It may be worth it to pay a little more for the convenience of having someone waiting for you right when you exit the airport.

  7. Hello – thank you for this information regarding shuttles. I am in the process of planning our vacation to Costa Rica in April and have so far been working with a local travel company based in CR. They tell me that they can’t guarantee their operators (shared shuttle) can provide a car seat for my 6 year old son. They also said that shuttles with tourism licenses are not required to have car seats for children? I thought about bringing a booster seat (he’s 45 lbs) but I’ve read on a lot of forums that the shuttles often only have lap belts which you can’t use the boosters with. I just read your post and it sounds promising! Interbus is the company that is good to use? They have shoulder belts? I would appreciate receiving information on this to help with my planning.

    1. Hi Tara, Sorry for the delay in getting back to you. Let us know if you still need help with this. We work with dozens of shuttles companies in Costa Rica. Companies that do longer trips between destinations are legally required to provide car seats. For shorter trips for tours, operators are not required to. So it’s best to bring your own if you plan on using transportation that is sometimes included with tours. I’m trying to remember if Interbus has shoulder belts from past trips with them. I think they do but we could confirm if you’d like so that you can figure out if the booster seat will work. Just let us know.

  8. Hi Jenn and Matt, loving the website it’s super helpful!
    I was wondering if you can advise me – I’m staying in Alajuela after arriving at SJO then plan to go up to La Fortuna. Would a shared shuttle stop on its way between San Jose and La Fortuna or would I have to go back into the city for transfer?
    Thanks!

    1. Hi Liz, Most shared shuttle companies have you meet at a designated pickup location in Alajuela since they don’t offer pickup from hotels in Alajuela. Usually it’s just an inexpensive taxi ride. Please contact us at bookings(at)twoweeksincostarica(dot)com if you’d like help making the arrangements.

  9. Have been reading your blog for ages gearing up for our trip, and now we’re finally booking final details! Thanks for being such a great resource.

    Two quick questions: (1) If our flight is scheduled to arrive at 11:40am, is there any reason to think it would be hard to catch a 2pm shared shuttle from the airport? I know customs can take awhile . . . (2) I saw that you mentioned an Interbus discount on your discounts page, but I don’t currently see it listed there. Is that still an option?

    1. Hi Maureen, Thanks for being a long time reader and sorry for the delay in getting back to you! We are still catching up from having a baby. For your questions, you should be fine catching a 2 pm shuttle with an 11:40 am arrival time. It should take about 1 hour to get through the airport as long as there are no major delays. We, unfortunately, don’t offer the Interbus discount anymore, but we can still help you with the booking for this at the regular price. Just email us at bookings(at)twoweeksincostarica(dot)com. Thanks!

  10. We will be traveling to Costa Rica in November. Transfers from/to SJO airport to Quepos is our biggest worry. There will be 7 people in our party. All family. We have received prices starting at $170 up to $270 but not sure which ones are safe. If you could help that would be great.
    Thanks
    Beth

  11. We will be on a goaheadtour which ends in San jose. We were thinking of adding 3 or 4 days to enjoy the beach. We typically like less crowded areas so Jaco might not be for us. We would need transportation from san jose. We didn’t book airfare yet, so could possibly fly home from a different airport.

    1. Hi Chris, You could look at Playa Hermosa or Playa Esterillos Oeste, which are just south of Jaco and not crowded at all. These are good options because you’re still close to San Jose. Another option with more within walking distance is Manuel Antonio, about 2.5 hours from San Jose. Manuel Antonio is more crowded but if you’re visiting during off-season, it’s fine. We work with an excellent shuttle company that does transfers so please contact us through our Shuttle Booking page if you’d like any help once you decide where you’ll be visiting.

    1. Hi RB, Yes, with a late flight arrival time like that, your best option is to take a private shuttle or stay overnight at an airport hotel. There are no shared shuttles that run that late in the day. We work with an excellent local company from the Manuel Antonio area that charges $190 for this trip (up to 5 people). We will send you an email with the information now in case you’re interested.

  12. Would you do a shuttle from SJO to La Fortuna for an 830P arrival? I am wondering if it’s safe to travel that late. It would give us max time at Arenal.

    1. Hi Kenny, yes, similar to the previous comment, private shuttles are available at that hour and a great way to avoid driving yourself in the dark. You’ll just want to make sure your hotel will allow for a check in later that night. Sometimes it can take a while to get through the airport so you might not arrive at the hotel until after midnight. We are happy to help you arrange that shuttle if you’d like. The price is around $145 but depends on the exact hotel location and how many people are in your party. You can get in touch with us through our Shuttle Bookings Page, if you are interested.

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