The Autobus

It’s time I write about buses, seeing as I spent many days worth of my life on buses while in Costa Rica.

Riding buses was really the only option I had to travel in Costa Rica. It was a good opportunity to see the countryside and immerse myself in the culture. At the same time it was a test in patience and waiting. I got really good at waiting and being content–a kind of meditation I suppose.

Technical Aspects
Transportation is cheap, and depending on the area fairly reliable. In three months of traveling around Costa Rica, I spent less than $50 on buses. For an hour bus ride to the farm from San Isidro de General I paid about 80 cents. I paid six to eight dollars for the bus ride from San Jose to San Isidro, a three-hour bus ride. In San Jose, buses are a bit more expensive though. 

There are many bus companies and many different bus stations. I spent an hour one day asking where one of the bus stations was. I asked about five people. A lot of people you ask don’t know. I asked at a hotel that was right across the street from the station and they said the station didn’t exist. Also all stations look a bit different and may not be well-marked. On the plus side, google maps is fairly accurate about where the bus stations are, so look it up in advance if you have a chance.

In the city buses are frequent and consistent. However when in the countryside there aren’t many buses, maybe two the entire day. One early in the morning and one in the afternoon. This means if you miss the morning bus you have to wait eight hours or more to catch the next one.

Buses are slow. They make stops frequently. It can take an hour to go 15 kilometers.

Most buses don’t have air conditioning which I didn’t find a problem until I traveled for five hours on a bus driving to an area much hotter and more humid. All I could do was sleep.

Long story short Costa Rica may be a small country, but without a car it could take you all day to get to your destination. It’s good to get to the bus station early because those who you ask are never quite sure about the time. I found it useful to ask at least three people.

Cultural Aspect
Many Costa Ricans take the bus as it’s the cheapest form of transportation. Because of this many don’t know how to drive a car. Having a car in Costa Rica means your family is pretty well off. Gas is expensive and cars don’t depreciate in value as much because there is no winter.

Costa Ricans are very courteous and give older people a seat first. They generally sit next to the window first to allow someone to sit next to them.

Children take the bus on their own. There are no marked bus stops in some areas. The driver usually handles the money and gives back the change. Many times it’s easier to pay in coins rather than bills.

People walk through the bus to sell snacks, and then give the bus driver a free snack.

I have seen pretty much everyone pay. The conductors are not demanding, they trust that people will pay them. Which means sometimes people find a seat first and then pay.

In the countryside buses will drop people off right in front of their house.

Even Costa Ricans aren’t always sure of the times. They too have waited an hour or more at a bus station. They’re very patient though. They just sit and talk and wait, never seeming too worried.

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The hours I spent waiting for buses and riding buses gave me the opportunity to see the people of Costa Rica and to observe many cultural nuances. It also provided me the opportunity to talk to Costa Ricans, to interact and practice my Spanish. The best way to deal with Costa Rican buses to go with the flow.

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One thought on “The Autobus

  1. Well, there are some similar cultural aspects from the perspective of the passenger on the buses of Lima, (I have no real experience on cross country buses, except to say Cruz Del Sur is the safest) but since Lima is a very big city, the experience varies from some of what you mention. It is inexpensive and necessary here, often very crowded, standing room only. The fare collector is called the “cobrador”, figuring routes out can be more than interesting.
    R.

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