The cheapest, most efficient way to get around in Costa Rica is by Public Bus. From San Jose there are several options, and they are not so expensive. In fact, the most expensive ticket I bought for the bus included a ferry ride, and about five hours transit. It was thirty US dollars. That’s nothing when you compare the round trip bus tickets from San Francisco to Los Angeles.
Here is my guide to surviving those long 7 hour Costa Rican bus rides.
There are several bus companies in Costa Rica. However, usually, it is safe to assume that they don’t have air conditioning, wifi or bathrooms. For this reason, wear layers. If you are leaving from San Jose, it’s probably somewhat windy, and perhaps maybe even a cool 60 degrees. However, an hour into the ride the temperature will change and you’ll want to be in shorts and a T-shirt.
Go to The Bathroom Every Chance You Get…. Really.
I traveled from Puerto Viejo to San Jose via Public bus, and we stopped about halfway through. Most of the time, the buses will stop for about twenty minutes, and you can go to the bathroom, grab some food and stretch. My bus had one of these such stops. I promptly exited the crowded bus, and grabbed a refreshing pineapple-coconut smoothie. Delicious. During this stop, I did not use the facilities.
This was literally the biggest mistake of my trip. Traffic was exceptionally bad, and we did not arrive to San Jose for another four hours. I literally ran off of the bus and went to the closest restaurant, begging in broken Spanish to use the bathroom. They let me use it, (thank God!) but I could have avoided a lot of discomfort by using the bathroom at the rest stop.
Reserve a Window Seat
Try to book your ticket in advance and reserve a window seat. You can do this through some companies online, or you can do it at the bus station. The views from the window are usually stunning. Costa Rica has an astounding amount of biodiversity. My inner nerd secretly loved driving through jungles, mountains, and beaches- all in the same day. With a window seat, and a decent camera (I use a google pixel, and manage to get incredible footage), you can get some great shots and use them in up and coming travel videos. Plus, you may get ideas about where to go next!
If you don’t manage to Book Your Ticket Early, Arrive An Hour Early to The Station
Can you get on the bus if you arrive exactly on time? Yes. However, there could be standing room only, and let’s face it, a seven hour bus ride is a lot more comfortable in a seat. The tickets will be the same price as well, so you won’t even get compensated for your discomfort. Additionally, you’ll miss the lovely views outside.
If you do arrive early, expect to see a long line. You will wait in it, and then after the people with reserved spaces get on the bus, you will be allowed to board on a first-come, first serve basis.
When you see the Time, add Two More Hours
When you see the amount of time a bus will take to get you from point A in Costa Rica to Point B, add about two hours. This, in my experience has been more accurate than going with the amount of time on the bus websites. According to t bus station’s website, Tamarindo would take about 5 hours. In reality, it was more like 7 hours. This isn’t a problem, if you are traveling solo, but if you are meeting up with friends, it could make you incredibly late.
Charge all of Your Devices, and Bring Both Headphones and a Battery
Let’s face it. A seven hour bus ride is a lot more pleasant when you are able to listen to music, or put your headphones in and relax. For this reason, make sure all of your devices are fully charged, so you can have the maximum amount of entertainment on your very long bus ride possible.
The best way to enjoy your bus ride is in a full seat. For this reason, pack as lightly as possible. If you can, use the overhead storage. When you do need to use the storage beneath the bus, make sure that you do not lose your ticket number. You will be unable to get your stuff back. I caught a bus at six am sans coffee, and when I arrived, I thought I had lost my ticket. Eventually, it turned up at the bottom of my purse, but I had a moment of panic that was completely avoidable.
Some of these bus rides are incredibly long, and you will need to sip water occasionally to stay hydrated. Just don’t drink to much!
So, there you have it! Some strategies for surviving the seven hour bus rides! Safe travels.