Booking and Checking-in
We booked our journey 5 days in advance by visiting the ticket counter at the bus station. The bus station is easy to get to on the metro and is just across from the massive Albrook Mall. Make sure when booking you take your passports with you. We had been on the Tica Bus website so already know the time of the service we wanted to book and had written the details down to hand over to the attendant, this made the whole process smoother. Sadly, the Tica Bus website does not allow you to book online with a foreign credit card, otherwise we would have done that.
On the day of your travel you need to turn up at least 45 minutes before your departure time to check in. Your passports will be checked and your luggage will be weighed. The queue for check-in was really long and slow moving, lots of people checking in TVs and Stereo systems as well as their luggage, if you can be there earlier its a good idea. The waiting area after check-in is a bit of dive, just remember keep an eye on your stuff.
The journey started well, the bus was fairly comfortable, we were offered bottles of water and the bus stopped, the attendant jumped out and about 10 minutes re-appeared with Big Macs for everyone. I know a McDonalds is not everyone’s idea of a good meal but believe me compared to some of the other food we have been offered on buses this could only be considered a luxury.
The Border Crossing
This is possibly one of the longest and most arduous border crossings we have ever experienced. Before arriving the bus attendant makes sure everyone has the necessary forms to fill in which is great. Once the bus stops everyone has to get off the bus and wait for their luggage to be unloaded. Then all passengers are taken into a small room where you have to leave your luggage in the middle and line up around the outside.
Customs officials then perform a roll call. After everyone is accounted for sniffer dogs are paraded up and down the rows of luggage. At this point we were thinking this is not so bad we will be back on the bus soon… we were wrong.
Next everyone had to present their luggage for search one by one. This is a thorough search, your bags are unpacked in front of everyone and once yours has been searched they are quickly onto the next while you scrabble around on the floor repacking everything. Needless to say this process takes ages.
After the bag search your bags are loaded back on the bus and you must queue up to be stamped out of Panama.
You then have to walk through no-mans land to the Costa Rica border. It was late, dark and this area is like a small town and we were not sure where we had to go so we just hung around and waited for our bus attendant to take us.
Once at the Costa Rica border you have to take your luggage off the bus again, line up again, and have your bag fully searched again… by this time everyone was losing the will to live, such a slow and unnecessary process! Once completed its time to line up again and get stamped into Costa Rica before getting back on the bus to continue the journey to San Jose. I think the whole border crossing took 2-3 hours.
Costa Rica Side
Our journey to San Jose was delayed about an hour as the bus experienced a mechanical fault and need to be fixed by the driving crew before we could continue. However, this was not a big issue compared to the one we faced when we finally arrived in San Jose.
We arrived at the small San Jose bus terminal at about 02:30. For some reason we assumed this would not be an issue as people must do this journey all the time. We headed outside to see two taxies waiting at the curb side. They were metered and looked official-ish, normally we would have looked for another option but there was nothing at this time of the morning. After talking to one of the taxi drivers we and got in his car bound for our hotel.
As we started down the dark dimly lit streets of San Jose is pretty quickly dawned on us that the place was like a ghost town. No people to be seen, empty roads and every building shut up with the metal shutters pulled down.
Our taxi driver got out his phone and called our hotel, we spoke to the desk man ourselves who informed us he would not be able to let us in at this time of night!
After asking our taxi driver to take us to another hotel only to be turned away we felt we had no option other than to head to the airport to try and find accommodation and if that failed at least we could sleep in departures.
We did try a hotel outside the airport from a major chain but as it was only the night manager on duty he had no interest in selling us a room, he just said the hotel was full… very unlikely, he just could not be bothered.
So we spent the night at the airport, and had a very expensive taxi fare to pay for.
TOP TIPS TO AVOID GETTING STRANDED IN SAN JOSE
- Check with your hotel in advance if arriving late is going to be a problem
- There is a hostel at the San Jose Tica Bus Station, it was full when we arrived but you may be able to book a room at the same time as your bus ticket
- If possible, take a bus that does not arrive in the middle of the night