Tica Bus has daily service to Panama and Nicaragua, with connections to Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, and far southern Mexico. Transnica serves Nicaragua and Honduras. Central Line offers service to Nicaragua. We recommend Tica Bus—it's more established and serves more destinations—but Transnica and Central Line are acceptable, too. All three companies have comfortable, air-conditioned coaches with videos and onboard toilets, and help with border procedures.

All Costa Rican towns are connected by regular bus service that's reliable, comprehensive, and inexpensive. Buses between major cities are modern, but in rural areas you may get a converted U.S. school bus without air-conditioning. On longer routes, buses stop midway at modest restaurants. Near their destinations many buses turn into large taxis, dropping passengers off one by one along the way. To save time, take a directo (express) bus, which still might make a few stops. Be prepared for bus-company employees and bus drivers to speak only Spanish.

Two private bus companies, Gray Line and Interbus, travel to the most popular tourist destinations in modern, air-conditioned vans. Vehicles for both companies seat 10 to 20 people. (Interbus can also supply coaches for large groups.) Costs from San José range from $45 to $105 one way, but can take hours off your trip. Reservations must always be made at least 24 hours in advance. Be sure to double-check information on the websites—published prices do change and routes may be discontinued. Costa Rica Shuttle offers minivan service that's great if you're traveling in a group. Rates range from $65 to $465 for up to five people.

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