Driving in Costa Rica?

Old Apr 27, 07, 2:49 am
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Driving in Costa Rica?

Do you think it'd be a reasonable idea to hire a car and drive ourselves in Costa Rica? We'd probably think about hiring a 4WD. We don't like tours and we're reasonably intrepid, having driven in countries such as Malaysia, Namibia, Iceland and Dominica.
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Old Apr 27, 07, 7:43 am
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I wouldn't do it. The native drivers scared me. And I have driven in Italy and lived to tell the tale.
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Old Apr 27, 07, 10:42 am
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Yes, it is a reasonable idea if you are comfortable with a four wheel drive in four wheel driving conditions. The ability to get around and see the mountains is part of the reason you visited Costa Rica, after all. You will want to be alert, well-rested, and probably avoid driving at night or in torrential rain.

I thought I just posted this yesterday, but I'll do it again. Here is part 2 of my trip report to the Guanacaste area (a large area including beaches, Arenal, city of Liberia) where the roads are very poor. It reviews the driving and shows our vehicle, a small SUV. Might be helpful in allowing you to make up your own mind.

http://peachfront.diaryland.com/crtrip2.html -- part 2 of Guanacaste, Costa Rica trip report with some driving tips

My dad, who is retirement age, has also driven safely in Costa Rica. Same common sense precautions -- don't drive at night, use a four wheel drive.

The main road, Highway 1, is the road shown in my photo. So, yeah, the roads are challenging. If Namibia is like Kenya, maybe the roads in this part of Costa Rica are on a par with what you have already experienced. I have no idea of the road conditions in those other countries you mentioned, but it sounds like you're adaptable and can keep your head, so take it with a sense of adventure and don't drive when you're too tired, and I don't see why you can't do it.
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Old Apr 27, 07, 10:46 am
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Originally Posted by NorthOrSouth View Post
Do you think it'd be a reasonable idea to hire a car and drive ourselves in Costa Rica? We'd probably think about hiring a 4WD. We don't like tours and we're reasonably intrepid, having driven in countries such as Malaysia, Namibia, Iceland and Dominica.
Of your countries above, I've driven in Namibia (4x4), Iceland, and Costa Rica (down to Bahia Drake on the Osa Penninsula).

IMO, you'll find Costa Rica is fine for driving. Just take your time.
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Old Apr 27, 07, 10:47 am
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I have a house in Costa Rica, and drive when I'm there. Driving in San Jose can be quite interesting, but nothing that a sensible and intelligent driver can't handle.

As has been mentioned, the roads can be in poor shape outside of the cities, especially on rural (non highway) roads. Don't drive at night unless you're familiar with the road. Make sure you have your license, and passport with you, as the local police will expect a tip if you don't have them on you. (I've never paid more than $5)
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Old Apr 27, 07, 11:07 am
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I know people that have done it without problem once outside of San Jose. However, I meet a couple that got their stuff stolen using a "flat tire" trick, and another couple (who I warned) got a flat but continued to drive until a hotel with armed guards, where they were confronted by the "perps" but they stood their ground (with the armed guard behind them), and didn't lose anything.

You get your car and find out about an hour later that you have a flat tire. You pull over to fix it, and soon enough a car comes along and offers to help. They help you get the tire off, but then take off, leaving you with a half done job. Little do you realize that while they were distracting you, their friend has robbed your car.

Therefore, if you rent a car they will advise you not to stop if you get a flat tire. Either return to the airport, or drive to a gas station and get it fixed by a professsional.
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Old Apr 27, 07, 11:29 am
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Thanks. Sounds challenging but possible which is what I wondered. Lots of people warned us off Namibia and it was fine as long as we took our time and kept alert. And we never drove at night.

And peachfront - great photos. I also had a look at your Panama trip as that's a possibility for us too. (You did post the link yesterday but I missed it as I'd done a search on 'driving'.)

Last edited by NorthOrSouth; Apr 27, 07 at 11:34 am
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Old Apr 27, 07, 12:08 pm
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Costa Rica Roads

Four wheel drive is imperative if you get off the Pan Americo. We had a Kia that was fine. It was not the car's fault that there was a bomb crater size pothole at the end of the new bridge that I hit. Blew the front tire to bits, but fortunately, we had a spare, there was local tire-changing help right there and a Llanteria was in the next town with a new tire (wrong size but hid it in the spare spot) and fortunately did not need it.

Roads can be quite scarry especially going to Arenal from the West on the two North approaches. 18 km took 1.5 hours. The local drivers are pretty good comparing them to those of Turkey, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.

Frankly the only way to efficiently get around Costa Rica is to rent and drive.
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Old Apr 27, 07, 12:31 pm
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4WD, safety in rental cars

Originally Posted by opushomes View Post
Four wheel drive is imperative if you get off the Pan Americo.
I'd have to disagree with you here. I have a late model Toyota Corolla, which needless to say doesn't have 4WD. I've gone down many rural roads, beaches and other unpaved and adverse conditions. As long as you use common sense, you should have no problem.

The major highways are in decent shape, although I recommend going over the high mountains earlier in the day. Lots of fog in the afternoon, with visibility being 5 or 10 feet sometimes. Add in a heavy rain, and bus drivers driving 70 mph, it can be pretty nerve racking.

There have been some flat tire scams on, often in the vicinity of the airport. I always recommend having the car rental company to deliver your car to your hotel during daylight hours. Don't be too touristy, and never leave anything valuable in the car, or alone anywhere.

In my almost 20 years in Costa Rica, I've never had anything stolen out of my car while at the beach, San Jose or any other town. I do follow my own rules, and don't flash lots of money, jewelry or leaving valuables about.

I do the same thing in every foreign country I visit, when I go out, I only take as much money as I need, and am willing to give it up if robbed. I feel safer in Costa Rica than many other latin countries. I was in Belize City recently, and I know I felt a lot more danger in their capital city than San Jose.
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Old Apr 27, 07, 12:39 pm
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I found no problem driving there at all. Safer than driving in the U.S. or the U.K.
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Old Apr 27, 07, 2:41 pm
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Originally Posted by Jaimito Cartero View Post
I'd have to disagree with you here. I have a late model Toyota Corolla, which needless to say doesn't have 4WD. I've gone down many rural roads, beaches and other unpaved and adverse conditions. As long as you use common sense, you should have no problem.

The major highways are in decent shape, although I recommend going over the high mountains earlier in the day. Lots of fog in the afternoon, with visibility being 5 or 10 feet sometimes. Add in a heavy rain, and bus drivers driving 70 mph, it can be pretty nerve racking.

There have been some flat tire scams on, often in the vicinity of the airport. I always recommend having the car rental company to deliver your car to your hotel during daylight hours. Don't be too touristy, and never leave anything valuable in the car, or alone anywhere.

In my almost 20 years in Costa Rica, I've never had anything stolen out of my car while at the beach, San Jose or any other town. I do follow my own rules, and don't flash lots of money, jewelry or leaving valuables about.

I do the same thing in every foreign country I visit, when I go out, I only take as much money as I need, and am willing to give it up if robbed. I feel safer in Costa Rica than many other latin countries. I was in Belize City recently, and I know I felt a lot more danger in their capital city than San Jose.
I concur with this , except whenever I go down I rent what usually turns out to be a Toyota Echo, real small and Great on the gas. Ive taken it all over the Only time I turned back was on the road (if one can call it that) to Monteverde. Otherwise just drive slow and carefully and it shouldnt be a problem
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Old Apr 27, 07, 2:49 pm
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Thanks! We have only visited the Canal Zone area of Panama. These were good modern roads, fine for anyone to drive. Quite a lot of wildlife is in the general vicinity of Panama City and Colon, I think because of the large watershed needed for the canal.


Originally Posted by NorthOrSouth View Post
And peachfront - great photos. I also had a look at your Panama trip as that's a possibility for us too. (You did post the link yesterday but I missed it as I'd done a search on 'driving'.)
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Old Apr 27, 07, 8:17 pm
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A 4wd is only needed sometimes. Only when you need it. And when one needs a 4WD even it may not get your through.

The two roads mentioned by me are the two approaches to Monte Verde. Maybe a 2wd will make it through, maybe not. It is the "not" portion that concerns me as a visitor with limited Spanish ability and lots of unpaved forest and jungle road driving experience. The added mobility is why I say a 4wd is imperative for a visitor. Want to spend your vacation sitting buried in mud or over a deep drop-off, go the car route. 99% of the time one does not need it. Jaimito is right except for the one time in a hundred.

Please note: Peachfront's vehicle is the same model as the one that we rented.

Last edited by opushomes; Apr 27, 07 at 8:25 pm
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Old May 1, 07, 9:42 pm
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Always allow twice as much time as you think it will take to get from Point A to Point B (or you may find yourself driving at night, best-laid plans notwithstanding). CR is a wonderful country, but its people will tell you that they choose to spend public money on schools and hospitals, not roads.
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Old May 1, 07, 9:57 pm
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I rented a small 4x4 and it was fine. During wet season the roads can get washed out so be careful. In addition, the roads can be filled with potholes (think moonscape) so take your time. I didn't use the 4 wheel feature, but it was great to have the extra ground clearance of a 4x4 for those holes. Driving in Costa Rica is really not that bad. I drove from San Jose to Mt. Arenal and then to Manuel Antonio.
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