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When traveling to a new country, one of the most common questions is if renting a car and driving is a good idea.  If you are thinking about driving in Costa Rica on your next vacation, this guide will help you decide if it is the right choice for you.

 

Every country has a unique culture that makes traveling such an enlightening experience. The way people live their routine is also part of what you experience when visiting a different culture.  Some places like New York City are famous for its accelerated pace, L.A. is well-known for its traffic among other things, and Costa Rica stands out for its way of giving addresses.

 

But, there are many other things to consider when driving in Costa Rica if you are trying to make up your mind if renting a car, continue reading and find out all you need to know.

 

The Roads

 

Costa Rica is crossed by the Inter-American highway that is part of the Pan-American highway that connects all the countries of the American continent.  The northern section of this road consists of three segments:

 

– General Cañas Highway: connecting San José to Alajuela, where the country’s main airport is located (SJO)

– Bernardo Soto Highway: connecting Alajuela to San Ramón

– Inter-American Highway North connecting San Ramón to Peñas Blancas, which is the border with Nicaragua.

The north section connects this way, the provinces of San José, Heredia, Alajuela, Puntarenas and Guanacaste.

 

So, if you are planning to drive from SJO airport to one of our luxurious condos in Guanacaste, you will probably use the three sections or our recommendation of the 27 route and then from Caldera Puntarenas access the northern portion that takes you to Guanacaste.

 

The south section of the Inter-American Highway connects San José to Cartago in the first portion and then Cartago to Paso Canoas, which is the border with Panama.

 

Even though this the main national highway, some portions of it can be of 4 lanes but some just one lane.  The abrupt topography and abundance of rivers are the main challenges that the country’s road network has not been able to overcome.

Driving in Costa Rica - Road Map

Road Map of Costa Rica by Map Library

Some other opportunity areas that the country needs to face are the lack of proper lighting and the roads demarcation.

 

If you feel adventurous we recommend you to give it a try, on the road you will enjoy abundance of nature and you will be able to see different habitats, from the lush and humid rainforest in the route 32, to the ocean in Caldera on route 27 and the “Pampa Guanacasteca” or the open flat prairies with Tropical Dry Forest in the northern part of the Inter-American highway.  Our advice is to drive during the day due to the lack of lighting but also to enjoy the views.

 

Road Signage

 

If you will be staying in one of our condos, you will find signage for Reserva Conchal on your way to Guanacaste at the northern section of the Inter-American Highway, or from LIR airport.

Ruta 27-Driving in Costa Rica

27 route. Image by Europapress

If not, we recommend you ask your concierge if the hotel has road signage.  The national and public signage is not abundant. The main hotel chains and touristic places will invest in this type of signage so look for the blue ones.  The green signage will inform you about the name of towns and the brown ones will show you where the National Parks are located.

When driving in Costa Rica, we encourage you to be careful at the roads as abundant wildlife may cross them, especially at night.

 

Costa Rican Addresses

 

Something you will find interesting but at the same time very confusing is how Ticos give an address.  The lack of road signage and the unplanned city developments forced Costa Ricans not to use the name or number of streets to give an address.

 

Some parts of the capital city and the metropolitan area of Costa Rica are not built in quadrants like most cities in the world. In rural areas, until a few years ago regulatory plans were inexistent, forcing the road network to develop as needed and not with a planned and numbered structure.

 

These special circumstances have created the famous “Costa Rican Addresses” that could be something like: From the old Higuerón (Strangler Fig Tree) 100 meters north and 200 meters south, in front of the La Favorita Drugstore.

 

Many points of references are used as a starting point, from trees like the example above to homes of famous people or Politicians.  This references, of course, are usually understood only by the people that have been living in town for a while, and not even clear for all Costa Ricans.

Driving in Costa Rica - Route 32

Aerial view of Route 32. Image by Costa Rica Aerea.

 

However, technology has become a great ally of all people who are not familiar with this system. The use of apps like Waze and Google Maps has made it possible for anyone to reach their destination without problems. That is why if you decide to drive in our small country, we recommend renting your car with GPS or have access to internet to use these apps. According to our experience, Waze is the best option, however we invite you to use them all and tell us how which one you prefer.

 

Whether you decide if driving in Costa Rica is ok for you or not, we hope this little guide has helped you understand a little portion of what makes us unique as a culture.  Even though Costa Rica faces many challenges in this matter as a country, we are also proud of many other accomplishments.  Costa Rica holds more than 20% of protected land and we are one of the only countries in the world whose electricity is almost 100% clean energy.

 

We invite you to always try to understand the challenges of every country you visit but mostly to celebrate its strengths.

 

Let us know if you have experienced driving in Costa Rica or send us your questions.  We hope to welcome you at My Guanacaste Vacation in the future.