You pay as you board the bus. The city’s bus drivers can make change, although they don’t like to receive large bills. Be especially mindful of your wallet, purse, or other valuables, because pickpockets often work the crowded buses.
Although taxis in San José have meters (marías), the drivers sometimes refuse to use them, particularly with foreigners, so you’ll occasionally have to negotiate the price. Always try to get them to use the meter first (say “Ponga la maría, por favor”). The official rate is C640 per kilometer ([bf]1/2 mile). If you have a rough idea of how far it is to your destination, you can estimate how much it should cost from this figure. Wait time is charged at C3,650 per hour, and is pro-rated for smaller increments.
Depending on your location, the time of day, and the weather (rain places taxis at a premium), it’s relatively easy to hail a cab downtown. You’ll always find taxis in front of the Teatro Nacional (albeit at high prices) and around the Parque Central at Avenida Central and Calle Central. Taxis in front of hotels and the El Pueblo tourist complex usually charge more than others, though this is technically illegal. Most hotels will gladly call you a cab, either for a downtown excursion or for a trip back out to the airport. You can also get a cab by calling Coopetaxi ((tel) 2235-9966), Coopeirazu ((tel) 2254-3211), or Coopetico ((tel) 2224-7979). Cinco Estrellas Taxi ((tel) 2228-3159) is based in Escazú but services the entire metropolitan area and airport, and claims to always have an English-speaking operator on call. Uber (www.uber.com) tends to be considerably cheaper than most taxis. However, the service is still in a legal gray area in San José, therefore there are not nearly as many cars as other cities.
Another line runs between downtown San José and Heredia. This train runs roughly every 30 minutes between 5:30 and 8am, and 3:30 and 7:30pm.
And a third line runs between downtown San José and Cartago. This train runs roughly every 30 minutes between 6:30 and 8am, and between 3:30 and 7:30pm. This later route is potentially useful for tourists, but again, the train is predominantly for local commuters, and not geared toward tourists. You cannot purchase tickets in advance, and trains often fill up, leaving you waiting 30 minutes or more for the next train.
Car-Rental Advice: If you plan to rent a car, it’s best to reserve it in advance from home. All the major international agencies and many local companies have toll-free numbers and websites. Sometimes you can even save a bit on the cost by reserving in advance. Costa Rica’s car-rental fleet is not sufficient to meet demand during the high season, when rental rates run at a premium. Sometimes this allows agencies here to gouge last-minute shoppers.
The following companies have desks at Juan Santamaría International Airport, as well as offices downtown: Adobe Rent A Car ((tel) 2542-4800; www.adobecar.com), Avis ((tel) 800/633-3469 in the U.S. and 800/879-2847 in Canada, or 2293-2222 central reservation number in Costa Rica; www.avis.com), Budget ((tel) 800/472-3325 in the U.S. and Canada, or 2436-2007 in San José; www.budget.co.cr), Dollar ((tel) 800/800-6000 in the U.S. and Canada, or 2257-1585 in San José; www.dollar.com), Hertz ((tel) 800/654-3131 in the U.S. and Canada, or 2221-1818 in San José; www.hertz.com), National Car Rental ((tel) 877/222-9058 in the U.S. and Canada, 2221-4700 in San José; www.nationalcar.com), and Payless Rent A Car ((tel) 800/497-3659 in the U.S. and Canada, or 2432-4747 in Costa Rica; www.paylesscr.com).
Dozens of other smaller, local car-rental agencies are in San José, and most will arrange for airport or hotel pickup or delivery. Some of the more dependable local agencies are Toyota Rent A Car ((tel) 2105-3400; www.toyotarent.com); and Vamos Rent A Car ((tel) 800/950-8426 in the U.S. and Canada, or 4000-0557 in Costa Rica; www.vamosrentacar.com). Vamos gets especially high marks for customer service and transparency.