What is the Tica Bus?
Tica is used to refer to Costa Rica or it’s people, Tico for the fella’s. There are a couple of different bus options when traveling from Costa Rica to other countries. The Tica Bus came highly recommended. The cost was $26 (USD) each way and went from San Jose, Costa Rica to Granada, Nicaragua. It made several stops along the way and continued on to Managua and beyond. The other common option would have been the Nica Bus. While I like being cheap sometimes and enjoy testing the waters, it was made very clear to me that I should not take the Nica Bus. I was told it would cost me about $5 and the best case scenario would be a miserable trip. If anyone knows more about it feel free to share.
The Tica Bus Experience…
I found the Tica Bus to be a wonderful option for my travel from San Jose to Nicaragua. I got up early and met my traveling partner for this leg of the trip, Tim, in the hotel lobby. We caught a cab to the bus terminal and had no trouble getting our luggage checked and loaded onto the bus. Almost nobody spoke English at the bus terminal but the process was so streamlined that following the crowd worked great. I was still sick so I was relieved to find that I had both seats to myself! I slept like a baby for about half the 8 hour trip.
The seats were reasonably comfortable. The bathroom was in good condition. There were movies on the TV screens and the volume was loud enough to hear without being overbearing. I wouldn’t quite compare the traveling conditions to those of a luxury bus line in the States, but I thought it was slightly better than my experience with Greyhound.
Both the other passengers and the staff were very helpful. There was a driver and an assistant on the bus. The assistant came through occasionally like a stewardess with a cooler of food and customs forms. He spoke no English, but he got his point across clearly. I had the ham & cheese sammich on the trip north, and a cheeseburger on the return voyage. I recommend the cheeseburger. When the customs forms were collected, he looked over them for completeness and provided a new one if there was something wrong. They collected the customs fees about 30 minutes prior to reaching the border and kept things moving smoothly.
On the trip north, almost all the work was done for us. We got off the Tica Bus, walked around the roadside stands looking at the trinkets and food being sold. At the appropriate time, the bus driver announced that we needed to be checked and we walked through a short and simple customs line with our baggage. It was very simple to figure out what was going on as they started unloading the luggage and a line naturally formed around the customs agent. We did have to sit around for quite some time, but the process was more simple than I could have asked for.
The return trip south was not quite as pleasant. The Costa Rican customs was a bit more stringent and we actually had to filter through several different checkpoints. Entering Costa Rica on the Tica Bus required us to get out and go through several lines. The bags were checked, we were checked, passports, etc. The Tica bus personnel had done all they could to streamline the process, but it wasn’t quite as simple.
When entering CR on the Tica Bus, you must have a departure ticket. If you do not have an exit ticket they will make you buy a bus ticket out of CR or kick you back. I had purchased my airline ticket online and luckily the lady accepted the receipt on my phone as valid proof. It was not a check the box issue, she screened that ticket looking for a full name, departure date, flight number, reservation number, etc. I’ve heard that some customs agents don’t allow this and will still make you buy a bus ticket. This may be something they are just starting to allow. Just be prepared to buy another bus ticket if push comes to shove.
DO NOT exchange money at the border without being 100% certain of the exchange rate. I had a guy take me for about $20 buck while punching the numbers in on the calculator right in front of me. They came up as we were being shuffled back on the bus and too busy trying to pay attention to the directions and flow of traffic to realize what was going on. I only exchanged a small amount out of general caution, but got taken for quite a bit of it. I knew better and have no idea what I was thinking. Maybe I inherently knew that I needed to screw something up so I could have something to write about later 🙂
See Heidi’s comment below for more up-to-date information about currency exchange at the border.