San Jose Getting Around
San Jose's public buses can take you anywhere in the city for a tiny price. If you arm yourself with basic bus-riding knowledge, shed your worries and prepare for adventure, San Jose's buses will soon become your best friends. Generally, San Jose city buses run from 5 a.m. until 11 p.m. Monday-Sunday. Buses are supposed to stop only at official bus stops – decorated with a bench and, often, a shelter from the rain – but will usually stop for anyone who flags them down. Just stick your arm out, and flail wildly.
Despite how easy it is to catch the bus, finding your bus stop in San Jose is no easy task. Since the city does not publish an official map or bus schedule, you'll have to ask around for your bus’ origination point. The beginning of each local route is usually marked by a sign, and often accompanied by a cheque, a man hired by the bus company to facilitate passenger travel. Cheques are usually very busy and rushed, but they can be a great help in figuring out which bus to take. Identify them by their know-how attitude and the whistle that dangles from their lips at all times.
Local San Jose bus stops are grouped into general areas. For example, all San Pedro buses congregate at the eastern end of Avenida Central's pedestrian mall. Buses to Escazu stop just north of the Coca-Cola bus station. It seems like everyone downtown knows where the bus stops are, so if you get lost, just ask for directions by saying "Perdon, sabe usted donde paran los buses de ____?" (Pehr-done, sah-bay oo-sted done-day pahr-ahn lohs boos-ays day ____? = Excuse me, do you know where the buses to ____ stop?)
When you've found your area bus stop, it's time to identify your specific route. Each San Jose bus is well-labeled, with the general route name (San Pedro or Escazu, for example) along the very top of the windshield, the specific route name (like the Granadilla neighborhood of San Pedro) in the bottom left of the windshield (near the door), and usually, the route fare just below the specific route name. Often, buses will also have small signs that indicate major stops along the way, so if you're heading to a mall or big shopping center, you're in luck. If you need help finding your specific bus, though, just ask a cheque, fellow passenger, or bus driver – all will be happy to help.
As you board the bus, do not stand between the two vertical metal bars, which may be located at the bottom of the stairs, the top of the stairs, or just after you pay the bus driver. Have 200-300 colones ready before you get on the bus. If you don't have single coins, don't worry, a 500 CRC coin or even a 2000 CRC bill will be accepted.
If driving in downtown San Jose, note that vehicle usage is restricted according to day of the week and the final digit of your vehicle's license plate. There are no restrictions for weekend driving, and taxis, buses and handicap vehicles are always exempt. The restriction is often lifted during holidays. As of early 2012, the current fine is 36,060 CRC (about $72).
The restricted area stretches from Cinco Esquinas in Tibas, east through Guadalupe and the Fuente de la Hispanidad in San Pedro, south to the Walmart in San Sebastian, and west past the Hatillos circunvalacion into Pavas. Private, non-commercial vehicles are banned from 6:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. depending on their final plate numbers:
Monday 1 or 2
Tuesday 3 or 4
Wednesday 5 or 6
Thursday 7 or 8
Friday 9 or 0
For San Jose taxi trips, always make sure that the meter is running at the beginning of your ride. (Puede poner la maria, por favor? – Could you please turn the meter on?) If not, the taxista may take advantage of your tourist status and charge an exorbitant fee at the end of the trip. For longer rides, always try to negotiate a fee: first ask the driver how much he'll charge, then counter with a sum 25% less than the driver’s. Depending on the driver and your smile, your offer will be accepted or refused. You must have basic Spanish to complete these negotiations, as many taxi drivers don't speak English.