Finding updated bus information online can be difficult, especially in countries where bus schedules are flexible. While Colombia typically has buses that frequently arrive/depart, I quickly learned that Costa Rica (being a smaller country) has more limited bus options between cities. For example, you can find a bus that goes nearly anywhere from San José, the capital, but it may be more difficult to find a bus to your direct destination if you’re departing from a smaller city.
During my trip to Costa Rica, I flew into the San José airport which is actually located in the smaller city just north of the capital: Alajuela. The airport is at the south end of the city, and you can easily catch a taxi to the bus station called La Radial. Taxis weren’t cheap by any means (at least compared to what I’m used to in Colombia). It was about a 4 minute taxi ride from the airport to the bus station, and it cost me $4 USD.
La Radial is a small bus station, and not too fancy either. Once the taxista dropped me off, he told me to go inside and quickly buy a bus ticket because chances were the bus was scheduled to pass by soon. Buses going to Liberia actually come from San José and depart every hour, but they make a quick stop at La Radial station in Alajuela to fill up any remaining seats. Some people (*ahem* taxistas who want to get $40 from you for a taxi ride to the San Jose bus station) say it’s better to get on a bus in San Jose since seats may be limited or full by the time the buses stop in Alajuela…but it’s in the opposite direction and I didn’t want to waste 1 hour going down south just to catch a bus that would stop in Alajuela anyway. If you have time to spare and you’d rather reaaaaally be sure you get a good seat on the bus, then it may be worth it to take a bus/taxi down to the San Jose bus station.
My luck was good that day! I went inside the bus station, found the ticket counter, got my ticket, waited 5 minutes, and the bus to Liberia came. There were about 5 seats available on the bus and I was lucky enough to get one right up front. It was a corriente bus, meaning it stops and picks up or drops off people wherever, so don’t be worried if you don’t get a seat at first. Chances are someone will get off soon and you can take their seat.
The bus ticket from La Radial bus terminal in Alajuela to the Pulmitan bus terminal in Liberia was 3700 Costa Rican colones or about $6.50 USD. We departed at 9:45am from Alajuela and took a pitstop about halfway through the trip at a roadside place with restaurants, a convenience store, and public (free and clean!) bathrooms. After a 20-30 minute break at the rest stop, we continued on our way and arrived in Liberia at 2:00. In total, the bus trip took a little over 4 hours.
All in all, the trip wasn’t too bad! The bus wasn’t fancy by any means, but it was comfortable enough and the countryside was beautiful. Actually, I quite enjoy traveling by bus because I love looking out the window not only for the scenery but to also see how people live. I also chatted with a wonderful Nicaraguan woman who sat next to me, and by the time we were nearing Liberia, a nice Costa Rican lady let me use her phone to call my parents in order to meet up with them.
To go back to Alajuela from Liberia, I again bought a bus ticket at the Liberia station and waited until my 12:00 bus showed up. I asked if the bus would stop in Alajuela, and the driver informed me that it would drop people off in front of the airport in Alajuela–perfect if that’s your final destination! The Liberia station has a bus schedule and also indicates if the bus is corriente (dropping people off / picking people up wherever) or directo (“direct,” but still makes stops at designated bus stops). Here’s a (not very good…sorry) picture of the bus schedule at the Liberia bus terminal:
Take note of the días de servicio (service days). “De lunes a viernes” means Monday through Friday. “Solo lunes” means only Monday. “Todos los días” means every day. “Viernes, sábado, domingo” means Friday, Saturday, Sunday.
Safe & Happy Travels!
P.S. – If you’re looking for a hostel in Alajuela that’s fairly close to the airport, check out Maleku Hostel. They have dorm beds for $15/night (not the cheapest hostel, but it is Costa Rica–things are pretty spendy)! They also have wifi, hot showers, an open kitchen, and friendly and informative staff. They offer a free shuttle to the airport starting at 5:00am as well! I had to leave for the airport around 4:00am so I couldn’t take advantage of the free shuttle, but they did call and schedule a taxi pick-up for me, which was nice of them to do!