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Riding the Bus

Last Updated: Apr 19, 2012

riding the bus
 - Costa Rica

Costa Rica has one of the best public transportation systems in Latin America, consisting almost exclusively of bus travel. Local city buses will take you almost anywhere within city limits, and intercity buses are inexpensive, comfortable and widely available. 

In addition to being a very inexpensive and comfortable way to travel, taking the bus leaves the tricky, potholed driving responsibilities to someone who is much more accustomed to Costa Rica's road conditions. And while the bus driver maneuvers mountain roads and bumper-to-bumper traffic, you can sit back, relax, and enjoy Costa Rica's beautiful scenery.

Riding the City Bus:

Costa Rica's bus system is very similar to that at home: city buses patrol each town, picking riders up at marked stops. However, there are four important facts to know about San Jose and other Costa Rican city buses:

  1. You won't need any bus passes or tokens, they don't exist here. For most city buses, fares range between 140 and 360 CRC ($0.35-$0.70), to be paid in cash. To figure out how much a ride costs, check the bus's front windshield – it should be prominently displayed.
  2. As a general rule, Costa Rican bus drivers will pick you up anywhere, so just stick out your arm and flail wildly when you see your bus.
  3. When you get on the bus, do not stand between the two vertical bars. This cannot be emphasized enough! These bars count passengers, and if the daily count adds up to more than the day's collected fares, drivers pay the difference. They will not hesitate to yell at you in rapid, frustrated Spanish.
  4. To travel between two suburbs or city sections, you'll usually have to head downtown.

Riding the Public Inter-city Bus:

Costa Rica's bus system is government-subsidized, so national travel is very inexpensive.  Expect to pay less than $16 to ride anywhere in the country, even to the Panamanian border.

Most buses originate in San Jose, and run throughout the country. Regional buses are also available, with hubs in Liberia (Guanacaste), Alajuela, Cartago, Limon, and Puntarenas. Buses on popular bus routes, like San Jose-Cartago, will often be marked Directo or Colectivo. A Directo bus will go from Point A to Point B with no stops while a Colectivo will stop for anyone along the way. Only take the Colectivo if you don't plan on taking the bus to its end point.

Fares for inter-city buses are generally posted inside each bus, not on the windshield. You can call ahead for bus schedules and fares, either to the origination terminal (like San Jose's Coca-Cola), or to the company in charge of your bus route. San Jose has no central bus station, but generally, buses to the Caribbean depart from the Gran Terminal Caribe (Los Caribenos), and most other buses set off from the Coca-Cola. 

Only certain buses allow for advanced ticket purchases or assigned seats. As you board the bus, hand the bus driver your ticket – he will usually give you a stub receipt. On the bus, expect comfortable, reclining cloth seats. There will be no on-board bathroom, but don't worry: Costa Rican buses are notorious for stopping every hour or two for bathroom and food breaks. Don't dally, though; if the bus driver says ten minutes, the bus will be gone on the eleventh, leaving any stragglers behind.

If you're traveling to a location that is not your bus's endpoint, you should always let the driver know. (You may be the only passenger getting off there.) If you're prone to worrying, don't hesitate to ask the bus driver to tell you when to get off.  You may be punished with a frustrated sigh or glare, but you'll never miss your stop. When you arrive safely, thank the driver with a friendly "gracias" on your way off the bus.

Riding Private Buses:

Costa Rica also has comfortable and safe shuttle buses. Both Interbus and Gray Line Tours offer routes throughout the country. The companies use modern, air-conditioned buses, focusing on customer satisfaction and comfort. Shuttle companies typically charge between $40-$45 one-way, and will pick you up at your hotel and deliver you to your final destination. Take your surf board for an additional $10.

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