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Getting around this relatively small nation is pretty straightforward, but you should know a few things.
Costa Rica has more than its share of national parks, outdoor activities, beaches, wildlife, laidback lifestyles, and many cultural activities.
You should be aware that driving times and speed limits are slower than you are used to in North America. But even so, most destinations within the country, except the most remote spots, are a half-day drive from the Central Valley.
That is a good thing because fuel prices are higher than in any nation in Central America.
When you start doing your due diligence, you will find an incredible amount of Costa Rica information online. The first thing you’d want to do is to verify if that information is up-to-date.
What I can offer as advice, you can find on other travel websites about Costa Rica. But I hope to capsulize what I feel is the most important for you to know and remember about travel in the Central Valley.
The growth of the middle class has made a car more affordable here.
Getting around San Jose is sometimes not so easy. Due to the heavy traffic going into and out of the capital city of San Jose. So a law was enacted to ban driving for every vehicle one day a week during the business day, including commute times on a rotating basis.
The ban is based on the last digit of your vehicle’s license plate. Plates ending in “1” and “2” are banned on Mondays and so on. If you rent a car and the police stop you for this violation, you only need to show your rental agreement. Then you will be allowed to proceed on your way through town. That is until they stop you again. It might take all day, but you will likely arrive at your destination without a ticket if my information is correct. Better check it out at the rental counter when you pick up your vehicle.
Suppose you own or are borrowing your vehicle, best to give San Jose a wide berth. Because not even the locals know where the boundaries of the ban begin and end. Also, don’t mention my blog as an excuse if I’m wrong. There’s a chance I’m misinformed, or the law has already eliminated this loophole.
My belief is driving in San Jose is an experience best left to veterans of NASCAR and Destruction Derby. But, for those knowledgeable about the early days of Disneyland, it’s an “E” ticket ride. I have driven or been a passenger at rush hour in some of the largest and most congested cities in North America, Europe, and Asia. But have made a vow to avoid driving my vehicle, if at all possible, into and around San Jose.
Avoid the stress if you can. Better advice than taking a chance with your sanity and the license driving ban is to take a bus.
Getting around by bus in Costa Rica is very inexpensive. But, I am sure, it’s kept artificially low by the government to discourage more cars on the road. So this measurement gives folks with no alternative a way to be mobile.
We often take a bus about 45 km to San Jose for about US$0.90 each way. Buses go virtually everywhere in the country. They run very frequently and stop just about anywhere along the route you want to get on or exit. Most of the longer-route buses are large, modern, comfortable models like you see in most of Europe. And how the drivers maneuver them safely over the country’s winding, narrow roads is, in my estimate, a testament to their driving skills.
Getting around by taxi is the other relatively affordable and more “relaxing” way to get around San Jose and almost any other town of any size. As in many places, there are three types of taxis. First, the licensed, certified taxis. You can identify these vehicles as red with yellow triangles on each side. They usually have a taxi light on the roof. Their fares are regulated, and they have their meters. These are called Marias, on the dash for you to see. These taxis are safe to ride in, and usually, you can trust that the fare charged is legitimate.
The other cabs are independent or pirate taxis. They are often white or light blue and have a blue circle on each side. These don’t have taxi lights on the roof, but most importantly, they don’t have meters. They usually charge cheaper fares. That’s because they don’t have insurance and don’t declare their income, so they don’t pay income tax. Therefore, they’re illegal.
If you don’t have a good command of the local geography and Spanish, you can get taken for a ride. But, unfortunately, you’ll hear many not-so-happy stories about passengers being overcharged, extorted, or worse, even by the legal taxis now and then.
Uber started operations in 2015. In 2021, they’re all over, but not in every city. They function well, although the government still has not approved them. They’re still formally illegal, although everyone uses them. Uber taxis are also the reason for many taxi strikes; they’re trying to stop them from becoming legal.
Keep your windows up if you are driving and sightseeing anywhere in the country. But especially in and around the larger cities and beach towns (I hope you have air conditioning) and your doors locked.
When you park, leave no valuables visible in the car. Ivo Henfling has made a perfect point in one of his GoDutch blogs about security and if you should feel safe or not. To summarize, Costa Rica has very little violent crime.
However, while the country mandates health care for all, there is no national welfare or unemployment insurance. When the family breadwinner is out of work, he must still feed his family, and he often resorts to petty theft. Items left visible in your car, left unlocked, even for a minute, are an invitation for theft. And indeed, as in any country, there is your everyday assortment of drug addicts, Juvenal delinquents, and professional criminals that add to the threat of being the victim of petty crime.
Admittedly, there is quite a bit of non-violent petty theft here. So much of it that the police can’t keep up with it and will probably not be of much help. The best way not to have your vacation ruined is to give petty criminals no advantage and no clue that you have anything of value inside your car.
Knock on wood; we have not yet been the victim of any petty theft. And admittedly, I’m a – glass is half empty – kind of guy. But I’m genuinely not trying to sound negative in every sentence. Instead, I want to give you the benefit of what we have learned. I hope to help you avoid any unpleasantries on your visit and make your Costa Rican experience as memorable for you as possible. This experience will also prepare you for the realities of everyday life and travel here.
The author of this blog, Ticonuevo, is a US expat who moved to Costa Rica and used the services of GoDutch Realty to purchase a property here. Ticonuevo describes his own experiences of taking the step of moving to Costa Rica and getting a new life started in his blogs.
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I DO want to remind our readers that we appreciate any referrals you can send us. Also, please remember the GoDutch Realty agents when you talk about your home in Costa Rica; we appreciate it.