Checkin’ Out Costa Rica | Part 1
As stated in my last blog “Movin’ On”, we were committed to a Costa Rican exploration holiday and getting to know Costa Rica before moving there and so we prepared to head south. We wanted to give ourselves enough time to explore, get acquainted with the country and still leave time to enjoy ourselves.
Since we had a business to run back home, we felt just a bit over two weeks was about the maximum time we could afford to spend away from home.
We basically divided our trip in half. The fact that weather and medical services were priority criteria for us, we decided to spend half of our vacation exploring our interest in some of the communities of the Central Valley with the most-temperate weather and the closest proximity to excellent medical facilities and getting to know the details. The other half of our trip was spent in Arenal, Poas Volcano National Park and along the Central Pacific Coast. I suggest if your priorities differ, allocate your visit accordingly.
Now, let me offer some specific advice about your trip that may help alleviate some stress, eliminate a few surprises and make your visit a bit more enjoyable, because being prepared goes a long way to smoothing out bumps down the road.
Much of what I can offer as advice, you can find on other travel websites about Costa Rica. I hope to capsulize what I feel is the most often overlooked or is the most important for you to know and remember, so it will save you time to explore the country.
Seasons and Airline Reservations for Your Visit
Due to its proximity to the equator, there are primarily two seasons November-April (dry season or high season—tourist time) and May-October (green season when Costa Rica gets most of its rain). The weather is nicer, but it’s more crowded and more expensive during high season, yet still quite affordable. If you plan to visit during the best weather, make your flight, hotel and car rental reservations, at least three months and probably more like six months in advance if you can. If you hope to use an air mileage program from a North American-based carrier as a free ride down, I have two bits of advice:
1) book as early as you can (the limited number of free seats per flight fill up fast); and
2) don’t expect to get here without a stop and layover somewhere in the States to change planes. (The airlines don’t want to make it too convenient or easy for you to use your miles to get anywhere that they service outside of North America.) I’ll have more on flying down to Costa Rica in a later blog.
Driving in Costa Rica
You may have heard some stories about driving in Costa Rica and it is an important part of getting to know Costa Rica and learn how to live there. Most of them are probably true. There are two basic facts:
1) Costa Rican’s are a courteous, gentle people—until, that is, you put them behind the wheel of any vehicle—then, something happens and they all turn into Mad Max; and
2) While traffic laws exist, they are obeyed merely as a suggestion. That does not mean that traffic laws and stiff traffic fines for violations don’t exist—they do. (Speeding fines start at $250 and go up from there. There could even be jail time involved for flagrant violations.) It just means that most Costa Rican drivers chose to ignore most of the laws, especially if they are inconvenient. Please, no offense, but drivers here are a bit like Bostonian drivers on steroids. By the way, if you are involved in an accident, the law says you must not move either vehicle (even out of the way); you must call it in and not leave until a traffic officer and an insurance official arrive.
Other driving observations:
1) like most everywhere else in the world, Costa Rica is on the metric system (1 kilometer equals about 0.62 miles);
2) gasoline here is nationally regulated at over $5.00 for 4 liters (just over a gallon—so, don’t bother looking for a better price and all fuel is dispensed by attendants—no self-service, bucko—and hopefully, that will save you a bit of embarrassment the first time you fill up);
3) roads here have been improved tremendously in recent years, but the farther you explore outside of the major population centers or off of the primary routes, the narrower the roads become and the more potholes your car’s suspension will discover;
4) when roads narrow from multiple lanes to fewer, or when approaching narrow bridges, you will get little warning with CEDA stenciled on the road just ahead and/or “CEDA” on a triangular road sign—you must, and need to, yield the right of way to traffic on the left or to oncoming traffic on the other side of a bridge; “DESPACIO” signs mean slow down, if you ignore them, you may be surprised by hitting a well-disguised speed bump—and, there seem to be schools (ESCUELAs) with students (ESCOLARES) about every 500 meters—slow down when you see those words on the road or on a sign—please take care, there will usually be school children about and those words are often followed by those sneaky little disguised speed bumps, anyway;
5) other than stop signs (the red and white “ALTO”—STOP—sign on the familiar octagonal shape) the above signs are about the only signs you will frequently see. In Costa Rica, there is a dearth of directional signage. You WILL get lost—guaranteed.
GPS in Costa Rica
That’s why, especially if this is your first trip to C.R., you may want a GPS map along to help you stay on route, without getting lost and learn how getting to know to drive around this beautiful country while you explore. However as we’ve already discovered, the GPS map for Costa Rica isn’t perfect and needs a bit of updating, but it is far better than not having one at all. Above all, try to keep your cool, know you will get confused and get lost and try not to get too frustrated while interpreting you GPS.
A GPS money saver: IF you currently have a Garmin GPS, go online and purchase the “official unofficial” Costa Rica GPS “TRACK IT” plug ‘n play chip (used by most of the car rental agencies) for about $60 (probably half the price of just renting a GPS here for two weeks) and take your Garmin GPS with its TRACK IT chip with you on your trip to Costa Rica. And if you decide to move here, you’re already set. Notes: the chip works best with Garmin brand units right now. Sorry, owners of Magellan, Tom Tom and other brands.
Oops! One more traffic control sign that you will now see proliferating in cities and towns of any size in Costa Rica is: “NO HAY PASO,” or ONE WAY STREET. They are positioned in perfectly logical places and in perfectly illogical spots as well. A warning, make no assumptions about every other street being one way in the opposite direction. San Jose has some areas where there are two adjacent parallel streets with one-ways running in the same direction. And beware, they can sneak up on you, but are often accompanied by their nearby counterpart signs that have something similar to the following words on intersecting streets, “NO VIRAR A DERECHA,” NO RIGHT TURN and “NO VIRAR A IZQUIERDA,” NO LEFT TURN.
Next time—more on some things to avoid while travelling and explore in Costa Rica as well as some accommodation advice for your Costa Rican scouting trip and getting to know Costa Rica as well as a local.
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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