Discovering Costa Rica by car

Road conditions and driving

Discovering Costa Rica by car

Driving in Costa Rica is quite an adventure due to the poor road conditions and lack of infrastructure.

Your foreign driving license or an international driving license are usually accepted for up to 90 days. After this period of time you have to get a Costa Rican license. You must be 18 years old to legally drive, and most car rental companies require drivers to be at least 21.

In Costa Rica you drive on the right-hand side of the road. In general, the infrastructure has been considerably improved over the last few years. The main roads are paved now, but still in bad shape and covered with many potholes. Also on paved roads you will find unpaved sections and unfinished parts. The bad street conditions and only few road signs make driving in Costa Rica a challenge, and at night it is even worse. Watch out for animals such as sloths, cattle or even monkeys crossing the street, especially when it’s dark. In the cities, drivers usually drive in an aggressive way.

Do not leave any valuables in a car parked on the street! Thefts are still very common. It’s better to park your car in a guarded parking lot and not on the street, if possible.

The main highway that runs through Costa Rica is called Carretera Interamericana and is part of the Carretera Panamericana (Pan-American highway), which connects Canada, the U.S., Mexico, Central America and South America. On some highways in Costa Rica you will have to pay tolls.

There is no public street nomenclature system in Costa Rica. So navigating around the country or in cities is quite difficult. In the capital, San José, some larger streets have names though. It is advisable to always take a GPS with you in order not to get lost. If this is not possible, you should carry at least an up to date map. If you have to ask for directions, you can show people where you are going. Since there are only few road signs, Costa Ricans will guide you by talking about landmarks like churches.

Driving time between destinations can be long although they seem to be quite close. This is due to the bad road conditions and the lack of road signs. So make sure you have enough fuel to reach your destination. Nevertheless, gas stations (bombas or gasolineras) can be found in every town. They offer a full-service and attendants will fill up your tank.

Further reading

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