When we’ve visited Costa Rica on our trip around the world, we were travelling overland. Continuing south from Nicaragua, it was a long journey to the Tamarindo beach town.
While this is also a great way of travelling, I understand that most people have limited vacation days and would like to visit Costa Rica. And because your international flight would land in the capital San Jose, I’m going to show you how to get from San Jose to Tamarindo, Costa Rica’s surfing hub.
San Jose is centrally located and about 260 km from Tamarindo, which is in the northwest corner. You’ll find here all conveniences you’re used to from the western world: supermarket with AC, US fast-food chains, rental car companies and more.
If you love surfing or would like to learn, Tamarindo is one of the best places to visit in Costa Rica.
Let’s get from San Jose to Tamarindo so you can start your beach vacation as soon as possible.
Daily public bus leaves from the Alfaro Terminal, Calles 14/16 and Avenida 3 in San Jose. Alfaro bus company leaves at 11:30 (via Liberia) and 15:30 (via Caldera). Another option is the Tralapa bus company that provides transfers leaving at 7:00 and 16:00 via Liberia.
Note that bus tickets are only sold at the bus station on a first-come-first-serve basis. It takes between five and seven hours for a cost of around 13USD.
A public bus is the cheapest option if you’re on a budget. The bus stops at the airport only when it’s not full, so you need to take a taxi to the bus station. Honestly, it’s too much hustle if you have limited time in Costa Rica.
Because Tamarindo is very popular, plenty of companies offer you a seat in a shared shuttle bus. It usually costs around 50USD per person and provides you with a stress-free journey.
The price of the bus ticket often depends on the number of passengers on the bus. You can expect AC, Wi-Fi, and sometimes food & drinks on board, and of course, offer pickups at the airport.
The airport shuttle is hands down the easiest way of transportation from San Jose to Tamarindo. Since it’s a private shuttle, the driver will accommodate your schedule and your needs.
That means the shuttle will wait for you when you arrive at the airport and drop you off exactly in front of your booked accommodation. The one aspect I like the most is asking for quick photos or snack stops. It usually costs around 250-350USD per shuttle.
If you arrive at a reasonable hour (keep in mind the sun sets around 17:30-18:00 year-round), you can rent a car and drive yourself. I can tell you from experience that it’s hard to predict how long it would take. But not just because of the photo opportunities but mostly because of the state the local roads are in. Google Maps say it takes 4 hours. The further you go from San Jose, the worse (especially heading into the jungle).
However, you would need a car anyway to explore Costa Rica. It’s the best option, trust me. While many companies will advise you to rent 4×4, you don’t always need it. If you have a set itinerary, you can research the roads beforehand.
If you follow our 10-day itinerary full of beaches, waterfalls, and rainforests, you might need a 4×4 car, but we rented a regular car and were fine. I must note that we consider ourselves very good drivers and have lots of experience driving on dirt and bumpy roads.
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