The other day, we had occasion to take a trip from Atenas to San Ramon, and then back to Atenas. By car, we have traveled the distance a number of times using route 135 between Atenas and Palmares, then onto San Ramón. But, this time we became adventurous. We decided to try the buses.
The bus system in Costa Rica is very good. The challenge is to determine where routes begin and end, which buses take which routes, and on what schedules. There are a myriad of independent bus companies in operation, each with their own authorized routes. Some publish their schedules. Others seemingly do not - or at least we cannot find them and have to rely on word of mouth to find out where to go and when.
The main company in Atenas is Coopetransatenas, and it does publish its schedules: see http://www.coopetransatenas.com/horario.php (the graphics on this website show a couple of their typical buses - modern and comfortable). But alas, as its route information shows, Coopetransatenas travels north only as far as Palmeres.
How to bus it from Palmeres to San Ramón? A search on the Internet was uncooperative. The most amusing feedback we got was from http://pasajesautobuscr.com/bus-de-san-ramon-a-palmares.html. In Spanish, the message was:
“Horarios de Buses de San Ramón a PalmaresLo sentimos, es posible que aún no dispongamos de los horarios o las rutas de buses de San Ramón a Palmares. En este caso, le recomendamos que utilice cualquier buscador en línea para encontrar pasajes baratos de avión de San Ramón a Palmares o alguna otra Provincia y Ciudad de Costa Rica. Podrá encontrar vuelos económicos y pasajes que se ajusten a sus necesidades.Gracias por visitarnos, que tengas un buen viaje en bus de San Ramón a Palmares.Un abrazo de tu equipo PasajesAutobusCR.com”
Translated by computer from Spanish to English, this became:
“Timetables of Buses of San Ramón to PalmaresSorry, it is possible that even we do not have the schedules or routes of buses from San Ramón to Palmares. In this case, we recommend that you use any search engine online to find cheap airfare from San Ramón to Palmares, or any other province and city of Costa Rica. You can find cheap flights and tickets that meet your needs.Thanks for visiting, have a good trip by bus from San Ramón to Palmares.A hug from your team PasajesAutobusCR.com”.
Cheap airfare! As the crow flies, San Ramón centro is about 3 miles from Palmeres centro. By road, it´s about 5 miles. The best aircraft would be a helicopter, but we ultimately rejected the idea, because it obviously would not be cheap. We concluded that the cheapest aircraft might be a hot air balloon, but we ended up rejecting that idea as well. With the current trade winds in Costa Rica, chances are that we would land somewhere in the Atlantic or Pacific rather than San Ramón in the Central Valley.
A taxi from Palmeres to San Ramón was the obvious answer. But, we were determined to complete the challenge and handle the trip from Atenas to San Ramón entirely by bus (at least one way). Despite the absence of published routes or schedules, we had it by reliable word of mouth that there was regular and frequent bus service between Palmares and San Ramón. What we did not know until later was that the Coopetransatenas bus from Atenas to Palmares stops and starts in Palmares at an unmarked location on the street about a block away from the municipal bus station. The bus from Palmares to San Ramón starts and stops at the municipal station. When we got off the Coopetransatenas bus in Palmeres, the immediate question was - now what? Where do we get the bus to San Ramón? Word of mouth again came to the rescue. Just off the bus, we asked a Tico (native Costa Rican) in a questioning manner “San Ramón?” He understood and pointed down the block to the municipal station.
The trip itself:
It was a 50 minute ride with Coopetransatenas from Atenas to Palmeres (a few stops along the way) - fare: 640 colones (about USD $1.28!) each. This was followed by a 15 minute wait at the municipal station in Palmeres for the bus to San Ramón and another 15 minutes for the ride from Palmeres to the outskirts of San Ramón, where we wanted to be - fare: 330 colones (about USD $0.66).
The fun part (depending on your point of view):
For foreigners, the ride from Atenas to Palmares is a Magic Mountain experience characterized by scary switchbacks, S-curves and steep cliffs. For Ticos it is undoubtedly routine. The road distance is about 8.5 miles. The "as the crow flies" distance is about 2 miles less. This tells a lot about the topography of this portion of the Central Valley in Costa Rica (two miles of road articulation within a distance of 8.5 miles is remarkable). If Coopetransatenas was selling amusement rides, it could probably do a lot better than USD $1.28 per ride.
When we finished our trip to San Ramón and got back to Palmeres, we learned that the next bus to Atenas would be about 1 ½ hours later. Since our experiment with the buses was mainly done, we had no inclination to linger around in Palmares for 1 ½ hours. We decided to take a taxi. Fare: from Palmares to Atenas about 8000 colones (USD $16.00 - time about 30 minutes).