|Subject: Re: Driving in Costa Rica|
Barbara asked about driving in Costa Rica so I forwarded her letter to my sister who was there in February. Below is her reply.
I would suggest that if you are going to drive through Costa Rica you rent a 4x4. There are some river crossings on some of the backroads and you need a high rising vehicle to drive through - these crossings are part of the regular road. We only used the 4 wheel drive once or twice. Once out of any large town or city the roads are quite poor. Even though the temperature is moderate get air conditioning - it gets dusty. Longest trip we took was around the fresh water lake to Volcan Arenal - trip was 6 hours and 90 kilometres! There are lots of potholes of various sizes - some can swallow small trucks - you have to go slow. Most of the roads are constantly under construction due to volcanic or earthquakes. You have to leave lots of time. There are good highways - rather like regional or secondary roads - if you stick to these there are plenty of gas stations and they go through lots of small towns. The main Pan American highway is good - really good in spots. You're better off taking their secondary roads - much more interesting! Costa Ricans love speed bumps. In small town they put them just before you enter and on either side of any school. They are large! They are not painted! If you hit one going 45 kilometres and hour your heads will bounce off the roof of the vehicle! They are on roads which are not paved! Beware!
If you are planning on arriving in San Jose - you will discover that it is on a plain surrounded by volcanoes so you have to drive up and over to get out of the city. The roads are narrow, but people drive slowly - anticipating an oncoming passing vehicle. There are no guard rails to speak of. You need good brakes for going down hill.
San Jose is an interesting place to drive (understatement). Pedestrians are not given the right of way - so if out sightseeing - watch for cars. Roads are in good shape but not well marked so people go in and out of lanes willy nilly. They usually hand signal turns - lots of bending out of windows to ask to turn. There are no traffic police to speak of! And people drive fast. Also, brush up on using traffic circles - they have two lane ones! Always yield to the traffice IN THE CIRCLE.Do visit the opera house in San Jose.
On the upside, the country is fabulous and no bugs on the pacific side. Because you go up and down in altitude - weather changes from 30 to 16 degrees celcius!
Loved driving the countryside - get a really good map because the signage is extremely poor - the locals are pleased to help. But even Costa Ricans get lost because their preferred method of moving about the countryside is by plane. We felt extremely safe in the country. Lots of banks to get interac money from (everyone takes Visa) so no need for a money belt (felt a little silly). Take a local cell phone (lots of people hock the time cards in the cities) and a good guide book. When you're on the road you can call ahead for reservations. We did this the height of the tourist season (November to April) and had no problems getting rooms. Lots of people speak english. The cell phones work everywhere. Took a ferry at Puntarenas to go to Montezuma ( great place for surfing). The ferries seem fine - not overcrowed but you have to line up - there usually is a helpful entrepreneur to get the tourists onto the right boat for a small fee!
I hope this doesn't put you off. We have a fabulous time and would do it again in a pinch. Met two American women each traveling solo - one with car (she wished she had a 4x4) and the other with 4x4. Both said they loved traveling the country and felt perfectly safe doing so.
The carribbean side is less inhabited and harder to drive I hear but did not do that side personally.