Driving in Costa Rica

After reading our guidebook and talking with others who’d travelled to Costa Rica, we were a little nervous about picking up our cute little Hyundai Accent and setting off on our own.

“Renting a car in Costa Rica is no idle proposition. The roads are riddled with potholes, most rural intersections are unmarked, and for some reason, sitting behind the wheel of a car seems to turn peaceful Ticos into homicidal maniacs.” and “The awful road conditions throughout Costa Rica are legendary and deservedly so.” left us wondering what we might be up against but we decided to take our chances.

As it turns out, we had nothing to worry about. Granted, we chose well travelled routes. There are probably back roads that would have swallowed up our little sedan but all of the pavement that we travelled was in excellent condition and for the most part, well marked. It’s not quite like driving at home though. The roads are very narrow and lack the shoulders that we’re used to here in Alberta. For example, this is a typical section of the Interamerican or Pan-American highway that runs the entire length of Central America from Mexico to Panama.

Travel was slow compared to what we’re accustomed to with the maximum speed limit in Costa Rica being 80 km/hour. Whenever we reached a populated area which happened quite frequently, we had to slow to 60 or even 40 km/hour. Though the locals seemed to ignore these limits, we’d been warned that fines are steep and since tourists and rental cars are easy to spot, Richard was cautious and stayed within the legal limits.

Travel was even slower as we skirted the northern shore of Lake Arenal on our way to the volcano. Here the narrow road dipped and wound though the rainforest. Every once in awhile we came upon a little one lane bridge. Fortunately, right of way was always very clearly indicated and drivers were good about waiting their turn. It was on this highway that we saw what the guidebook meant when it talked about the Ticos’ homicidal tendencies. They seemed to think nothing of pulling out to pass on a blind curve! David, our guide on the La Fortuna waterfall hike, explained that until recently very few Costa Ricans owned a vehicle. There are lots of new, young drivers on the roads and in David’s words, many of them think that they’re Superman! Education is the key, he told us. In his opinion, present driver education is extremely lacking.

Coming from Alberta where highway signs clearly identify every little town, we found it odd to drive through many little communities that had no signs telling us where we were. Finding our way wasn’t particularly difficult, though. The kinds of places that we were looking for were fairly well marked and we only missed a turn and had to backtrack a couple of times.

Driving was definitely a good way to see the countryside and having the car made it easy to leave our hotels in search of interesting things to see and places to eat. We certainly wouldn’t hesitate to rent a car if we were to visit again nor would we, like the guidebook, discourage anyone else from doing so.



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