Driving In Costa Rica: We Encourage But Be Aware
Driving in Costa Rica can offer a different perspective than the usual tours – but, take caution…
You know, it’s a beautiful thing.
Nothing quite like it.
Watching the scenery fly past trying to catch the tiny details of the landscape that surrounds you. Put your favorite song on the radio and boy oh boy – life is good.
There are few things more satisfying than driving through foreign lands. New roads bring a much needed break from your daily commute back home. It brings back that much needed adventure to your soul – the kind of adventure instinct we were all born to explore.
However, while driving abroad exploring new lands does wonders for your soul – you need to be careful.
By August 2018, there had be 293 recorded deaths on the roads of Costa Rica. The reasons for these catastrophic accidents range from; reckless driving, the use of cellular phones at the wheel, driving without a seat-belt and riding a motorcycle without a helmet just to name a few.
We don’t say this to scare you, but to warn you. We encourage driving in Costa Rica, you just need to be extra-vigilant and take all the necessary precautions to ensure your experience in this beautiful country is filled with love, adventure and good memories.
- Speed Limit: Highways 90 km/h (Limits Vary in Places)
- Driving Side: Right
- Signage Language: Spanish
- Penalties: Depends on offense
What Are Your Options? The Truth
So the first question should be ‘Do I actually need a car?’
There are numerous tours and guided trips you can book that will take you from your pickup point to your destination and back again. This is a perfectly good way to travel and see the beauty of Costa Rica.
Many people opt for this for this way of travel wherever in the world they go. By doing so, they are not only significantly reducing the risk of a road related accident but are also contributing to the wider economy.
While you can get away with booking tours and guided trips, if you’re one to like a bit more control over your adventures – then a hiring a mode of transport to drive yourself is a better option.
Experiences and activities can be spread far apart so hiring a taxi can get expensive. And, if you want to raise the chances of experiencing something truly unique – having your own mode of transport is usually the best option.
So, to answer the question? No. You don’t need a car. There a plenty of other options open for you to explore Costa Rica. You won’t need to take the same level of safety precautions as someone who goes it alone.
But, if you want more control over your trip and the chance to see Costa Rica from a different perspective, hiring a car is recommend.
‘Okay, so is it safe?’
In short, yes, it’s safe to drive in Costa Rica.
Like anywhere in the world however, driving comes with it’s own unique set of risks. Driving in Costa Rica specifically also brings it’s unique set of possible issues too.
While you cannot eliminate every possible cause for concern, there are a few things you can do and be aware of that can make your driving experience as safe and as enjoyable as possible.
Driving in Costa Rica: Top Tips
Here are 5 top tips when driving in Costa Rica to be aware of…
1. Know Your Routes
Driving on unfamiliar roads can distract you. Distraction while driving is not a recommended recipe. While there is no realistic way to know your routes before you’ve driven them, a little planning ahead can make all the difference.
First and foremost, you’re going to want to know where you are starting from in relation to where your destinations are. Second, use apps such as Google Maps and Waze to plan your journey.
Third, try and make sure you’re travelling with someone. This allows one person to drive and another person to navigate. If you’re driving through Costa Rica on your own, a good tip is to drive a section of the route, pull over in a safe place, check your direction and drive the next section of the route.
If constantly stopping to check your phone’s GPS sounds like to much work, make sure you purchase a car phone holder before you get to Costa Rica. While some vehicles you hire may already have one installed, many will not. Bringing one yourself leaves nothing open for chance.
Again, you don’t need to plan every single last detail of the trip. That’ll take the fun out of the experience. But, you will need to do at least a little bit of planning before you leave. And of course, having a travel buddy always helps.
2. Be Aware of the Road Signs & Signals
Sometimes all may not be what it seems.
For example; the red ALTO road sign you’ll see means ‘stop’ – in many places however, you might see drivers seemingly ignoring it. This sign is actually used in a ‘slow down and proceed with caution’ way. Something that can catch you off guard if you’re not paying attention.
It’s also worth noting, you might catch the same driving behavior when it comes to red lights.
Well, if you’re not then the next thing I’m about to tell you might throw you right off.
In many places, you won’t find any road signs at all.
So, how do you get round this? Well, stay focused for starters. By that I mean, watch what other road users are doing. Where is the traffic coming from? Have you encountered a similar situation on another road? Is it safe to proceed? What are the majority of cars around you doing?
Remember, don’t panic – that’s not going to help anyone. Asking yourself these quick questions and driving with caution – especially in busy areas will help you tremendously.
3. Road Conditions can change – Rapidly.
It’s all fun and games until the weather changes – and with it, the roads your driving on.
While the main roads can be relatively okay, many of the routes you’ll take can be tricky at the best of times. When the rain comes, this just complicates things further.
Again, while you can’t predict exact weather conditions, a little bit of planning can go a long way. If you’re in Costa Rica in the middle of rainy season, the chances of encountering rain on your drive is highly likely. For these months renting a 4WD might be your best option.
If visiting during one of the dryer months, rain can still happen. Check the weather forecasts and make a decision from there.
In summary – rent the right type of vehicle for the journey you’re taking and the month your visiting. Generally, Costa Rica has two season; Dry and Rainy. Dry season runs from December – May while rainy season tends to be between the months of June – November.
Finally, plan ahead and drive with caution.
4. Always have spare cash
This one might be a little obvious but it’s worth mentioning anyway. Always make sure you have some spare cash on hand. Have enough money in smaller denominations. You never know what you’ll need.
Whether it’s for tolls, gas or water you forgot to pack before leaving – having a little spare cash on you can save a huge amount of stress.
5. This is the biggest threat to an accident
As you’re driving through the beautiful landscapes of Costa Rica, you’re enjoying the scenery. Everyone’s happy. You’re living the life.
Then out of nowhere, as you turn a blind corner, the car that’s been tailing you suddenly wants to overtake. They could’ve used any moment before, but no, they’ve chosen this time to make the pass.
The mind boggles.
This is the biggest threat to your safety – especially on roads that twist and turn. Always be aware of this and if you’re turning corners be aware the the driver behind you OR an oncoming driver might be making a pass at one hell of an inconvenient time.
Try to leave enough room between you are the cars around you. Drive to the limit and don’t be scared to take your foot of the gas if you can’t see what’s around the corner.
Renting a Car in Costa Rica
First and foremost, you’ve got to be 18 or over to rent a car in Costa Rica. Second, the rental company you use will likely take a copy of your passport and driving license – So make sure you have them on hand.
While it’s hard to really pinpoint an exact price your rental is going to cost you, you should expect to pay
about $20 per day for a 4×4 SUV sized vehicle.
In regards to finding the best deal, your best option is to head online. Have a look at the types of vehicles you want to hire and a ballpark figure for a daily rate.
Stay Safe. Have Fun.
Driving in Costa Rica can add a whole car load of fun to your trip. You just need to be aware that this isn’t home and what you may consider good driving etiquette may be completely different to what you’ll experience on foreign roads.
Using the 5 tips above, planning ahead and speaking to locals who know the roads better than you will go a long way to making sure your trip is filled with fun, adventure and love.