Driving in Costa Rica is definitely different than driving in the U.S. Do not go there expecting expansive freeways going in every direction. Picture more back country roads going over mountains with no room to pass. Expect every trip to take about twice as long as it would in the U.S. Big trucks have trouble making it over the mountains so you take turns passing them. I remember seeing lines of 6 cars at a time passing a truck and getting over at the last minute before oncoming traffic appears. Use good judgement when passing other vehicles, be predictable, keep a little distance in front of you in case something happens you have time to react. Doing these things will help keep you safe. Have I mentioned there are very few guard rails?
The only freeway outside of San Jose with multiple lanes in each direction is expressway CR-27 from San Jose to Puntarenas. This expressway is also known as Autopista Próspero Fernández. The road itself is very well paved, has more passing opportunities to get around the large trucks and can be an effective way to get to Pacific Coast destinations. Tolls range from 310 to 670 colones depending on what segment you are traveling through. Plan to have enough colones to get through all of the tolls if you are going to the Pacific coast. Be aware that during certain times this expressway can also get backed up, especially after holiday weekends. Plan accordingly and know you alternate routes. If you want more information on road conditions for any given route, see this excellent post from Two Weeks In Costa Rica.
Having some offline Google maps of Costa Rica will be very helpful to get you from point A to point B as there is little service in more rural areas, which is really most of the country. If you have some planed destinations, you can get those all added as favorites and then they are easily found. It isn’t perfect and you will always have to use good judgement, but it was a lifesaver when we went. If you want more information, you can find how to create offline maps on google’s site.
It will be helpful for you to know what all of the road signs mean in Costa Rica. A little knowledge of Spanish will go a long way here. Many of these are pretty straight forward, but very important to understand. Here are the most common ones you will see.
We drove about 15 hours over the 10 days we spent in Costa Rica. I assumed that it would be dangerous or scary before I did it. It really wasn’t that bad at all and comparable to many situations you can find in your own country. The scenery was very beautiful and there was never a dull moment. This is a timelapse video of our first trek from our hotel in Alejuela to the Santiago Apostol Parish Ruins in Cartago.
Have you driven in Costa Rica? Please leave any of your driving tips in the comments section or feel free to ask questions.