Costa Rica is only slightly larger than Lower Saxony. But if you want to travel from A to B here, you sometimes need strong nerves. During rush hour and on weekends nothing works and it often takes hours to cover a few kilometres. Or to put it another way: traffic is a disaster, especially in the greater San José, Heredia, Alajuela area. Therefore it is better to plan the excursions. Besides good timing, for example, bus trips also require scouting skills … because every bus leaves somewhere else.
Even after two weeks in Heredia, I still don’t completely know where each bus departs: There is no central bus terminal in this city of 500,000 people; every bus line has different boarding stops. In addition, one not only has to know where the bus leaves and where the last stop is, but also its travel route. Example: I wanted to go to downtown San José. Most of the buses have a sign „San José“, so at first I thought I would just get on one of these buses and it would stop somewhere in downtown. Far from it! For example, you have to take the bus that goes via Santo Domingo to the center of the capital. And in order to find the stop of this bus, a lot of sense of orientation is needed, as there are no addresses. The Ticos then describe the way like this: „Go three blocks to the south and then two blocks to the west…“ Since a gringa like me naturally has no clue about the points of the compass in Heredia, the only thing that helps here is a little luck or a good soul who explains the way foolproof.
When you finally sit in the right bus everything is fine…for the time being. But during rush hour or on weekends there is often so much traffic that a regular bus takes two hours for 15 km, especially when the route passes the airport. I actually experienced this and got off the bus together with some other passengers to walk the rest of the way. The bus just did not make any progress and inside it was unbearable because of the heat. My friends from Heredia explained the traffic chaos to me like this: In the last years not only the population has grown very fast, but also the number of cars. And since the car is a status symbol here, it must be at least a jeep or pickup truck. Unfortunately, the infrastructure no longer keeps up with the high volume of traffic. The roads in the cities are much too narrow, there are too few bypass roads and regarding alternative means of transport it doesn’t look good either: The construction of a subway has been discussed for years, but nothing has happened so far.
However, a train runs between Heredia and San José or Cartago. The railway serves a total of around 300 kilometres of route network. But the trains only run in the morning or evening, and are intended for commuters. As a tourist you have to know whether it is worth taking the train at all. The carriages seem to be from the post-war period and the train only stops at a few stations in San José. In order not to end up in the „wrong“ quarter, it is better to consult Google Maps before starting the journey.
If you want to travel further distances by bus, there are some private lines that depart from central bus stations in San José and other larger cities. But also this is also sometimes cumbersome, as e.g. with the famous bus line Tracopa that does not offer online bookings. In order not to risk not getting a seat on the seven-hour drive (with departure at 7 am) to Golfito in the high season, I would have had to go from Heredia to the bus terminal in San José a few days before to buy the ticket on-site. After some back and forth I decided to take a flight with SANSA. The drive with Uber to the airport was no problem at four o’clock in the morning and the flight in the small plane took 50 pleasant minutes.
At 6.30 a.m. I arrived in Golfito and spent the six hours waiting in a nice bistro before the public water taxi to Zancudo (for 5 dollars) was due. Alternatively I could have booked a private water taxi for 60 dollars. The crossing in the small boat was then not only fast but also scenic. That there are crocodiles in the estuary we drove into, I only found out later. On the way back to Golfito I prefer to take the bus… It leaves early in the morning – at five a.m, but that’s the way it is here. The public transportation, which is very cheap, is mainly used by not so wealthy professionals… and by a few adventurous tourists…