The best ways to get from Puerto Viejo de Talamanca to San José

After you’ve had your fill of the southeast Caribbean coast, you may be ready to check out more of what Costa Rica has to offer. Traveling from Puerto Viejo to San José is a great way to do just that. 

About San José

The capital of Costa Rica isn’t huge, but there are quite a few cultural and historical things to see and do. 

©Domenico Convertini/Flickr

A walk down Central Avenue is the perfect place to start, especially if you enjoy people-watching. Head to Plaza de la Cultura where you can chat with locals and experience typical city life for your average Costa Rican!

Another must-do is the San José Central Market. This is the best place to grab souvenirs or try local street food. If you happen to do a walking tour of the city, you are bound to stop here because it’s one of the most important places in the city!

If you have the time, check out some of San José’s many museums. It’s a great way to learn about Costa Rica and soak up some of its fascinating history. Unfortunately, due to COVID, you may need to grab a ticket and make a reservation online. Some of the best museums are the National Museum, the Jade Museum, and the Gold Museum. 

It is important to note that if you are traveling from Puerto Viejo to San José airport, you’ll end up 17 km (10.5 miles) away in neighboring Alajuela Province. To spend time in San José, you will have to travel about 30 minutes downtown. An Uber or taxi will cost between $14-$18, so if you have time, you should definitely check it out!

About the journey from Puerto Viejo de Talamanca to San José

San José is approximately 218 km (~153 miles) west of Puerto Viejo. Costa Rica’s vibrant capital is located smack dab in the middle of the country. The closest airport is a 60 km journey, so you’ll likely be traveling overland at some point to reach your destination.

The good news is there are quite a few affordable bus and shuttle options to get you to the city. The bad news is that it takes a fairly long time considering how far it is from Puerto Viejo to San José. 

About the transportation options

If you’re wondering how to get from Puerto Viejo de Talamanca to San José, look no further. Your options include taking a bus, a shuttle, or a flight. The best choice is going to come down to your budget, travel style, and overall preference.

Bus

The best way to get to San José from Puerto Viejo is by bus. It is the cheapest option and doesn’t take any longer than a shuttle or private transfer. 

©J. Stephen Conn/Flickr

There are two options: a direct or an indirect bus. 

The direct bus is operated by Autotransportes MEPE and takes between four and a half and five hours to arrive in San José, depending on traffic. It departs the bus station in Puerto Viejo every thirty minutes, making it a convenient way to travel because you are bound to find a time that works for you. Tickets cost around $10 per person.

It’s also possible to take an indirect option. The Puerto Viejo to San José bus stops in Limón and costs about the same as the direct option.

You will travel an hour and a half to Limón, which departs once an hour starting at 5:30 am. This leg of the journey costs between $3 and $5, depending on the time you book. From there, you will switch to a Limón to San José bus to travel the remaining 159 km (98 miles), which will take about three hours.

This bus departs the Limón bus station every 30 minutes. Look for the 703 bus, which will cost $5 per person.

As with any mode of transportation in Central America, it is also a good idea to double-check the Puerto Viejo to San José bus schedule in case there are any last-minute changes.

Shuttle

Another option you have is to take a minivan shuttle. This ride typically takes approximately four and a half hours and will cost $50-$60 per person. 

©Leonora (Ellie) Enking/Flickr

A seat on the Puerto Viejo to San José shuttle is similar to a standard minibus used all over the region. They are fairly comfortable, but you won’t find a bathroom or loads of legroom on board.

Pro tip: try to avoid the back row. While the tiny bit of extra legroom may seem tempting, those seats are actually extra crowded. Bus drivers tend to back people in back there when rides are full. 

Flight

The third option you have is to fly. The closest airport to Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica is actually in Limón. 

©_quintin_/Flickr

Sansa, the local domestic airline, has direct 40 minute flights to San José. Flights generally cost between $80-$100.

You will need to take a bus or shuttle from Puerto Viejo to Limón to catch your flight. This will take about an hour and a half. Luckily, buses are relatively cheap (think $2 per person). But plan ahead to make sure you take a bus that arrives in Limón in time for your flight. Buses depart Puerto Viejo every hour, starting at 5:30 am.

Drive

Your final option is to drive from Puerto Viejo to San José. You’ll be traveling on a highway for the majority of the trip, and the road is well paved. So, you won’t need to hire a 4×4.

©Domenico Convertini/Flickr

The drive covers 215 km (134 miles) and should take four to five hours, depending on traffic. You can easily use Google Maps, Waze, or any GPS to navigate, making getting to San José a breeze.

The best road to take is Route 32 through Braulio Carrillo National Park. You’ll definitely hit some traffic as you get close to entering San José, so be prepared for delays. It is best to leave earlier during the day, but after rush hour, to avoid driving at night and the worst of the traffic.

Driving in Costa Rica is relatively safe, but this is a long drive, and you don’t want to be on the road too long after it gets dark.

In the end, the best way to get to San José from Puerto Viejo is the way you like to travel. You can’t go wrong taking some time exploring Costa Rica’s vibrant capital. You’ll be glad to have a few hours (or days) there! 

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