Santa Teresa, Costa Rica. A haven for surfers, remote workers and holiday makers alike. Situated on the West Coast of Costa Rica on the Nicoya Peninsula, this beach town has seen a dramatic growth in popularity over the last few years not unlike Canggu in Bali.
Having travelled there recently, I thought it would be useful to breakdown the various travel options available and the costs associated with them.
So let’s jump into it. How do you get to Santa Teresa, Costa Rica?
Clearly it depends on where you’re coming from. I’m going to assume (probably wrongly) that you have flown into the capital of Costa Rica, San Jose. You can probably adapt elements of this itinerary if you’re coming from a different place such as Tamarindo in the North, La Fortuna or Liberia.
The primary options are:
- Bus or Taxi to Puntarenas, ferry to Paquera and then bus/taxi to Santa Teresa (you can also hire a car and do the same route)
- Flight from San Jose to Tambor and transport to Santa Teresa
- Bus/Taxi to Jaco and then taxi boat to Santa Teresa
There are pros and cons to all of them, including time taken and cost so let’s look at the route that I took recently:
Transport to Puntarenas and Paquera Ferry
This seems to be by far the most popular route and whilst the transit time might be longer than a flight or the taxi boat, the total time is about the same (if not shorter). PLUS, it’s the cheapest way to do it.
As per above, the overview of the route is transport from San Jose to Puntarenas. From there you can get a ferry to the Nicoya Peninsula, specifically Paquera, and then transport to Santa Teresa from there.
Taking the bus
This was our original plan. We would land in at San Jose International airport, get a taxi to the bus station and then buy our ticket to Santa Teresa. It was going to cost us $12 and aside from getting to the bus station, the rest of the logistics would be covered for us including the ferry ticket.
But there was a hitch.
The bus only leaves twice a day, at 6am and 2pm. In addition, it took about 6 hours.
We were outside San Jose Internal airport before midday so we faced a 2+ hour wait for the bus and then the 6 hour journey. IF we had arrived to the airport a little later and only had to wait 30 minutes for the bus this would definitely have been the option we would have taken. Instead, a slightly more expensive option arose that was going to reduce our total transit time by around 3 hours.
Whilst we were standing the departure area we bumped into someone who was also trying to get to the bus station in order to go to Santa Teresa. A short conversation later we agreed to split the taxi and loaded up the car. However, as we got in the car the taxi driver offered to drive us directly to Puntarenas to get the ferry. $80 was more than we were expecting, even though it is a 1.5 hour drive but he was charging us $25 to get to the bus station anyway.
A but of quick maths later we were on our way.
This did mean that we had to buy ferry tickets but this is ludicrously cheap at just over $1 USD. The only issue was organising transport on the other side, but considering the popularity of Santa Teresa this was unlikely to be an issue.
A 45 minute wait for the Paquera Ferry and a 70 minute journey later and we were on the Nicoya Peninsula.
Having come from the Dominican Republic and having travelled for a couple of days, the home stretch was upon us. Hot, sweaty and fed up, honestly I no longer cared about the price for the final leg.
Regardless, we managed to find two more people to split the final taxi with which ended up costing about $12 USD and we arrived in Santa Teresa 3 hours before we would have on the bus…..having paid an additional $22 for the privilege.
Well worth it.
Hiring a car from San Jose and driving to Santa Teresa
On the face of it, this is the easiest and it often looks like the cheapest option. I’ve hired a car from San Jose before and the process is relatively quick so no hiccups there. The traffic coming out of San Jose can be heinous but if you were going by bus/taxi you’ll be stuck in the same traffic anyway. At least you’re in your own car.
Here’s the two main issues:
- The price that they list on the website is only for the car rental. It doesn’t cover insurance and often doesn’t even cover a sat nav. From memory, we were expecting to pay something like $25 a day for the car but with insurance, sat nav and breakdown cover it ended up being 2 or 3 times more expensive. So word of warning, figure out the total cost before hiring (that’s true anywhere).
- I’m not aware of places where you can drop your car off in Santa Teresa. You’ll also pay a hefty premium for that. As such, if you only need the car for a couple of days but are intending on staying in Santa Teresa for a little longer you’ll need to factor that in. Either you’ll want to factor in renting the car for your entire stay, or the premium for dropping it off somewhere and the time/cost associated with getting from said ‘somewhere’ back to Santa Teresa.
Either way, it’s going to take longer than just jumping in a taxi and will probably cost more in the long run. That’s assuming that you’re not taking a taxi alone….
Flying from San Jose to Santa Teresa
This could well be your best option. I hadn’t considered it but may well be using this service when I leave Santa Teresa for San Jose.
Flights are operated by Sansa Regional and appear to be pretty regular (2-3 times a day). They leave from the international airport (Juan Santamaria) in San Jose and you land 30 minutes later in Tambor – which is closer to Santa Teresa than the drop off point for the ferry in Paquera.
A quick Sky Scanner search and if you book it a few weeks in advance it’ll cost you $100 each way. A friend just used it an apparently it’s only $20 extra for a surfboard. Bear in mind though that they are small planes so they may only be able to fit a couple of surfboards.
There’s a little bit of trepidation about the grass/dirt runway in Tambor and the potential for some turbulence along the way, considering it’s only a 12 person plane, but if that doesn’t put you off it seems like a pretty good deal to me! It just depends on the check-in/wait time but you are already at the airport if you fly into San Jose.
It’s more expensive than the other options but could save you a lot of time.
Taxi boat from Jaco
I had never considered this – mainly because I didn’t know it existed.
San Jose international to Jaco is around 1-2 hours depending on which route you take and the traffic. From there you can get a taxi boat to Montezuma (1.5 hours) and a taxi from there to Santa Teresa (30 minutes).
Prices range from $50 – $70.
Honestly, at first glance this looked like it might be a good option but then you realise that the boats only really leave at either 7am with Tropical Tours or 10am with Zuma Tours. That means you’re likely going to have to stay the night in Jaco.
On the off chance that you get to the boat on time, it’s still a 4 hour round trip (accounting for a 30 minute wait for the boat) and will cost you in excess of $110. Might as well get the flight…..
To state the obvious, if you get motion sickness then getting a speedboat for 1.5 hours probably isn’t the best choice either.
If you’re staying in Jaco for a bit then it makes perfect sense, but if you’re going straight from San Jose to Santa Teresa it seems like the slowest and possibly most expensive option.
I hope this helps! Let me know if you have any questions.