Local buses are useful to get you into the suburbs and surrounding villages, or to the airport. Most buses run between 5am and 10pm and cost between US$0.40 and US$1.10.
La Sabana To catch a bus heading west from San José towards La Sabana (US$0.40), head for the convenient downtown stop at the southeast corner of Av 3 and Calle 3. Buses returning from Parque La Sabana to downtown follow Paseo Colón, then go over to Av 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–Cementerio or Cementerio–Estadio. These buses are a good bet for a cheap city tour.
Los Yoses & San Pedro Catch eastbound buses to Los Yoses and San Pedro (US$0.50) from the northeast corner of Calle Central and Av 9. These buses run east along Av 2 and then switch over to Av Central at Calle 29. (Many are easily identifiable by the big sign that says ‘Mall San Pedro’ on the front window.)
Escazú Buses southwest to Escazú (US$0.65 to US$0.80, 15 to 25 minutes) leave from two different locations: Av 6 between Calles 14 and 16 (south of the Hospital San Juan de Dios), and Calle 16 between Avs 1 and 3 (near the Coca-Cola terminal). Buses labeled ‘San Antonio de Escazú’ climb the hill south of Escazú and end near the Iglesia San Antonio de Escazú; those labeled ‘Escazú Centro’ end in Escazú’s main plaza; others, labeled ‘Guachipelín’, go west on the Carretera John F. Kennedy and pass the Costa Rica Country Club. All go through San Rafael.
Heredia Regular buses leave from Calle 1 and Av 7.
It is not advisable to rent a car just to drive around San José. The traffic is heavy, the streets are narrow and the meter-deep curbside gutters make parking nerve-wracking. In addition, break-ins are frequent, and leaving a car – even in a guarded lot – might result in a smashed window and stolen belongings.
If you are renting a car to travel throughout Costa Rica, there are more than 50 car-rental agencies – including many of the global brands – in and around San José. Travel agencies and upmarket hotels can arrange rentals; you can also arrange rentals online and at the airport. Note: If you book a rental car online and the low cost seems too good to be true, it is. Rental agencies are notorious for tacking on hundreds of dollars in mandatory insurance when you arrive. They are also known to lie about this over the phone.
One excellent local option is Wild Rider. They have a fleet of more than 60 very reasonably priced 4WD vehicles (from US$380 per week in high season, including all mandatory insurance coverage). Long-term rentals (four weeks or more) allow a discount of up to 40%. Reserve well in advance.
Wild Rider rents sports bikes such as the Honda XR-250 or the Suzuki DRZ-400S. Prices start at US$420 per week in high season (including insurance, taxes and helmets).
Red taxis can be hailed on the street day or night, or you can have your hotel call one for you.
Marías (meters) are generally used, though a few drivers will tell you they’re broken and try to charge you more – especially if you don’t speak Spanish. Not using a meter is illegal. The rate for the first kilometer should automatically appear when the meter starts up (at the time of research, the correct starting amount was 610 colones). Make sure the maría is operating when you get in, or negotiate the fare up front. Short rides downtown cost US$2 to US$4. There’s a 20% surcharge after 10pm that may not appear on the maría.
You can hire a taxi and a driver for half a day or longer if you want to do some touring around the area; for such trips, it is best to negotiate a flat fee in advance. Uber has also become a popular form of transport in the city.
Note that many taxi drivers in San José are commissioned by hotels to bring them customers, and the hotel scene is so competitive that drivers will say just about anything to steer you to the places they represent. Among other things, they will ‘call’ your hotel and a voice on the other end will tell you that they’re fully booked. Be skeptical. Tell drivers firmly where it is you would like to go. And if you have concerns about where you have chosen to stay, ask to see a room before settling in for the night.