There is a lot to see on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica. The country isn’t big thus you can easily travel from the pacific coast to the Caribbean all in one day. Read the whole guide of how to travel Costa Rica by Bus. Here I’ll help you get to the Caribbean by bus. The road from San Jose to the Caribbean is also very beautiful so if you’re traveling on a clear day be sure to keep an eye out!
The Caribbean is known for its easy going culture. People are nicer, many consider the food better, and is just regarded as more laid-back than the rest of Costa Rica. You’ll notice that people smile more. There are great beaches and hiking available. Plus you’ll see a lot of the areas where most of Costa Rica’s bananas are grown. Use these maps as locations to find out where you’ll get dropped off, how to get to your accommodation from there, as well as where you’ll have to go to get a bus to your next destination.
How to get there from San Jose
If you are planning on traveling to the Southern Caribbean by bus you can easily access most of it from San Jose. You’ll be leaving out of the Mepe Bus Terminal in San Jose.
It’s only a block away from the newer Terminal 7-10 so if your Uber dropped you off there it’s only a 5 minute walk. Even though it is fairly close this is not the safest area of town thus always be aware and don’t travel alone in the dark. This terminal is a lot older and not as nice but it’ll take you to the east coast. The major destinations are Cahuita, Puerto Viejo, and Sixola (the smaller border crossing into Panama). Another major stop is Limón, which isn’t so safe and not recommended as a destination, but can be used as one way to get to Tortuguero. For more information on how to get to Tortuguero, refer to the bottom of this post.
I won’t be listing bus schedules this time as you can find the up-to-date schedule for each destination on their website.
- At most of these locations you will have to buy a ticket at the ticket office on site. Some buses will let you buy a ticket on board but if there is a ticket office don’t risk losing the bus and get your ticket from there.
- As always, and especially with all these stops mentioned, be sure to keep and eye on your belongings and don’t store any valuables in the overhead areas of the bus.
Limón Bus Terminal
Cahuita Bus Terminal
Puerto Viejo Bus Stop
There is no bus terminal in Puerto Viejo. It is just a stop on the road across from the beach. But there is a ticket office there where you can prebook your tickets and see the schedule.
Sixaola Bus Terminal
If you’re looking to go to Panama one of the border crossings is through the Costa Rican town of Sixaola. The bus terminal is only steps away from the immigration building and the border crossing. Read more about crossing the border into Panama (with pictures)!
Tortuguero by bus
Tortuguero is an amazing place to visit to be able to see many different sea turtles in Costa Rica.
As mentioned earlier, to get to Tortuguero one way is to take a local bus that goes to Moin. It leaves about every half-hour and from there you’ll find the docks to Tortuguero. Alternatively, a safer way to get to Tortuguero is via La Pavona (and a different bus terminal).
Instead of using the Mepe buses and going to Limon, you can take a bus from San Jose to the docks at La Pavona. Either way is going to be a long day and you should plan on being at the docks (either at Moin or La Pavona) early in the morning. However, La Pavona is usually regarded as the more popular route for independent travelers as well as locals.
The bus terminal to La Pavona from San Jose is the Gran Caribe Terminal in downtown San Jose. You can get more information on their website. You will have to take the bus from San Jose to Cariari then transfer to La Pavona (about ₡2000 / $4).
The current schedule for San Jose to Cariari is: 6:30AM, 9AM, 10:30AM, 1PM, 3PM, 4:30PM, 6PM, 7PM. It is about a 2-3 hour bus ride. From the same bus station in Cariari take the next bus to La Pavona, about 1 hour 15 minutes and costs ₡1100. Here, you can buy the ticket on board this bus.
Bus schedule Cariari to La Pavona: 6AM, 9AM,11:30AM, 3PM. Then from La Pavona you can take the boat to Tortuguero which costs ₡2000. Buy your ticket from the restaurant Rancho La Suerte. The boat takes about 1 hour and the boat schedule is 7:30AM, 11AM, 1PM, 4:30PM. The boats also wait for the arriving buses.
Thus, the suggested schedule is to take the 9am San Jose bus and arrive at Cariari at 11am. Then take the 11:30 bus to La Pavona. (The bus to La Pavona usually waits for the bus arriving from San Jose). Do not take any bus later than the 9am bus as you won’t make it to Tortuguero the same day.
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I hope this helps you in planning your trip. If you have recently traveled this route and want to add anything or find any discrepancies be sure to share them below!