Travel By Bus in Costa Rica

It’s inexpensive and easy to get almost anywhere in Costa Rica using the public bus system; a trip from San José to the Pacific beach town of Quepos, for example, will cost you less than $8. It’s a great experience: you are in direct contact with the local people, and you’ll be free from distractions, allowing you to take in the small towns and sweeping views that any trip affords. Here are some tips for trouble-free bus travel.

General Tips for Traveling By Bus in Costa Rica

When using public transportation, travel light. Be sure to keep any valuables with you; don’t place them in overhead bins or storage compartments. Most bus drivers don’t speak English, and posted information is scarce, so get travel information before you leave.

Local Buses

Tourists generally don’t take local intra-city buses, but if you have to, take only what you need and keep an eye on your belongings. Don’t pay with large bills; most drivers won’t be happy about making a lot of change. Instead, try to pay with 2,000 colon bills or less (the fare is usually posted on the front of the bus). Dollars aren’t accepted. Upon entering, you’ll see a couple of electronic bars. Don’t stand in between them or cross through them more than once; they are electronic counters, and drivers don’t appreciate offending riders.

Major landmarks on intra-city routes are generally posted on the windshield of the bus. If you want to get off, look for a doorbell-like buzzer on the roof of the bus and press it a block before your stop. Some buses have a cord near the windows that you have to pull in order to buzz the driver. If you’re not sure about where the bus is going, just ask: most Ticos will be happy to assist, even with a language barrier.

Long-Distance Buses

Tico time doesn’t apply to departing long-distance buses; be punctual. If you’re traveling outside San José, it is recommended to buy your tickets in advance. Buses often fill up, especially on weekends and holidays. Be cautious near bus stations. Keep your valuables with you, preferably hidden, and be suspicious of anyone bumping into you; while you’re distracted, a confederate may be fishing for your wallet.

In spite of the slightly dilapidated feel of the bus stations, most long-distance buses are modern and comfortable. Costa Rica’s buses don’t have chickens and pigs running through the aisles, and service is efficient.

There are two types of buses: direct (directo) and normal (corriente). The directos are more expensive but much faster. The corrientes make stops along the way, and are useful if you wish to get off in a small town that the directos don’t stop in.

Long-distance buses have overhead racks for small bags and storage compartments for larger pieces of luggage and surfboards. Ask the driver to retrieve stowed luggage when you get off.

International Buses

International buses like Tica Bus and Transnica offer comfortable, air-conditioned deluxe coaches. Both offer reclining seats, toilet facilities and movies. This is the easiest way to travel internationally by land, as the bus stops only at the border and takes you to your destination city. Be sure to purchase your ticket in advance. You must present your passport at the time of purchase.

International bus travel is much less expensive than flying. A popular trip from San José to the colonial city of Granada, Nicaragua starts out at less than $60 round trip. Be sure to have some low-denomination US banknotes to take care of the entrance and exit fees at the border crossings. San José to Granada takes around eight hours.