Friday, March 30, 2007

Driving in Costa Rica

So, I bet you were wondering if you should rent a car in Costa Rica when you visit. Don't do it! Especially if it is your first visit. There are several reasons I say this.

One, it is very hard to find your way around in Costa Rica. Nothing is marked so you won't find many street signs. Also, places don't have addresses. Literally, I'm not just saying this. The entire country is based on directions not street addresses. For example, the house you are looking for may be 200 meters north and 300 meters west of the Banco Nacional. Okay you say, where is the Banco Nacional? Only the locals know! Also, there are many towns with the same names but in different provinces. So, you might be looking for San Isidro. Are you looking for the one in Heredia, Cartago, or maybe San Isidro de El General in North Puntarenas?

Two, the driving in Costa Rica is much different than in the States. They do have rules of the road but don't always count on them being followed. The most common driving difference is not stopping at the STOP signs. They usually treat them more like a yield signal. The traffic lights aren't always obeyed either so people are flying through red lights all the time. People driving on the shoulder of the highway is typical also.

Three, it isn't safe to leave a car parked in most places. There are people who will break into cars parked on the streets or even in parking lots all across the country. Make sure if you are parking a car that it is in a secure lot or you pay one of the "security" people that watch cars for a living in San Jose. They wear yellow and red vests that look like construction workers. You give them about 500 colones and they will make sure no one breaks into or steals your car. Surprisingly, they are very good at their jobs and well worth the investment. I would still be careful to not leave expensive items sitting out in the open to tempt anyone...

Because of these reasons, the best choice is to take a taxi or bus. I wouldn't normally recommend a taxi but they are very reasonably priced in Costa Rica. Prices go up slightly for rush hour from the airport and after 10pm but they are still worthwhile. Another tip is to check to see if you can get airport pickup from your hotel. I've noticed that most hotels offer this service. Also, there are CHEAP buses travelling all over the country. They are very convenient and the only advice I would give is to watch your luggage. We did have our backpack stolen while at the bus stop in Jaco and the kids that took it were definitely pros. (more on that story later).

In November, we paid exactly 1355 colones (about $2.64) to get from San Jose to Jaco (beach city on the Pacific coast). Then 750 colones (about $1.46) to go from Jaco to Quepos. To get to Manuel Antonio park from Quepos bus station was 105 colones (about 20 cents). The entire twelve days we took taxis and buses all over the country plus rented a car for 3 days and it came to $206. The car rental company wanted to charge us $576 for the 12 day stay! I'm glad I made the right choice and said a very firm "No way!" to the rental company. I didn't realize that they charge a mandated insurance rate. Even if you have car insurance in the States AND you use a credit card as a third party insurance coverage, the country of Costa Rica insists you have their insurance. The cheapest rate I have seen for this is $10 per day. Check around for rates if you do decide you need to rent a car. By the way, our realtor insisted we used our rental or he would charge us a per day rate to drive us around. So, check into this also if you are buying real estate in CR.

Here is a good online map of the San Jose area :

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