While driving in Costa Rica will save you some time and definitely will allow you to discover and see more of this wonderful country, you also need to know what you are getting yourself into; in Costa Rica, like in any other Latin Country, driving is a sport. Once sitting behind the wheel, you need to know the rules if you want to make it from A to B in one piece!
According to the local newspapers, there are more people killed here from car accidents than from homicides (average number of homicides in Latin America is 20 per 100,000). The safety of the roads here is the worst of the world!
The appalling state of the roads including the notorious pot holes, the lack of signalization and infrastructure and the terrible driving habits are to blame. However, all this is going to change, according to UN Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011, and international organization; it is hoping to cut down on road death by half before the year 2020, which means an incredible 325,000 lives saved in Latin America.
This is not however meant to put you off driving in Costa Rica, but to warn you. There are certain rules you will need to know in order to have the holiday of a lifetime!
If you are renting, choose a rental company of reputation, and take a 4X4 or 4X2 vehicle; Not only will this widen your choice of destination, it will also come in handy when the rains are heavy; the height of the car is just as useful, if not more, than the four wheel drive. Make sure the tires and the windscreen wipers are good.
Get yourself a good road map; road signs are better here, but they are still scarce and a map will avoid you getting lost and driving many extra hours.
Respect the speed limits; they are there for a good reason, and the police are usually waiting well hidden in strategic points too; should you get caught, you risk having the car confiscated and your license with it!
Give you to anything big; Buses trucks always have the right of way, they are bigger than you. They will not hesitate to prove this to you by forcing their way, and win. Stay safe.
Be careful of the pot holes; they can be very difficult to see, especially at night and in the rain! Some people stick large objects in them with the idea to make them more visible, however this makes them even more dangerous!
Watch out for bikers and cyclists; they have no special roads or paths, and roads are badly lit; most buses and trucks drivers have little respect for them in this country.
Watch out for landslides; most particularly in the rainy season, landslides are very common in Costa Rica. In some cases, whole bits of road may disappear.
If in doubt, use your horn; there is nothing wrong with using it for all sorts of reasons here, don’t be shy!
Careful with wild animals on the road; you will see sloths, iguanas and turtles trying to make it to the other side, of course at an incredibly slow pace.
Finally, careful with the people; Costa Rican do not always use common sense or are not very good at judging speed, and throw themselves in front of your car. Be prepared!