Driving in Costa Rica Tips & Safety Guide for US Travelers

By Kashaf Razaq

Imagine weaving through lush rainforests, volcanic landscapes, and sun-kissed beaches. Packed with tips and insights, this guide will be your compass for a stress-free, memory-making driving vacation in Costa Rica.

Driving Rules in Costa Rica

Costa Rican driving is a delightful blend of relaxed vibes and European order. Speed limits are marked (around 50-80 kph), lanes are disciplined, and tailgating is left back at the border. Remember, Pura Vida means keeping your cool, even when a leisurely sloth decides to occupy the passing lane.

Costa Rica driving age

As long as you're 18 and have a valid US driver's license, you're good to go – but, responsible driving is paramount, regardless of your age.

Costa Rica welcomes foreign drivers on its right-hand side roads, utilizing familiar traffic signs in Spanish and a metric system for speeds (90 Km/h on highways) and fuel (liters). Pack your valid original driver's license and passport stamped with a tourist visa – copies and temporary licenses won't work. Your driving freedom depends on your visa's validity.

Understanding Costa Rica Road Signs

While signs are primarily in Spanish, their universal symbols and familiar shapes will guide you safely through verdant jungles and bustling cities. Here's your cheat sheet for deciphering the language of the road:


Stop: The classic red octagon with "Alto" in bold speaks for itself.
Yield: A yellow triangle with "Ceda el Paso" means to give way to oncoming traffic.
Speed Limits: Look for "Velocidad Máxima" signs, displayed in kilometers per hour (remember, 90 Km/h is highway cruising speed).
Detours: "Desvio" will alert you to alternate routes, and "Puente Angosto" warns of narrow bridges, which is handy for adapting your jungle-crossing strategies.


One Way: "Una Via" tells you the road's a one-way street, avoiding embarrassing U-turns in bustling town centers.
Slow Down: "Despacio" beckons you to ease up, often indicating bumps, potholes, or scenic overlooks worth savoring.
Wildlife Crossings: Watch out for "Animales Silvestres" signs, especially near rainforests or national parks. Keep your eyes peeled for furry and feathered friends!

Urban vs. Rural Roads: How is Driving in Costa Rica Different?

Costa Rica's driving landscape offers a captivating contrast between the urban buzz and the rural serenade. Prepare for a shift in gears as you transition from sleek city streets to rugged jungle trails.

Urban Adventures:

  • City roads, especially in San Jose and other major hubs, are generally paved and well-maintained, reminiscent of North American traffic patterns. Expect stoplights, one-way streets, and bustling intersections. Patience and defensive driving are your keys to navigating the urban symphony.
  • Finding a spot in central areas can be a Tetris-like challenge. Pay close attention to parking signs and utilize designated lots or garages. Public transportation, which is available in some cities, might be a welcome respite from the urban gridlock.
  • Keep watch for pedestrians, especially near crosswalks and bustling tourist areas. Remember, yielding to foot traffic is a cultural norm.

Rural Rhythms:

  • Brace yourself for dirt roads, potholes, and the occasional river crossing as you venture deeper into the countryside. A four-wheel-drive vehicle might be your trusty steed for tackling these rugged terrains.
  • Patience is paramount on rural roads. Winding lanes, slower traffic, and breathtaking scenery require adjusting your cruising speed. Enjoy the unhurried pace and savor the landscape.
  • Keep your eyes peeled for exotic creatures! Monkeys swinging through trees, sloths hanging like furry ornaments, and even the occasional tapir crossing the road are all part of the rural charm.

Driving in Costa Rica at Night

Driving at night is generally not recommended, especially on unlit rural roads. Potholes, wildlife activity, and reduced visibility can pose additional challenges. Consider planning your journeys for daylight hours.

Answering Your Key Queries

Let's address some common queries to ensure you're well-prepared for your Costa Rican driving adventure:

1. Is driving difficult in Costa Rica?
Difficulty in driving in Costa Rica depends on where you're going and your experience. Highways are familiar, but rural roads can be rough and require slower speeds. Night driving isn't recommended. With caution and flexibility, it's an adventurous experience.

2. What is driving etiquette in Costa Rica?
Driving etiquette emphasizes patience, yielding to others, and respecting local speed limits – a true embodiment of the pura vida spirit.

3. Is it safe for US citizens to drive in Costa Rica?
Yes, it's safe. Exercise common sense, adhere to local rules, and enjoy the freedom to explore at your own pace.

4. Do I pump my own gas in Costa Rica?
No, gas station attendants handle fueling. Relax and let the experts provide a full-service experience.

In Case of Emergencies on the Costa Rican Road

Costa Rica's emergency response system might differ slightly from what you're used to, so here's your guide to navigating stressful situations with calm and clarity:

Minor Mishaps:

  • Breakdown blues: Should your car sputter its last breath, don't despair. If on a highway, pull over safely to the shoulder and turn on your hazard lights. Most rental companies offer roadside assistance – consult your rental agreement for the designated hotline. In rural areas, flag down passing vehicles for help or contact nearby businesses for service.
  • Flat tire blues: If misfortune strikes in a flat tire, most rental cars come equipped with spare and changing tools. Roadside assistance might be your go-to solution in remote areas.

Major Concerns:

  • Accidents: In case of an accident, stay calm and assess the situation. If injuries are involved, call 911 immediately. Remember, Costa Rica's emergency number is the same as in North America.
  • Roadblocks: Occasionally, landslides, protests, or inclement weather might lead to road closures. Stay informed by listening to local radio or asking passing motorists for alternative routes.

Ready to Hit the Gas on Your Pura Vida Dream?

Great Value Vacations has your Costa Rican road trip covered! Check out our self-drive vacation packages to Costa Rica – rental car, itinerary suggestions, and all the Pura Vida vibes included.

Don't forget to bookmark this blog for your Costa Rican driving adventure. Patience, courtesy, and a dash of wanderlust are all you need to conquer this tropical paradise. Pura Vida, amigos!



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