The Bus Stops HERE!

Okay, let’s suppose you take my advice and don’t buy a car. And let’s also suppose that you don’t want to spend everyday walking around your neighborhood in hopes of ‘getting a feel’ for life in Costa Rica. And lets also suppose that you are either a) not rich enough or b) too thrifty to hire a car to take you everywhere you might want to go. Well… how about taking the bus?

As my nom de plume indicates, I am originally from Northern California. I grew up in the suburbs and other than school buses, had never taken a bus anywhere until I moved away to college. That has all changed now, and when it comes to taking buses, I am definitely ‘on the bus.’

We can roughly divide the buses into ‘local’ and ‘not local.’ Local buses are those such as the ‘Sabana-Cementario’ bus that runs around and through the middle of San Jose eastward to Sabana park and back. There are a zillion of them, and they will be the subject of a later post. Right now we are going to talk about the ‘not local’ buses.

There is a tourist pamphlet available that can tell you just about all you need to know regarding the ‘not local’ buses, but I’ll summarize and add a few things, just to feel useful.

Right there on the first page are ‘Travel Precautions.’ Read them, then read them again. You can have a lot of good experiences riding the buses, but if you have a bad one, chances are it will be because you were a victim of theft. If you follow those guidelines, your chances of being ripped off are a lot lower. The bus schedule is quite comprehensive, but even so I feel I can add a little bit to the information available there.

One important yet absent piece of information are the fares. Prices are quite reasonable, but they change rather often. Rates are set by the government and will change if fuel prices rise. They will also tend to rise with inflation, which is one of the more dependable things in Costa Rica. But just to give you a general idea, a ride from San Jose to Jaco currently (2010) runs the local equivalent of between $2 and $3 US and takes around 2.5 hours. Just as a rough rule of the thumb, you can expect to pay around a dollar per hour of your trip. If it’s a six hour trip, it will probably run around six dollars worth of Colones.

Not all buses start or stop in San Jose, but a large number do, especially for longer distances and between regions. For example, if you want to go from Liberia (Guanacaste) to Puerto Limon (Limon Province), you will take a bus from Liberia to San Jose then one from San Jose to Puerto Limon. Note that there are two distinct bus stations for these two cities, and they are not particularly close together. The bus schedule shows where to catch the bus, but you may want to take a taxi between stations to avoid a long walk or getting lost. The taxi fare may cost you almost as much or more than the bus rides, but still won’t break your budget. Routes within regions won’t require you to change buses in San Jose as long as the departure and destination cities are both on the same route. You will have to pay the full fare just as if you were going to (or from) San Jose, however, even if you are just going a few kilometers. Sometimes the quickest and best way from point A to point B will be through a ‘junction’ city. From Dominical to San Vito, you’d take the bus from Dominical to San Isidro de El General and catch the bus there to San Vito. There won’t be any direct buses. It pays to have a decent map and plan ahead.

Take a look at the map in the schedule and note the number of different bus stops and stations. If you are good with maps and can ask directions in Spanish, you can try to find them yourself. Otherwise, as above, find a taxi driver who knows where the bus stop is.

One last thing worth mentioning. The quality of the buses varies quite a bit. Most buses are reasonably modern, but once in a while you’ll get a converted school bus. The long haul buses to Nicaragua and Panama are air conditioned and even have bathrooms aboard. You won’t find air conditioning in the standard buses, but often an open window will suffice. Costa Rica is a little more modern than a few other Central American countries, at least in so far as the infamous ‘chicken’ buses go. Nobody brings livestock on Costa Rican buses. That I have seen. So get ready! The bus stops HERE!

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  1. Jim Gaudet says:

    My only problem with buses is that I am too tall to be comfortable

  2. No. Cal. Refugee says:

    I have the same problem, Jim. But if you get on early you can get that middle seat way at the back and have plenty of leg room. And not all buses are created equal, legroomwise. Trouble is, you can't test the seat before you buy your ticket.