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Costa Rica’s Public Transportation System

Costa Rica Travel- Recently, there was an article on National Public Radio (U.S.) and they were discussing and interviewing several people in large cities where people relied on the city’s public transportation and how people would jump from a subway to a bus, to another subway, to a bus, and potentially walk another 15 blocks to get to where they were going.

costa rica public transportationOne woman in particular woke up three hours before her job began at 6:00 a.m. just to get ready to leave and it would take two hours to get there! This to me is preposterous, and is also a ridiculous situation anywhere in the United States which is one of the wealthiest countries in the world!

There are problems all over the world, and each country has their challenges and imperfections. Say what you will about Costa Rica’s imperfections, but one area of the country where I will give many, many kudos is in the public transportation system. It is amazing to me how easy the system is to use when you get the information about where each bus stops and where it is going.

When school was out, I walked down the street one block and there was a short wait time and a bus would come. As long as you were in the know as to which direction you needed to go, you could ask the driver, and they were always helpful, or most of the time the destination was clearly posted on the windshield of the bus. The bus ride into San Jose was about $4.00 U.S. and the buses were usually like the tourist ones you see with the plush seats and high backs. There are many stops along the way as a regular bus in any city would do, and some of the stops are interesting sites around the city.

Also, be prepared that sometimes the buses stop at random places to pick up friends, family, or just folks that decide they need a ride but don’t want to walk to the ‘real’ bus stop so the driver is kind and gives them a lift (they still have to pay usually). The bus stops by the Hospital Mexico, in front of many large corporations and processing plants, so you actually get some really interesting touristy stuff while sitting on the bus awaiting your destination. You were dropped off at an easy to spot landmark in the city – La Iglesia Merced and that was also where you could pick the bus up when you wanted to return.

If there was a specific location you wanted to visit in the city, it was easy to hail a cab and usually the fare would be between $2-6 depending on where you wanted to go. Also, in San Jose is the bus depot at the old Coca Cola bottling station. Many people remind visitors that this area can be a little seedy, but I never felt in danger. Just make sure you keep your purse and other belongings in front of you, and/or tucked tightly under your arm to make your valuables a not-so-easy target. Anyhow, getting to the beach from San Jose was also an easy endeavor.

We asked an officer where the ticket booth was (in Spanish) and he was very helpful. Actually, there were a lot of officers who were always willing to help out some gringas. We bought our tickets, then found the correct bus, then we boarded only 5 minutes later than the departure time. It was smooth and comfortable sailing from there. Getting back was just as easy.

From San Jose, there are many bus stops that will take you all over the country. They go to some local volcanos (Irizu & Poas), other cities, including La Fortuna, and Arenal. There are several buses to take if you want to go further like to Monteverde, but it is possible to do all this from the local public transportation services offered in Costa Rica.

*If you are going to live like a local and rely on public transport, you do need some rudimentary Spanish skills as many people don’t speak English unless you are living or visiting a tourist location.

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