San Juan to Santa Teresa

Posted from Barranca, Puntarenas Province, Costa Rica.

san juan to santa teresa

My journey to get to Santa Teresa in one day was worth it, even though I missed the sunset.

The lowdown

There are a lot of ways to get from San Juan to Santa Teresa. This is how I did it in one day. I have to also mention that luck was on my side. If my taxi driver hadn’t have shown up 15 minutes early, I wouldn’t have happened upon the Nica bus, and without that, I doubt I would’ve made it.


To la fronterra – about 40 mins 

Unless you’re renting a car, there are two ways to get to the border.

One – take a taxi for $20.

Two – take the bus towards Rivas, get off at the Intersection of the main road, and flag down the bus coming from Rivas heading towards the border. You don’t need to go all the way to Rivas.

I took a taxi at 7:45 a.m. The driver had originally wanted $25 but I protested and he knocked it back down to the usual rate of $20. He had the most disgusting car I think I’ve ever been in. We almost got to the border when he pulled over, and paid another guy to drive me the rest of the way. I switched cars. This other driver picked up this other dude on the way and my imagination resigned myself to the fact that I was probably gonna get robbed. But nope. He dumped me at the border, helped me with my backpack and that was that.


Nicaraguan border – about 10 mins

Don’t pay any attention to the touts that will bombard you trying to sell you a declaration card. These are free inside. You will need to pay $1 to a lady at a booth for some reason. Then you will need to go towards the other booths and submit your passport, probably answer a few weird questions, pay another $1.50 or so, and that’s it.

When I got out of the taxi, a lady with Trans Nica busses found me and told me I could jump the bus to San Jose. It was $11, had WIFI, AC, a toilet, and I could exit at Barranca and catch another bus from there. I knew I had limited time to make the ferry in Puntarenas, so I said yes.

My original plan was to find a local bus to Liberia. From there I was either going to catch a bus to Puntarenas, or find a shuttle to Santa Teresa. But I wasn’t too keen on paying the $55 fee for the shuttle. The Nica bus was a good surprise.

Costa Rica border – about one hour

I had heard this border could take a long time. And it did. As soon as you get close enough to a wicket, jump the queue and ask for a declaration card to fill out. You will need this. It is free to enter Costa Rica (but there is an exit fee.) The lady at the counter asked me for proof of onward travel. This (apparently) was never really an issue before, but immigration has begun to crack down on eternal tourists. I had proof of an onward ticket from Panama City. She asked me how long I planned to stay in Costa Rica and I told her seven or eight days. She asked me which it was. I said probably eight, I had a plane I had to catch in Panama. Then she filled in EIGHT DAYS as my allowed number of days in the country on my visa stamp. Almost everyone I know got 90 days. I got eight. I got back on the bus and pouted. My plans only changed by a day or two. But then again, I had loose plans.


To Barranca – about 5 hours

The bus stopped for lunch 10 minutes outside of Barranca. For reals. So 10 minutes after lunch we pulled over just as I saw another bus coming towards us headed in the direction I needed to go. But the luggage compartment my bag was in wouldn’t open. I needed to get that bus if I was gonna make it the ferry in time. So I climbed in, pulled out my backpack, gave the luggage lady (who was a bit upset with me) my luggage tag and ran for the bus. I had no idea what I was doing.


To Puntarenas – about 1.5 hours

Puntarenas? I asked the bus driver. Si, he said. Phew. 400 colones! This bus, a local bus that stopped regularly, took me to the bus terminal in Puntarenas. It was after 1:30 and I needed to get to the ferry for 2:30. I was gonna make it.


To the ferry – four minutes

I ran across the street and flagged a cab. The driver, who was named William, practiced his English with me while he took me the four-minute 1500 colones ride to the ferry terminal in time to get the TWO O’CLOCK ferry! Two??!! I ran and bought a ticket (810 colones) and was on the ferry with 14 minutes to spare.


The ferry ride – 90 mins

The journey takes anywhere from 60 to 90 mins. This one took 90 mins. You can buy food and drinks, including beer on the ferry. I mostly sat there doing puzzles wondering what my next step was. 


To Cobano –  about 1.5 hours

You can get a taxi for $10/head or you can take the very slow, like slower than slow, bus to Cobano for 1300 colones. It stops a lot, and has a hard time getting up hills. The roads, by the way, are terrible. It took about 1.5 hours to get to Cobano. When you disembark it’s a bit of a guessing game where to stand, but the busses will show up and are well marked. 


To Santa Teresa – about 45 mins

From Cobano we switch busses and spend another 45 minutes on headed towards Maipais/Santa Teresa. This one is 1000 colones and stops even more than the first one. Sometimes people get off 20 meters apart. Sometimes they get on 10 meters apart. I’m baffled. The sunsets while we’re en route.

Destination – Santa Teresa

Just after 6 p.m. we pull up beside Selinas – a hostel I recalled seeing on Hostelworld. I hadn’t made a reservation because I wasn’t sure if I would make it. They have dorm beds available and I’m in. There’s a pool, AC, fast WIFI and so many surfers. I could sleep for days.

So there it is. You can make it in one day on the cheap. But you can also make it if you’re willing to spend more money.


Taxi to border – $20 USD
Border fees – $ 3 USD
Bus to Barancca – $11 USD
Bus to Puntarenas – $0.75
Taxi to ferry – $3 USD
Ferry – $1.50 USD
Bus to Cobano – $2.25 USD
Bus to Santa Teresa – $2 USD

IN TOTAL – $43.50 and 11.5 hrs

Naviera Tambor timetable

Naviera tambor fees

Ferry time tables and costs.

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