Somewhere in Latin America: Costa Rica by bus

Manuela de Mendonça is a 23 year old geographer, traveller, writer and runner currently backpacking  through Latin America.

She is documenting her adventures across the continent and sharing her experiences of food, history, culture and nature with us. Expect to read about ancient temples, local restaurants and the best places in the world to go walking.


19 November 2018 Somewhere in Latin America: Costa Rica by Bus

If you are travelling through Costa Rica as a backpacker on a tight budget and  do not have the funds to hire a car, then bus, boat and plane are the best means of transport for longer journeys. Aeroplanes are quickest but can get expensive if you need several flights on your itinerary whereas buses are used by locals and travellers alike, with the occasional ferry thrown in. This is by no means a comprehensive guide to public transport, but it will set you on the right road.

The first thing to note is that there is no central bus company or booking website in Costa Rica. Instead numerous companies run their own routes to different areas, for example Transmonteverde run a direct route between San Jose and Monteverde, but if you want to visit Puerto Viejo you will have to take a MEPE bus. To travel from Monteverde to Puerto Viejo means two buses. To make connections more difficult, the bus companies operate out of different stations in San Jose, so be prepared for a 15-20 minute taxi journey or even an overnight stop in the capital. In smaller transport hubs such as Puntarenas connections are much easier. All buses leave from the same general area, so if you ask around you’ll be pointed in the right direction and have no more than a 5 minute walk.

Another word of warning is about timetables. Up-to-date timings don’t always exist on the internet and when they do, they will be on individual company websites, so you will have to work out the best times of day to travel yourself. Not all roads are in the best condition and it is highly advisable to finish your journey before dark. Of course, all bus companies reserve the right to change their departure times at the  last minute, so cut down your stress levels by popping into the bus station the day before you leave and checking their timetables. Travelblogs containing timetables (such as CentroCoasting) might give you a general idea of times but if they were published a few months ago they could be entirely wrong. I had one lucky connection where my travel companion and I were running late to make the 2:00 pm ferry to Paquera, from where we had two more buses to reach Santa Teresa, our final destination. We missed it, pulled in at 2:54 and prepared to wait another few hours for the 5;00 pm or 8:30 pm ferry. Thankfully one of us ran over to check at the ticket office only to discover the next and final ferry of the day was leaving at 3:00 pm sharp.

The serious plus side to journeys like this is the cost. The ferry I nearly missed cost 810 Colones, today the equivalent of £1.03. A bus can cost anywhere between 1000 – 10000 Colones, depending on whether its a local bus or a long distance, air-conditioned super-vehicle. To get from the Pacific to the Caribbean in a day costs around £15; the same journey by air shuttle will set you back nearly £100. If you’re short or money and relatively long on time then this is a no-brainer.

Now to the journeys themselves. Different vehicles run the same route, so while someone you meet might have spent an entire journey with their head out the window trying to catch a breeze, you could just as easily end up shivering through hours of sub-arctic temperature air-conditioning having not packed a jumper. My advice is take a waterproof so if you are sitting under an icy blast you can make a windproof tent for yourself.

Longer journeys will have a short bathroom break midway through, which you should look out for as the buses don’t have toilets. Even the smallest bus stations have cafes, corner shops and bathrooms (which might set you back a few hundred Colones) and you should have time to go to the loo and make any purchases by the time you  need to get back on board. Your main bags will be stowed underneath and reassuringly tagged with a ticket so you can identify it at the end of your journey. Keep any valuables in a small bag on your lap. If you leave it in the overhead rack, chances are it won’t be there by the time you disembark. Your passport and the majority of your cash are safest hidden in a money belt buckled around your waist, underneath your clothes.

Never be afraid to ask. Hostal and hotel staff, other travellers and locals are usually willing to help and just as others will help you, in turn you can share information and impart advice to fellow travellers all of which is altogether far more effective than asking Google.


Further information

There is a good network of tourist buses for travelling between key places in Costa Rica which Revealed Travel books for passengers in conjunction with hotels, excursions and activities for tailor-made itineraries.  Revealed Travel also books local flights within Costa Rica for longer distances.

Other Blogs:

12 Nov 2018  Somewhere in Costa Rica: Ethical Wildlife Watching in Manuel Antonio

26 Nov 2018 Somewhere in Latin America: 365 Islands

Manuela’s blog: