Local buses operate chiefly in San José, Puntarenas, San Isidro de El General, Golfito and Puerto Limón, connecting urban and suburban areas. Most local buses pick up passengers on the street and on main roads. For years, these buses were converted school buses imported from the USA, but they have slowly been upgraded and now many include coach buses.
In San José taxis have meters, called marías. Note that it is illegal for a driver not to use the meter. Outside of San José, however, most taxis don’t have meters and fares tend to be agreed upon in advance. Bargaining is quite acceptable.
In some towns there are colectivos (taxis that several passengers are able to share). Although colectivos are becoming increasingly difficult to find, the basic principle is that the driver charges a flat fee (usually about US$0.50) to take passengers from one end of town to the other.
In rural areas, 4WDs are often used as taxis and are a popular means for surfers (and their boards) to travel from their accommodations to the break. Prices vary wildly depending on how touristy the area is, though generally speaking a 10-minute ride costs between US$5 and US$15.
Taxi drivers are not normally tipped unless they assist with your luggage or have provided an above-average service.
Taxis are considered a form of public transportation in remote areas that lack good public-transportation networks. They can be hired by the hour, the half-day or full day, or you can arrange a flat fee for a trip. Meters are not used on long trips, so arrange the fare ahead of time. Fares can fluctuate due to worse-than-expected road conditions and bad weather in tough-to-reach places.
The condition of taxis varies from basic sedans held together by rust to fully equipped 4WDs with air-con. In some cases, taxis are pick-up trucks with seats built into the back. Most towns will have at least one licensed taxi, but in some remote villages you may have to get rides from whomever is offering – ask at pulperías (corner stores).
Hitchhiking is never entirely safe in any country and Lonely Planet doesn’t recommend it. Travelers who hitchhike should understand that they are taking a small but potentially serious risk. People who do hitchhike will be safer if they travel in pairs and let someone know where they are planning to go. Single women should use even greater discretion.
Hitchhiking in Costa Rica is uncommon on main roads that have frequent buses. On minor rural roads, hitchhiking is more common. To get picked up, most locals wave down passing cars. If you get a ride, offer to pay when you arrive by saying '¿Cuánto le debo?' (How much do I owe you?). Your offer may be waved aside, or you may be asked to help with money for gas.
The early stage of planning a trip to Costa Rica quickly comes to a fork in the road: do you rent your own ride or get around the country via public transportation? Although car-rental agencies are ubiquitous – at every airport, city and even many of the smaller towns – deceptively cheap daily rates come with the unpleasant surprise of a mandatory insurance policy, which can double the price. Additionally, most off-the-beaten-track places worth exploring require a pricier 4WD vehicle for river crossings and rough roads, making the country's safe, cheap and reliable public bus system all the more appealing. In the end, the most affordable way to explore independently and see every corner of Costa Rica is a combination of long-distance bus travel and short-term car rental for excursions.