La Fortuna to Tilaran

La Fortuna

The bus station in La Fortuna is quite simple with only one bay and a few bus routes.   As you can see from below, there are only three buses to Tilaran from La Fortuna each day – 7:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m and 5:00 p.m.   We caught the 7:30 a.m. bus out of town.  The fare was c5375 for both of us or about $10 or $5 each.  

I don’t trust schedules.   The bus actually came at 8 a.m. not 7:30 a.m. and got to Tilaran at 10:00 a.m.  Still, we enjoy hanging out next door at the little soda I wrote about here San Jose to La Fortuna.

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The bus was modern and comfortable enough but I don’t recall it having AC so make sure that the seat you select has a window that will open.

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The Trip (bring Dramamine)

Ok, I have been dreaming about this trip for a while.  The map below shows the route around the lake.  I had a vision of having panoramic views of the lake so I sat on the left  side facing forward.  Well, the google map below hides the fact the road is quite curvy and many times the lake view is obscured by trees.   I could live without the view but the trip was too curvy for me to want to take it again.  The bus got me from point A to B but I won’t be choosing this route again, if I can help it.

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Arriving at Tilaran

Tilaran is a nice, small little town with a small bus station from the limited time I spent there.  I think you can get to Canas, San Jose and Monteverde from here.

A few pictures of the town center and main church and park that are traditional in Costa Rica towns.

Tilaran to San Jose

The bus home to San Jose was modern and comfortable.  It left at 9:30 a.m. and cost c3,950 or about $8 per person.   The bus stopped at the airport (SJO) if you need to catch a flight out. 

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You can find the bus schedules here

 

Recent photo of “current” schedule

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Terminal Atlántico Norte (Terminal MEPE)

I am a little confused by this station.   I think it might have been a main station before Terminal 7-10, next door, was built so it appears to have a few names.  When I look it up on Google, it shows that Terminal MEPE and Terminal Atlantico Norte are both at this location.  MEPE is the main company here primarily services to the Caribbean side with a major hub in Limon.  I say all this so when you tell the taxi driver where you are going to remember both names in case he does not know one.

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I am probably the wrong person for this since I am so naive (I often strike up conversations with drug dealers and prostitutes not knowing their occupation until my wife hits me on the head) but I thought it was important to make folks aware that the area around Terminal 7-10 and Terminal MEPE has a bad reputation. I have been walking around and through the area for a year no knowing its reputation for a year without incident (daytime). I hear the telltale clue to seedy areas is the number of hourly hotels.  I knew it was seedy but I have been and lived in worse so am clueless but I see the guide books suggest caution in these area which is why I suggest folks take a taxi in and out to make sure you are safe. Again, I walk through here all the time but I am not looking for drugs or prostitutes and look like I know where I am going and am on a mission and so draw little attention. I marked the “red zones” below according to the guide books which I am sure are approximate.

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If you want to see backpackers, this is the terminal to see them.  I might guess, half the folks on my bus were backpackers.  I am betting many are on their way to Panama.

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MEPE has a pretty simple route headed to Cahuita, Puerto Viejo, Bribri and Sixola where you cross into Panama

 

The MEPE bus pulls into the middle bay next to the Central bus on the right.

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I wanted to mention that I noticed this station is also the home for Central Line.  Central Line, SA is a Nicaraguan company  dedicated to international transport service (daily) between San Jose – Managua and Managua – San Jose. facebook and website

A few other points.  There is a public bathroom that costs c200 and a restaurant on site.  Also, the taxi drivers are aggressive so be prepared when you step off the bus.

Oh, we really enjoy the Costa Rica children who are curious, polite and full of fun as they investigate why us old gringos are on the bus.

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UPDATE

  • Lisa Valencia

    12/29, 11:44am

    Lisa Valencia

    Hi Rob, MEPE is one of the bus companies that go to the Caribbean from San Jose. The other, Caribbeaños, only goes to Limon city from San Jose.

    Both used to leave from the bus station called Caribbeaños. About 2 or 3 years ago MEPE had a disagreement with the owner of the bus station Caribbeaños and changed stations. At that time they began and are still leaving for the Caribbean from the bus station called Atlantic Norte. Which also has buses to San Carlos, northwest of San Jose.

    The bus stations are not owned by the bus companies. The bus companies contract use of the bus stations. So the name of the station for the direct bus to Puerto Viejo, is Atlantic Norte. Atlantico Norte It is on Avenida 9, calle 12 in Barrio Mexico. The name of the bus company that leaves for Puerto Viejo from Atlantico Norte is MEPE.

    I always tell people the name of the bus station and the address, (above). I do not mention the name of the bus company, in case some uninformed taxi driver goes to the old bus station. I have heard of this happening.

    As for the Caribbeanos bus which leaves from the Caribbeanos bus station and goes to Limon. Their buses leave more frequently and are nicer and more comfortable buses. My husband prefers this one. He goes to San Jose once a month. But I do not tell most guests about this because this bus only goes to Limon and they would have to changes buses and bus stations in Limon, which may confuse them.

    Lisa Valencia

    http://www.travelexperiencecostarica.com

 

San Jose – La Fortuna – Santa Elena/ Monteverde – Manuel Antonio/ Quepos via Puntarenas – San Jose

Let the adventure begin

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Evelyn Tanaka Day 1 arrived at Juan Santamaria airport at 7 am. We chickened out and took the $20 USD taxi to bus station 7-10  

Evelyn Tanaka Day 1 bought bus tickets to La Fortuna on the top floor of the 7-10 bus station. I think the bus company was called Venecia and they had a 11:50 am bus to La Fortuna. Cost 2,380 Colones and took about 5 hours with lots of stops.

Evelyn Tanaka Day 4 did the jeep-boat-horseback-van tour around Lake Arenal to get to Monteverde. Cost $85 USD/person and the horseback riding was for about 10 km and took a couple hours. It was awesome! Road to Santa Elena was unpaved but not as bad as I thought it was going to be. I heard some horror stories from friends.

Evelyn Tanaka's photo.
Evelyn Tanaka Charter bus from Santa Elena town to Santa Elena reserve was $4 round trip.
Evelyn Tanaka Day 7 Caught the 4:20 am bus from Santa Elena to Puntarenas. It picks up at the top of the hill near the Banco Popular and Sabor Tico not at the Banco Nacional as Lonely Planet said. We had a fun run up the hill with all our gear! Can’t remember how much this bus cost but it wasn’t much. I believe there was free wifi too. Took about 3.5 hours to get to Puntarenas.
Evelyn Tanaka Day 7 Last stop in Puntarenas is the bus station and we bought tickets for the 9 am bus to Quepos. Cost was 2305 Colones and there was free wifi. This bus broke down (the engine seized) so we had to wait until they sent another bus to pick us up. It was 36C with no A/C and it was a very long bus ride (felt like 3+ hours plus the delay). Didn’t feel super great once we got into Quepos. But free wifi – yay!
Evelyn Tanaka's photo.
Evelyn TanakaBus from Quepos to Manuel Antonio was like 295 colones, super cheap!
Evelyn Tanaka Day 9 bus from Quepos to San Jose. We paid a little more to get a “directo” bus back to San Jose. Tickets were 4365 Colones and you can buy them from the main bus station in town. The bus was late because it stops in Manuel Antonio first but it only make one bathroom stop. There was A/C on this bus but no free wifi. Took about 3 hours I think.
Evelyn Tanaka's photo.

 

Caja:Affiliating with a new EBAIS

Interesting Caja story. We moved to San Jose from San Ramon where we had lived for a year. When we moved to SJ, I needed to affiliate with my new EBAIS which turned into quite and adventure.

Trip #1
I went to the EBAIS to understand what they needed. Old cards from San Ramon, an application with a signature of my landlord, a utility bill, copy of my landlord’s Cedula.

Trip #2
I brought all the completed forms and copies back. They process my affiliation but said there was something wrong with my wife’s but they don’t tell me what. They said I could either have them send her card back to San Ramon to fix or start over. I choose send back to SR.

Trip #3
I return in a week and they said no one would pick up the phone in SR to make the changes so they suggested I start over. I am freaking out on what paperwork I will need again. They give me a sheet with the requirements, which include another application for BOTH of us, copies of our cedulas, utility bill and our marriage certificate. Fortunately, we got married in CR and I just needed to go downtown and pick up a copy. We went over to the ARCR office and got some help filling the forms out.

Trip #4
Returned with the completed paperwork and were rejected because we had crossed out our US phone number and wrote in our CR phone number. No marks or corrections allowed so she gave us another form and we went to the waiting room and filled it out again and returned and turned it in. They said to come back in a week.

Trip #5
We came back in a week and I anxiously sat while they clicked on the computer and shuffled papers and eventually pulled my wife’s paper file which had all the original paper work from Trip #4 (miracle) and printed out her new card.
The problem with my wife’s affiliation was with her Caja number. Apparently, while we were living in San Ramon we originally applied during a confusing time involving confusion on dependent expat spouses that took a while to clear up. I did not think we were affected since my wife’s card says she is my dependent.

Turns out that CR Caja numbering system is rooted in the man working and the woman being the dependent. I understand that is signified by the man getting a Caja number that begins with a “1” and the dependent woman getting a Caja number starting with a “2”. The San Ramon EBAIS inadvertently assigned my wife a number starting with a “1” even though she was not a male and was marked on the card as my dependent. So, it blew up their computer and was the reason we had to reapply. I understand they are having problems with these changing times where more women are working and more men are staying home with the kids thus messing up their old patriarchal numbering system. So, as long as we stayed in San Ramon everything was cool and it was only by changing EBAISs did the error get flagged.

Exploring the Costa Rica Bus Database

Nerd Alert 1- I found a spreadsheet with all the CR Bus Routes with their beginning and end point, company, distance and fares and I am going to brush off my programming skills and see what I can do with the data. Caution – I think there are 30k lines of data so don’t click below unless you want them.

Spreadsheet with all the CR bus routes

Nerd Alert 2 … I found a link to maps of each route … incredibly and painfully slow rendering and maps are not available for every route yet.

Example of route map

Exploring the edges of the data, here are the longest and shortest routes.

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For Reference: “The average cost rose 1.17 cents to 60.8 cents per mile, or $9,122 per year, based upon 15,000 miles of annual driving. “Many factors go into the cost calculation of owning and operating a vehicle,” said John Nielsen, AAA Director of Automotive Engineering and Repair.” (includes depreciation) That is 38 cents per km.  Additionally, I think the median bus route is 14km or about 9 miles and costs c400 or near $1

Here is something I learned that I should have known. While studying the spreadsheet with all the buses in CR I noticed that the bus numbers followed a pattern. The pattern is the first digit in the route route is the province. Duh. I had not noticed the pattern before since I typically live and take only buses within a single province at a time. Costa Rica has seven provinces (like states) and each is assigned a unique number as seen in the table. Those province numbers are used in the first digit of the bus route and the first digit of the CR Postal codes. San Jose is #1.
Why that is important is the same city name appears all over Costa Rica which again I should have known. I thought everyone would know where San Ramon was thinking there was only one “San Ramon” in Costa Rica since I had only lived in one San Ramon. Come to find out, like the US, the same city name appears all over Costa Rica (e.g. Washington is a common city name in the States).

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So, a double check that you have been given the right bus schedule is to make sure the first digit of the bus number at least corresponds to the province you want to travel in (all the bus up in Guanacaste where I am visiting are 5xx). For example, I listed a number of “San Ramon’s” in CR – one in each province with the corresponding bus number. Notice you can tell which “San Ramon” is in which Province by looking at the first digit in the bus route number (2xx where “2” is the province of Alajuela ).

Here is the decoder ring for province numbers.

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Postal codes in Costa Rica are 5 digit numeric. Introduction began in March 2007. The first digit denotes one of the seven provinces, the 2nd and 3rd refer to the 81 cantons, the 4th and 5th the 473 districts. The numbers are the same as used by the Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Censos (INEC) Note: “1” is the province of San Jose.

Costa Rica Posta Codes

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I took the approximate 4000 base routes and I tried to analyze them. I was most interested in trying to see where the major bus hubs were in CR. You can use that information to get from hub to hub. Here are the number of bus routes by province which is a little unfair since some provinces are geographically smaller than others. So Alajuela that goes from the capital all the way to Nicaragua and includes many central valley town has the most routes at 923.

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I than sorted the cities to see which one had the most bus departures. Of course the top city is the capital San Jose which accounts for 7% of all the country’s bus routes. I would have guessed higher though. Note, there are a lot of barrio buses in SJ that increase the numbers.
I was surprised by the second entry, Cuidad Quesada which I have not been to but must to a hub for many smaller towns up that way. I was not familiar with the towns in Limon – Grapples and Cariari – since I have not traveled out that way yet. So 20 cites account for 50% of the bus routes in Costa Rica. I plotted their location on the map below to see how I could use that information to jump from hub to hub.

 

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Plotting them out here is what it looks like on the map

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The map can be found online at map

MOOVIT Phone App

The App

I took the airport bus back from SJO airport to San Jose, and I was delighted to discover the new app, Moovit, which I had loaded on my iPhone was working.  Earlier, when I opened the app from home, it would never show any bus routes which interested me.  I think Moovit is a “crowd-sourced” app like Waze, which depends on users to input all the information and my area must not have been entered yet.

 

The Moovit app can be downloaded from the Apple store and is free.

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The Moovit app below is orange with a white smiley face.

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The App in Action

So, here was the surprise: when I opened the app while on the bus, instead of an empty screen with no routes found, I saw the screen below.  What is really cool is the app knew my location and offered me a choice of two bus routes that use the route I was on.  So no scrolling through lines of routes that don’t pertain.  I was on Route 200 going from the airport terminal in Alajuela to San Jose, so I selected the first choice on the list.

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After the selection, another screen comes up with (1) the route, (2) the stops, (3) the estimated times to each stop and (4) where you are along the route.  So the apps says I have eight more stops and should arrive at the terminal at 1:37 pm in 14 minutes.

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Ok, a few caveats.  Costa Rica traffic is notoriously bad and these estimates are wildly optimistic.  I guess it would have taken at least twice as long at the pace the bus was going.  I think the program takes my GPS location and uses my rate to calculate the bus’s speed like WAZE does.  Second, the stops listed do not include every place the bus stopped. Personally, I am never quite sure about stops in Costa Rica since it seems to be flexible.  So, if no one is at the stop and no one rings the bell to get off, the driver keeps on going.  Likewise, if someone wants to get off between stops and the driver is in a good mood, he may stop and drop people off.  Like I said, it seems flexible.  I am not even sure the app lists just the major stops.  The bus stopped at about twice as many places as listed, which may be the source of the bad ETA.  I am sure the algorithm will get better as more people ride and add information.

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At this point, I decided that I wanted to get off at Crown Plaza by Sabana Park instead of going all the way into San Jose.  All I had to do was click on the blue circle with the pencil to edit my information.  I chose Crown Plaza this time and the screen updated with a new map and my location on the map and an new ETA.  So, now the program estimated I would arrive at 1:39 pm or in 7 minutes (previously was 1:33).  Note the small blue dot on the stop’s window indicating my current location almost to Hospital Mexico on the screen shot above.  So the program gave me two indicators of my position – the small blue dot on the map and the small blue dot on the list of stops.

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The next picture below shows where I was as I got close to my final destination – Crowne Plaza.  On the map, you can see the constantly updating blue dot that indicates my current position along the orange route with the final destination indicated by an orange box.  Note: previously the program estimated I would arrive at Crowne Plaza at 1:33, then 1:39 p.m.; and below at 1:43 p.m., I was supposedly 2 minutes out with an updated ETA of 1:45.  Really, I enjoy the program and am in no hurry to get to my destination, so a few minutes error in ETA does not impact me but is merely an academic interest.

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At this point the program is getting me prepped to exit the bus.  The program made  a sound and popped up a window to alert me that I am one stop away or 0.6 miles.

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I don’t know why, but I started getting tense.  Costa Rica moves rather slow sometimes.  The bus will actually stop and let you get fully off before leaving, so there is no rush to push to the front of the bus to get off.  I heard another ring with a 0.3 mile warning.  By this time I can see the stop, so I really don’t need the phone alerting me, but I can see this alert feature would be useful if you are unfamiliar with the route.

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The app gives me the one minute warning that my stop is coming up and when I arrive, it sounds loudly and announces I arrived and to get off.

Finally, ETA 1:47 pm.   If you are a seasoned New Yorker, the erroneous ETAs might drive you crazy, but in CR where time runs slower and many things will happen mañana (tomorrow), this is a big jump forward dealing with minutes.

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Also, I can see the advantage of alarms if a person falls asleep and needs to be awakened when they reach their stop.

Reversing the Trip

Later I had occasion to go to the airport and thought I would try the app from where the bus starts to the airport (SJO).  The Bus TerminalTerminal is across from Parque de La Merced. I think the cost from SJ to the airport was c550 or about one dollar US.

 

I opened the app and the nearby choices were offered and I choose “200 San Jose to Alajuela.”

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Again, the app lists the route, stops, and estimated times.

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I selected the airport stop from the list and the app refreshed with a new map.  Note the estimated time to arrival was 11:43 when I started.

The bus arrived at 11:57 versus the original 11:43, so again, take the ETA with a grain of salt. Pura Vida.

 

In case you were not aware, the airport bus stop is located where the red arrow is pointing below, just opposite the terminal on the other side of the parking deck.

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In summary, I am excited to use this program.  It works: it gave me the major stops, does a fair job of estimating ETA, alerts me that my stop is near, and is free.