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We decided to start checkin’ out Costa Rica; this was in 2013. We have settled in our little community and still love it here.
As stated in my last blog, “Movin’ On,” we were committed to an exploration holiday to La Suiza Centroamericana. The plan was to get to know this place that some call paradise before moving there. So we prepared to head south.
We wanted to give ourselves enough time to explore, get acquainted with the country, and still leave time to enjoy ourselves.
We had a business to run back home. So, therefore, we felt just a bit over two weeks was about the maximum time we could afford to spend away from home.
We divided our trip in half. The weather and medical services were priority criteria for us. So we decided to spend half of our vacation exploring some of the communities of the Central Valley with the most temperate weather. Furthermore, we were looking for the closest proximity to excellent medical facilities.
We spent the other half of our trip checkin’ out Arenal, Poas Volcano National Park, and along the Central Pacific Coast. I suggest if your priorities differ, allocate your visit accordingly.
Now, let me offer some specific advice about your trip. This advice may help alleviate some stress, eliminate a few surprises and make your visit a bit more enjoyable. Because being prepared goes a long way to smoothing out bumps down the road.
You can find much of what I can offer as advice on other travel websites about Costa Rica. Fortunately, we learned very early in the game that we would need a timeline. However, I hope to capsulize what I feel is the most often overlooked or essential for you to know and remember.
Seasons and Airline Reservations
Due to its proximity to the equator, there are primarily two seasons:
- November-April. The dry season or high season is tourist time.
- May-October. The green season is when the country gets most of its rain.
The weather is more excellent during the dry season, but it’s more crowded and more expensive during the high season, yet still quite affordable.
If you plan to visit during the best weather, it’s probably a good idea to checkin’ out your flight, hotel, and car rental reservations, at least three months ahead or more. If you hope to use an air mileage program from a North American-based carrier as a free ride down, I have two bits of advice:
1) Book as early as you can (the limited number of free seats per flight fill up fast); and
2) Don’t expect to get here without a stop and layover somewhere in the States to change planes. The airlines don’t want to make it too convenient or easy to use your miles outside of North America.
Driving in Costa Rica
You may have heard some stories about driving in Costa Rica, and it is an essential part of getting to know the country and learning how to live there. Most of them are probably accurate. However, there are two basic facts worth checkin’ out:
1) Costa Ricans or Ticos are courteous, gentle people. Until that is, you put them behind the wheel of any vehicle. Then, something happens, and they all turn into Mad Max; and
2) While traffic laws exist, they are obeyed merely as a suggestion. That does not mean that traffic laws and stiff traffic fines for violations don’t exist. They do. Speeding fines start at $250 and go up from there. This could even involve jail time for flagrant violations. It just means that most drivers here choose to ignore most of the laws, especially if they are inconvenient. Please, no offense, but drivers here are a bit like Bostonian drivers on steroids. By the way, if you are involved in an accident, the law says you must not move either vehicle (even out of the way). You must call the accident in and not leave until a traffic officer and an insurance official arrives.
Other driving observations
1) Metric System
Like most everywhere else in the world, this beautiful country is on the metric system. 1 Kilometer equals about 0.62 miles. So when checkin’ out the country, you want to read the road signs and not get a ticket for speeding.
Gasoline is regulated nationwide at over $5.00 for 4 liters – in March 2013 (ed.). This price is just over a gallon—so, don’t bother looking for a better price, and attendants dispense all fuel. There is no self-service, bucko—and hopefully, that will save you a bit of embarrassment the first time you fill your tank up.
Roads here have been improved tremendously in recent years. But the farther you explore outside the major population centers or the primary routes, the narrower the streets become. And, don’t forget, there are more potholes than your car’s suspension will discover that can crack your windshield.
Let’s try checkin’ out some street signs. You might not know some of them. Sometimes you will get a little warning with CEDA stenciled on the road just ahead and “CEDA” on a triangular road sign. Then the road narrows from multiple lanes to fewer. Or, when approaching narrow bridges, you must yield the right of way to traffic on the left or oncoming traffic on the other side of a bridge. “DESPACIO” signs mean slow down. If you ignore them, you may be surprised by hitting a well-disguised speed bump. And, there seems to be a school (ESCUELA) with students (ESCOLARES) about every 500 meters. So, slow down when you see those words on the road or a sign. But, please take care, there will usually be schoolchildren around.
Those words are often followed by those sneaky little disguised speed bumps, anyway. Other than stop signs (the red and white “ALTO“—STOP—sign on the familiar octagonal shape), the above road signs are about the only signs you will frequently see. In Costa Rica, there is a shortage of directional signage.
5) More Signs
Oops! One more traffic control sign that you will now see increasing in cities and towns of any size is: “NO HAY PASO,” or ONE WAY STREET. They are placed in perfectly logical places and perfectly illogical spots as well. A warning: make no assumptions about every other street being one way in the opposite direction. San Jose has some areas where there are two adjacent parallel streets with one-ways running in the same direction. And beware, they can sneak up on you. But are often accompanied by their nearby counterpart signs that have something similar to the following words on intersecting streets, “NO VIRAR A DERECHA,” NO RIGHT TURN, and “NO VIRAR A IZQUIERDA,” NO LEFT TURN.
Editor: When TicoNuevo wrote this blog, he used a GPS to get around. A GPS was the only way not to get lost. I deleted his story about the use of a GPS as this doesn’t make any sense anymore. Some of you might even ask: “what the heck is a GPS”? So no more need for checkin’ out the country with a GPS.
This was in 2013, and times have changed. Now, in 2021, there are much better options. Use Waze or Google maps on your phone, and you’ll get anywhere you want to go in Costa Rica if you use the correct landmark!
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. In his blogs, Ticonuevo describes his own experiences of taking the step of moving to Costa Rica and getting a new life started.
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