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Driving in Costa Rica

Driving in general can be dangerous, and in Costa Rica it is no exception. It may be safe to say that ifsomeone can drive here, they can drive almost anywhere. Unless someone has driven in India, they will find the driving experience significantly different than in North America.

Driving in Costa Rica

Here is a list of differences that can prepare one for what to expect, keep one safe, and hopefully also protect them from having an accident for a positive driving experience:

  • On most streets there are no painted lines.
  • There are very few if any street signs or numbered addresses.
  • Directions are given in the form of meters in any direction north, south, east or west.
  • Very important is that directions are given in terms of landmarks, sometimes landmarks that USED to exist so you really have to know how to get around. An example is 100 meters west of the Old Catholic church. Expect to get lost or drive around the same block.
  • On many roads you will find crater sized holes, approach with caution.
  • Many streets also have what Costa Ricans call "muertos" which translates into "dead people" however these are speed bumps, but not just any speed bumps these are usually higher, longer and many are unpainted so be careful on any residential street they can sneak up on and scrape the entire bottom of the car.
  • Yellow hearts with halos on the streets, these have been painted where people have lost their lives in an accident and warn people to slow down and be more aware.
  • At night stop lights magically become optional, so do not be surprised if people run a light or honk while they go through it red. Be on guard.
  • Despite the new law cracking down on drunk drivers, many people of all ages get behind the wheel after drinking so keep an eye out for this, not only at night.
  • Costa Rican's love to honk and sometimes the honks mean different things so don't be alarmed.
  • Traffic jams are common especially during rush hours, but also at any hour of the day or nighht traffic jams can be expected.
  • On main routes there are lots of motorcycles the majority drive without any fear or care so don't be surprised if one buzzes by the car, be aware of your surroundings.
  • Never leave valuables on the seats, motorcycles are likely to come by, break a window, and take whatever is lying around.
  • Also on a similar note, try not to drive with the windows open or the doors unlocked more so in the city or crowded streets, it is just not safe.
  • Costa Rican's have a need for speed, especially if they have a racing style car or a Hyundai.
  • When oncoming traffic on the highway is flashing their headlights they are usually signaling that one should slow down because there is an accident ahead of you or the traffic police pulling people over for speeding.
  • Whenever one leaves a car alone make sure it is locked, alarm is on, and all valuables are out of sight. Try and park in lit areas or in areas and official parking lots.
  • When parking the car in most places there is a watch person who looks over the cars, when leaving this watch person expects to receive something for his/her service. Pay just a couple hundred colones. If parked on a public street one is never obligated to pay.
  • In parking lots drivers are usually required to back into spaces for safety purposes, so theycan evacuate as quickly as possible.
  • In the center of San Jose one will encounter a series of one way streets so one may be going around in circles for a while.
  • San Jose is full of roundabouts, so choose the correct lane, wait your turn, and pay close attention to everyone around this is where lots of accidents happen.
  • When  in the countryside or beach areas try and keep one's eyes peeled, there will be wildlife, livestock or other wild things crossing.
  • At stop lights there will be a variety of street vendors, performers, collection people for groups, beggars, etc. These people are likely to approach the car looking for cash, some are relentless.
  • When entering a formal parking lot at a shopping mall or supermarket one will receive a plastic ticket. This is to prevent car theft. One will need to turn it back in upon leaving the parking lot. There is no charge for this. Do no lose this ticket or it could become extremely difficult to get the car out of the parking lot as they have to investigate.
  • Lots of Costa Rican's drive without car insurance.
  • Beware of the tow trucks that arrive directly after one has had an accident, they usually arrive before the ambulances. These unauthorized tow trucks with numbers on the door below 501 are famous for excessive charges and stealing things from vehicles.
  • Be an aggressive yet defensive driver.
  • Do NOT under most circumstance pick up hitch-hikers.
  • New traffic laws released in March of 2010 have large fines for just about any type of infraction including driving without a license, without marchamo, without RTV, talking on the phone, with polarized windows, kids not in child seats, not wearing seatblets, speeding, driving drunk etc some up to $500 in fines.



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