When it comes to taking the bus, the public transportation in Costa Rica can get a little tricky for travelers since there are no schedules posted at bus stops, some bus stops are not easy to recognize and buses in Costa Rica don’t have numbers.
However, the public transportation in Costa Rica is easy to use once you ask around a bit and it is a very cost efficient way to travel around the country. You can save a lot of money on transportation that way!
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 so you can have a worry-free and safe trip here.
Important Things to Know About Taking Public Transportation in Costa Rica
Buses have their destination written on the front
Many city buses also have the fare on the front as well. 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 here. We also have a downloadable and printable cheat sheet that you can bring with you so in case you get lost or need to ask a question, you can show it out to a local.
All bus fare must be paid in colones
You pay the fare as you get on and it must be paid in colones. Buses are on a schedule and drivers don’t have the time to count the exchange rate since there is no automatic machine to pay the fare. 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
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.
From San José, you can take a public bus to nearly every tourist destination at affordable rates
This way you will save money to travel more and know more about the country. The only disadvantage of taking the bus is waiting, you do waste time waiting for buses but you save money. The brand new bus stop, the 7-10 has routes to nearly all major destinations and it is recommended to buy tickets the day before or arrive at least 1 hour early.
You may need to purchase a ticket beforehand
This is true for long routes like San Jose to Puerto Viejo or San Jose to Playas del Coco. This is because these routes are very popular (especially around holidays), 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 spot.
Not all bus stops are marked
If you see a bunch of people waiting around in one area, that’s probably a bus stop. Not all of them are marked and majority of them don’t have a schedule so the easiest way is to ask a local. Bus stops usually have a bench and a covering so that’s an indication to look out for. You may also see locals sticking our their arm to stop a bus which is normal.
If you are not sure where a bus is going or the stops it makes, you can ask the bus driver, they are usually nice and can help you but it is better if you can ask in Spanish as not all of them may speak English.
We found a great guide for public transportation in Costa Rica that you can download in the following link (in both English and Spanish).
This is another handy website that covers public transportation in Costa Rica and Central America.
Use A Bus App
Travel apps are becoming more popular and you can find apps for taxis, restaurants and wildlife and nature for Costa Rica. There’s also an app specifically for taking the public transportation in Costa Rica called Off the Grid Traveler. This is especially helpful if you’re not sure how to ask in Spanish, if you get lost or for when you are planning a trip and you can’t find the information online or somewhere else.
How the free app works:
The app needs data to work the first time in order to load the map, so make sure this is done before your trip when you have access to data or Wi-Fi. After that your map will be loaded and you won’t need data again (unless you use Google Maps).
- Select the country – Costa Rica
- Select your departure and arrival destination
- And that’s it!
After that, just hit find route and it’ll bring up how the exact route you need to take including times, schedule, length of the bus ride and where it is on the map. If your bus route requires you to switch buses, it’ll show you the different legs.
You can use the Google Map function (requires data) to automatically load the navigation from where you are to the bus stop. Just tap on the green arrow above your departing destination on the map and tap “to this location.”
This app doesn’t give bus fare however so if you want to know how much fare costs, download the app Yo Viajo Bus Info Costa Rica. It is all in Spanish but it does have bus fares. For some of the longer routes, they also don’t give the best option. For example from Liberia to La Fortuna, they will write “Liberia to San Jose, San Jose to La Fortuna” when you can actually take a bus from Liberia to Canas, Canas to Tilaran and Tilaran to La Fortuna. So just be aware of that.
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Taking the public bus in Costa Rica is getting easier with new bus stations and websites that post routes but it can be complicated for long destinations. So if you’re planning on using buses to get around Costa Rica, make sure to research beforehand the bus schedule and stations.
You may also need to consider taking shuttles instead if you’re short on time or you are visiting somewhere that doesn’t have a consistent bus schedule like Montezuma or Osa Peninsula.
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