David, Panama to San Jose, Costa Rica on Tracopa

By Bus from San José, Costa Rica to David, Panama through Paso Canoas

We’ve heard that three different companies make the journey from David, Panama to San Jose, Costa Rica. Panaline, Ticabus and Tracopa.

However, we are not sure if Panaline is even in business anymore since their web site has never worked. They might just not have a web site… we really don’t know.

In any case, to see bus schedules and prices, you can visit these two sites for TicaBus and Tracopa.
http://www.ticabus.com/ing_flotilla.html
http://www.tracopacr.com/rutas.html (Spanish only)

We also found a web site through the Lonely Planet travel forums. It aggregates the bus schedules into one place and has been very helpful (once we figured out how to use it).
http://www.thebusschedule.com/pa/index.php

it shows that Panaline is still in business (+507-314-6383), but we didn’t take (or even call) Panaline. We wanted to take TicaBus, but we discovered in David that the only place to get a ticket on TicaBus is at their office which is somewhere at a grocery store on the InterAmericana Highway.

Since we were at Hotel Madrid, just two blocks from the bus station, we took Tracopa. And we found the journey from David, Panama to San Jose, Costa Rica to be pleasant, if a little cramped.

tracopa bus office in David, Panama

From David to the border (Frontera) it should take 45 minutes to one and a half hours. It really depends on the speed of the bus and the flow of traffic.

Overall though, the bus journey from David to the border to San José can take from 6 – 9 hours. Why such a big margin? Well, the roads in Costa Rica aren’t that good. The highway was fine, but cities have lots of bumpy roads. Also, at the border, sometimes buses can run into huge lines of trucks in front of them.

Crossing the border can take from 1 – 3 hours because of bureaucracy (Panamanian and Costa Rican combined).

Our personal experience is that it took 2+ hours at the border, and the crazy goofiness of the whole thing (unloading bags just to reload them, and then 5 minutes per person just to get a stamp on the Panamanian side. The Costa Rican side was basically going through the motions of a bag check, which really seemed to be there just to hold people up on the Costa Rican side.)

It was rather amusing to do once, but not something I would want to do daily, or even every three months, as many expats do.

In my mind, the only way to look at it is with amusement. If you look at the border crossing at Pasao Canoas in any other way, you’re bound to be frustrated.

Roads in Panama are definitively better than their counterpart in Costa Rica.

Tracopa leaves from David to San Jose at 8:30 a.m. They stop at San Jose (as well as other places along the way. Tracopa’s phone number in David is +507-775-0585.

Apparently, (though we don’t have personal experience with Ticabus yet) Ticabus leaves from San José to Panama City at 12:00 p.m. noon and 11:00 p.m. Their buses from Panama City to San José, Costa Rica leave at 11:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m. The daytime buses are nicer buses known as “Ejecutivos”. Their phone number in Panama City is +507-314-6385.

You can also look for a bus to the Costa Rican border, and buses from there to San Jose every hour or so.

But if you’re in David and wanting to get to San Jose, we can definitely recommend Tracopa.

Here’s a map with the Hotel Madrid and the bus station in David. Zoom out or zoom in to get better views.

Buy your tickets on Tracopa the day before (or get to the Tracopa office early on the day of your travel to Costa Rica).

Tracopa’s office at the bus terminal in David is easy to miss.

It’s a little storefront (little) between platforms 3 and 4.

Here’s a pic with people standing in front of Tracopa’s office (so you’ll know what to look for).
tracopa bus office in David, Panama

This article by Jonathan Kraft

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