Checkin’ Out Costa Rica | Part 3
By Guest Blogger TicoNuevo
Costa Rica is a beautiful country.
This relatively small nation has more than its share national parks, outdoor activities, beaches, wildlife, laidback lifestyles as well as many cultural activities.
You should be aware that driving times and speed limits are slower than you are used to in North America, but even so, most destinations within Costa Rica, except the most remote spots, are a half-day’s drive from the Central Valley.
This is a good thing, because Costa Rica has the highest fuel prices of any nation in Central America.
A Bit More about Driving and Getting Around in Costa Rica
What I can offer as advice, you can find on other travel websites about Costa Rica, but I hope to capsulize what I feel is the most important for you to know and remember about travel in the Central Valley.
The growth of a middle class has made the car more affordable here and heavy traffic has ensued going into and out of the capital city of San Jose. So a law was enacted to ban driving for every vehicle one day a week during the business day including commute times on a rotating basis. The ban is based on the last digit of your vehicle’s license plate. Plates ending in “1” and “2” are banned on Mondays and so on. I am told if you are renting a vehicle and you are stopped for this violation, you only need to show your rental agreement and you will be allowed to proceed on your way through town. That is until you are stopped again. It might take all day, but you will likely arrive at your destination without a ticket, if my information is correct.
Better check it out at the rental counter when you pick up your vehicle. If you own or are borrowing your vehicle, best to give San Jose a wide berth, because not even the locals know where the boundaries of the ban begin and end. Also, don’t mention my blog as an excuse if I’m wrong. There’s a chance I’m misinformed or the law has already been tightened to eliminate this loophole.
My belief is driving in San Jose is an experience best left to veterans of NASCAR and Destruction Derby. For those knowledgeable with the early days of Disneyland, it’s definitely an “E” ticket ride. I have driven or been a passenger at rush hour in some of the largest and most-congested cities in North America, Europe, and Asia, but have made a vow to avoid driving my own vehicle, if at all possible, into and around San Jose, Costa Rica. Avoid the stress if you can—better advice than taking a chance with your sanity and the license driving ban, is to take a bus.
Bus transport in Costa Rica is very inexpensive—I am sure, kept artificially low by the government to discourage more cars on the road and give folks with no alternative a way to be mobile. We often take a bus about 45km to San Jose for about $0.90US each way. Buses go virtually everywhere in the country, they run very frequently and stop just about anywhere along the route that you want to get on or exit. Most of the longer-route buses are large, modern, comfortable models like you see in most of Europe. And how the drivers maneuver them safely over the country’s winding, narrow roads is, in my estimate a testament to their driving skills—right up there with the Seven Wonders of the World.
The other fairly affordable and more “relaxing” way to get around San Jose and almost any other town of any size is by taxi. As in many places, there are two types of taxis. First, the licensed, certified taxis. These vehicles can be identified as red in color with yellow triangles on each side and usually a taxi light on the roof. Their fares are regulated and they have their meters, called Marias, on the dash for you to see. These taxis are safe to ride in and usually you can trust that the fare charged is legitimate.
The other cabs are the independent or pirate cabs. They are often white or light blue and have a blue circle on each side. They don’t have taxi lights on the roof, but most importantly they don’t have meters. They usually charge cheaper fares. However, if you don’t have good command of the local geography and the Spanish language, you can literally get taken for a ride. There are many not-so-happy stories about passengers being overcharged, extorted or worse. In the long run, it’s a much safer bet to pay a bit more for some piece of mind.
If you are driving and sightseeing anywhere in Costa Rica, but especially in and around the larger cities and beach towns, keep your windows up (I hope you have air conditioning) and your doors locked. When you park, leave no valuables visible in the car. Ivo Henfling has made a very good point in one of his GoDutch blogs. To summarize it, Costa Rica has very little violent crime. However while the country mandates health care for all, there is no national welfare or unemployment insurance here. When the family breadwinner is out of work he must still feed his family and he often resorts to petty theft. Items left visible in your vehicle or a car left unlocked, even for a minute is an invitation for theft. And certainly as in any country, there are your everyday assortment of drug addicts, Juvenal delinquents and professional criminals that add to the threat of being the victim of petty crime. Admittedly, there is quite a bit of non-violent petty theft here. So much of it, in fact, that the police can’t keep up with it and will probably not be of much help if you are victimized. The best way not to have your vacation ruined is to give petty criminals no advantage and no clue that you have anything of value inside your car.
Knock on wood; we have not yet been the victim of any petty theft. And admittedly, I’m a hardened glass is half empty kind of guy, but I’m truly not trying to sound negative in every sentence. I just want give you the benefit of what we have learned. My hope is to help you avoid any un-pleasantries on your visit and make your Costa Rican experience as memorable for you as possible, while also preparing you for the realities of everyday life and travel here.
The author of this blog, Ticonuevo, is a US expat who moved to Costa Rica and used the services of GoDutch Realty to purchase a property in Costa Rica. In his blogs, Ticonuevo describes his own experiences of taking the step of moving to Costa Rica and getting a new life started.
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