When we were looking to get from Juan Santamaria International Airport (SJO) to Luz en Cielo in Montezuma, we found a few guides for getting there but none with pictures, so I’m writing up our experience below. The most important thing to note is that if you’re going directly from SJO to the Nicoya Peninsula, including Montezuma, you do not need to go into the city itself to catch the bus! There’s a bus stop for the Nicoya Peninsula buses in Alajuela, 3 km from the airport, where the bus stops after it departs San José (between 6:15 and 6:40, and between 14:15 and 14:40). The bus stop is located here:
It’s a long journey, especially if you’re planning on staying the night like we did in SJO. For the overnight stay, I’d recommend some earplugs and warm clothes/blankets. For the whole journey, I’d recommend packing snacks. There are a couple of chances to buy food on the journey, but they aren’t always cheap or the best.
Staying in SJO
If you’re coming in late, you can totally spend the night in SJO and go to the bus stop in the morning! Since we got in at 23:00 and there were no hostels nearby, we thought it was silly to head into the city just to sleep and we spent the night in SJO arrivals. It wasn’t bad as there were outlets and out of the way places to sleep, but there were ridiculously loud announcements every 15 minutes and temperature was frigid, so we were incredibly grateful to have ear plugs and our sleeping bags. We took advantage of our camping gear, including air mattresses and inflatable pillows, and had a pretty good rest.
The bus to Montezuma
In the morning, our two goals were to find the bus stop and then find the bus to Montezuma. At 5:00 am, we decamped from the floor of Arrivals at SJO and went in search of the bus stop. We had two options: walking along the highway to the stop or catching a cab. Although I have walked out of airports in the past, we decided it might be a bit harder with our packs and opted for the cab, which took about 15 minutes and cost 2400 colones (roughly $4.50). The bus stop is located right after an overpass and has some benches and eaves to keep the rain off:
To find the correct bus, we relied on looking at the placards at the front (for Montezuma/Nicoya) and asking the people around us, who were more than happy to help. We waited there as 6:00, 6:20, and then 6:40 passed, along with a slew of buses. We were beginning to worry we had somehow missed it, when around 6:45 a bus with a Montezuma sign pulled up. We paid the 7,000 colones/person (~$13) and got on. When you get your bus ticket, check your change (we got shorted several times in Costa Rica and had to ask for correct change), and keep your bus receipt! You’ll need it for the rest of the journey. Here’s a picture of the bus you’re looking for:
The trip to Montezuma
The trip itself is divided into 4 legs: the bus ride to Punta Arenas, the ferry ride across the Gulf of Nicoya, the bus ride Cobano, and a final bus ride from Cobano to Montezuma. The first leg of the journey took us through city and jungle and takes about 2.5 hours. At Punta Arenas, we disembarked and got ferry tickets from the bus driver. Take anything on the bus with you, but don’t be alarmed if they don’t let you get your luggage from below, as this will stay on the bus all the way until Cobano. Punta Arenas is a good place to grab snacks before getting on the ferry (there’s usually about 10-15 minutes), but don’t pay to use the bathrooms because the bathrooms on the ferry are free. After taking a short look around, we walked over to the ferry and got on. The ferry ride took about an hour and was a great chance to walk around for a bit before getting back on the bus. There are free restrooms and a cafeteria, although the prices and quality of food are comparable to a ferry ride in the U.S. We spent most of our time outside, enjoying the scenery:
Once off the ferry in Tambor, we waited for the bus to disembark and looked around the food stalls. This is another 10-15 minute chance to buy snacks, though keep an eye out for your bus as you don’t want to miss it. Show them your receipt to get back on the bus, and then it’s another 2 hour ride to the town of Cobano, where you’ll disembark and collect your luggage, then catch a smaller bus to Montezuma.
Once you’ve got your belongings, cross the street to the bus stop and ask the next bus whether it’s going to Montezuma (it probably is). Again, show them your bus ticket receipt, and they should let you on for free. This last ride should take 20-30 minutes, and drops you off at the Montezuma bus stop, just west of the town’s center.
To take the bus from Montezuma back to San José (SJO or the city center), take these steps in reverse. You can catch the bus back at either 6:20 or 14:20 at Montezuma bus stop, where you shouldn’t have to pay the fare if you explain you’re returning to San José. Once in Cobano, buy a ticket at the building across the street – it’s where you were dropped off by the big bus on the way in. Then you’ll bus-ferry-bus your way back to San José.