Costa Rica is a wonderful place to explore by rental car. In my early years as a travel agent for Surf Express Travel in Florida, the majority of our bookings were fly/drive packages, facilitating adventurous minded surfers to roam the country looking for perfect, uncrowded surf. Renting a car in Costa Rica has the potential to create a very unique trip for travelers. You can seek out little-known places, stop when you want, and craft your own adventure from scratch. However, driving in Costa Rica is serious. Road conditions can be difficult, signs are spotty, and driving times can be long. Before getting behind the wheel, think about what it requires and how you want your trip to unfold. Costa Rica has more than 20,000 miles of roads, yet fewer than 25% of them are paved. Many are so poorly maintained that driving on gravel surfaces is the better option. The road system infrastructure in Costa Rica is incomplete but somehow gets you there if you persevere.
Driving in San Jose can be harrowing, especially during rush hours. Tico’s tend to drive offensively and assume they always have the right of way. Fortunately the airport is on the outskirts of San Jose; point your car west and go prepared for anything! Road signs out of San Jose are good, but become less and less so as you get out in the country. Seat belts must be worn and are strictly enforced by the Transit Police. Always carry a copy of your passport with you. Distance and speed limits are in kilometers (1 kilometer is equivalent to 0.6214miles). Avoid night driving! As you depart the city, the scenery becomes breathtaking. Plan to have a leisurely drive and enjoy the experience. There are some great roadside restaurants, and plenty of photo opportunities along the way.
Avoid rush hour! Don’t drive at night!
The real fun of driving is when you get out of the city and into the country. Once of the you exit the mountains you can cruise to your beach destination. You will encounter big trucks that appear to be taking up the entire road. Pass only if you are on a clear straightaway and can see oncoming traffic. It is more likely that the trucks will pass you, on a blind curve in the fog! Two lane roads often narrow into single lanes over bridges. Some roads lack guardrails and have steep drops along either side. Rainy season driving can wreak havoc on Costa Rica’s roads – landslides, flooding, dangerous erosion, and horrendous gaping huecos (pot holes). In spite of all these hazards and deterants, driving is a great adventure and gives you a sense of achievement.
One of my favorite sayings is “Dirt Roads bring good people, paved roads bring all kinds of people”. Many great beach destinations are end of the road places. The driving is slow and sometimes sketchy with river crossings, cows and horses on the road, and unbelieveable potholes. On one of our trips we got behind a big funeral procession where mourners were carrying a coffin to it’s burial site. This created a huge traffic back-up, but was cool to see.
GRANDE JUECOS – THEY’RE EVERYWHERE!
RICKETY ONE-LANE BRIDGES COLLAPSED ROAD – YIKES!
TREE DOWN! MUD MOUNTAIN MIST
4-wheel Drive Mandatory! True country
Ferry to Tambor
When driving in the rainy season (May to November) you will surely encounter a few rivers. Always get out of your car and walk through to the other side to test the water depth and river bottom (mud, sand, rock). Drive across slowly but with determination!
Rocky Bottom and Shallow – GO!
Getting Around in Nosara
Most Safari Surf guests arrive from the airports (San Jose or Liberia) via shuttle van. Because of Nosara’s beach protection, no roads are permitted within the maritime zone. Most of the hotels are within walking distance to Safari Surf. Some folks rent golf carts and “quads” to tool around. Bicycles have become increasingly popular and there is a fully equipped bike shop on main street Guiones. It is also possible to rent a small car for use in Nosara.
Walking! Quad fun Golf Cart
True Story – my near disaster!
We live up on a mountain north of the Nosara River. In dry season, crossing the river saves fifteen minutes from going the ‘long way’. Once the rains start the river fills, but this year there has been a tremendous build-up of small round river rocks that have formed a natural corridor across the river. I’ve made successful crossings up until the other day. As I neared the far side I wasn’t paying attention and nudged closer to the bank than I should have. Suddenly the left side of my quad sunk down and threw me off into the water. As I surfaced I saw the quad still there idling away, so I got up and little by little pushed it to safety. (Remember, dark water indicates deep, lighter colors means shallower water). All I lost was my cheap cell phone, it could have been much worse. Gracias a Dios.
Smooth Sailing. Avoid the bank!
“DIRT ROADS BRING GOOD PEOPLE, PAVED ROADS BRING ALL KINDS OF PEOPLE”