Your Costa Rica Resource

Thinking of moving to and living in Costa Rica? Learn from our experience - we are your resource. Click here if you're living in Costa Rica and would like to be a contributor.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Getting Around: The Costa Rican Bus System Part 1

By Bruce

Prior to coming to Costa Rica you hear a lot about transportation - almost always in a negative sense. "Pothole Paradise" is one nickname that aptly describes road conditions throughout much of the country (although I will say it's hard to have pot holes on unpaved roads, which are also quite common). But really, to most of us planning to move down to Costa Rica (or already here), driving around really isn't much of an issue because we won't (or don't) have a car. So that brings me to the question at hand: How DO you get around here? And what is that system like?

In short: "Public buses" and "well, it's really inexpensive..." Me explico. I would say that there are two "classes" of buses in Costa Rica: 1. City buses and 2. Longer distance travel buses. You will use both. Extensively. City buses are often of the big yellow Blue Bird denomination (although repainted by the bus companies) and allow you to relive that exciting time in your childhood in which much of your social life revolved around the hour or so spent going to and returning from school. You know what I'm talking about, that time when your social status was defined by your seat's proximity to the back of the bus. I guess what I'm saying is that you'll be riding old, often cramped and uncomfortable school buses to get from one part of the San Jose area to the other. It's not necessarily fun, nor efficient, but you can get just about anywhere in the area and you can get there without spending more than a buck.

So how do these city buses work? Basically, you walk to your nearest bus stop (sometimes they are formal - having a bench and perhaps a sign denoting which buses will stop there - and often times they are common street corners where the only indication that it is a bus stop is the presence of other people standing there waiting. So you walk to the bus stop and wait for a bus that is going your direction to approach, and with about 25-50 meters between you and the oncoming bus, you raise your arm and shake your hand (much like haling a NY taxi with a spasming wrist). Really, everyone has their own bus-haling style, just as Major League pitchers have their own unique windup, and you'll just have to develop your own style once you're here.

At that point, you climb onto the bus, hand the bus driver your fare (usually denoted by a sign on the window, although it never hurts to ask), and proceed to an empty seat. If there isn't one available, you enjoy your ride standing in the isle. Personally, I would recommend, at least at the beginning, asking your bus driver as you pay him to make sure the bus is passing by wherever you're going ("Senor, este bus pasa por INSERT DESTINATION?" usually gets the job done).

Finally, keep in mind that it will take time to get this process down, and no matter how hard you try, you will inevitably get on a bus that will take you in a direction other than the one you hope to go. This has happened to me numerous times, and really, the best thing to do is just ask the bus driver to confirm you're going the wrong way, and get off at the next stop and try again. That's good for now, in Part 2 I'll discuss bus travel to other parts of the country (beaches, mountains, borders, etc.).