How do we get around when backpacking in Central America? By bus, of course!
But busing around in Central America is not that straightforward. First of all, we have to agree on the definition of a bus. If it has no windows and no doors, it is still a bus? What if it is painted in flamboyant colors, like bright red and yellow, and has words of wisdom such as “no pain, no gain“, or “dio bendigo mi alma” written on the windows? And if it takes 5 hours to drive 20 kilometers? Is it still a bus?
Welcome to Latin America. Most of the buses here are called “chicken buses” by travelers, because they carry not only passengers but the occasional livestock as well. So sharing your seat with a chicken or a goat is pretty common, especially if it´s market day. These old customized US school buses are often extremely packed, therefore backpacks are stored either at the back (piled up) or even on the roof of the bus. You’d be surprised to see how many people can fit in the bus — I am constantly amazed. If you can still move your arms around you without hitting too many people, there is room for more passengers.
Long distances buses are a bit better. I mean, the windows can close and the driver doesn´t seem to be on drug or clinically insane. But these buses are still going to stop whenever they feel like it to pick up passengers (i.e the middle of a field) and they are quite slow. Nonetheless, they are cheap — about 1$ per hour. For example, for a 6 hours trip (i.e Playa Tamarindo to San Jose), you will pay US$6. Can´t beat that! We crossed Panama for $30…
Buses are never ever on time. Whenever I ask “¿a qué hora sale el bus y a qué hora llega?”, the answers is always “más o menos…“. More or less, yes, this is the key word. It also takes ages to buy a ticket because no matter what time we go to the bus station, there always seems to be a hundred of people queuing to go somewhere. Buying a ticket from the driver is often the best option, but you may have to stand for the whole trip (may it be 30 minutes or 12 hours) because all of the seats will be taken by the courageous souls who did queue at the station.