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Mar 08 2016

Tips for Driving in Costa Rica

Tips for Driving in Costa Rica

Driving in Costa Rica is by far the best, quickest, and easiest way to get around the country.  If I hadn’t forgotten to bring my licence with me, I would probably have hired a car at some point because getting around by public transport takes a long time, and it isn’t a particularly reliable mode of transport, as I found out.  I didn’t witness any crazy driving while I was there, and there weren’t that many cars on the road.  Well, not in comparison to a lot of places I’ve visited.  You can drive for miles and not come across another car.  Having said that, there are a few tips I picked up from people who drove in Costa Rica which I thought would be worth sharing with you.

Don’t rely on Google maps. 

Really, I’m serious.  I might not have been behind the wheel of a car in Costa Rica, but I met people who were.  A couple of them told me that when they relied on Google maps for directions, they went the wrong way and got stuck.  In both situations, the locals were great in helping to rescue them. They must be used to helping foreigners like that.  However, with all the will in the world, they don’t always manage to get the cars out.  One solo female traveller was stuck for 4 hours.  The locals tried but failed to get her car out, so she had to wait for a recovery service.  She ended up getting very sunburnt that day because it was a hot summer’s day and the nearby hotel wouldn’t let her wait inside for the recovery service.

Get a four-wheel drive. 

One couple, who got lost and stuck, didn’t have a four-wheel drive because there weren’t any available.  If you are intending on driving, it might be worth booking one in advance.  This is one of those countries where a four-wheel drive is not so much a ‘nice to have’ but more of a ‘must have’ because there are lots of unfinished, dusty, bumpy, windy roads; it’s very hilly; you are likely to cross a few a streams, and it gets muddy in the rainy season.

Be prepared for difficult driving conditions.  

If you drive in Costa Rica, as already mentioned, you will come across a ton of unfinished roads.  These really are very dusty, bumpy, and windy.  Dust will fly, and you might not see where you are going for a couple of seconds as a car or two passes, and you will bump along for quite a while.  Also, some of the unfinished roads dip at the sides, so bear that in mind when you move over to let a car pass.  There is no pavement (sidewalk) for pedestrians on many of the roads, so be aware of pedestrians.  You/re unlikely to come across many, but there might be a few.

Knowing where you are can be a challenge.

It’s only in recent years that street signs were introduced in San Jose, Costa Rica’s capital.  This doesn’t seem to have been rolled out to the whole of the country, and there is a general lack of signage, so it can be a little tricky at times to know which direction you are supposed to be going in and where you are if you are new to the country.  In places where there is a distinct lack of signs, there are three ways of sussing out where you are, although you may see all, some, or none of these.  One tip a German couple were given by their tour operator (and it is a good tip) is to look for blue telephone signs because those signs have the name of the village, town, or city on.  It doesn’t work 100% of the time, but it’s good to keep an eye out for these.   One that I use wherever I am is to look at the shops for the name of the city, town, etc.  It isn’t foolproof, but it is another way of working out where on earth you are.  In Costa Rica, I noticed that some (not all) of the bus stands have the name of the town, village, etc. on.

To sum up, driving in Costa Rica is far less challenging than driving in many countries.  However, it isn’t all plain sailing, either, as many of the drivers I met recounted, so take heed of these tips.  Finally, don’t forget your driving licence, and have fun in this fabulous country!

Have your say

Have you driven in Costa Rica?  If so, please let me know if you have any further tips, and I will add them to the list.

About the author

Teresa Keane

Teresa has been to almost 60 countries. She started travelling independently at the age of 38 when she gave up her job, rented out her house, put her possessions in storage and spent a year travelling the world. It changed her life. She now creates, publishes, & promotes online travel content and is an experienced freelance trainer & EFL teacher.

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