What Are the Road Conditions Like in Costa Rica?
If you love ecotourism, then Costa Rica should be at the top of your travel list. The country is rich in biodiversity: mountains, beaches, cloud forests, rainforests, hot springs, and volcanoes. You will probably want to visit a variety of ecosystems and for flexibility and independence, you may think that renting a car is the best option. But before you do, it is important that you learn about the hazards of driving in Costa Rica.
Costa Rica is a fairly small country but it takes time to get from one place to another. In major cities like San Jose, the roads are well paved, but when you go to the countryside, you will find road conditions to be relatively worse. The paved roads are pocked by washouts and potholes. More often, the rural roads are dirt or mud (during the rainy season) – with landslides and ruts to navigate. Most of the country’s terrain is mountainous and the narrow roads can be quite dangerous as most of them don’t have guardrails. You will need to be extra careful when you are climbing through such roads.
River Crossings and Bridges
Country roads in Costa Rica often require river crossings. You should keep in mind that river crossings would void most rental insurance and you won’t be covered if there’s any damage. It is recommended that you test the depth as well as watch another vehicle’s path before you try it. Asking a local for an alternative route would also be a good idea.
Bridges in rural areas are mostly one-lane bridges, so you will need to be careful when taking turns with the oncoming traffic.
Signage is not a priority in Costa Rica. In fact, even in major cities, street signs are hit or miss. You may find street names on a small sign or a building, or not at all. Street signs are non-existent in rural areas. You will need to ask directions from a local. Keep in mind that the locals are going to respond in Spanish when you ask directions. So, it is recommended that you rent a GPS with your vehicle and have a hard copy map as a backup.
Night driving in Costa Rica is not advisable. The driving in this country is quite challenging and if you attempt to navigate through poor road conditions in the dark, you are basically asking for trouble. Apart from not getting lost, avoiding impatient drivers, not being swept away in a water crossing, and not driving off the side of a mountain, you must also watch for people on the road. Pedestrians in this country don’t have the right of way, but that does not mean they stay out of the road.
Driving in Costa Rica gives you the freedom and flexibility to explore the country at your own pace. But it may not be the best option for you, especially if you are a first-timer. Fortunately, there are many other ways to get around Costa Rica, such as hired drivers, shuttles for independent travelers, and packaged tours. You should choose the option that suits your budget and preferences.