Road Warriors: Traveling Through Central America


Tamarindo, Costa Rica

I had to write this post.

I had to write this to let you know exactly what you are getting into when you are traveling through Central America by bus. I thought chicken buses were slow due to the fact they pick up every person who flags then down on the side of the road.

I was wrong.

Bus travel through some spots of Costa Rica makes molasses look like Speed Racer.

Example 1 – Day Trip to Tamarindo:
Locals say it is only an hour trip. I mean, it is only 33 kilometers away (~21 miles). Tamarindo is supposed to be a beginning surfer mecca and we were excited about renting a board.

What they don’t tell you is that is by car. If you rent a car, sure that is doable. But budget travelers like us, we bus it. We’re determined. We put ourselves through hell.

Four hours later we arrive in Tamarindo. I’m not kidding. What was supposed to be a day spent swimming, surfing, and picnicking the afternoon away became a two hour quick lunch and a jaunt along the beach.

Oh yeah, and don’t forget four hours back.

Example 2 – Moving on to Montezuma
As you can see on the map, Coco and Montezuma are both on the Nicoya Peninsula. You would think that the road to Montezuma would look something like this:

Oh, what the guides don’t explicitly state is that there is no bus/tourism infrastructure between these two points. I was scouring the internet trying to find some answers and asked Abby of The Jungle Princess (she lived in Coco, Costa Rica for a while!) how to get there.

Her reply?

Rent a car. Don’t go at night. Enjoy offroading.

Pura vida, right? The path to Montezuma is as follows:

Twelve hours later we arrive. Good thing we have started to embrace the Latin American way of transport and travel time. I can only imagine what a newbie traveler would think – or worse – someone on a time schedule! The whole thing really makes me reconsider getting a cheap flight.

This is one of the reasons why I’ll proclaim myself as a road warrior. Anyone who rides buses while traveling the world deserves the title as well. 8000 miles into our trip and we’re still pushing on, one bus at a time.


Disclosure: One of the links in this post was paid.


23 Responses to “Road Warriors: Traveling Through Central America”

  1. Lauren October 24, 2011 at 1:54 am #

    Hahahaha wow, I can imagine that getting quite stressful

    • Erica October 26, 2011 at 10:46 am #

      @Lauren: Just a wee bit. I’m glad I don’t mind being stuck in small cities if we don’t make it all the way. It is definitely part of the adventure for sure.

  2. Juno October 24, 2011 at 4:00 am #

    Very well written! Yes, sometimes transportation time is under estimated. Good post!

    • Erica October 26, 2011 at 10:49 am #

      @Juno: Thanks! It is just so hard when I’m used to thinking of travel in terms of how long it would be to drive there. My bad!

  3. Emily in Chile October 24, 2011 at 10:09 am #

    I’ve heard that Costa Rican bus routes make no sense, but that second one is just crazy! It’s funny how even a country with a big tourism industry can still have such a frustrating bus system – I guess they’ve decided that the tourists who’re paying big bucks aren’t going to take buses anyway, so they feel no need to revamp the system.

    • Erica October 26, 2011 at 11:04 am #

      @Emily: I had never heard that before, I wish I would have known before! I know people normally use tourism vans that take the offroading approach. I know one guy was baffled that we weren’t okay to pay $20 for a ride that cost us $2 on the bus.

  4. Phil October 24, 2011 at 10:54 am #

    I know what you mean. I have become so conditioned to delays, checkpoints, breakdowns that I am actually averse to boredom. I basically go into a trance. You guys may be headed in the same direction. My record is 40 hours on a bus between dakar and bamako. Took some recovery time!!

    • Erica October 26, 2011 at 11:05 am #

      @Phil: LOL! I’ve come to that point as well. It is forced meditation. I’m sure I could handle almost anything at this point. Your 40 hours blows our 21 out of the water and we had air conditioning and movies.

  5. Mica October 24, 2011 at 12:57 pm #

    Yup, as long as I have my ipod, some toilet paper (cause I can pee anywhere- another road warrior description) and some food so I don’t kill someone I’m cool. Gotta love the buses. Or hate them.

    • Erica October 26, 2011 at 11:30 am #

      @Mica: YES. Peeing on the fly is definitely a talent and a good lesson to learn.

  6. Amanda October 24, 2011 at 2:43 pm #

    Oh geez. Thanks for the warning!!

    • Erica October 26, 2011 at 11:31 am #

      @Amanda: Any time! I needed to make sure people know what they are getting into.

  7. Debbie Beardsley @ European Travelista October 24, 2011 at 5:57 pm #

    Wow that is quite an endeavor! I think you’ve earned some kind of award.

    • Erica October 26, 2011 at 11:37 am #

      @Debbie: Thanks! I want an awesome pin or a leather jacket!

  8. Tiffany October 24, 2011 at 6:52 pm #

    Oh, you poor people! I can totally sympathize! Greg and I wanted to see the Monarch butterflies that gather in Morelia in the winter (which you would think attracts a lot of tourists since there are literally millions of them). We had to take chicken bus after chicken bus, to this tiny remote area in Mexico. It took forever! But we made it, and we’re happier for it 🙂

    • Erica October 26, 2011 at 11:46 am #

      @Tiffany: Ooh we had considered stopping by there but we had to force ourselves to go quicker through Mexico. I’m glad it was worth it!

  9. Jacobs October 25, 2011 at 9:45 am #

    At least you already experience how it feels like traveling by bus and I guess you have stressful but wonderful adventure on your travel

  10. Reed Wolff October 25, 2011 at 9:43 pm #

    Leslie and I loved our day with you going to the jaguar Center, chocolate lady and waterfall. I loved the assistance going to the waterfall. Thanks and safe travels.. Today we took a 6 hour (no exaggeration) his in the jungle. Very cool but we are tired.
    Reed and Leslie

    • Erica October 26, 2011 at 11:47 am #

      @Reed: Hey ladies! You guys are rock stars with the hiking! I was SO TIRED after our waterfall ordeal. <3

  11. Sarah Wu October 30, 2011 at 12:40 am #

    WOW, 12 hrs of bus ride. You gusy amazed me. I can’t even sit still on a car for 7 hours and you guys stay in a bus for 12 hr 🙂

    • Erica October 30, 2011 at 3:23 pm #

      @Sarah: Our longest was 21 hours! Living in Texas definitely helps with getting used to sitting for a long time. It takes 9-10 hours to get out of the state!

  12. Ali October 31, 2011 at 9:36 am #

    I’ve experienced some crazy bus trips in SE Asia over the past month too. It’s amazing how illogical the routes can be, making a seemingly short trip take an eternity. I’m impressed with your “road warrior” dedication but I have definitely decided, if a long bus trip can be avoided by another mode of transportation, I will probably avoid it.

    • Erica November 2, 2011 at 8:30 pm #

      @Ali: Since we’re trying to keep it budget friendly, the bus is our friend right now lol. Flying is SO expensive in Central America.

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