If you’re planning to spend some (or all) of your time in Costa Rica volunteering at the Costa Rica Animal Rescue Center (CRARC), great! It’s an amazing experience and you won’t regret spending a week or two there. A tip before you get any further in your plans for this experience: you DO NOT need to organise this through any organisation other than the Rescue Center itself. You will be spending unnecessary money for a service that, to my understanding, provides you with nothing extra. Of the often exorbitant amount of money you spend, only USD$30 per day goes to CRARC for your bed and three meals a day, the rest is kept by the organisation you work with. To volunteer at CRARC is as easy as emailing Bernal at “email@example.com”, telling him the dates you want to volunteer (at least one week is required), and letting him know if you need a pick up from the San Jose airport (and if so, what your flight details are).
The prices for this airport pick up service seem to differ, so make sure you get an accurate quote for your pickup and save or print the email regarding this before you arrive in Costa Rica. One friend was told it would be USD$30 and the driver charged her $45; it could be because her flight was a late evening arrival but I imagine the price increase could be avoided by having evidence of a quote from Bernal. I heard that one volunteer at CRARC was charged over $100 because he wanted to pay in colones (Costa Rica’s national currency) and didn’t know anything about the exchange rate, so when he was told it would be 60,000 colones, he simply paid it before doing the conversion and realising he’d just paid about USD$110! Make sure you know the exchange rate before paying in colones, and bring a calculator with you (this goes for every payment in Costa Rica, not just at CRARC).
If you are coming from elsewhere in Costa Rica or simply want to save money by taking public buses to CRARC, it’s not as hard as it seems. From my experience, you will need to catch a bus to Alajuela city and then the bus from there to CRARC. Getting from the airport to Alajuela is easy; and to my understanding you should always be able to find out how to get from wherever you are in Costa Rica to either San Jose city centre or San Jose airport (SJO) in Alajuela very easily. From either San Jose city or airport, jump on a bus that stops in Alajuela. The ones that leave from the airport (and I assume from the city) will have their last stop at a bus station in Alajuela, and the buses themselves should be red and black. Ask the driver if he’s going to Alajuela if you’re not sure. My trip between San Jose airport (Juan Santamaria International Airport) and Alajuela cost 500 colones (about USD$1 or AUD$1.20).
Once you arrive at the bus station in Alajuela, you need to make your way to a different bus station, from where the buses to Cebadilla leave. Below is a map of the station you will arrive at in Alajuela, and the station you need to leave from. It’s not far to walk at all, but it’s easy to get lost!
The bus from Alajuela to Cebadilla leaves from a corner of the bus station; you can enter this station (that look something like a parking lot) from Calle 8, which is the street you should enter once leaving the Alajuela bus station. Once you get off the Alajuela bus, walk away from the direction you’ve just come from, through the station, and exit onto Calle 8. Then turn right, cross the first street (Av. Central Juan Lopez del Corral), and continue until you see a bus station on your left. The station you want is in the parking lot opposite this (on the same side of the road you should be on already). Walk into the corner of the lot, you will see a small sign saying the words “Cebadilla” and “Turrucares” on it, and the bus to both is white. I asked three people for help getting to the Turrucares bus station and found that not everyone knows this stop as it’s a very small stop to a small destination. More people recognised “Turrucares” than “Cebadilla”, too.
The bus to Cebadilla leaves at 5:20am, 7:00am, 8:00am, 10:00am, 12:00pm, 2:00pm, 4:00pm, 5:00pm and 6:30pm. Make sure you ask the driver if he is going to Cebadilla. If he is, make sure you ask him to stop at the Rescue Center. You can try the name of the centre in English – “Costa Rica Animal Rescue Center”; or in Spanish – “Rescate Animal”. The bus should cost you 535 colones and will take around an hour. The bus driver should drop you right outside the centre.
If you have just missed a bus to Cebadilla and you don’t want to wait for the next one, another option is to take the bus to Turrucares (these come more regularly) and get a taxi from Turrucares to the Center. The taxi driver will likely need to know the name of the Center in Spanish, so remember to say “Rescate Animal, por favor”. This taxi ride won’t take more than about 10-20 minutes, and cost me 2000 colones (about USD$3.60 or AUD$4.75). The problem with this is Turrucares is a small town and it may not be easy to come across a taxi. Additionally, because it’s such a small town, the taxis aren’t marked and just look like a normal car. It would be best to call one or ask someone you trust to call one for you.
To get from anywhere in Costa Rica to San Jose or Alajuela, try looking at these websites:
Generally speaking if you’re staying in a hostel, with any luck someone should be able to direct you towards the correct place and time to take a bus to San Jose or Alajuela, or possibly some other places. When I travelled from Manuel Antonio to the Costa Rica Animal Rescue Center, I asked the receptionists of my hostel and they told me how to get to Alajuela (I had to catch a bus from Manuel Antonio or Quepos to the airport at San Jose, then change to a bus to Alajuela town centre), and from there Bernal at CRARC had given me some information on how to get from Alajuela to the Center.
I got a bit confused with my journey to CRARC, so I am hoping this will be a much-needed and hopefully very helpful resource for future volunteers or visitors to the centre. It’s not as hard as it seems and you can save a lot of money by taking public buses rather than a shuttle!