When I first started planning our Costa Rica family vacation, I strongly considered purchasing a custom vacation package from a local travel agency. There were 7 people in our group including a few seniors, so I really wanted to make the vacation as comfortable and flexible as possible. However, after seeing the schedules and pricing that the travel agencies had to offer, I wanted to find out if I can come up with a way to get around the country with as much ease and flexibility while keeping the costs reasonable. Enter shuttle service!
Finding a Reliable Service Provider
Shuttle service is quite popular in Costa Rica, so it was pretty easy to find quite a few options by some quick googling and reading through reviews. TripAdvisor is a great place to find an abundance of detailed reviews, though not the best place to do the actual booking. Most companies are very transparent with their pricing and offer easy to use price search tools on their sites, so be sure to check those out before booking. After some research, I decided to go with Morpho Vans.
We planned stays in Arenal, Monteverde, and Manuel Antonio while in Costa Rica. In addition, I wanted to hire a van driver day service while we were in Manuel Antonio to save on tour costs to waterfalls. We ended up with the following bookings.
- Two separate transfers for two different arrival times from the San Jose Airport to our resort in Manuel Antonio
- Manuel Antonio private transfer to Monteverde
- Monteverde Jeep-boat-jeep shared transfer to Arenal
- Arenal private transfer to San Jose airport and nearby hotel
- Van driver service in Manuel Antonio
You can book directly on the site, but with the amount of trips I had planned, I contacted Morpho Vans directly via email hoping to simplify the booking process. Mario got back to me very promptly and helped me through the booking process without having to fill out a new form online for each trip.
Meeting the driver
The drivers always arrived before the scheduled time. For our transfers from the airport, the company would monitor our flights to make sure they are there at the right time. Because we booked mostly private transfers, we didn’t have to stress about any flight delays or unexpected issues that came up, which proved to be very useful when we couldn’t find someone in our party when we were supposed to start one of our trips.
Point to Point Transfers
For point to point private transfers, at least an hour worth of stops was always included in the price. If you don’t know where to stop, the experienced drivers always have some ideas.
On our way to Monteverde, we stopped by the famous Rio Tarcoles (Crocodile Bridge). It was a quick 10 minute stop, but seeing so many gigantic crocodiles was an unforgettable experience. See the clip below!
Van Driver Service
Costa Rica is home for many beautiful waterfalls, so while we were in Manuel Antonio, I had to plan a day trip to visit some of them. We again didn’t want to bother with driving, so we hired Morpho Vans again for their van driver service where the driver stays with us throughout the whole day. The entire day (about 8 hours) cost us a grand total of $208 + tips for 7 people, and it was worth every penny for us.
Since we had the van to ourselves, we had a lot of flexibility. The driver picked us up at 11am at our hotel, and we headed straight to Nauyaca Waterfalls. The driver waited for us as we visited the waterfalls and was ready to pick us up as soon as we arrived back at the park entrance. For the rest of the day, the driver took us to lunch, another waterfall in Uvita, and even suggested a beautiful beach (appropriately named Playa Linda) for us to watch the sun set. We ended the day with a much needed grocery run before he dropped us off at the hotel.
$208 worked out to be ~$30 per person, adding on the entrance and transportation fees at the waterfalls and lunch, we ended up spending less than $80 per person for the day, which is about half of what waterfall tours in the area would’ve cost, plus we had a lot more flexibility. Totally worth it!
Private vs Shared Transfers
While most of our trips were private, we did end up booking one shared segment because of a big cost difference. The journey included two van transfer segments and a boat ride across Lake Arenal.
Shared rides are less flexible, and we could only choose between 8am and 2pm departure times. The journey also took slightly longer because we had to pick up other passengers along the way, and we were definitely aware of how much more crowded the van seemed as we rode through the bumpy countryside. Still, we had some opportunities to stop and look at some coatis at the side of the road and thoroughly enjoyed our boat ride views.
If you are traveling with a larger group, private transfers are more than worth the cost. It usually is not even more expensive than shared rides and offer a lot more flexibility.
How much did it all cost?
For our 6 bookings, we spent a total of $1301. This included 4 3-5 hour long private tranfers that included sight seeing stops on the way, one shared transfer through van and boat, and one full day van driver service.
I realize that we may be able to get away with spending the same amount or less on a car rental or public transit, but the peace of mind that the service provided was well worth the cost. The roads in Costa Rica are mostly paved and well maintained, but there were definitely some bumpy and sketchy roads in the dark along the way. We also avoided having to drive around Lake Arenal by traveling on a boat and not having to worry about a car.
We also didn’t have to worry about directions and figuring out road conditions and instead spent our time in the van resting, sleeping and enjoying the free wifi the vans sometimes provided. All in all, I felt like this was the perfect way to travel through a new country with a larger group that included some older folks. The smoothness of travel and flexibility with time made our vacation just a little more enjoyable.