Villa Quetzal

Villa Quetzal

Monday, May 23, 2011

Costa Rica Driving Experience

When you come to Costa Rica whether is the first time you come or one of the many vacations you have taken in this country; I would recommend that you rent a car and drive around the country as much as you can.  Of course, the Southern-Pacific including Ojochal, is not to be missed.

The thought behind my preference of driving in Costa Rica is the richness of the landscape, the huge variety of Flora and Fauna, and the amazing “take me back in time” scenes that you may encounter at any given moment on your driving day.
What do I mean by “take me back in time” scenes?
Well, when was the last time you saw cows feeding by the side of any road?

How often do you see a cart pulled by Oxen?
They might surprise you by walking next to you when you are driving.
Many farmers still use oxen to plow their fields and horses are still a primary mode of transportation for campasinos.

Or, when was the last time you saw horses enjoying the waves in the same beach you are sunbathing?

On any given drive around the mountains, you might see a waterfall few yards from the road.

This is a very exciting experience especially if you like taking pictures, and how could you avoid it?

Now, one very important issue you need to be aware of is the fact that many of the roads in Costa Rica are very narrow, basically, none of them have a rest area.
Given the fact that the rainfall is heavy from September to end of November, all roads have a deep ditch on one or both sides, and this makes them particularly dangerous if you do not know about it.

Being aware of the rustic shape of the Costa Rican roads, will help you to drive with caution and never assuming you are in the US or Europe where the roads are in prime shape in general.

Something very important for you to know when you take the wheel of the rental car is Traffic and Road Signs.
In general, the signs in Costa Rica are very similar in shape and color than the ones you know in your country.
The only difference might be the language, and if they do not have a picture, well, it would be nice to know what they mean.

Here are the most common signs you will find in the Costa Rica Roads.

This ALTO sign means that you suppose to STOP.
Some people argue that the signs in Costa Rica are more decorative than enforcement.

Either way, is good to follow your common sense.

CEDA EL PASO   means Yield
This is a sign that you will find in the city of San Jose as well as in the roads.
It is important for you to know that some times in some of the roads the signs have faded, disappeared or simply never been there, so if you know when you suppose to Yield, just do it.

CALLE SIN SALIDA, this sign means DEAD END. 
If you see this sign, do not go there. There is also a good chance that there is a dead end with no sign, so, please, keep this in your awareness.

FIN ZONA ESCOLAR, This sign means END OF SCHOOL ZONE.  You might wonder if there is another sign that announces the beginning of the School Zone, well, if there is it must say; Inicio de Zona Escolar.

 Be aware that the metric system is every ware in Costa Rica, which means we use in all the traffic signs Kilometers instead Miles.
1 Kilometer=0.6 of a Mile.

This type of sign tells you on the left side which one of the interstate roads you should take when you are driving to your destination; the catch is; sometimes the interstate road is not marked.  To make sure you are on the right road, make sure you consult your map comparing landmarks and names of towns.  It would not hurt to have a compass with you.

If you have chosen to drive in Costa Rica, I would advise you to carry the local currency, Colones, preferably small bill, and coins.  When is time to pay the toll, you will save time and anxiety if you hand to the clerk in the booth the exact change in Colones.  Let me be clear, they will take your dollars, but you will have to arm yourself with patience.Costa Rica Transit Department has a very good website.

The institution equivalent to US DMV, in Costa Rica is called Direccion General de Policia de Transito.  Their site provides valuable information about the shape of the roads, whether closed due to heavy rain or under some kind of repair.  It also shows all the traffic signs used in Costa Rica.
If you open the link with Google chrome, you will be able to get it translated into English.

Here are some of the Signs in Spanish in
alphabetical order translated into English.

Sign in Spanish
Sign in English
Camiones  Vía Derecha
Trucks on Right Lane
Ceda el Paso
Mantenga su Derecha
Keep your Right
No Estacionar
No Parking
No Hay Paso
Do not Pass
No Virar a la Derecha
No Right Turn
No Virar a la Izquierda
No Left Turn
No Virar en U
No U Turn
Parada de Autobuses
Bus Stop
Parada de Taxis
Taxi Stop
Peso Máximo por Vehículo
Max. Weight per Vehicle
Una Vía
One Way
Velocidad Máxima
Speed Limit

Depending on how you look at it, driving in Costa Rica could be either difficult or fun.
Be aware of the winding road, potholes, and bridges without guardrails.

Fog and rain could diminish your visibility.
Costa Rican drivers Ticos are either very brave or not too bright, but they often like to pass on blind curves.  They also like to stop in the middle of the road to great a friend, make sure you do not run into one of these friendly Ticos.

If you see a pile of branches in the road, slow down, this a Tico way to tell you that there is danger ahead.
If you see a branch or pole standing beside the road and topped with a rag, it means the pavement has eroded and part of the lane has fallen into the ravine, slow down and prepare to yield to oncoming traffic if necessary.

Drive with caution, be aware of your surroundings, and avoid driving at night on deserted roads. 
If you follow your common sense and self-awareness, you will have a blast driving around this beautiful and colorful Costa Rica.

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