Driving Tips for Traveling Costa Rica by Car

Follow these great tips for driving safely in Costa Rica

Yes! having a car is a good idea if you planning your next Costa Rica vacation, because it will give you a lot more control over your schedule. Driving in Costa Rica might feel a little intimidating, however, it’s easier if you know what to expect. If you do decide to rent a car for your visit, you should know these 10 tips for driving safely, especially in San José.

  • Picture of traffic jam in Costa RicaRush hour traffic jams in San José are as legendary as gridlock in Los Angeles. Avoid driving during rush hour; the best hours to drive are between 9 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. This point is important to take in count when planning your drive back to the airport.
  • Use caution at intersections or merge areas; other drivers may cut you off without warning.
  • Pay attention to the car in front of you and notice if its brake lights are working. Don’t expect to see turn signals, most people won’t use them.
  • When parking your car, leave yourself some room if you can, to avoid getting trapped, many times people park way to close so it’s hard to drive out.
  • Always assume every pedestrian, bicycle, or vehicle will move out in front of you without looking; practice good defensive driving, people are very relaxed and many times won’t use caution, specially at the beach. Also remember you can find animals on the road at any time!
  • DO NOT leave your car unattended. When parking, 95% of the time some guy will approach you to offer watching over your car. This is a very common practice in Costa Rica and yes, it is safe to do it! You can pay them between $2 and $4 and they will keep an eye on your car while you are gone. Try to always pay them on your way back, right as you leave. Most theft in CR results from opportunity; NEVER leave anything in the car, put everything in the truck of your car.
  • Most roads are paved; during green season (May – Nov.), roads are subject to landslides and subsidence. In more rural areas, you can expect more dirt roads, and even to pass through a few rivers. Rent a 4 x 4 if you can.
  • Navigation/directions are by landmark. It’s a good idea to know and look for billboards advertising hotels and tourist attractions near your destination. WAZE navegation app is popular and works very well in Costa Rica.
  • Unleaded gas sells by the liter in two grades: regular and super (higher octane); diesel is available nearly everywhere. “Regular” is not the old school unleaded gasoline you may be thinking of- it just means average unleaded.
  • Speeding tickets are expensive, as much as $600 for a few km/hr over the limit. Watch your speed. More importantly, it’s a safety issue. Some common speed limits are:
    • 50 km/hr in the city
    • 80 km/hr elsewhere
    • 90 km/hr highway

Tico drivers are about the same as drivers in LA, London or Paris; in other words, anywhere in the world. Drive smart and drive defensively, just like you would at home.


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