MOVING ABOUT THE NEIGHBORHOOD AND COUNTRY
Many who relocate to and live Costa Rica are delighted about the proximity of anything that they want to see, buy, do or accomplish. Keep in mind, the size of this country, incredibly diverse in climate and topography, is no larger than many entire states in the U.S. It is, however, important to consider the overall quality of roads, safety factors (and crime), traffic, city and country driving, whether you are considering driving for pleasure or work.
HOW FAR IS….?
The question is relevant, but not practical. “As the crow flies” it’s pretty simple. Then, factor in mountains, uncertain quality of even main highway roads, unclearly marked and outdated maps, and often, non-existent directional signs. These challenges for the new retiree or resident are only exacerbated by willing yet questionable verbal direction from kind citizens, who may be too emabrassed to tell you they don't really know the directions to where you want to go, but give you directions anyway! That's really frustrating, no matter how long you live here! Distance is really measured and given in time. "Oh, 40 minutes" - this estimate might be given to go a short distance on the map, if traffic or roads are bad.
And, finally, there is the relentless peak-hour traffic in and around San Jose. How could anyone live, let alone move about in such CHAOS? Depending on where one moves to and lives, your personal taste and budget, a car may be a necessary convenience, or an unnecessary inconvenience and expense. If shopping or going to work, driving can be a daunting task in the city! What are the alternatives?
TRANSPORTATION OPTIONS – BUS, TAXI…BOTH
Many retirees do not even own a car because they bus or taxi into town, around town, across town or even across the country. The Greyhound motto of “Leave the Driving to Us” should be nationally adopted by the Costa Rican public bus system. The system is good, safe, economical and generally very much “on schedule.” Schedules, fares and stops are available on paper or the internet. Beware there are express and non-express buses. Buses often make better time than cars. And, they are so inexpensive for the distance traveled.
Taxis are another abundant staple of the country’s transportation system. Whether relocating to the city, country or anywhere in between, taxis are readily available, safe, reliable, economical and easy to find. Costa Rican law requires all licensed taxis to be red vehicles, typically with a yellow taxi sign on the roof and marked with identifying numbers. They are all required to have functional and calibrated meters. When taking a taxi, consider it your job to politely remind the driver to put the arm down on the meter if he starts moving down the street without doing so. Also, Do not hail or enter an improperly marked vehicle. These are referred to as "pirate taxis," and while many are responsible and honest, they are not accountable, have no meter, and you must negotiate a total rate up front. It helps to be aware of how much the normal charges are. Pirate taxis often charge by the kilometer.
No matter how large or small the town where you live, there is a taxi stand (line) along the central park (which happens to be in the center of every town or city). A taxi can be hailed on any street in or around San Jose, or called by a merchant, the doorman of a hotel, or worker at a business. Be prepared to pay extra for a taxi that is waiting in front of a hotel. They do that as a courtesy to guests, to render immediate service, and will charge more for their "wait time". A meter may not apply. Ask ahead of time how much it will be to go to your destination.
For the most part, most drivers will take a fare around the corner, or to either border or coastline. When traveling longer distances it is possible to negotiate the fee, as the meter is for shorter runs. Most drivers, although they must adhere to certain standards of legal requirement, are self employed. If they can’t negotiate “up” they can often negotiate “down.” Once you live here, you'll feel more comfortable about distances and know how much you can negotiate if the fare is too high.
If taking a taxi and you are language challenged, try to have written directions in Spanish, or a destination phone number handy when entering the cab. 99% of taxi drivers have cell phones. Ask the fare to that location, then remind them to start the meter if they do not. Many drivers speak some English. Also, the meter continues to tick in unavoidable traffic, as it calibrates your fare not only on distance, but time, but weighted on the distance side of the equation. Taxi drivers want to avoid waiting in traffic as much as their passenger. This is not a trick to raise your fare.
Have adequate small bills and coin change on hand for the fare. Many drivers simply cannot make change for large bills if the fare is small. Tipping is not expected, but a nice thing to do. 10-20% of fare is reasonable.
Lastly, many retirees with cars drive to the perimeter of San Jose, park in a guarded parking lot, and taxi or bus about the city to conduct business or pleasure, then back to the parking garage. City driving is a challenge throughout the world, but even more so in crowded San Jose, so unless you've lived here a long time and are used to the aggressive "bumper car" game of city driving, take a taxi!
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