Downtown San José is extremely congested – narrow streets, heavy traffic and a complicated one-way system often mean that it is quicker to walk than to take the bus. The same applies to driving: if you rent a car, don’t drive downtown – it’s a nightmare! If you’re in a hurry to get somewhere that is more than 1km away, take a taxi.
It is not advisable to rent a car just to drive around San José. The traffic is heavy, the streets narrow and the meter-deep curb-side gutters make parking a nerve-wracking experience. In addition, car break-ins are frequent and leaving a car – even in a guarded lot – might result in a smashed window and stolen belongings. (Never ever leave anything in a rental car.) If you are remaining in San José hire the plentiful taxis – available at all hours – instead.
If you are renting a car to travel throughout Costa Rica, you will not be short of choices: there are more than 50 car-rental agencies in and around San José and the travel desks at travel agencies and upmarket hotels can all arrange rentals of various types of vehicles. Naturally Costa Rica, a magazine published by the ICT and Canatur (available at many hotels and the ICT office) has an extensive list of car-rental companies in the area. You can also check the local yellow pages (under Alquiler de Automóviles) for a complete listing.
Note that there is a surcharge of about US$25 for renting cars from rental agencies at Juan Santamaría airport. Save yourself the expense by renting in town.
Given the narrow roads, deep gutters and homicidal bus drivers, riding a motorcycle in San José is recommended only for those who are not in complete need of their appendages. But for the foolhardy – and careful – road warrior, renting a bike is an option. Rental bikes are usually small (185cc to 350cc) and rates start at about US$50 per day for a 350cc motorcycle and skyrocket from there. (Plan on paying over US$200 a day for a Harley.) These are a couple of agencies worth trying in San José.
At Wild Rider (258 4604; www.wild-rider.com; in Hotel Ritmo del Caribe, cnr Paseo Colón & Calle 32) Prices start at US$350 per week for a Yamaha TT-R 250 or a Suzuki DR-350 (rates include insurance, taxes, maps and helmets). It will do on- and off-road guided tours as well. Wild Rider also has a handful of used 4WD cars that can be rented at significantly cheaper weekly rates than the big agencies.
Harley Davidson Rentals in Escazú rents Harleys.
Local buses are useful to get you into the suburbs and surrounding villages, or to the airport. They leave regularly from particular bus stops downtown – though all of them will pick up passengers on the way. Most buses run between 5am and 10pm and cost US$0.25 to US$0.50.
Buses from Parque La Sabana head into town on Paseo Colón, then go over to Avenida 2 at the San Juan de Dios hospital. They then go three different ways through town before eventually heading back to La Sabana. Buses are marked Sabana–Estadio, Sabana–Cementario, or Cementario–Estadio. These buses are a good bet for a cheap city tour. Buses going east to Los Yoses and San Pedro go back and forth along Avenida 2 and then switch over to Avenida Central at Calle 29. (These buses are easily identifiable because many of them have a big sign that says ‘Mall San Pedro’ on the front window.) These buses start at the corner of Avenida 2 and Calle 7, near Restaurante El Pollo Campesino.
Buses to the following outlying suburbs and towns begin from bus stops at the indicated blocks. Some places have more than one stop – only the main ones are listed here. If you need buses to other suburbs, inquire at the tourist office.
Escazú Calle 16 (Calle 16 btwn Avs 1 & 3); Avenida 6 (Av 6 btwn Calles 12 & 14)
Guadalupe (Av 3 btwn Calles Central & 1)
Moravia (Av 3 btwn Calles 3 & 5)
Pavas (cnr Av 1 & Calle 18)
Santa Ana (Calle 16 btwn Avs 1 & 3)
Santo Domingo (Av 5 btw Calles Central & 2)
Red taxis can be hailed on the street day or night or you can have your hotel call one for you. You can also hire taxis at any of the taxi stands at the Parque Nacional, Parque Central and near the Teatro Nacional. The most difficult time to flag down a taxi is when it’s raining.
Marías (meters) are supposedly used, but some drivers will pretend they are broken and try to charge you more – especially if you’re a tourist who doesn’t speak Spanish. (Not using a meter is illegal.) Make sure the maría is operating when you get in or negotiate the fare up front. Within San José fares are US$0.60 for the first kilometer and US$0.30 for each additional one. Short rides downtown cost about US$1. A cab to Escazú from downtown will cost about US$4, while a ride to Los Yoses or San Pedro will cost less than US$2. There’s a 20% surcharge after 10pm that may not appear on the maría.
You can hire a taxi and driver for half a day or longer if you want to do some touring around the area, but rates vary wildly depending on the destination and the condition of the roads. For a short trip on reasonably good roads, plan on spending at least US$7.50 an hour for a sedan and significantly more for a 4WD sport utility vehicle or minivan. You can also negotiate a flat fee.