Getting around in a foreign country can be scary. Thankfully, Costa Rica has great public transportation and helpful people to help you find your way around because you can’t use a GPS here! Traveling in Costa Rica, even just within the city, is quite easy if you ask me. The only problem is knowing where your bus stop is or being able to tell your taxi driver exact directions because there are not real addresses here. You definitely have to pay attention here and learn your directions well because there is no way you could get around with a GPS because you wouldn’t have an address to enter. It was strange at first, but you get used to it and the people are so friendly, that you aren’t embarrassed to ask for directions. Everyone wants to help you out, people here really are the happiest in the world!
First of all, just about everyone here walks everywhere. They also have a great sense of distance if you ask me because they can determine how many kilometers away something is while they are walking. I think this relates to their lack of exact addresses. As I mentioned before, in Costa Rica, addresses are not really addresses. They are more like directions. So it would be important to be able to tell when you have walked 400 kilometers if you know that you have to take a left 400 kilometers after the Walmart to get to someone’s house.
Another way to travel here is by taxi. In the United States, taxis are quite expensive. I have only ridden in a taxi one time in Boston from the airport and a 20 minute ride cost me about $50. That is also probably because the taxis straight from the airport charge more, but still, you understand, taxis are more expensive in the United States. In Costa Rica, it is very cheap. The same 20 minute ride here only costs about $10. It is really great that they are so cheap here because whenever it is dark, gringos (or white skinned people) should not walk on the street because it is very likely that they will get robbed. It is even worse for women. Women gringas have to be very careful at night because we stand out a lot more. My blonde hair and the fact that I am 6 foot tall also make me stand out so I always take a taxi. So Gracias A Dios that it is cheap!
Probably the most common and most convenient way to travel is by bus. There are tons of different bus lines to take you just about anywhere in Costa Rica that you want to go. There are plenty of local buses to get you around the city. For example, I live in Heredia and there are four different buses that take you to downtown Heredia that make different stops. Some are also cheaper than others. The most expensive public city bus will cost you 515 colones, which will take you from Heredia to San Jose. This is equal to a few cents over $1. The ride to San Jose by bus is about 30 minutes, but by taxi it is only about 10 minutes shorter. So it is more practical for me to take the bus because I want to save money wherever I can to save up for my weekend trips!
There are also buses that run out of San Jose that will take you to other cities that are major locations with many sites to see. When I went to Monteverde, I took one of these buses. They are a little more comfortable than public buses, but they are definitely not luxurious. No matter how far you are traveling, they are affordable and really you’re only option for traveling unless you can rent a car or pay for a shuttle, which is more expensive. The bus to Montverde cost 2.500 colones which is equal to about $5. The ride was 4 hours. That’s a pretty good deal if you ask me because it would cost more than $5 in gas alone to get that far!
As for walking, I go to a very big university. My school is number four in the nation in student population (53,000) and number three in the actual size of campus. So I am used to doing a lot of walking. I also am very active, I run three or more times a week and go to the gym. So the walking here was not a big deal for me. I actually have less of a walk to school here than I do at A&M. But most of the other students with my program have mentioned that they have never had to walk this much to get around before. I enjoy the walking because the weather almost always has a nice breeze that keeps the temperature pretty cool. Also, I am from Texas. So this 80 degree weather is nothing compared to a 110 degree summer day in Texas!
I am so thankful that the taxis are cheap here because I have to use them all the time. I had only been in a taxi that one time before coming to Costa Rica and my experiences have been great. The taxi drivers are very friendly and like when people talk to them because most people don’t talk to them at all. They all compliment my Spanish and say how great they think it is that I’m studying abroad here to learn Spanish. It is very encouraging to hear!
The first time that I rode a bus here on my own, I could not figure out how to know when to get off! The buses that I take at A&M announce the bus stop before we approach it and also display the next stop on a digital read out. Here, the buses do neither of these things. You kind of just have to guess where to get off or ask someone. You have to ask people for directions all the time, even for directions how to get off of the bus! The buses are great to get around though, you just have to not be afraid to ask where your stop is.
I would say that walking is connected to the culture here in the fact that a lot of the people here are of lower socioeconomic class. Costa Rica is one of the few Latin American countries that has a middle class and that is why it is one of the most stable countries in Central America. However, being in the middle class does not mean that a car is necessary. This is different from the United States because most people own cars unless they live in a city that has a lot of public transportation. People of all classes have cars in the United States because owning a car is seen as a necessity to get to work or to get your kids to school. In Costa Rica, there is so much public transportation that owning a car is not seen as necessary even to the middle class. The family that I live with is of middle class, but my Mama Tica explained to me that a car costs more to keep up than it is worth. Especially because she is older. When you turn 60 in Costa Rica, they give you a card that bus drivers swipe and you can ride all public buses for free. Therefore, it is more practical for most people in Costa Rica to walk places, so they do. Another reason that I think most people choose to walk everywhere if possible is because the roads here are very small and there is a lot of traffic. When I say a lot, I mean a lot. Most of the roads only have one lane going each way. People also drive like crazy here. They drive extremely fast, choose when they feel like stopping at a stop sign, and float in and out of lanes casually. So there are a lot of car wrecks here which not only slows down traffic making it a hassle to drive, but also makes it more dangerous than walking.