Traveling by Bus in Costa Rica

I just got back to Turrialba after a couple of days hanging out on the beach in Puerto Viejo de Talamanca.  As usual, I buses to get between the cities.  On the way back to Turrialba, I began thinking about the amount of time that I have spent on buses in Costa Rica and what I do and do not like about the bus system.  Here is what I got.

What I like…

–       The value – Buses here are cheap.  To get to Puerto Viejo I went Turrialba to Siquirres, Siquirres to Limon, and Limon to Puerto Viejo.  Combined the three rides cost me just under $7.

–       The reliability – Buses are surprisingly punctual.  This is one of the few industries in Costa Rica that doesn’t run on “Tico Time.”  The buses depart when they say they will and arrive on time, which comes in handy when trying to link together multiple legs of travel.  Even when my bus broke down on this last trip a replacement bus was there within 15 minutes and we made it on time to the next city.

Our Broken Down Bus
Our broken down bus outside of Turrialba

–       The number of destinations – You can get to almost any city in Costa Rica by bus.  It may take a few transfers but you will be able to get there.

–       The number of buses – A lot of people travel by bus here; therefore there are a lot of buses to accommodate them.  This means that buses are always arriving and departing so you won’t have to wait too long for the next one if you miss the bus you were trying to catch.

What I don’t like…

–       The bus stations – Each city is likely have multiple bus stations that each go to and from different cities.  To get from Turrialba to Quepos, you need to walk about 30 minutes in San Jose to get from the Turrialba station to the Quepos station.  Get a good map of the city and be ready to walk a ways or jump in a taxi to get between bus stations.

Resting after a 30 minute jaunt with loaded packs
Resting after a 30 minute jaunt with loaded packs

–       The signage – Sometimes I find myself a bit confused about which bus to get on.  For example, when traveling to Puerto Viejo I had to get on the bus labeled Limon-Sixaola and then I had to get off when we passed through Puerto Viejo.  The best way to know which bus to get on is to simply ask a local.  Same goes for knowing when to get off.

–       The legroom – The amount of space is perfect for Ticos but at 6 feet tall I am slightly larger than the average Costa Rican; my legs are just short enough to fit uncomfortably in most of the seats.  If you shop at Big & Tall, make sure you get an isle seat so you can put your legs out to the side.

Other things to know…

–       There are two types of buses in Costa Rica, “colectivo” and “directo.”  Do your best to avoid “colectivo” buses as they will stop and pick up people all along the way.  This could add as much as 2-3 hours to your travel time.

–       Costa Ricans drive adventurously.  There will be plenty of swerving, slamming the brakes, and passing on blind turns.  You’ve been warned.

–       Keep your ticket the whole way.  On most rides, somebody will come by and check your ticket after you have been on the bus for a while.  I don’t know what happens if you don’t have it but I would guess that it involves you buying another ticket at full price.

–       If you see a line forming at the bus station (and you think it is for the bus you are going to get on), go stand in it.  People are getting in line because the bus has been oversold.  If you are one of the last to board you will stand in the isle the whole way.  Not that bad unless it is a 4+ hour ride.

–       Be nice – If a little old lady or a mother holding an infant is standing in the isle give up your seat.  This does not appear to be a Costa Rican rule/standard but it feels like the right thing to do.