Lots of tourists like to visit the Caribbean side of Costa Rica. There are two major towns for tourists, Cahuita and Puerto Viejo. Check out my “Places to visit” for ideas of things to see and do in the area.
After you land in San Jose, the capital and largest city in Costa Rica that is located in the center of the country, you’ll need to get to the Caribbean (east) side. There are three ways to get there.
- Take a flight on Sansa Airline (FlySansa.com) from San Jose to Limon.
- Take the public bus from San Jose to Limon, or on to Cahuita or Puerto Viejo.
- Rent a car and drive from San Jose to your Caribbean destination.
Now, here’s a few details about number one on this list. There can be an issue when arriving in San Jose and catching the domestic flight to the Limon airport on the Caribbean side of the country if you don’t plan ahead.
- At the San Jose airport, there are two flights departing from the domestic terminal for Limon on Tuesday – Saturday. Sunday and Monday there are only one flight a day to Limon. During high tourist season (January-March), there might be additional flights added.
What’s helpful is to know that after you pick up your luggage from baggage claim and walk through the scanners, you will be on the lower level. This is the right place for hotel shuttle and taxi pickup. But if you are going to walk down to the San Jose Domestic Terminal you will need to go up a level. The top level where the ticket counters are located, will place you on the street level. Turn left and walk one block down to the domestic terminal.
Yes, it is slightly downhill from the international terminal. You will see the little yellow plane. (See second picture below.)
Most of the U.S. flights arrive too late at the San Jose airport for you to make the 1:50 pm (last flight) Sansa Airline’s flight to Limon. Remember, after landing you have to advance through Customs. Based on the number of passengers on your flight and the possibility that another flight arrives about the same time, your processing (customs) time could be as much as an hour. This is not typical, but you should be prepared for that scenario.
Take a look at the screen shots below of Sansa Airline’s current schedule. Make sure you go to Sansa Airline’s website to check current flights. They do change!
If you can’t take the last flight to the Limon airport, you will need to stay in a hotel overnight and catch one of the flights the next day. You can make arrangements on the web to stay in any hotel you like. I am only naming one because it is where I normally stay. The Holiday Inn Express is about one mile (1.61 km) from the airport and offers a free shuttle that runs to and from the airport 24/7. This means you don’t need to worry about transportation from the airport, or the domestic terminal the next day. (While I am not officially endorsing this hotel, I have found it very convenient. For your convenience, the toll-free reservations number is 1-855-914-1700.) If you have a Costa Rician phone: 506-2443-0043 or WhatsApp you can use this number.
After you arrive in Limon, you will need transportation down the coast to Cahuita or Puerto Viejo. If you are lucky enough to have a friend pick you up, no problem. But for most of us, we need to arrange transportation.
2. Now back to the San Jose transportation to Limon by bus. So, how do I get from the airport to the main bus station? Here is a resource for this and a variety of other helpful information about San Jose, including traveling to and from the city.
Check out the link below for information on bus travel to Puerto Viejo and surrounding areas on the Caribbean side.
3. Yes, renting a car is pretty easy, and if you’ve traveled much before, you probably know the drill. You can search the web for all different companies to rent from. Maybe you have your favorite. I’ll provide a link to the company that I know in Puerto Viejo.
You can rent from anyone of course, but I am only placing the link here just in case you do not have a favorite and would like a little help.
WARNING: The drive is long, and some might say dangerous. But If you are from a big city where people already drive crazy, then strike the dangerous part.
The drive is about 4 ½ to 5 hours from San Jose to Puerto Viejo. The last half of the drive from San Jose to Limon is challenging. Currently, as of October 2022, road construction includes backhoes, trucks, and numerous crews working on both sides of the road. There will be slow downs. Costa Rica is currently doubling the size of the road.
I know some of you will note that the distance from San Jose to Limon is only (217 km) 135 miles of open road. You might think you can easily drive that in 3 hours easy. Not so fast! This is not the U.S. or Europe; here, two-lane roads often include 18-wheel trucks that move very slowly, especially over the mountains. Plus, you have locals transporting things in small carts on roads, and others riding bicycles. All of these will slow you down. If it rains in the mountains, there can be lots of mud as well as trees that have fallen in the road. Be a wise traveler here in Costa Rica; road are, in most cases, nice but be aware that large trucks, construction, and weather can make your travel a little precarious.
You can fly to Limon and pick up a rental car in the town. At the Limon airport, there are always taxis waiting to take you anywhere in the area. When you are ready to catch a fight back, most car rental companies will let you leave your rental car at the airport. It is not like the U.S. or European airports, you just give your keys to the airline attendant behind the counter. There are no rental car employees at the Limon airport.
But you probably do not want to rent a car or take a taxi from Limon to Puerto Viejo. I know some of you will be renting a car for you stay, that is great. You are good to go. But for others it’s a bit expensive. A better alternative if you are not renting a car, is to make reservations with Caribbean Shuttle.
The daily shuttle may not have what you want, but do not worry. Give them a call and arrange for pickup from Limon airport, from Puerto Viejo or from any place down the Caribbean coast; yes, all the way down to Manzanilla. They are very accommodating.
Enjoy your trip!
Until the next post.