Getting Around in San José
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To and From the Airport
Taxi Aeropuerto (tel. 506/2222-6865, www.taxiaeropuerto.com) operates taxis between the airport and downtown and accepts 24-hour reservations; they’re orange (local San José taxis are red). The legally sanctioned fare into downtown San José adjusts according to gasoline prices and at press time was $23 by day and night ($5 to Alajuela); you pay in advance at an official booth immediately outside the arrivals lounge and are given a ticket.
Public buses run by Tuasa (tel. 506/2222-5325) operate between downtown San José (Avenida 2, Calles 12/14) and Alajuela every five minutes via the airport, 5 a.m.–10 p.m., and then every 30 minutes 10 p.m.–5 a.m. Mon.–Sat. The fare is 250 colones ($0.50). The driver will make change, but you’ll need small bills or coins. The journey takes about 30 minutes. Luggage space is limited.
Interbus (tel. 506/2283-5573, www.interbusonline.com) offers a 24-hour airport shuttle for $6 per person by reservation. Grayline (tel. 506/2220-2126, www.graylinecostarica.com) operates an Airline Express linking the airport and downtown San José every 30 minutes ($10). Some hotels offer free shuttles.
Several car rental companies have offices as you exit customs; additional offices are within one kilometer east of the airport, in Río Segundo de Alajuela. If you plan on spending a few days in San José before heading off to explore the country, you’ll be better off using taxis and local buses. Make your reservations before departing home.
Car rental agencies in San José concentrate along Paseo Colón. However, don’t even think about using a rental car for travel within San José. Too many headaches! Most places are quickly and easily reached by taxi, by bus, or on foot. Note that Paseo Colón (normally with two-way traffic) is one-way only—eastbound—6:30–8:30 a.m. weekdays.
A peripheral highway (circunvalación) passes around the south and east sides of San José.
Costa Rica implemented a pico y placa (“rush hour and license plate”) law in 2005 as a way of reducing traffic congestion. All non-commercial private vehicles are banned from metropolitan San José on weekdays (6 a.m.–7 p.m.), based on the last number of their vehicle license plate, as follows: Monday 1 and 2; Tuesday 3 and 4; Wednesday 5 and 6; Thursday 7 and 8; Friday 9 and 0. Tourists are not exempt. However, exemptions are made for cars owned by persons with disabilities, buses, taxis, and motorcycles. Fines are currently 6,500 colones (about US$13), but violators can supposedly be fined as often as they are pulled over in any given day. “Er, what’s that, officer? I’m sorry, I don’t speak Spanish!”
Private parking lots offer secure 24-hour parking; you must leave your ignition key with the attendant. Never park in a no-parking zone, marked Control por Grúa (controlled by tow truck). Regulations are efficiently enforced.
Break-ins and theft are common (rental cars are especially vulnerable). Never leave anything of value in your car, even in the trunk.
San José has an excellent network of privately owned local bus services. Most buses operate 5 a.m.–10 p.m., with frequency of service determined by demand. Downtown and suburban San José buses operate every few minutes. Buses to suburbs often fill up, so it’s best to board at their principal downtown parada, designated by a sign, Parada de Autobuses, showing the route name and number.
A sign in the windshield tells the route number and destination. Fares are marked by the doors and are collected when you board. Drivers provide change and tend to be honest. Buses cost 75 colones ($0.15) downtown and less than 100 colones elsewhere within the metropolitan area.
From the west, the most convenient bus into town is the Sabana-Cementerio service (route 2), which runs counterclockwise between Sabana Sur and downtown along Avenida 10, then back along Avenida 3 (past the “Coca-Cola” bus station) and Paseo Colón. The Cementerio-Estadio service (route 7) runs in the opposite direction along Paseo Colón and Avenida 2 and back along Avenida 12. Both take about 40 minutes to complete the circle.
Buses to Los Yoses and San Pedro run east along Avenida 2 and, beyond Calle 29, along Avenida Central. Buses to Coronado begin at Calle 3, Avenidas 5/7; to Guadalupe at Avenida 3, Calles Central/1; to Moravia from Avenida 3, Calles 3/5; and to Pavas from Avenida 1, Calle 18.
Be wary of pickpockets on buses.
A great way to beat the cross-town traffic is to hop on the Tren Interurbano commuter train that links Pavas (on the west side of town) with San Pedro (on the east side). Trains operate five times in each direction (5 a.m.–6 p.m. Mon.–Fri., 150 colones, or $0.25), stopping at or near the U.S. Embassy, La Salle (south side of Parque La Sabana), and Universidad de Costa Rica (University of Costa Rica).
Licensed taxis are red (taxis exclusively serving the airport are orange); if it’s any other color, it’s a “pirate” taxi operating illegally. You can travel anywhere within the city for less than $6 (the base fare is $0.85).
By law, taxi drivers (who must display a business card with name, license plate, and other details) must use their meters (marias) for journeys of less than 12 kilometers. Always demand that the taxi driver use his meter, otherwise you’re going to get ripped off. Some taxi drivers get commissions from certain hotels: They may tell you that the place you’re seeking is closed or full and will try to persuade you to go to a hotel they recommend. Don’t fall for this! If the cabbie insists, get out and take another cab.
You do not normally tip taxi drivers in Costa Rica, but you can give your taxi driver any small change remaining after you pay the fare.
Finding a taxi is usually not a problem, except during rush hour and when it’s raining. One of the best places is Parque Central, where they line up on Avenida 2, and in front of the Gran Hotel and Teatro Nacional two blocks east. Avoid hailing a taxi off the street, as many drivers work in cahoots with robbers who hop into the cab. For a taxi, call Coopetaxi (tel. 506/2235-9966) or Coopetico (tel. 506/2224-7979).
There are reports of taxi drivers making sexual advances toward single women; this is more likely to happen with pirate taxis, which you should always avoid. Also note that few taxis have seat belts. The belts are usually there; it’s the connecting latches that are missing. If an on-call taxi draws up to your hotel against the flow of traffic, as often happens, you’d be wise to seek another taxi.
© Christopher P. Baker from Moon Costa Rica, 8th Edition