Excerpted from Living Abroad in Costa Rica
Try a tractor.
Are the roads as bad as they say?
In a word, yes
Costa Rica has about 23,000 miles (37,000 km) of roads; fewer than
5000 (8,000 km) of them are paved. And paved is sometimes worse
than unpaved–a gravel road can be well-graded and in excellent
repair, while a "paved" road may be riddled with deep
holes. The U.S. State Department rates roads here, and the availability
of roadside assistance, as "fair to poor." I guess that’s
better than "poor to abysmal," but still, you need to
make some adjustments when you’re driving in this country.
You must be ready for anything–trucks passing on a hill,
potholes big enough to do your vehicle real damage, and cops hiding
behind the next palm tree. Police here have radar guns and they
love to use them. Speeding tickets can be very expensive–up
to $150 if you’re really making time. Pay attention to speed
limit signs, even if it seems that there’s no one else on
the road. Speed traps are common on the most-traveled routes to
As elsewhere in the world, Costa Rican drivers signal trouble up
ahead by flashing their lights at oncoming cars. Of course this
can also mean, "Turn off your brights!," but if someone
flashes you, slow down and be on the lookout either for an accident,
a damaged roadway, or a police car. If you’re behind someone
and they flash their lights, it can mean "The road is clear
for you to pass," but be aware that what Costa Rican drivers
consider a safe distance to pass is a fraction of what most North
American drivers deem necessary.
Wear your seat belt–it’s the law. A selectively enforced
law, but a law nonetheless.
If you have an accident
Even as you try to drive by the book, other drivers will be throwing
that same book out the window–turning across two lanes of
traffic without signaling, hoisting a bottle while passing on a
blind curve, or realizing that yes, they really should have had
the brakes fixed last week. If the worst happens and you have an
accident, stay in your car until the police arrive. If you’re
out in the middle of nowhere or in the middle of a highway, this
will be impractical, of course. But if it’s possible to wait,
do so, so as not to open yourself up to liability issues.
Traffic enforcement in Costa Rica is the responsibility of the
Transit Police (Transitos), who wear light blue shirts and dark
blue pants, and drive light blue cars or motorcycles equipped with
blue lights. (Regular police drive dark blue cars.) Transit cops
often wave vehicles to the side of the road for inspection, asking
drivers for their driver's license, vehicle registration and insurance
information. Fines are not supposed to be collected on the spot,
although reports of officers attempting to collect money are common.
Accidents may be reported by dialing 911.
Most accidents occur at night–do what you can to not drive
after dark. Most roads are unmarked and unlit. Fog and torrential
rains can make the way even rougher.