Riding a bus is one of the most enjoyable parts about traveling in Costa Rica. You get to see so much of the countryside without the stress of crashing into the Ticos rushing around on motorcycles. Read our 7 tips for riding buses in Costa Rica we’ve learned from a few hundred bus trips here in Latin America. They might save you from a few headaches!
The long distance buses are super nice, with reclining seats and sometimes air conditioning. The city buses can get a little uncomfortable, but are better than walking. An added bonus – they’re pretty cheap, especially in the city! We say, you can have your Mercedes car and pay for its maintenance – we ride Mercedes buses!
7 Tips for Riding Buses in Costa Rica
1. Get on in the Front, and Pay the Driver Right Away.
The price is listed in colónes on the front of the bus window or above the driver’s seat. If it’s hard to see, you can always ask the driver.
We’ve only had a few bus drivers try to charge us extra. They usually take US dollars, but don’t expect the best exchange rate!
If you’re catching a bus mid-route on the side of the road, they’ll only stop at designated stops. They’re usually marked by a little rain shelter or a yellow stripe painted on the side of the road.
2. Don’t Wait Between the People-Counting Posts.
The bus driver may try to charge you double if you stand between the tall rectangular metal post that’s on both sides of the steps as you enter the bus. To be safe, wait until the person in front of you has paid their fare before getting on the stairs.
The bus companies use this to count the number of people riding the bus, to keep the bus driver honest with his money. Sometimes it’ll beep if someone stops for a few seconds between the bars, and the bus driver will get excited for you to keep moving.
Once you get on the bus, you usually can’t get off and on again without paying again unless the driver announces that there’s a 15 minute bathroom/restaurant break.
3. Never Put Your Bags on the Top Storage Shelf.
It’s really easy for people to slowly slide your bags toward the back and steal them out the back door. We always put our backpacks between our legs and haven’t had a problem.
4. Keep an Eye on Your Big Suitcases in the Storage Below the Bus.
If you have a big suitcase or a surfboard, it’s usually pretty safe to put it under the bus. Your best bet is to sit on the right side of the bus and keep an eye out whenever someone opens the baggage door.
5. Never Fall Asleep Without Holding Onto Your Bag.
Long bus rides are like lullabies to the young and old. Be sure to cover your pockets and put a strap of your bag through your arm of leg before you nod off.
As always, watch your pockets and backpacks on the bus, especially when in line and when little kids are standing too close to you. Be alert whenever someone bumps into you!
6. Men Always Give Their Seat to Women With Children and Elderly.
I really like how polite the Ticos are to elderly people and women riding the buses. The elderly, handicapped, and ladies with children have first priority in the front 3-5 rows of seats, and everyone will give up their seat for them. There is some law #7600 that is on all the signs, so people are pretty cooperative.
Then, when the bus is packed and there are no more seats, most men will give up their seat for a lady. They usually don’t even get a phone number out of it!
7. Pull the String or Push the Button to Get Off the Bus.
About 100 yards from where you want to be let off, pull an obvious string near the ceiling or push a yellow button on a post. A buzzer will sound for the driver and other passengers and a light will come on up front.
The driver will stop at the next designated stop and you can exit out the front or back door. If you have bags under the bus, tell him and he’ll wait or help you.
Riding Buses in Other Countries
Buses in other countries are similar, but always have different quirks. They keep you on your toes!
Pay when you get off when riding a city bus. You’ll have to ask the driver how much to pay, so it’s a good idea to ask someone nearby what to expect. They’ll accept US currency, but may give you change in Balboas.
Pay when you get off when riding a city bus. They only accept local currency – Chilean pesos. Don’t forget your receipt! Long buses are super nice and almost always have bathrooms.
Long buses are nice, similar to Chile. If the bus ride includes food, don’t expect it until way later than you’re used to having a meal. Their schedule is way different!
Long buses are nice, similar to Chile. Some even have wi-fi!
Have fun riding the bus! Grab a window seat if you can! We hope these 7 Tips for Riding Buses in Costa Rica saves you some headaches!