When the bus breaks down

As an engineer, I understand all too well that failure probability is measured in passenger miles or hours; so the more you ride the bus, the more likely you are to be involved in an accident or a breakdown. Likewise, the longer you live, the more likely you are to have trouble (or adventures), so prepare yourself, unless you want to hide in the safety of your home. Since I have committed to being dependent on the bus for not only my daily needs but also my travel adventures, one of the fears in the back of my mind has been, “What if the bus breaks down?”

The reason I worried about this was because two years earlier, my daughter came to study Spanish and surfing in Tamarindo for six weeks. I wanted her to stay safely in her dorm and classes, but she jumped on the bus to Puerto Viejo to check out the surfing on the Caribbean side. On the trip back to Tamarindo, bad weather forced the bus off the road and the passengers were left to fend for themselves “in the middle of nowhere,” according to her. “Nowhere” was probably a small town, but to a worried father back in the States, it was a jaguar-infested jungle. Fortunately, using the Spanish she acquired from occasional appearances in class, she was able to organize, for herself and bunch of clueless tourists, taxis to take them the rest of the way to Tamarindo. My nightmare turned to joy as I realized my daughter solved her problem using her skills and a calm head. I wasn’t sure how I would react to a problem with the bus. My day finally came on a recent trip from San Jose to Playa Hermosa, Guanacaste by way of Liberia.

I actually live about an hour west of San Jose, and I have dreams about flagging down the bus to the beach as it travels through San Ramon, saving myself the cost and the time to travel all the way to San Jose first. But I don’t want to stand on the bus for several hours if no seat was available, so I always take one bus east to San Jose and catch another one that comes back through San Ramon on the way to Liberia to guarantee I have a seat. Had I tried to flag this bus down at the crossroads on this “fateful day,” it would not only be standing-room only, but it would also have arrived an hour or more late with no warning.

The bus from San Jose to Liberia left on time at 9:00 a.m. as usual from the Pulmitan de Liberia Terminal with no indications of any problems. We had almost arrived at my starting point of San Ramon when the bus pulled over on the Autopista (Pan American Highway), one of the main connections between San Jose and the west coast beaches.

Unlike in the US, the bus driver did not tell the passengers anything, and even if he had, it would have been in Spanish and I would not have understood it. At first, I thought, he might be ahead of schedule and had pulled over to use up some time, but after a while it appeared something else was wrong and I feared a breakdown. After a half hour, the bus driver turned off the AC; but since the windows were always closed for AC, they were either stuck or sealed shut, and the bus became progressively hotter.

I took my cue from the Ticos who seemed mildly perplexed but not overly anxious. I thought about calling our hometown cabbie to come get us and take us the rest of the way (for more money than I really wanted to spend) but decided to stick it out. The good thing about being retired is that we are not in a huge hurry. Plus, as usual, we started our trip early in the day so that we could recover if the journey turned into an all day affair.

Fortunately, the route we were on is popular and busy, so the bus company has a bus leaving every hour for the beach. I don’t know why it took two hours to rescue us, but eventually another bus came by and we all got on it in the same assigned seats and continued our trip. I think we arrived at our final destination of Liberia three hours late, so I am not sure where we lost the extra hour.

So, there you have it—our first breakdown was better than I had expected. No one held our hands telling us what the current situation was at regular intervals. No one offered a complimentary food voucher or a discount on our next trip to retain our loyalty. The passengers did not revolt and start attacking the bus driver or tearing the bus apart in a rage. We all waited patiently until a replacement was available and calmly boarded the new bus and took off again. Pura Vida in action.


San Ramon to La Fortuna

Summary (about $200)

Bus c4500 for two
Left 9:00am and arrived at 11:40
Lunch next t to bus station 2xc1500 = c3,000
Toured La Fortuna
Dinner 2xc3000= c6000
Hostel $30
Breakfast 2xc1500=c3000
Visit Friends
Lunch 2xc2000= c4000
Tour Hike, Arenal, Hot Springs (2-8pm) 2×35=$70
Dinner 2xc3000=c6000
Hostel $30
Breakfast 2xc1500 = c3000
Bus c4500 for two

(note: c540 = $1.  The 2X is because I brought my wife who is an excellent traveling buddy)


I wanted to do a survey trip of La Fortuna and Arenal over a few days so we could we see where to stay and what there was to do.  Fortunately, there is a direct bus from San Ramon to La Fortuna which makes San Ramon even more endearing to me.

First, I used TripAdvisor and Booking.com to locate the hotels I could afford near the center of town.

Second, I added the top rated places to eat to give me something to check out.

Third, I added the activities I wanted to check out – hot springs, boat tour and nature preserves.  I was not really interested in the adventure trips like white water rafting, rappelling or zip-lining this time though there are plenty of those options available.

I also wanted to  investigate how to get to Monteverde probably using the taxi-boat-taxi option.  Many of my trips are scoutning trips to places I can eventually link together to make a tour of Costa Rica.

There are two maps below showing the route.  The one on the left is Google Maps and the one on the right is Google Earth.  I love how you can get Google earth to show the elevation change for the trip.  Costa Rica is a hilly mountainy? country and you are constantly going up and down but you can see from the profile that coming from La Fortuna you are climbing in altitude which you will notice as you pass through the cloud forrest area a little north of San Ramon.  Also, something I did not expect was the bus took 702 all the way which is much slower and carved than the route Google kept pushing which on the other hand made the trip more interesting.  It is also interesting to note this bus is a working bus delivering packages along the way.  The driver is constantly blowing his horn and shop owners run our and get their supplies along the route which adds an interesting dimension to the trip.

Google map of route to La Fortuna

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Map of San Carlos County

The La Fortuna bus pulls into the local bus station in San Ramon opposite the central market side and opposite the side with the shops.  The cost was c4,500 for two.  Our bus left at 9:00am and arrive a little before noon.  We had thought about taking the 5:30am bus that would get us there are 8:30am, spend the day and come back on a late bus but we are not young enough to pull off a day trip like that anymore.

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Bus Schedule to La Fortuna

Map of San Ramon

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Station Pictures

La Fortuna pickup is on the side where the tan or taupe bus on the right below.  Shops are on the left.


Here is what the La Fortuna bus looks like

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It was a nice, clean, big, modern bus.

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It liked that this bus has the separators for the overhead bin which you can use to secure your backpack so it does not slide to the front of the bus during sudden stops.  I wanted to mention to bring ear plugs.  They had the music up loud on the trip which along with curvy road can make you sick.

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I think one of the amazing things about this trip is the diversity of landscape from city, urban, farm land, jungle, cloud forest, jungle, rural, urban, and back to city.  I think this trip would give visitors a good tour of the country which they could enjoy while someone else negotiates the turns.

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Here are the posted schedules for the La Fortuna station

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The La Fortuna bus station is modern, clean and easy to navigate.  Note, we bought our tickets on both sides from the bus driver.

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Be aware there is a MegaSuper attached to the bus station which is a full grocery store where you can get your supplies before heading to the hostel.

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If you wanted to go around the lake this station has a bus to Tileran which is on the west side of the lake.

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Another great feature is the Soda (small restaurant)  located next to the bus station which has a clean bathroom, a wide selection and reasonable prices.  Soda Website

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We toured around La Fortuna for the afternoon checking out the hostels and restaurants along with the church and park.

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We ended up staying at Hostel Backpackers which is in the center of town and was the least expensive at $30 a night for a private room.  It was off season so the cost was low and there were no party animals.  They shut the music off at 10pm but I still used earplugs in case someone came in later drunk.  The room has AC which I did not expect and they gave us a free drink so we would know where the bar was.  Towels would have cost extra but we brought ours since we were going to the Hot Springs.  I booked through expedia so did not pay a key deposit.  There was plenty of hot water for the shower which was welcomed.  The front desk said we could use the pool at the sister hostel a block down but we did not get around to it.  Over all good value for the money.  Note, come November the prices go up after green season.

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We wanted to explore as much as possible and signed up for Red Lava Arenal Volcano Tour which was 6hrs guided tour of the trails, waterfalls and volcano followed by a drip in the free hot springs and home by 8pm.  We paid $35 off season which goes to $45 high season.

Arenal Volcano Tour

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More on the “free” hot springs included in the tour https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gV5dGSCnWB0

More Hot Springs Information http://crtraveling.com/hot-springs

We had a wonderful dinner here.  Not cheap but good.  There is nothing cheap in a tourist town like La Fortuna.

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Here are a few other places I saw that we will check out next time.

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This poster was at the Hostel with suggestions on what to do in La Fortuna.

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More shots out the window on the bus trip back to San Ramon.

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Other places on my short list to stay which need further investigation


0.3 miles from La Fortuna de San Carlos center

#9 of 62 Specialty lodging in La Fortuna de San Carlos

Hostel Backpackers La Fortuna

0.2 miles from La Fortuna de San Carlos center

#14 of 62 Specialty lodging in La Fortuna de San Carlos

Catarata Eco Lodge S.A

1.6 miles from La Fortuna de San Carlos center

#17 of 62 Specialty lodging in La Fortuna de San Carlos

The Sleeping Indian Guesthouse

0.1 miles from La Fortuna de San Carlos center

#18 of 62 Specialty lodging in La Fortuna de San Carlos

Arenal Backpackers Resort

0.4 miles from La Fortuna de San Carlos center

#19 of 62 Specialty lodging in La Fortuna de San Carlos

Hotel Dorothy

#30 of 62 Specialty lodging in La Fortuna de San Carlos

Hotel La Amistad

0.2 miles from La Fortuna de San Carlos center

#32 of 62 Specialty lodging in La Fortuna de San Carlos