DRIVING IN COSTA RICA
Living in Costa Rica usually requires driving in Costa Rica at one time or another. Although a car is certainly not mandatory, it provides considerable convenience. Most retirees like to spend some portion of their time, daytime or weekends, investigating the country, exploring and partaking of the vast array of activities and natural resources. Relocation also demands, in the early months, a lot of necessary activities, whereby having a vehicle and operating on one’s own schedule is desirable. A driver or car rental, on a regular basis can become costly, the bus can be inconvenient. Most people that choose to live or retire here eventually opt to own their own vehicle.
City living doesn't necessarily requires a car, as you can chose to use a taxi when neccessary. We have already discussed taking the bus, which works well, except during rush hours, or when you need to go somewhere that is inconvenient to where the bus stops. Those relocating to the country or those wishing to visit friends in more remote places will require a 4-wheel drive vehicle.
Diesel vs. gasoline. Diesel fuel is still slightly less expensive in Costa Rica, and a diesel engine (mileage, maintenance, etc.) has advantages over gasoline. We suggest each individual look into the alternatives. By doing your own research, you make an informed decision based on what you require.
THE ROADS – OVERALL PERSPECTIVE
The Pan American Highway, from the Nicaraguan border to the north, through the entire country of Costa Rica and down to the Panamanian border to the south is, generally, a very good and well-kept highway. The Autopista (similar to an interstate) in and around the capital city of San Jose, is extremely well maintained and traffic moves quickly, either quickly or slowly during rush hours before and after work. The main highways connecting key areas of the country are in good repair with limited or minor maintenance problems. Roads in the center of larger towns and cities are well kept.
Local municipalities are strapped for cash. General road maintenance, quality of materials and application leaves much to be desired. Country roads can be impassible depending on the depth of the holes and the season. The 6-month rainy season takes its toll on dirt and gravel (and often paved) roads and impedes the ability to keep them in good repair until the rain stops.
DRIVING DURING THE RAINY SEASON
Anyone living or working in Costa Rica soon learns roads to avoid during the peak rainy months. Whether a highway or country roads, mudslides, as well as road cave-ins (landslide under the road) can yield a road impassable for hours or days. Side routes are an invitation to get lost and can have their own unique complications. Therefore, one should make an informed decision as to whether or not, they chose to drive during the peak of the rainy season and if they do make that choice, they should be very well informed as to alternative routes and if they are available.
DRIVING DEFENSIVELY IN COSTA RICA
No matter how long anyone has lived in this country, whether Costa Rican or retiree, driving is a challenge. Costa Ricans are wonderful people until they get behind the wheel of a car. The calm, non-confrontational demeanor is somehow changed, once they are in the drivers seat.
Cars will pass on the right or left. A warning: using the horn is common. Motorcycles are always a menace as they often appear out of nowhere. People sometimes stop their car right in the middle of the road, have a conversation with a friend on foot or in another car, and think nothing of blocking traffic! It seems to be something that no one but foreigners find odd. The Costa Ricans do not place inconvenience high on their list of priorities.
Paying no attention to the speed limit, anywhere, is a normal. There does not seem to be any location or terrain that is exempt. Recent drunk driving campaigns are creating awareness, yet they are still disregarded by most. However, in the last few years, "drunk stops" have been initiated, and the authorities are paying more attention to driving under the influence.
It is imperative to pay attention while driving. The laws and rules are on the books, however, there is a general disregard of the laws, therefore, it is wise to be aware of this and careful, particularly on weekends.
Travel at night only if you are very familiar with the roads or highway. It is easy enough to lose your perspective in daylight hours and it is much more challenging in the dark. Verbal directions are a matter of opinion and not always clear, whether day or night. Road signs are limited and often obscure, and maps not always current or reliable. The most daunting aspect is that there is very little signage. Often, even if signs exist, they are obscured by foliage or other obstacles.
TRAVEL SAFELY - BE PREPARED
Buy a GPS. Input and track your own directions. Create your own map with more frequented routes. They can be erased as your familiarity improves. It is much more difficult to navigate in the fog or clouds, and curvy mountain roads will certainly confuse the situation. Never leave home without a cell phone and car phone charger.
Be prepared! Invest in and keep the following in your vehicle:
· Nylon tow strap and hooks
· High-beam flashlight
· Knee-high rubber boots
· Toilet paper and roll of paper towels
· Extra change of clothes
· Bath or beach towel
· Umbrella and one or more plastic rain ponchos
· Bottled water
· General first aid kit, and
· Battery charger, tire inflator and jumper cables
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