Getting there & away
San José is the country’s transportation hub, and it’s likely that you’ll pass through the capital a number of times throughout your travels (whether you’d like to or not). Unfortunately, the transport system is rather bewildering to the first-time visitor, especially considering that most people get around the country by bus, yet there is no central bus terminal. Instead, there are dozens of bus stops, terminals and even an old Coca-Cola bottling plant that are scattered around the city, all serving different destinations. Efforts have been made to consolidate bus services and the use of the Coca-Cola, San Carlo, Caribe and Musoc terminals have definitely helped the situation.
The Coca-Cola terminal (Coca-Cola; Av 1 btwn Calles 16 & 18) is a well-known landmark in San José and an infinite number of buses leave from a four-block radius around it. Several other terminals serve specific regions. Just northeast of the Coca-Cola, the Terminal San Carlos (cnr Av 9 & Calle 12) serves northern destinations such as Monteverde, La Fortuna and Sarapiquí. The Gran Terminal del Caribe (Caribe Terminal; Calle Central, north of Av 13) serves the Caribbean coast. On the south end of town, Terminal Musoc (Av 22 btwn Calles Central & 1) caters for San Isidro.
Many of the bus companies, though, have no more than a bus stop (in this case pay the driver directly); some have a tiny office with a window on the street; some operate out of a terminal.
Be aware that bus schedules change regularly. Pick up the useful but not always correct master bus schedule at the ICT office or look for the helpful Hop on the Bus, an up-to-date brochure published by Exintur – the brochure has locations of bus terminals and covers major destinations.
At the time of writing, fuel prices were fluctuating throughout the Americas, and it’s likely that the bus prices in this book will change slightly after publication.
Buses are crowded on Friday evening and Saturday morning, even more so during Christmas and Easter.
Thefts are common around the Coca-Cola terminal, so stay alert – especially at night. Theft is an increasing problem on inter-city buses so keep all valuables in your carry-on bag, and don’t let it out of your sight.
An excellent way of avoiding the hassle of public buses is to book your onward travel through A Safe Passage (441 7837, 365 9678; www.costaricabustickets.com), which can purchase tickets in advance for a small fee. It also arranges airport transfers, and indeed it’s possible to land in San José, and then be shuttled right to your departing intercity bus.
Take a copy of your passport when buying tickets to international destinations. For more on border crossings, see the boxed text Border Crossings, on p546.
Changuinola/Bocas del Toro, Panama (Panaline; cnr Calle 16 & Av 3) US$15, eight hours, departs at 10am.
David, Panama (Tracopa; Calle 14 btwn Avs 3 & 5) US$14, nine hours, departs 7:30am.
Guatemala City (Tica Bus, cnr Calle 9 & Av 4) US$39, 60 hours, departs 6am and 7:30am.
Managua, Nicaragua US$12, nine hours; Nica Bus (Caribe Terminal) departs at 5:30am and 9am; Transportes Deldu/Sirca Express (Calle 16 btwn Avs 3 & 5) departs 4:30am; Tica Bus (cnr Calle 9 & Av 4) departs 6am & 7:30am; Trans Nica (Calle 22 btwn Avs 3 & 5) departs 4:30am, 5:30am and 9am.
Panama City US$25/42 for Tica/Panaline, 15 hours; Tica Bus (cnr Calle 9 & Av 4) departs 10pm; Panaline (cnr Calle 16 & Av 3) departs 1pm.
San Salvador, El Salvador (Tica Bus; cnr Calle 9 & Av 4) US$42, 48 hours, departs 6am and 7:30am.
Tegucigalpa, Honduras (Tica Bus; cnr Calle 9 & Av 4) US$32, 48 hours, departs 6am and 7:30am.
For destinations within Costa Rica, consult the following.
Alajuela (Tuasa; Av 2 btwn Calles 12 & 14) US$0.60, 40 minutes, departs every 15 minutes from 4:45am to 11pm.
Cartago US$0.50, 40 minutes, Sacsa (Calle 5 btwn Avs 18 & 20) departs every five minutes, Transtusa (Calle 13 btwn Avs 6 & 8) departs hourly from 8am to 8pm.
Grecia, for connection to Sarchí (Av 5 btwn Calles 18 & 20) US$0.50, one hour, departs every 30 minutes from 5:30am to 10pm.
Heredia (Av 2 btwn Calles 10 & 12) US$0.50, 20 minutes, departs every 20 to 30 minutes from 4:40am to 11pm.
Sarchí (Av 5 btwn Calles 18 & 20) US$2, 1½ hours, departs every hour from 5am to 10pm.
Turrialba (Calle 13 btwn Avs 6 & 8) US$2, 1¾ hours, departs hourly 8am to 8pm.
Volcán Irazú (Av 2 btwn Calles 1 & 3) US$4.50, departs 8am on weekends only.
Volcán Poás (Tuasa; Av 2 between Calles 12 and 14) US$4, five hours, departs 8:30am.
Cañas US$3, 3¼ hours, Tralapa (Av 7 btwn Calles 20 & 22) departs hourly; Transportes Cañas (Calle 16 btwn Avs 1 & 3) departs 8:30am, 9:50am, 11:50am, 1:40pm, 3pm and 4:45pm.
Ciudad Quesada (San Carlos) (Autotransportes San Carlos; San Carlos terminal) US$2.50, 2½ hours; departs hourly 5am to 7pm.
La Fortuna (San Carlos terminal) US$3, 4½ hours, departs 6:15am, 8:40am and 11:30am.
Liberia US$5, four hours; Pullmitan (Calle 24 btwn Avs 5 & 7) departs hourly from 6am to 7pm; Tralapa (Av 7 btwn Calles 20 & 22) departs at 3:25pm.
Monteverde/Santa Elena (Trans Monteverde; San Carlos terminal) US$4.50, 4½ hours, departs 6:30am & 2:30pm. (This bus fills up very quickly – book ahead.)
Peñas Blancas, the Nicaragua Border Crossing (Transportes Deldú; Calle 16 btwn Avs 3 & 5) US$5.50, 4½ hours, departs 4am, 5am, 7am, 7:30am, 10:30am, 1:20pm and 4pm weekdays, every 15 minutes from 3am to 4pm weekends.
Tilarán (Autotransportes Tilarán; San Carlos terminal) US$3.50, four hours, departs 7:30am, 9:30am, 12:45pm, 3:45pm and 6:30pm.
Nicoya (Empresas Alfaro; Av 5 btwn Calle 14 &16) US$5.25 to US$6, five hours, departs 6am, 6:30am, 8am, 10am, 10:30am, 12:30am, 1:30pm, 2pm, 3pm, 4pm, 5pm and 6:30pm.
Playa Bejuco (Empresas Arza; Calle 12 btwn Avs 7 & 9)US$5.75, 5½ hours, 6am and 3:30pm.
Playa del Coco (Pullmitan; Calle 24 btwn Avs 5 & 7)US$5.25, five hours, departs 8am, 2pm and 4pm.
Playa Flamingo, via Brasilito (Tralapa; Av 7 btwn Calles 20 & 22)US$6.50, six hours, departs 8am, 10:30am and 3pm.
Playa Junquillal (Tralapa; Av 7 btwn Calles 20 & 22)US$8, six hours, departs 2pm.
Playa Nosara (Empresas Alfaro; Calle 16 btwn Avs 3 & 5) US$5, seven hours, departs 6am.
Playa Sámara (Empresas Alfaro; Calle 16 btwn Avs 3 & 5)US$5, five hours, departs 12:30am.
Playa Panamá & Playa Hermosa (Tralapa; Av 7 btwn Calles 20 & 22)US$5, five hours, departs 3:25pm.
Playa Tamarindo (Empresas Alfaro; Calle 16 btwn Avs 3 & 5)US$5, five hours, departs 11am and 3:30pm.
Santa Cruz, via Tempisque bridge US$5.25, 4¼ hours; Tralapa (Av 7 btwn Calles 20 & 22) departs 7am, 10am, 10:30am, noon, 1pm and 4pm; Empresas Alfaro (Calle 16 btwn Avs 3 & 5) departs 6:30am, 8am, 10am, 1:30pm, 3pm and 5pm.
Dominical (Transportes Morales; Coca-Cola) US$4.50, 6½ hours, departs 7am, 8am, 1:30pm and 4pm.
Jacó (Transportes Jacó; Coca-Cola)US$2.50, three hours, at 7:30am, 10:30am, 1pm, 3:30pm and 6:30pm.
Puntarenas (Empresarios Unidos; cnr Av 12 & Calle 16) US$2.50, 2¼ hours, many buses from 6am to 7pm.
Quepos/Manuel Antonio (Transportes Morales; Coca-Cola) US$4, four hours, at 6am, 7am, 10am, noon, 2pm, 4pm and 6pm.
Uvita, via Dominical (Transportes Morales; Coca-Cola) US$5, seven hours, departs 6am and 3pm.
Ciudad Neily (Tracopa; Calle 14 btwn Avs 3 & 5) US$8.25, seven hours, departs 5am, 7:30am, 11am, 1pm, 4:30pm and 6pm.
Golfito (Tracopa; Calle 14 btwn Avs 3 & 5) US$8.25, eight hours, departs 7am and 3pm.
Palmar Norte (Tracopa; Calle 14 btwn Avs 3 & 5) US$5, five hours, departs 5am, 7am, 8:30am, 10am, 1pm, 2:30pm and 6pm.
Paso Canoas, the Panama Border Crossing (Tracopa; Calle 14 btwn Avs 3 & 5) US$9, 7¼ hours, departs 5am, 7:30am, 11am, 1pm, 4:30pm and 6pm.
Puerto Jiménez (Blanco Lobo; Calle 12 btwn Avs 9 & 11) US$6.50, eight hours, departs 6:30am & 3:30pm.
San Isidro de El General (Transportes Musoc; cnr Calle Central & Av 22) US$3.25, three hours, departs hourly from 5:30am to 6:30pm; (Tracopa; Av 4 btwn Calle 14 & 16) US$3.75, three hours, departs hourly from 5am to 6pm.
Santa María de Dota (Transportes Los Santos; Av 16 btwn Calles 19 & 21) US$2, 2½ hours, departs 7:15am, 9am, 11:30am, 12:30pm, 3pm, 5pm and 7:30pm.
San Vito (Empresa Alfaro; Calle 16 btwn Av 3 & 5) US$7.50, seven hours, departs 5:45am, 8:15am, 11:30am and 2:45pm.
All of the following buses depart from the Caribe terminal:
Cahuita (Autotransportes Mepe) US$6.50, 3¾ hours, departs 6am, 10am, 1:30pm and 3:30pm.
Cariari, for transfer to Tortuguero (Empresarios Guapileños) US$2.50, 2¼ hours, departs 6:30am, 9am, 10:30am, 1pm, 3pm, 4:30pm, 6pm and 7pm.
Guápiles (Empresarios Guapileños) US$1.75, 1¼ hours, departs hourly from 6:30am to 7pm.
Puerto Limón (Autotransportes Caribeños) US$3.50, three hours, departs every 30 minutes from 5:30am to 7pm.
Puerto Viejo de Talamanca (Autotransportes Mepe) US$7.75, 4¼ hours, departs 6am, 10am, 1:30pm and 3:30pm.
Siquirres (Líneas Nuevo Atlántico) US$2, 1¾ hours, departs 6:30am to 7pm.
Sixaola, the Panama Border Crossing (Autotransportes Mepe) US$9.50, five hours, departs 6am, 10am, 1:30pm and 3:30pm.
Ciudad Quesada (San Carlos) .
Los Chiles, the Nicaragua Border Crossing (San Carlos terminal)US$3.75, five hours, departs 5:30am and 3:30pm.
Puerto Viejo de Sarapiquí (Autotransportes Sarapiquí; Caribe Terminal)US$2.50, 1½ hours, departs 7:30am, 10am, 11:30am, 1:30pm, 2:30pm, 3:30pm, 4:30pm, 5:30pm and 6pm.
Rara Avis (San Carlos terminal)US$4:50, four hours, departs 6:30am.
Upala (Transportes de Upala; San Carlos terminal) US$6, five hours, departs 6:15am.
Grayline’s Fantasy Bus (220 2126; www.graylinecostarica.com) and Interbus (283 5573; www.interbusonline.com) shuttle passengers from all over the San José area to a rather long and growing list of popular tourist destinations around Costa Rica. They are more expensive than the standard bus service, but they will get you there faster.
There are two airports serving San José. If you’re leaving the country, be advised that there is a departure tax of US$26.
Aeropuerto Internacional Juan Santamaría (437 2626; near Alajuela) handles international traffic from its sparkling new terminal and Sansa domestic flights from the diminutive blue building to the right of the main terminal. Sansa (221 9414; www.flysansa.com; cnr Av 5 & Calle 42, La Sabana) also has an office in town.
Aeropuerto Tobías Bolaños (232 2820; Pavas) is for domestic flights on Sansa (221 9414; www.flysansa.com) and NatureAir (220 3054; www.natureair.com). Any travel agent can book and confirm flights on both Sansa and NatureAir, although you can also make a reservation online. At the time of writing, both airlines were just beginning to expand their services to other destinations in Central America.
International carriers that have offices in San José are listed here. Airlines serving Costa Rica directly are marked with an asterisk; they also have desks at the airport.
Air France (280 0069; Curridabat) Go 100m east and 10m north from Pops.
Alitalia (295 6820; cnr Calle 24 & Paseo Colón)
American Airlines* (257 1266; Av 5 bis btwn Calles 40 & 42, La Sabana)
British Airways (257 6912; Barrio Otoya)
Continental* (296 4911; La Uruca) Next to Hotel Barceló.
COPA* (222 6640; cnr Calle 1 & Av 5)
Cubana de Aviación* (221 7625, 221 5881; 5th fl, Edificio Lux, cnr Av Central & Calle 1)
Delta* (256 7909, press 5 for reservations; Paseo Colón) Office is 100m east & 50m south of Toyota.
Grupo TACA* (296 0909; cnr Calle 42 & Av 5) Across from Datsun dealership.
Iberia* (257 8266; 2nd fl, Centro Colón)
Japan Airlines (257 4646, 257 4023; Calle 42 btwn Avs 2 & 4)
KLM* (220 4111; Sabana Sur)
LTU (234 9292; Barrio Dent)
Mexicana* (295 6969; 3rd fl, Torre Mercedes Benz on Paseo Colón)
SAM/Avianca* (233 3066; Centro Colón)
United Airlines* (220 4844; Sabana Sur)
Varig (290 5222) Find it 150m south of Channel 7, west of Parque La Sabana.
Sansa and NatureAir both offer charter flights out of San José as do a number of aerotaxi companies. Most charters are small (three- to five-passenger) aircraft and can fly to any of the many airstrips around Costa Rica. Each listing below includes the San José airport that the company operates out of.
Aero Bell (290 0000; email@example.com; Tobías Bolaños)
Aviones Taxi Aéreo SA (441 1626; Juan Santamaría)
Helicópteros Turísticos Tropical (220 3940; Tobías Bolaños)
Pitts Aviation (296 3600; Tobías Bolaños)
Viajes Especial Aéreos SA (Veasa; 232 1010, 232 8043; Tobías Bolaños)