Safety Tips for Driving in Costa Rica
Driving yourself around while visiting Costa Rica means more flexibility than public or private transportation can offer.
Freedom and flexibility make your Costa Rica vacation more adventurous and memorable when you are driving yourself. A rental car in Costa Rica makes spur-of-the-moment itinerary changes possible. You’re on your timetable, free to stop at an intriguing cove, waterfall, or wayside attraction at your leisure.
To help you navigate the roads and other drivers, we offer these 9 safety tips for driving in Costa Rica.
Costa Rica road conditions vary, especially during the green season, which is May through November,
when heavy rains can mean potholes, rock slides, or subsidence just around the bend. Don’t expect warning signs, in any language; you’ve got to be prepared for anything and drive with the caution and care that requires.
Costa Rica is a bit special in that most addresses and street directions involve local landmarks instead of street names and numbers. When given an address, it might look something like this: Turn left 2 kilometers after the white church, and look for the black gate on the right. Invest in technology, whether your own app (such as WAZE) or a GPS system from your rental car company. Most hotels, resorts, restaurants, bars, and attractions will have their coordinates on Google Maps and you’ll be able to find your location.
Keep to the speed limit, drive on the right and pass on the left. You’ll find that driving laws are very similar to what you’re accustomed to in the United States or Canada. Unless otherwise posted, highway limits are 80 kpm, secondary roads, 40 kpm, urban areas, 40, and schools, 25. It’s tempting to go faster, but it’s not worth the hassle of being stopped and fined.
If you’ll be driving in backcountry areas, a 4-wheel drive vehicle is a good choice, especially in green season. Otherwise, any make or model will be fine.
If you’re in an accident, leave the car where it is, move everyone to safety, and call the police (911 just like in the States), as well as the insurance company and the rental agency. Have your paperwork handy.
Don’t leave valuables in the car. Carry only the cash and cards you’ll need. Keep cameras, phones, and other expensive items out of sight, even when you are in the car. While driving in urban areas, keep the doors locked and the windows closed. Leave everything else back in the hotel safe or take it with you when you leave the car.
Park in a secure location. Usually an enterprising local will approach as you lock up and offer to watch your car—even in areas with free parking. It’s worth the few dollars ($5-$10, depending on the length of time) to avoid break-ins, mysterious flat tires, or car trouble down the road.
If you do leave your car unattended, check it thoroughly for hidden damage before driving away. It’s not unheard of for the car to break down and a “Good Samaritan,” to stop and help, then steal whatever you have in money and valuables. As with traveling anywhere in the world, it’s important to pay attention to your surroundings and be aware of potential danger.
Be sure to fill the tank early and often, gas stations can be hard to find on the road, especially in more remote areas of Costa Rica. There are two grades of gas and diesel is readily available. In more rural areas, watch for signs reading, “gasolina.”
Driving through the Costa Rican countryside is an adventure; for safety’s sake, use common sense and follow our rules of the road. You’ll have better control of your schedule if you drive.