Ok, buses in Costa Rica…  First let’s dispel one of the myths of buses here.  No, there aren’t any “chicken buses” (i.e. buses where live animals are allowed to be taken on).  I have heard Nicaragua has those, but I haven’t run into any of those anywhere so far.  In fact, friends of mine were rejected from riding the buses because they had their dogs with them.  The buses are for people only.

You have many bus choices really but the primary one is this: do you want to spend lots of money?  Or do you want to save money?

Perhaps it’s really not all that cut and dry with this decision really, and this is why:

Expensive buses: they have Greyline buses and other lines that charge upwards of $40+ to get to a destination that with the local buses would only cost a few dollars.  However, you will get air conditioning on these buses and you are guaranteed your own seat with no one potentially standing in the aisle beside you.  So those of you who are claustrophobic, this may be your best option.  You are also pretty much guaranteed on these buses to ride with a ton of other tourists as well.  Locals do not ride on these buses perhaps due to the expense, so if you choose this route, you will be missing the fun times of meeting and chatting with some locals.  This option is a lot faster though than the local buses as they take you directly to your final destination (sometimes there are a couple stops along the way but nowhere near as many as with the local buses) so if time is really of the essence, this may be your best travel bet too.

Unfortunately riding these buses does not guarantee you a smooth ride (only a comfortable one) as many of the roads are bumpy and wind around a lot!  So if you get car sick as well, you may want to consider having a calming agent with you regardless of which bus type you ride on.  The final important note with these buses is that tickets must be purchased in advance.

Cheap/local buses: this is the only mode of transportation I have used and let me tell you, it’s an experience!  Each one has been a bit different but all good.  Some allow you to keep your bag with you (my backpack) and others insist that you put it under the bus.  Now for traveling safety I have always been told never to part with your bag.  However my backpack has never contained any super important stuff (i.e. clothes and toiletries only) so while I was ok with parting with my bag, I did always try to score a seat near the window or standing space near a window so I could check that my bag wasn’t being removed by someone else at one of the various stops we would take.  In any event, these buses can get very, VERY crowded!  All the seats can fill up quickly and then they will continue to stuff the bus aisles with people and their various belongings.  There have been a few times that I’ve felt a little claustrophobic, but drowning my surroundings with music from my iPOD has helped!

The best kept secret for finding these buses and when they run exactly is thebusschedule.com.  It provides information for all the local buses that run within each Central American country!  Simply go to the website, click on the country you are in, fill in the information (from where to where, date and time- I usually always put 05:00 for time so I can see the entire days schedule) and voila!  It will show you all the options and times, the duration of each option and how many changes you will have to make.  It really is a fantastic site and is all I’ve ever used when traveling around!

You don’t have to purchase any tickets in advance, you just get on and when you are ready to depart they tell you as you are getting off how much you owe.

That reminds me of another little tip.  If you choose the local buses I would recommend to always double check with the driver that they are actually going to the destination you want.  This really serves two purposes: #1 that you are on the correct bus and #2 asking the driver puts a little bug in their ears as to where it is you want to get off.  The drivers are very good at their jobs and are quite good at recalling where to make sure and announce which stop is which for those who have specifically asked about them.  Because let me tell you- none of the stops are marked in any fashion.  As a back-up to ensure that I get off where I need to, I always strike up conversations with locals so they know where it is I want to get off and therefore they can help me get off where needed.  The locals have been invaluable in this way!!  I have never had a bad experience in speaking with locals and asking them for help.  Each have been amazingly accommodating and helpful!  There have been times when my little dictionary, maps and games of charades have broken out for us to completely understand each other, but that’s all part of the fun:)

Another difference with local buses is that vendors will come on board at certain stops selling drinks and little things to eat and such.  They hang on for a few stops or several stops depending on how much their products are in demand.  This can definitely make the buses more crowded, but again it’s all part of the fun of the experience in my book.

So in summary for the cheap buses: you are not guaranteed a seat, you definitely won’t have any air conditioning (but you can open the windows!), you won’t get to your destination on time (always add about an hour to two hours from when they say you will arrive), your personal space may be violated at times, you may have to keep an extra keen eye out for your personal belongings, BUT you will miss the local experience and chatting with locals going the other route.  As I said, I’ve only ridden the local buses and plan to continue always riding the local buses.  To me, the experience and the people make the trip much more fun than an air-conditioned tourist bus:)

San Jose

I should start by saying that I really didn’t have a plan.  None of this trip was planned exactly.  The farthest I ever got with “planning” was that I was going to sell everything, quit my job and travel out of the Country.  But that was it.  Seriously, nothing beyond there.  So when I landed in the San Jose airport (located in Alajuela) I didn’t have any further idea of where I was going to even sleep that night or what my next move was…

Many would find that crazy especially since I had the time to figure it all out, but in my mind I was just interested in the experience and the challenge of having to figure it out as I went along.  I have always done my best work when thrown into the deep end of the pool and in a way, planning to NOT have a plan was my own personal ocean:)
Walking out of the airport I was immediately ambushed by tons of eager faces and voices all asking “Taxi???”.  I turned them down and asked someone nearby where the bus station was instead.  My thoughts were to get out of San Jose immediately and get out to a more typical Costa Rica town: more nature, less city!  As I made my way toward the buses I suddenly thought “well, one night wouldn’t hurt and I could use it to get my barring”.  So I headed back to the taxis and met a couple of other people who were asking if I wanted to share a cab to San Jose.  I took this as a sign that ok, I could stay one night in San Jose!

In retrospect, had I really understood that the airport was in Alajuela (which I did have a foggy memory of my brother telling me that, yet it somehow wasn’t solidified in my mind) I would have just gotten a taxi to downtown Alajuela…

In any event, about a half our later we were in San Jose and had dropped off my two taxi buddies at their various locations.  The taxi driver then turned to me and (all in Spanish) said- “where are you off to?”  I replied that I had no idea, but asked what he would suggest?  I stated that I wanted somewhere cheap- the cheaper the better in my mind!  He politely stated however that he would much prefer I stayed somewhere a little more pricey, but it would be in an area he considered safe for a single traveler.  I acquiesced and was taken to a little B&B near the downtown area.

After settling in I spent the rest of the afternoon getting lost and trying to get directions on where downtown actually was!  I ran into a few people on the street who I trusted to ask questions of and they assisted me very kindly- but each person also emphatically told me to either get back to my B&B prior to the night-time or take a taxi back.  “Muy peligroso” was what I was told.  Mainly because the drug addicts come out at night and petty crimes apparently aren’t unusual in San Jose.  Though there are crimes everywhere, I took the locals advice to heart and made sure I was back at the B&B by 6pm (yes, it gets dark here by 6pm everyday, year round!).

San Jose was a bustling, constantly moving city!  There were people everywhere!!  In the markets, hanging out in the parks, moving on foot or in their cars or on bikes going to their destinations.  Movement everywhere you looked!  Buildings weren’t very tall but they were everywhere all squished together as far as the eye could see, thus blocking any real view of the beautiful nature that surrounds the city.  McDonald’s, Quizno’s, Pizza Hut and other U.S. food chains were also everywhere!  I hate to admit, but as I was getting a little tired from all the travels and walking around all afternoon, I did drift to a Quizno’s for dinner.  The shame, I know!!  But crowds and areas with lots of hustle and bustle tend to wear me out fast and it was nice to get a little food that I could relate to, so to speak.  I knew there would be plenty of time to taste local flavors and I was certainly looking forward to that, but for the time I was happy with the Quizno’s.

After my bite to eat I did a little internet research at my B&B for Volcan Poas.  My cousin, who is a “seasoned” Costa Rica traveler said it was a good day trip from San Jose, so I decided to check out what was available there (hostels and such) for a trip the next day.  I found a few hostels online and took down their information so I could look them up once there.  I also had to get the bus situation understood because San Jose has 4, yes 4 different bus stations all in different locations from one another.  Depending on where you want to go to, that decides which bus terminal you need to show up to.

As I settled into the B&B to sleep, a huge thunderstorm settled in overhead… Now for those of you who know me, you know that I absolutely ADORE thunderstorms!!! In fact, so much that whether a place has thunderstorms on a fairly consistent basis is actually a deciding factor for me on whether I will plan to live there or not.  I know, I know- sounds absolutely nuts picking a place to live based on thunderstorms, but hey, I follow my passions no matter what form they take!

On to Volcan Poas

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