When it comes to taking the bus, the public transportation in Costa Rica can be a little tricky for travelers. The infrastructure is still developing so it’s not as straightforward as other countries. However, it is a cheap way to get around the country and is a good way to experience local life. We always say that taking the bus in Costa Rica is an adventure!
Taking public transportation in Costa Rica requires a bit of research especially if you plan to visit multiple destinations. You do not want to arrive in Costa Rica without any plans! (That is one of the biggest mistakes you can make in Costa Rica that you want to avoid at all costs).
So if you’re planning on taking the bus to get around in Costa Rica, here are our tips for taking the public transportation in Costa Rica. At the end, I also have safety tips, pros and cons for taking the bus and other options to consider. This post was updated April 17, 2020.
Buses are privately owned
Something very important to know first is that the buses in Costa Rica are owned by private companies. These private companies will operate certain areas in the country and they set rates, stops, routes and times. They also have their own bus terminal so you will need to find out the bus company of the route you plan to take and find out where their terminal is.
So instead of just 1 company operating all the buses in the country and one general bus terminal, there are multiple private companies. Some companies are Pulmitan, Tracopa, Tuasa, Grupo Blanco. The way they call the bus companies in Costa Rica is “Empresa X” which means X Company.
Additionally, because buses are privately owned, there are many bus stations. There isn’t just 1 general bus station where all the companies operate out of so you need to check with the company of the route you’re taking and see where their bus station is so you know where to go to catch the bus.
For example, the 7-10 bus station in downtown San Jose does have multiple routes and companies operating out of it like San Jose – Jaco and San Jose – La Fortuna but the Pulmitan company does not operate from there, you will need to go to the dedicated Pulmitan station in San Jose.
Bus conditions vary
Bus conditions vary depending on the company. Some may have air conditioning, some may have Wi-Fi, it all depends on the company. Not all buses are the same. Pulmitan has very nice double decker buses from San Jose to Guanacaste with air conditioning and spacious seats. The bus we took from San Jose to Jaco with company Garabito was not so nice with no air conditioning and very musty seats.
Many buses have their destination written on the front
Many city buses also have the fare on the front. They will also have the name of the bus company on it so you can look for that to see if it’s the correct bus.
It is helpful to know a bit of Spanish
Especially numbers to ask how much a fare is since not many bus drivers know English. You can learn them in our introductory guide Spanish guide.
We also have a downloadable and printable sheet in the link that you can bring with you so in case you get lost or need to ask a question.
All bus fare must be paid in cash or coins using Costa Rican colones for the pay-when-you-get-on-buses
These are mostly the city buses or buses with short routes where you pay the fare as you get on. This bus fare must be paid in Costa Rican currency, colones. Even though USD is readily accepted in Costa Rica, colones is the best. Drivers don’t have the time to count the exchange rate since there isn’t an automatic payment machine. You just hand the money to the bus driver and he has a tray of coins next to him.
You don’t need exact change but you will need coins and small denominations
Bus drivers will give you change if you don’t have an exact amount. Tell the driver once you get on how many people you’re paying for and he will tell you how much it is. Most buses in the city will have the rate on their destination sign on the front. He will give you your change back in Costa Rican colones.
Most bus fares that pay as you get on mostly in the city are cheap like 250 colones or something so have coins. If you pay with bills, use small denominations like 1,000 or 2,000 colones. The bus driver doesn’t have time to be calculating change from a 10,000 bill for a 275 colones bus ride!
From San José, you can take a public bus to nearly every tourist destination for affordable rates
As San Jose is the capital city of Costa Rica, you will find public buses to all touristic destinations in the country. You can take direct buses from San Jose to Puerto Viejo, San Jose to Playas del Coco, San Jose to Tamarindo, San Jose to Monteverde, San Jose to La Fortuna, San Jose to Jaco, San Jose to Quepos and San Jose to Puerto Jimenez for some examples.
Also, it is cheap to take the bus in Costa Rica. For example, intercity prices can range from 200-400 colones (less than $1 USD). Countrywide routes like San Jose to Tamarindo which is 258 kilometers (161 miles) costs 5,635 colones or around ~$10 USD per adult. That is cheap!
You can even take buses throughout Central America. Companies Ticabus and Nicabus go from Guatemala to Panama! We took Ticabus from Costa Rica to Panama before.
You can use credit card for the long routes at bus stations
If you purchase a bus ticket at the bus station for long routes, you can use credit card or cash. Some stations may only accept cash, like the one in Tamarindo.
Long routes have 1 stop
Public buses stop once on a long route for food and bathroom. Long routes are usually 3+ hours. Our bus from San Jose to Jaco which took 2.5 hours, did not have a stop. Neither did Jaco to Quepos which took 2 hours.
Additionally, some routes have a directo or collectivo. The collectivo will make a ton of stops and go through small neighborhoods so they take way longer. Direct buses don’t.
It is recommended to purchase tickets beforehand for certain routes
You should purchase bus tickets beforehand if you are traveling during the holidays, on the weekend, in high season (December – April) or for popular long routes. These are routes like San Jose to Puerto Viejo or San Jose to Playas del Coco. This is because these routes are very popular, have assigned seating and have limited buses per day. It’s best to buy at least a day before if you can to guarantee a seat. If you don’t purchase your ticket beforehand, you may not get a seat and will have to stand. Or not even get a seat!
You can purchase tickets by going to the bus station the day before and buying it. You can also choose your seats for most routes.
Some bus companies do allow you to purchase tickets beforehand like Transportes Jaco. There is also a website called La Terminal Costa Rica that acts as a middle man to help visitors purchase certain routes beforehand.
Get to the bus station early!
Likewise, if you are traveling during high season, the weekend or holidays, get to the bus station at least 1 hour early to purchase tickets. So if you are planning to take the bus after you land in San Jose Airport, make sure you give yourself enough time. Remember, San Jose International Airport is in Alajuela, not San Jose. The airport is about a 30 minutes drive to downtown San Jose without traffic.
Therefore, give yourself enough time and be flexible. That is the downside to taking the bus in Costa Rica as there aren’t many routes and there is a lot of traffic so you need to be flexible. If you’re landing at 1 PM and your bus is at 2 PM, you’re not going to make it. You have to go through immigration and customs, get a ride to the bus station, buy the ticket in just 1 hour. Even if you’re landing at 1 PM and your bus is at 3 PM, but you are landing on a weekend in February, you will most likely not make it since immigration has been known to take up to 2-3 hours on weekends in high season!
You can check to see if your bus passes by the San Jose Airport or Coyote Radial so you don’t have to go all the way downtown but not all routes pass by the airport.
Not all bus stops are marked
Bus stops are not well marked in Costa Rica. You won’t see signs with schedules, information, phone numbers, bulletin boards, etc. Most of the time, the bus stop is a covered wooden bench and that’s it. Some bus stops in San Jose are nicer and have nicer seats and a glass covering.
One place we have seen somewhat well marked bus stops is in Puerto Viejo on the way to Manzanillo. They didn’t have benches but they did have these very nice signs. But it is rare to see well marked bus stops with schedules and information like those.
If you see a bunch of people waiting around, that’s probably a bus stop. It can be easy to spot, especially during rush hour.
If you are not sure where a bus is going or the stops it makes, you can ask the bus driver. They will try to help but it is better if you can ask in Spanish as not all of them may speak English.
Some bus stations are inside a restaurant or business
Some bus stations are inside a restaurant or joined to another business. For example, you purchase bus tickets and wait for the bus in La Pavona inside the restaurant, there isn’t a separate bus station. In Bijagua, you purchase tickets and wait for the bus at the Las Tinajitas restaurant in downtown.
Bus stations are called “La Parada”
If you need to find the bus station, it is called La Parada in Spanish and all locals will know what you’re talking about if you ask for La Parada. For example, the bus station in Puerto Viejo actually has two separate buildings. There is one to buy tickets and then across the street is the “La Parada” with a small cafeteria. The La Parada is where you will wait for the bus and board it.
Across the street from La Parada is the ticket window to purchase bus tickets.
Buses going to another city have luggage compartments
To store your luggage, wait in line when your bus is there and give your luggage to the driver who will load the luggage. He will give you a ticket which you have to keep. When you get off, let the driver know you have luggage and he will ask for your ticket to get your luggage.
Use a bus app and other resources
A bus app is very helpful for figuring out where to go. Make sure you use the app before you land in Costa Rica so you are familiar with it!
The app Yo Viajo Bus Info Costa Rica is good and also has bus fares. They just redid this app and it is now in English. The Moovit app is also very good for routes leaving San Jose. Read about other handy Costa Rica apps in this post.
We also found a great guide for public transportation in Costa Rica that you can download in the following link (in both English and Spanish): Costa-Rica bus itinerary.
Join Costa Rica by Bus
This is a must for those relying on using public transportation in Costa Rica! It’s a Facebook group dedicated to traveling around Costa Rica by bus. By far, it’s one of the best resources for taking the public transportation in Costa Rica. You can search through the group and people post bus schedules, experiences and latest rates.
Tips for Taking the Bus in Costa Rica Rica
There are some things to be aware of if you plan to take the bus in Costa Rica when it comes to safety and scams.
- Do not let anyone “watch” your belongings for you. If someone offers to watch your luggage, decline. If you are traveling on your own, always have everything with you wherever you go. This is one of the tourist scams – a local may seem really friendly and then offer to “watch” your luggage for you but really, they are there to steal your stuff.
- We don’t recommend to put anything in the overheard compartment of the bus. It’s easy for thieves to steal things from the top compartment because you never have an eye on it.
- If you take a taxi to the bus station, do NOT believe the taxi driver if he tells you the bus is full, the bus station isn’t there anymore, the bus burned down, the bus isn’t operating, etc. This is a scam the taxi drivers try to pull and convince you to hire them to take you to your next destination and charge you a ton of money. Go straight to the bus station. This is why we recommend Uber instead since they are not as pushy or as likely scam you as the taxi drivers.
- If you put belongings under the seat in front of you, make sure that you always have a foot on it and you face the zippers and compartments towards you.
- When getting off the bus, be alert. Some thieves will take advantage of sleepy travelers and snatch their belongings as they exit the bus.
If you plan to use the bus in Costa Rica to get around, we highly recommend to get a pre-paid Costa Rican SIM card or an international data plan so that you always have access to internet in case of emergency.
Should You Take the Bus?
We love taking the bus when we travel internationally because it’s cheap and you feel a little like a local. And we don’t have to worry about driving which is great when we’re visiting cities with good infrastructure.
We recommend to take the bus in Costa Rica if you are on a budget, are going to only a couple destinations, are not on a strict schedule and are not traveling in a big group with babies or seniors.
- If you’re on a budget traveling in Costa Rica, taking the public bus is the best way to save money on transportation. A bus ticket from San Jose to Puerto Viejo costs around $11 USD per person. Compared to a shared shuttle which is around $59 USD per person, it is much cheaper!
- If you plan to go to 1 or 2 main touristic destinations, you can easily take the public bus. Although there aren’t direct routes for all touristic destinations, you can still spend a day taking the bus for your travel day and it’s a fun adventure. Just make sure to figure out the schedules and where to catch the bus.
- For those on a more flexible schedule, the bus is a great way to get around. Do keep in mind that on average, taking the bus may be 2-4 hours longer than driving and that is if everything goes perfectly. Since buses in Costa Rica can be late, early, full, there are more chances of running into a hitch, especially if you have to change multiple buses. This is why you need to be flexible and not be on a super strict schedule.
- Travel smart and plan ahead – if your flight departs at 10 PM from San Jose, don’t take the 2 PM bus from Liberia thinking you’ll get there *right* at 2 hours before your flight. Anything can happen on those long routes – traffic, accidents, delays, etc. Earlier is better when it comes to taking the bus in Costa Rica.
- If you’re a solo traveler or a couple, taking the bus can be easily done. But if you are traveling in a large multi generational group, it can be very stressful in a foreign country. Remember, buses only make 1 stop during long routes, they can’t stop just because you ask them to. And you don’t want to be running around San Jose downtown trying to find the right bus station towing a 6 month old, 2 year old, the grandparents and luggage and finding out that the last bus leaves in 20 minutes!
- For these travelers, we recommend a private shuttle or renting a car instead. You will have the flexibility stop whenever and wherever you want. And you won’t be on anyone’s schedule.
Other Transportation Methods
If taking the bus doesn’t quite sound like something you want to do, you can:
- Take a shuttle, shared or private. Read more about taking shuttles in Costa Rica in this guide. Shared shuttles are good options for travelers still on a budget. Private is best for big groups.
- Rent a car. This is the most flexible way and the best way to see Costa Rica since you can explore. Read more about renting a car in Costa Rica in our post. Renting a car can be expensive in Costa Rica but there are cheap compact manual cars. However, keep in mind that if you want to explore, a 4wd/4×4 is recommended for many destinations.
- Fly. You can take domestic flights throughout the country. Read more about domestic flights in Costa Rica here. Flying is expensive but saves a ton of time!
When it comes down to it, deciding factors for your transportation method will be time vs money. Taking the bus in Costa Rica is the best way to travel cheaply. You can read our getting around Costa Rica guide for more details to help you decide the perfect way to get around Costa Rica for your itinerary.
Thanks for the review. Im leaving from flamingo at Margitaville to San jose airport. My flight is 2 pm at San jose. I want to leave flamingo 6 am. Any local bus you recommend please to take at this early morning time?
I would personally leave the day before just in case of any delays
we are traveling from downtown san jose to puntarenas and wanted to know if the jaco bus station was the best way to get there or is a shuttle a smarter option.
I believe the T.Q.P. bus is the one you want to take and it should be direct to Puntarenas town bus station
I have read many of your articles on Costa Rica so I thank you there. But this doesn’t help me, I am traveling for 3 months and have done a lot of research on bus routes and I cant find one place that will give me routes. The app you mentioned I have looked up and found the website but no app ( even with updated names in comments) and when I typed in a city like Tajo Alto nothing comes up. Do you know where to get bus routes even to smaller towns? we have multiple airbnbs throughout the country. Hope to get a reply thanks.
You can check the website Rome2Rio, it works in Costa Rica and can give you schedules and times
Hi. I’ll need to take the public bus from Alajuela to La Fortuna on November 30, 2019. I’ve been looking at as much info as I can to make sure I know exactly what to do, but it still seems a little unclear. Is it correct that there’s a direct bus from the bus terminal in Alajuela to La Fortuna? If so, do you know what time it departs? And if tickets can be purchased in advance? Thank you!
Hi Lisa, there is a direct bus, you can check the Terminal 7-10 website for more info: http://terminal7-10.com/en/rutas/san-carlos-2/
We are in Playa Del Coco and we would like to take the bus to monteverde. We are confused on which bus to take. Do we head to liberia first or take a route to San Jose and get off of Salinas. Thanks, we love the blog!
The bus route will be Coco – Liberia – Canas – Tilaran – Monteverde.
Do you know if the app is still available, or if it’s got a different name now? I wasn’t able to find anything called Off the Grid Traveler.
Hi Annie! It’s called Costa Rica Traveler now.
quang pham says
Hi, I tried to look up Costa Rica Traveler in iTunes, but it is not available. Do you know if there is another name for it? thanks
Hi Quang, the app changed its name to Off the Grid Traveler. Sorry I haven’t updated it!
Hetal Satiya says
I wanted to do wildlife photography.
Looking for guide who can take us to main bird’s location.
Can u suggest some guide?
N can v travel without any tour with local buses by managing time?
Too confused abt hw to commute there on our own without tours help.
I would look up the place you are going and find a guide there or look up the best destinations for wildlife photography and then hire a local guide there.
Hi! Thank you for the advice. I’m traveling to CR in a couple days and this will be my first time out the country. I’m so excited, but a little worried. I wanted to take a shuttle van, but inalso want to save as much as possible. I will be traveling to la fortuna. Is there a bus that goes one way there?
Hi Maria, where are you flying into? There are buses to La Fortuna and buses are the cheapest form of transportation. There are direct buses to San Ramon from San Jose and none from Liberia (you will need to change 2 times) and it also depends when you land.
Natalie Barth says
hi!! I am extremely late to this post but I am currently in Costa Rica and need to travel from San Isidro Del General to Huacas, Guanacaste in the next two days. I am extremely terrified and am a young female traveler. Are there any routes that you know of or tips??
Hi Natalie, if youre taking the bus, the easiest way would be to bus back to san jose, take the bus to tamarindo which passes by Huacas and get off there. But in huacas youll still need to grab a taxo to the hotel or wherever you are going.
Which bus would I take to get to the boat dock to Tortuguero National Park?
Hi Paul, are you coming from San Jose? From San Jose, the bus leaves from San Jose Terminal del Caribe, Calle Central Ave 15, 6:30, 9, 10:30, 1PM, 3 PM, 4:30 PM, 6 PM, 7 PM and 8:30 PM. You can read more information on how to get to the La Pavona dock by bus here: Tortuguero National Park guide
Great post, thanks for the tips! I will be traveling to Costa Rica next month and I was a bit worried on how to make my way around but this really helped 🙂
Hi Becky, glad we could help and have a great time in CR!
Hey, you have an amazing blog by the way! I will go backpacking in Costa Rica and it already helped me many times!!
I just don’t get how you find a hotel or a restaurant if it just says 100 m west from there and 50 meters south from there and not a real address? Do you always take a compass with you??
Hi Lena, thanks for reading!
You can tell which way is east and west due to the sun and then we usually ask people if we can’t find it. Most addresses will have some sort of landmark you can look for like the bank, school or something and then go from there.
Hi! Do you remember how much a ride might cost? An approximate number would be very helpful for me, I cannot find any site that mentiones this! Thank you 🙂
Hi Mathilde, bus fares depends on where you are going. A short ride in the city can be 200-300 colones, a longer ride around 4 hours costs around $9-10.
Anuja Rizal says
Is there public transportation to get from La Fortuna to MonteVerde , from Monte Verde to Quepos and from Quepos to SanJose?
Yes but no direct buses from Fortuna to Monteverde or Monteverde to Quepos. You can go from Fortuna to Tilaran and then Tilaran to Monteverde. Then Monteverde to Puntarenas then to Quepos.
My daughter and I took the bus outside of Liberia airport into Tamarindo and 3 men in cars stopped to ask us for a ride. Is this normal? Why did they stop for just us when there were locals there too? I ignored them and waved one off harshly. Were they dangerous? They saw our luggage.
Hi Liz, actually it’s very normal in Costa Rica. Their culture is super friendly, especially for tourists because it’s such a touristic country. It’s normal for men to offer help, especially to women as that’s how their culture is. I always get stopped when I’m walking by myself from locals asking if I’m OK or if I need a ride. Of course, there are always incidents of not so nice people doing not so nice things so it’s always better when you’re in a foreign country unfamiliar with the culture and people (and looking very much like tourists) to be a bit more wary.
I was wondering maybe you could tell me how much it cost to travel by public trasportation?? I looked at some shuttles and I check car rental but how much will it cost me to go from san jose to la fortuna in public trasportation.
Hi Bianca, I think the price from SJ to La Fortuna is around $5 (3,000 colones) but I’m not positive on the exact amount. They’ll tell you how much it is when you go to the bus station
I’m going to CR next week and I’m super excited! I will be going for a week. I’m planning on visiting 3 destination. La Fortuna, Monteverde, and Jaco. I will be flying into San Jose and staying there for a night. What will be the best way to go to each spot?
Hi Mike, you can read this post that will hep: getting around Costa Rica
We are a small group of 3 Belgian couples, coming to Costa Rica for about 2 weeks in October. Thanks for the tips! They will no doubt be useful.
We’re still figuring out how we should travel from San José to Cahuita. We will have all our luggage with us so I’m a bit worried about using public transport. Is it safe with luggage and can we stow it away safely?
What about comfort? I read that most public buses have no airconditioning and little space. Is this still true?
Hi Bettina, there is a luggage storage on the bottom of the bus, keep the ticket you get for your luggage and you’ll give it to the person when you get off to pick it up. Never leave your luggage alone and never accept anyone’s offer to watch it for you.
As for comfort, yes most public buses don’t have ac and seats aren’t very comfortable, but it is super cheap so that is the tradeoff.
another option , a ‘Shuttle Van’ . most Hotels can arrange this . they pick you up at your Hotel and it goes Direct to your destination . less hassle and much faster . worth the extra $
Why no mention of using Uber? They saved me several dollars over the red taxis on my last visit to SJ.
We actually haven’t tried Uber yet since we have a car but I’ve heard that it’s way cheaper than regular taxis. Will definitely try it next time we get a chance!
Absolutely safe and a wonderful country full of wonderful people! Third world though, and not for everyone. I have been there many times in the last eight years and every trip was great. Be respectful, polite, friendly, and expect that in return from the Ticos! If you go just to Guanacaste and the ‘Gringo” areas you are missing the real Costa Rica ‘Pura Vida’. Travel well!!
Well said 🙂
Tim Maloney says
also a great way to experience their Life and Culture . They are so polite and helpful . ask them questions and practice your Spanish . This is a safe Country , with good hearted people . They`ll be happy to have met you . Pura Vida !
Ava Gavloski says
Thanks so much for the detail. Appreciate it. You share the deets perfectly for travelers and present the material the important way a traveler needs to hear the tips.
You’re very welcome and thank you!
Thank you so much! Yeah, the first days here were kind of crazy as going from A to B can reveal itself quite challenging!
Thanks for sharing this! It will be very useful to my trips here 😀
You’re welcome! I’m glad to hear it’s useful. Have a wonderful time here!!
Fantastic post! So much useful info! If I ever get to Costa Rica 🙂 When away we tend to rent a car, as this is giving us a lot of freedom with our movements, but I would never go to London by car, since they have really good tube connection. Besides I like to save my nerves too!
Thanks Monika! Yeah renting a car gives you all the freedom you need for sure, but for those on a budget the public transportation is a good option. I’ve heard the London has a great public transportation system! Hopefully COsta Rica will get one like that here someday