The small surf town of Pavones is in the far far south of Costa Rica. It is so remote that up until 2018, you had to drive through a river to get there! But just because it has a bridge now, doesn't mean it's an easy place to get to. With a little effort, and not too much money, you can get to the spot made famous for its 2-3 minute rides. With its unique break, they say you can ride a wave for over a mile!
From San Jose, you can rent a car and drive, or you can get to the southern town of Golfito and take the public bus from there. There are flights to Golfito from San Jose, but since we're budget travelers, I'll cover taking the bus down there. Plan on an overnight in San Jose or Golfito before you can hit the waves.
The public transportation is sadly difficult to pin down and changes with the seasons. I've done my best to document both what I have experienced and what I have found out from locals. Your best bet is to be flexible with your time.
Be sure to read Public Transportaion in the Zancudo / Pavones Area for an overview on the public transportation.
Getting To Pavones from San JoseFrom the airport, the general plan is to get into the actual city of San Jose, take a bus from the Tracopa bus terminal to Golfito, then take a bus down to Pavones. Sounds pretty simple, right? Not. Given the timing of it all, it's hard to do it all in one day because, unless you take the 6:30am bus out of San Jose, you won't get into Golfito in time to get the last bus to Pavones.
The first thing to do is to get out of the airport and get on a bus going south. You can get to the Tracopa bus terminal for only $1 by taking a pubic bus from in front of the airport, then walking to the bus terminal. See Getting to Your Bus from the San Jose Airport in Costa Rica for details.
The Tracopa buses from San Jose to Golfito leave super early in the morning (6:30 am) and then not again until 3:30 pm. However, there are other options than the San Jose - Golfito bus. The town of Rio Claro is only about 1/2 hour away from Golfito and there are buses going there from San Jose more regularly. The key times being 10:15 am, 11 am, 1:05 pm and 2 pm (₡7,660 $13).
It's recommenced by just about everyone to take the Costenera (coastal) route rather than the Cerro de la Muerte (mountain) route which is winding, slower, and less direct (many stops). The literal translations are "waterfront" and "death hill". Choose wisely. LOL
Check the Tracopa site for the current schedules.
Spend the Night in Golfito
You will arrive in Golfito too late for the last bus to Pavones. Spend the night in the Hotel el Tucan. It's just past the supermarket on the inland side of the street. The woman who runs it will treat you like family. We paid ₡15,000 ($25) for a double with aircon. The Hotel Golfito is okay too but a little more expensive at ₡18,000 ($30). Budget eats at the supermarket (grab a cold beer - ₡1,300 for a large), Buenos Dias, and Chicken Bros.
There are theoretically 2 public buses per day (approx $4 + surfboard fee) to Pavones leaving Golfito by the mullecito just after 10 am and 3 pm. They actually leave at those times from the Golfito hospital (get on there if you want to secure a seat). Definitely ask around though because sometimes the 10 am bus is cancelled in the off season or due to poor road conditions. The afternoon bus arrives in Pavones at 6 pm so you might want to have a flashlight handy if you have to walk any distance once you get off. Yes, it's that small of a town.
Transportes Barrantes shows (most of) the current bus schedules around the area. Check their home page too for special schedules and see Public Transportaion in the Zancudo / Pavones Area for an overview.
I haven't done this route, but it should work. You can only do this if you overnight in San Jose, so I suppose it's not really getting there in one day.
Take the 6:30 am Tracopa bus from San Jose to Golfito. You arrive at around 1:30 pm with plenty of time to catch the 3 pm to Pavones.
Leaving PavonesYou basically take the same route in reverse, and it can be done in one day - woohoo! There's an early bus coming from Punta Banco getting you to Golfito around 9:30 am. Catch the 1:30 pm Tracopa to San Jose, or head over to Rio Claro to get a different bus.
If you wanted to do something different, maybe see a new place, you could get off the bus in Comte and take a shared taxi to Paso Canoas (40 min) for ₡2,500. There are a lot of Tracopa buses leaving from there and you can spend some time shopping in Panama.
For your collectivo, the taxis (cars waiting where the bus stops) will be more than willing to take you in a private taxi (for something like $30 USD!) so make sure you specify collectivo. Hopefully there is at least one other person from your bus who wants the same so you’ll share the ride with them (I don’t think the taxi will go if there’s only one person) and your driver will try to pick up additional people along the way.
Other than a couple of buses heading South to David in Panama and a few to San Isidro from Rio Claro, all buses go to San Jose but there are many stops in between where you can get off if you don't want to go all the way to the city.
Or if you want to leave super super early and get on your way, the 4am Tracopa bus out of Paso Canoas actually originates in a town called Bella Luz at 3am. It's closer to Pavones but there are no public buses that go there at that hour so you'd have to find a ride or take a taxi for $30.
Tracopa Bus from Rio Claro or Paso Canoas to San Jose
Heading to Rio Claro on the public bus, ask your driver to let you off at Tracopa. In Paso Canoas, the taxi drops you off on the corner at the border for Panama. Off to the left and across the street is the ticket office for the Tracopa bus line. The buses actually leave from just a bit further down that road (same side of the street) where the immigration offices are.
Just like when you come south, make sure it's the Costanera (coastal route) and not the Cerro de la Muerte (mountain route)!
At around 11:30 am, the bus makes a 20 minute stop just before Uvita for lunch. The restaurant has clean (free) bathrooms and reasonably priced cafeteria style food. But being the budget traveler I am, I packed my own lunch. ;)
You could always invest in a field trip to Paso Canoas a few days in advance to buy the ticket (round trip it would cost you around ₡4,200 / $7+) or try to find someone in town who is going and have them buy the ticket for you. Or just take it slow and plan on experiencing either Golfito, Rio Claro, or Paso Canoas for a day or two.
In San Jose, just like when you came, walk to the public bus terminal and take a public bus to the airport. Boom.