Where to stay in Costa Rica without a car: 7 Best areas

I love to explore places without a car, and on my website, I cover many topics for car-free travelers. In this article, we will visit Costa Rica and help you find the best places to stay in Costa Rica without a car

I will share my recommendations for the top areas to stay in Costa Rica without a car, along with a helpful map. I’ll also tell you where I stayed in Costa Rica and suggest the best hotels in Costa Rica for all budgets.

Costa Rica is a country located in Central America, bordered by the Caribbean Sea, the Pacific Ocean, Panama, Nicaragua, and Ecuador. 

The country is a popular destination for ecotourism, offering diverse landscapes, including rainforests, volcanoes, and beautiful beaches. You can enjoy activities such as bird watching, hiking, and surfing.

Can you get around Costa Rica without a car?

Yes, it is possible to get around Costa Rica without a car. The country has a well-developed transportation system that includes buses, shuttles, taxis, and domestic flights. 

Costa Rica has an extensive and affordable public bus system that connects major cities and towns. The buses are a popular and economical way to travel around the country.

Shuttle services are available for transportation between popular tourist destinations. These services are a convenient option for getting around.

Taxis are available in urban areas and is a convenient way for short distances. Make sure to use officially registered taxis and ask for the fare before starting your journey.

For longer distances, you can consider taking domestic flights. There are several regional airports in the country, and flights can be a quick way to travel between different regions.

In some coastal and river areas, boats and ferries are used for transportation. This is common in regions with waterways, such as Tortuguero and the Nicoya Peninsula.

In smaller towns or natural areas, walking or biking can be a pleasant way to explore. Many towns have pedestrian-friendly areas, and biking is becoming more popular in certain regions.

While it’s possible to get around without a car, there may be some remote or less accessible areas where having a car could provide more flexibility. But, for many tourists, especially those visiting popular tourist destinations, relying on public transportation is a feasible and eco-friendly option.

Where to stay in Costa Rica without a car?

The best areas to stay in Costa Rica without a car are San José, Puerto Viejo, La Fortuna/Arenal, Monteverde, Tamarindo, Manuel Antonio, and Jaco. These are the most popular tourist areas in Costa Rica, so you can easily use the combination of buses, taxis, and organized tours to get around.

San José is the capital city and has a well-developed public transportation system, including buses and taxis. You can explore the city’s museums, parks, and markets without needing a car.

La Fortuna (Arenal) is known for its stunning Arenal Volcano and hot springs. Many hotels and activities are accessible by foot or through organized tours.

Monteverde is famous for its cloud forests and biodiversity. It has a charming town center with restaurants, shops, and tour operators. Many activities are organized through tour operators, and transportation is often included.

Manuel Antonio, on the Pacific coast, is known for its national park, beautiful beaches and wildlife. The main town is small and walkable, but having transportation would be beneficial for visiting other nearby beaches or attractions.

Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, on the Caribbean coast, is a laid-back town with beautiful beaches and a relaxed atmosphere. You can explore the area on foot or by renting a bicycle.

Tamarindo is a popular beach town on the Pacific coast that has a vibrant atmosphere with plenty of shops, restaurants, and beach activities. Many accommodations are within walking distance of the beach.

Jaco is a beach town known for its surfing and nightlife. It has a variety of accommodations, restaurants, and activities within walking distance.

During my trip to Costa Rica, I spent two weeks exploring and staying in several popular areas including San Jose, Puerto Viejo, La Fortuna, and Monteverde. 

I had 1 night in San Jose at the 3-star good value for money Hotel Casa 69. It has a good location in a quiet area but still within walking distance to the city center and there are several excellent bars and restaurants nearby. The breakfast was wonderful, and my room was clean and comfortable.

Then, I have 3 nights in Puerto Viejo at the Lanna Ban Hotel. It is located in a quiet and calm area, a short distance from the beach, local restaurants, and Jaguar Rescue Centre. My room was spacious and comfortable. Breakfast was lovely.

Next, I moved to La Fortuna and spent 2 nights at the Selina La Fortuna, a great hotel in the center of La Fortuna, right next to a jungle stream, in front of Arenal Volcano. It was close to many restaurants.

Finally I spent the last few nights in Monteverde, at the eco-friendly Los Pinos Cabins & Reserve. It was located in a good area, close to restaurants, shops and everything you would need. My cabin was very nice. I had a full kitchen. The staff were friendly and helpful.

Below is a map of the popular areas in Costa Rica for car-free travelers. You can scroll down to view the live map.

Map of the best areas to stay in Costa Rica without a car
Map of the best areas to stay in Costa Rica without a car

Let’s get into the details of the recommended areas to stay in Costa Rica, especially for travelers without a car. I’ll also provide you with some suggestions for the best places to stay in each area, catering to every budget. 

All hotels in Costa Rica have been carefully selected by me, with guest review scores of at least 8.0 or higher at the time I chose them. If you don’t like my suggestions (perhaps they don’t suit your budget or preferences), you can click the “MORE HOTEL DEALS” button where you can choose your own hotel.

7 Best areas to stay in Costa Rica without a car:

1. San José

San José is one of the best areas to stay in Costa Rica for first-timers and car-free travelers. It is the capital city of Costa Rica that serves as a starting point for many travelers, especially if you’re flying into Juan Santamaria International Airport.

San José has a public bus system that can take you to various parts of the city and its surrounding areas. The central area of San José is relatively compact and walkable. Many of the city’s attractions, restaurants, and shops are within walking distance of each other.

San José is home to several cultural and historical attractions, including the National Museum, Jade Museum, and Gold Museum. These sites are often accessible on foot or by public transportation.

You can visit the Plaza de la Cultura and the National Theatre, which is a beautiful and historic landmark. Walk around the Central Market to experience local culture and try traditional Costa Rican cuisine.

There are various accommodation options in San José, ranging from budget hostels to upscale hotels. You can consider staying in or near the downtown area for easier access to amenities and attractions.

While San José has many safe areas, it’s essential to be mindful of your surroundings and take standard safety precautions, especially in crowded areas.

If you’re interested in day trips outside of San José, there are organized tours that can take you to nearby attractions such as the Poás Volcano or the La Paz Waterfall Gardens. 

San José boasts a diverse culinary scene with a variety of restaurants offering traditional Costa Rican dishes as well as international cuisine. Many dining options can be found within the city center.

Best places to stay in Costa Rica in  San José without a car:

  • Luxury ($$$): Park Inn San Jose by Radisson, great 5-star hotel located in central San Jose, a short distance from Parque Metropolitano La Sabana Park. It has an outdoor pool, good breakfast, paid airport shuttle services, and Free parking for those who drive.
  • Mid-range ($$): La Sabana Hotel Suites Apartments, good value for money 4-star accommodation, in a good location, next to La Sabana park, 10 mins walk to the town center. It has a 24-hour front desk, luggage storage, outdoor swimming pool, and Wonderful Breakfast.
  • Budget ($): Sleep Inn Hotel Paseo Las Damas, popular 3-star hotel in San Jose, short distance from Costa Rica’s National Museum and Atlántico Train Station. It offers free airport shuttle services, very good breakfast, and family rooms.

2. Puerto Viejo de Talamanca

Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, often referred to simply as Puerto Viejo, is a laid-back beach town on the Caribbean coast, 4-5 hour bus ride from San Jose. Known for its vibrant Afro-Caribbean culture, beautiful beaches, and lush rainforest surroundings, Puerto Viejo offers a unique and relaxed atmosphere. 

There are numerous beaches in this area. Playa Cocles is a popular beach for surfing and sunbathing. Playa Chiquita is a quieter beach with a more secluded atmosphere. Punta Uva is ideal for swimming and snorkeling.

You can explore the town center on foot, or rent a bike to explore the area. There is also a bus to Cahuita National Park, known for its beautiful coastal trails, diverse wildlife, and excellent snorkeling.

Visit the Jaguar Rescue Center to learn about and observe the rehabilitation of injured or orphaned animals, including monkeys, sloths, and big cats.

Puerto Viejo has a lively nightlife scene with beachside bars and reggae music. The town comes alive after dark, offering a relaxed and friendly atmosphere.

You can also explore the surrounding rainforest and nature reserves, such as Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge, for hiking and wildlife viewing.

Best places to stay in Costa Rica in Puerto Viejo without a car:

  • Luxury ($$$): Le Cameleon Boutique Hotel, great 5-star beachfront hotel with a private beach, located in a beautiful tropical forest setting, a short walk from Cocles beach.  The hotel can help to organize trips to Cahuita National Park, Veragua Rainforest, and Kekoldi Indigenous Reserve. You can also take trips to cocoa plantations and sloth sanctuaries and rainforest canopy tours .
  • Mid-range ($$): Black Bamboo B&B, 4-star good value for money accommodation, located in a quiet area, only a 5 mins walk from the town and town beach where you can find many bars and restaurants.
  • Budget ($): Caribe Town Bungalows, 3-star accommodation located in Playa Cocles, close to the bus stop, the beach and restaurants. It has free secure parking on site, Exceptional Breakfast, and an outdoor pool. You can rent a bike and explore the area.

3. La Fortuna/Arenal

La Fortuna and Arenal are popular destinations in Costa Rica, known for the iconic Arenal Volcano, hot springs, and lush rainforest. Let’s look at some highlights and things to do in La Fortuna and Arena.

You can take in the breathtaking views of the Arenal Volcano, an active stratovolcano that dominates the skyline. While it’s not currently erupting, the volcano and its surroundings offer stunning scenery.

Relax in the natural hot springs fed by the geothermal activity in the area. Many resorts and spas offer hot spring experiences with a view of the volcano.

Explore the Arenal Hanging Bridges, a series of suspension bridges that provide panoramic views of the rainforest and Arenal Volcano. This is an excellent way to experience the region’s biodiversity.

Hike to La Fortuna Waterfall, a stunning 70-meter cascade surrounded by lush greenery. You can swim in the pool at the base of the waterfall.

Discover Arenal National Park, which encompasses the volcano and surrounding rainforest. There are hiking trails, and you may spot wildlife such as monkeys, toucans, and sloths.

There are various adventure activities like zip lining, horseback riding, and ATV tours. The landscape around Arenal provides a thrilling backdrop for these activities.

Visit Lake Arenal, a large reservoir offering opportunities for boat tours, fishing, and windsurfing. The lake provides additional scenic views of the volcano.

Participate in ecotourism activities, such as birdwatching and wildlife tours. Arsenal’s diverse ecosystem is home to numerous species of flora and fauna.

Hike to the summit of Cerro Chato, an extinct volcano with a crater lake. The hike is challenging but rewarding, and you’ll enjoy panoramic views.

Best places to stay in Costa Rica in La Fortuna/Arenal without a car:

  • Luxury ($$$): Tabacón Thermal Resort & Spa, 5-star hotel located 15 mins drive from Arenal Volcano National Park and La Fortuna main square. It has hot spring baths, 5 swimming pools, airport shuttle, and a wonderful breakfast.
  • Mid-range ($$): Condo’s Vista Al Volcan, 4-star good value for money accommodation, set in a great location, 5 mins walk from town center. 20 mins walk or short taxi ride to El Salto for a swim and watch the acrobatics on the rope swing.
  • Budget ($): La Fortuna Lodge by Treebu Hotels, great 3-star hotel, located a short distance from La Fortuna Park, in a nice quiet area only minutes walk from the main strip. 

4. Monteverde

Monteverde, located in the northern part of Costa Rica, is a renowned destination known for its cloud forests, diverse wildlife, and ecotourism opportunities. 

Explore the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, one of the most famous cloud forests in the world. The reserve is home to a remarkable variety of flora and fauna, including rare and endangered species.

Experience the Sky Walk, a series of suspension bridges that allow you to walk through the treetops for a unique perspective of the cloud forest.

For a more adventurous experience, try the Sky Trek, which consists of a series of zip lines offering thrilling views of the landscape.

Visit the nearby Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve for another opportunity to explore the cloud forest ecosystem.

Discover the Butterfly and Hummingbird Gardens, where you can observe and learn about the incredible diversity of these colorful creatures.

Take a night tour of the cloud forest to witness the unique nocturnal wildlife. Many species are active at night, including frogs, insects, and mammals.

Visit the Bat Jungle to learn about and observe different species of bats. It provides an educational experience about the often misunderstood creatures.

Tour the Monteverde Cheese Factory to learn about the cheese-making process and sample locally produced cheeses.

Explore the Monteverde Orchid Garden, which showcases a wide variety of orchid species native to the region.

Best places to stay in Costa Rica in Monteverde without a car:

  • Mid-range ($$): Monteverde Lodge & Gardens by Böëna, 4-star lodgeset 15 mins drive from the Monteverde Biological Reserve. It is just a few steps away from the bustling village of Santa Elena which is a lot of activity.  
  • Mid-range ($$): Koora Monteverde-a Cloud Forest Hotel by Sandglass, 4-star hotel located in a great area, in the middle of the jungle with a beautiful trail next to it.
  • Budget ($): La Casa de la Montaña, 3-star accommodation located within 5 mins walk from Monteverde Ecological Sanctuary, and walking distance to a few restaurants.  Great location for wildlife where you can spot motmot, armadillo, agouti, coatis, and hummingbirds.

5. Tamarindo

Tamarindo is a popular beach town situated on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. It is part of the Guanacaste province, known for its beautiful beaches, vibrant nightlife, and many outdoor activities. 

Tamarindo Beach is a long, sandy stretch known for its excellent surfing conditions. Playa Langosta, another nearby beach, is quieter and offers a more relaxed atmosphere.

Tamarindo is a hotspot for surfers from around the world. Whether you’re a seasoned pro or a novice looking to learn, there are surf schools and rental shops that can cater to all levels.

The area around Tamarindo is rich in biodiversity. You might encounter howler monkeys, iguanas, and various bird species. There are also opportunities for wildlife tours, such as boat trips to see crocodiles and bird watching excursions.

Tamarindo Estuary, located at the south end of Tamarindo Beach, is a protected area where you can explore mangroves by boat or kayak. It’s an excellent opportunity to observe wildlife, including birds, crocodiles, and other aquatic species.

Tamarindo has a lively nightlife scene with numerous bars, clubs, and restaurants. It’s a great place to socialize and enjoy the local culture after a day of outdoor activities.

The nearby Catalina Islands and Bat Islands offer excellent opportunities for diving and snorkeling. These areas are known for their diverse marine life, including rays, sharks, and various tropical fish.

Enjoy the stunning Pacific sunsets by taking a sailing or catamaran cruise. These tours often include opportunities for snorkeling and wildlife viewing.

Tamarindo has become a hub for yoga and wellness activities. Many resorts and studios offer yoga classes, meditation sessions, and spa services.

Tamarindo Art Wave annual event celebrates art and culture, featuring local and international artists. It includes exhibitions, workshops, and performances.

Best places to stay in Costa Rica in Tamarindo without a car:

  • Mid-range ($$): Ten North Tamarindo Beach Hotel, great 4-star hotel located only 3 minutes walk from Tamarindo beach. You can find many local and international restaurants, shops nearby. 
  • Mid-range ($$): Tamarindo Bay Boutique Hotel – Adults Only, 4-star boutique accommodation, in a quiet area close to everything in town but far enough from the noise and crowds. 
  • Budget ($): Zulu Surf Hotel Tamarindo, 3-star hotel located in a central area of Tamarindo,  close enough to everything, 2 mins walk from the beach.

6. Manuel Antonio

Manuel Antonio is a popular tourist destination located on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. It is renowned for its stunning beaches, lush rainforests, and abundant wildlife. 

Manuel Antonio National Park is one of the smallest but most famous national parks in Costa Rica. There are several hiking trails within the park that lead to beautiful viewpoints and pristine beaches.

The area is home to some of the most beautiful beaches in Costa Rica. Playa Manuel Antonio and Playa Espadilla are two popular beaches where visitors can relax, swim, and enjoy the tropical surroundings.

Manuel Antonio is a haven for wildlife enthusiasts. Capuchin monkeys, howler monkeys, three-toed sloths, and a variety of birds are commonly spotted in the park and surrounding areas.

The nearby town of Quepos serves as the gateway to Manuel Antonio. It has a vibrant atmosphere with restaurants, shops, and a lively marina. Quepos is also known for its sport fishing, and many visitors enjoy deep-sea fishing excursions.

The sunsets in Manuel Antonio are often spectacular, and there are several spots, including beaches and hillside restaurants, where you can enjoy the breathtaking views.

Best places to stay in Costa Rica in Manuel Antonio without a car:


7. Jaco

Jaco is a popular beach town in Costa Rica, located on the Pacific coast. It is situated in the Puntarenas province, about 90 kms from San Jose. Jaco is known for its vibrant nightlife and beautiful beaches.

Jaco Beach is a long, sandy stretch of coastline with great waves, making it a popular spot for surfers. The beach is also suitable for swimming and sunbathing.

Jaco is well-known for its lively nightlife. The town has a range of bars, clubs, and restaurants where locals and tourists gather to enjoy music, dancing, and socializing.

The surrounding area offers various adventure activities, including zip-lining, ATV tours, horseback riding, and sportfishing. The nearby Carara National Park is also a popular destination for birdwatching and hiking.

Best places to stay in Costa Rica in Jaco without a car:


In conclusion, San José, Puerto Viejo, La Fortuna/Arenal, Monteverde, Tamarindo, Manuel Antonio, and Jaco are the best places to stay in Costa Rica without a car. These are all popular tourist destinations, offering easy access to attractions and amenities by public transport and on foot.

You can continue reading about Costa Rica in this article:

There you have it, my recommendations for the popular areas that you can stay during your car-free trip to Costa Rica. I hope you found my article helpful and enjoy your holiday!

If you have any questions or would like to share your thoughts, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment below. Your feedback is invaluable and helps me continue to create more quality content.

About Author: Ocean Cameron

I'm Ocean, founder and main editor of travelhotelexpert.com. I’m a passionate traveler who specializes in uncovering the best hotels and locations in every city, especially for first-timers, all without the need for a car.

Disclosure: This page contains affiliate links. This means that, at absolutely no additional cost to you, I'll earn a small commission if you click through and purchase something I've recommended. I only recommend products that I use myself or firmly believe in. Thank you!

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