San Jose to Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica – Best Travel Options

Travel to Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica

There are several great ways to get to Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica. From driving a rental car to public buses to private shuttles, I’ll discuss the best options for travel to and from this beautiful beach town.

Important Note: There are actually two Puerto Viejos in Costa Rica. Puerto Viejo de Talamanca (the popular Caribbean beach town I’m talking about) and Puerto Viejo de Sarapiquí (a small inland village 35 miles north of San Jose).

About Puerto Viejo

Located on Costa Rica’s south Caribbean coast, Puerto Viejo is famous for stunning beaches, lush rainforest, delicious Afro-Caribbean food, and a laid-back Rasta vibe. Unlike corporate resorts on the Pacific coast, Puerto Viejo attracts backpackers, surfers, hippies and countercultural travelers.

Puerto Viejo’s unique vibe is partly due to its remote location. For most of the 20th century, there was no road to Puerto Viejo. The village’s Afro-Caribbean community lived in splendid isolation among beaches and coconut palms. The first road to the village was built in the 1970s. Over the following decades, surfers and backpackers discovered Puerto Viejo’s charms. Today the town is home to hostels, ecolodges, yoga studios and restaurants with vegan food.

Learn more about visiting Puerto Viejo

Traveling to Puerto Viejo

The best ways to travel to Puerto Viejo are:

• Driving a Rental Car
• Private Shuttle
• Public Bus
• Uber or Taxi

Driving to Puerto Viejo

In many ways, a rental car is a great way to get to Puerto Viejo. You can travel on your own schedule, and you can easily visit the many beautiful beaches nearby.

But many people discover they don’t need a rental car once they’re in Puerto Viejo. Bicycles (available for rent) are a popular way to explore the beaches southeast of Puerto Viejo: Playa Cocles, Playa Chiquita, Punta Uva, Manzanillo. Taxis are also available. If you’re visiting Puerto Viejo for an extended period of time, you might yourself paying a lot for a rental car you’re not using.

Best Driving Route to Puerto Viejo

The best route to Puerto Viejo from San Jose follows Route 32. Because there are no addresses in Costa Rica, finding Route 32 in San Jose can be tricky. The easiest way is to put “Puerto Viejo de Talamanca” into your GPS or Waze app.

Once on Route 32 you’ll drive high into the mountains that separate San Jose from the Caribbean coast. As you twist through the lush scenery, you’ll enjoy dramatic mountain views — unless it’s foggy. It can get very foggy in these mountains, in which case your views will be limited to whatever’s in front of your car.

Important Note: Try to avoid driving on Route 32 at night due to dense fog, poor visibility and reckless truck drivers. Also note that Route 32 is prone to rockfalls and landslides during periods of heavy rain. These rarely result in fatalities, but they will temporarily shut down the road. (See alternate driving route below.)

After passing through the mountains, you’ll descend into the broad lowlands that stretch to the Caribbean coast. Soon you’ll see ramshackle restaurants and food vendors on either side of the road. If you’re interested in tasting authentic Costa Rican food, this is a great place to stop for gallo pinto, arroz con pollo or casados.

Follow Route 32 towards the port town of Limon, then turn south on Route 241. This connects with Route 36, which goes to Puerto Viejo.

Along the way you might encounter a police checkpoint. Have your passport ready. As long as you’re not carrying drugs or weapons, the police will quickly wave you through.

Driving Time & Distance to Puerto Viejo

From San Jose: 140 miles (220 kilometers), 4 hours

From Cahuita: 10 miles (16 kilometers), 20 minutes
From Limon: 37 miles (60 kilometers), 1 hour
From Arenal: 190 miles (310 kilometers), 6 hours
From Manuel Antonio: 240 miles (390 kilometers), 7 hours
From Liberia: 270 miles (430 kilometers), 7.5 hours
From Tamarindo: 300 miles (475 kilometers), 8.5 hours

Alternate Driving Route to Puerto Viejo

If Route 32 from San Jose to Guápiles is shut down, which sometimes happens due to rockfalls and landslides, there’s an alternate route to Puerto Viejo. From San José drive east on Route 2 to Cartago, then follow Route 10 to Siquierres. From there follow Route 32 to Limon, then Route 36 to Puerto Viejo.

This alternate route to Puerto Viejo is 140 miles (230 kilometers) – approximately 4.5 hours of driving time.

Public Buses to Puerto Viejo

MEPE buses (2257-8129, 2758-1572) offer daily transportation between San Jose and Puerto Viejo. The trip takes about 4.5 hours. Cost: ₡5,500 (about $11).

MEPE buses depart San José at 6am, 10am, noon, 2pm and 4pm.
MEPE buses depart Puerto Viejo for San José at 7:30am, 9am, 11am and 4pm.

In San Jose, MEPE buses depart from the Terminal Atlantico Norte, Calle 12, Ave 7 – 9. See map below.

Map of San Jose bus station to Puerto Viejo

Important Note: Make sure you take the bus to Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, not the bus to Puerto Viejo de Sarapiquí!

Private Shuttles to Puerto Viejo

Private shuttles are arguably the best way to get to Puerto Viejo. These comfortable vans provide door-to-door service from the San Jose airport (or your San Jose hotel) to your hotel in Puerto Viejo. The best vans even offer wifi. Private shuttles are also available between Puerto Viejo and Tortuguero Dock or La Fortuna/Arenal.

The cost of a private shuttle from San Jose to Puerto Viejo is about $55 per person. For a list of private shuttle companies I personally recommend, include ones with wifi, check out Costa Rica: The Complete Guide.

Uber & Taxis to Puerto Viejo

If you’re starting from San Jose, it’s possible to take an Uber to Puerto Viejo. The 4-hour drive will cost around $200. That’s a lot, but it’s cheaper than an official taxi.

Flying to Puerto Viejo

There are no airports near Puerto Viejo. The closest airports are in Tortuguero (80 miles north) and San Jose (90 miles northwest).

Discover the best of Puerto Viejo!