Driving in Costa Rica

Costa Rica is a very small country and most tourist destinations are within a few hours drive of San José. Not only will you drive through beautiful countryside, but some small, out-of-the-way places will only be discovered by car. The adventure lover will appreciate the freedom to explore.

We do not recommend renting a car during the time you are in San José. Traffic and parking can be difficult and finding your way around is almost impossible as most buildings don't have addresses. Taxis are not only relatively cheap, but the drivers know where everything is. We suggest you pick up your rental car (or have it delivered) on the day you will be leaving San José for the provinces. Driving outside of San José is considerably less frentic.

Driving over the mountains to either coast at night, especially your first night in town is not recommended. During the day you will have the problems of potholes, cars passing where they shouldn't and being stuck behind a banana truck doing 5 mph. However, if you allow plenty of time and drive with care you shouldn't have any difficulty. So many tourists rent cars, that at times none of the 40 car rental agencies have one available. Very few tourist have problems, although there are some real horror stories.

When Driving in Costa Rica
Do:
  • Carry a valid driver license from your country and your passport.
  • Allow extra time - it's a beautiful country and you're on vacation.
  • Ask your rental agent to mark the best way out of San José on a city street map.
  • Take a good map - Signs at turnoffs usually point only to the next town of any size and it can be confusing.
  • Always have everyone in the front seat use a seat belt - they enforce the seat belt law strictly
Don't:
  • Speed or at least don't go faster than the other traffic - there are radar traps.
  • Attempt to bribe the traffic police if you are stopped - take the ticket and let the rental agency handle it.
  • Drive at night if it is not necessary - it's harder to see the road hazards.
Four Wheel Drive
Since the road conditions are constantly changing, it is difficult to advise when you need 4-wheel drive. During the dry season, most tourist destinations can be reached without it, however we do advise 4-wheel drive for the following areas:
  • Monteverde
  • The Nicoya Peninsula south of Sámara
  • Anywhere south of Golfito (Pavones, Zancudo, etc.)
  • The Osa Peninsula

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