Driving in Costa Rica

I used to live in Jaco and the drive 15 minutes south to Hermosa was always a beautiful one. The road curves around the mountain, with beautiful ocean views and lush green forest surrounding you. One could get lost in the scenery, but I do not recommend it. The road, for almost an entire year, was a serious driving hazard.

In October 2007, a section of the lane heading south gave out and fell to the sea. This left only one lane road where there were usually two. At night it is virtually impossible to see the hole until you are within a few feet of it. Stories like this are very common and I see it all over the country. Even though Costa Rica is one of the most developed countries in Latin America, infrastructure is lacking and construction seems to take forever.

The climate in Costa Rica can cause problems with the roads as well. It is not uncommon for flash flooding, landslides, fog, and monsoons to damper your travel arrangements. It is wise, especially in the rainy season (July through November) to drive only during the day, when vision is 100%. Most of the rural roads in the country are dirt roads, and when it rains, dirt turns to mud and can become a messy situation if you are not careful and do not have 4 wheel drive.

The roads in Costa Rica, even highways, are not just meant for vehicles. Pedestrians, bicyclists, horses, cows and other hazards will come out of nowhere, so the number one rule in road safety is: pay attention!! Most of the time, road signs are not correctly marked, are hidden from sight, or simply do not exist. Ask for directions from the car rental company and take a look at a map before hitting the road.

I do need to mention a scam that, although uncommon, has happened in Costa Rica. I met some tourists that had rented a car at the airport and on the way to the beaches in the Central Pacific, they stopped for a bite to eat. The parking lot was full, so instead, the couple parked further up, on the side of the road. When they finished their meal, they got into their car and headed on their way. A few miles down the road they noticed they had a flat tire. Getting out to assess the situation, some local Costa Ricans (Ticos) arrived, offering help in changing their tire. Instead of helping the tourists, they robbed them, stealing their bags, money, and passports.

Generally speaking, Ticos are a kind and generous group of people, but things like this happen and the best way to avoid a situation like this is to always be aware. If there is no parking, then go to the next restaurant, or wait in your car until there is a space. If you do get into a situation, have caution when someone offers to help you. Keep your passport on you at all times, and do not travel with large amounts of cash on hand.

The motto in Costa Rica is Pura Vida, meaning pure life, so take your time, pay attention, and enjoy the ride!

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