Driving in Costa Rica can be intimidating at first, but learning to do it is essential for most ex-patriots. If you have a US passport and driver’s license, you have to do nothing more than become accustomed to the Costa Rican style of driving. Hopefully these tips for driving in Costa Rica will help you along the way.

  1. Drive in the daytime. Driving in Costa Rica can be difficult as it is. Roads are thin, often without shoulders. People walk and ride on horseback, and corners can be sharp. Driving at night can stressful. Plus, during the daytime you’ll be amazed by the beautiful landscape.
  2. Get the “Waze” app for directions and traffic alerts. Waze is a free GPS navigation application that can be downloaded on a smart phone. It also gives traffic alerts, which can be invaluable when driving in Costa Rica.
  3. Keep your passport on you. This is necessary, as police may ask for it at road blocks or if you are pulled over.
  4. Corners are blind and narrow. Because of the narrowness of the road, people often slide over into the wrong lane as they turn corners. Be defensive and go around corners slowly and in your lane.
  5. Ask for help (people are friendly). Learn a few direction-related words before stepping in the car. It will be well worth it. People are usually happy to help if you ask for directions. If you break down or get a flat, don’t feel shy about asking for a lift or a phone to call a mechanic—people are generous.
  6. Get gas when you see a gas station. Gas stations are akin to oases in some parts of the country. When driving in Costa Rica, it is wise to take your chance to get gas when you have the opportunity. Gas prices are the same at every gas station, so there’s no need to worry about getting a better deal somewhere else.
  7. Cabs are your friends in San Jose. Many people who drive to San Jose don’t drive in San Jose. They park and take a cab. It can be hard to navigate heavy traffic in a foreign country while trying to figure out where the heck you’re going. If you do try to drive, cab drivers are usually happy to assist with directions.
  8. Don’t mess with potholes. Like bear attacks, potholes can come at any time. They can also be quite deep, and have been known to puncture more than a few tires. Slow driving helps. Also, pay attention to signs that people have left. A bag on a post may indicate a pothole in the vicinity.
  9. Watch for speed bumps. Speed bumps can come without warning in towns, and are sometimes not painted. Be on the lookout, especially near schools.
  10. People pass in unexpected places. This sometimes includes when traffic is oncoming. Be aware that the yellow lines are merely suggestions, and that passing is practiced frequently.
  11. Roads are bad, make the best of it. Some roads are bad in Costa Rica. The government doesn’t have endless resources, but it’s worth noting that Costa Rica was close to carbon neutral in its energy production this year. Different country, different priorities. That said, many roads are being improved.