Top Tips for a Memorable Road Trip in Costa Rica
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Intrepid travelers know that if one wishes to see the very best of a country, any country, you must get behind the wheel of a car. And so it is with Costa Rica, a land blessed with natural treasures and plenty of cultural experiences. While flying or riding coach from place to place is certainly rewarding enough here, there’s nothing which can compare to the priceless freedom granted by a self-drive road trip. Plus you can choose the tunes and, let’s face it, that’s really rather priceless.
We admit, one needs a healthy dose of adventure-lust, steely nerves and quite a bit of cash to enjoy a fantastic road trip in Costa Rica, but the rewards of undertaking such an adventure are simply sensational. The country’s most enticing attractions are way off the beaten path, hidden at the end of pot-holed roads, winding forest tracks and far away from civilization. Besides, the scenery along every road in Costa Rica, whether on the coast or interior, is utterly breathtaking. Having the freedom to just stop, soak it all up and continue on, more than makes up for the bumpy rides and expensive insurance.
Think you have what it takes to enjoy a superb Costa Rica road trip? Here’s what you need to know.
You need a driving license!
At the risk of stating the obvious, you can’t rent a car in Costa Rica unless you have a full driving license issued in your home country. Foreign visitors are allowed to drive around Costa Rica for 90 days maximum, before their license needs to be transferred to a local one. Surely, you can find your way back to San Jose within 90 days?
You’ll pay for it. Relatively speaking.
Thanks to mandatory vehicle insurance, which is actually great peace of mind, renting a car in Costa Rica can be much more expensive than in Europe or the US. Nevertheless, once you have your own wheels, you’ll get the chance to get off the tourist trail, overnight in cheaper villages or hotels and stop for local food along the way. If you’re cunning, you can absorb the extra expense quite easily. Adding just a 4 or 5 day road trip, to the end of an adventure-filled week can be a great and still affordable experience. It’s also worth keeping in mind that if you have time and plan to see a lot of the country, even public transport costs will add up to substantial amounts.
You’ll need a SUV (4WD)
Unless you plan to stick to highways the entire time, you will need a SUV, most especially if planning to explore more remote areas like the Nicoya Peninsula. Most of the roads are nothing more than dirt tracks, so unless you do have a 4WD vehicle you probably won’t make it very far. If traveling in wet season, keep in mind that some roads will simply disappear! This can be either fun (in a 4WD) or a complete wash-out (in a normal sedan.) Most of Costa Rica’s roads are still being paved, so be ready to spend much time negotiating your wheels over rough terrain. This is actually a great part of the fun!
You’ll need to adjust your driving times
Due to the above-mentioned road conditions, driving times in Costa Rica can be double what you’re used to at home. Adjust your itinerary accordingly and fight the urge to plan too much into your days. In some parts of the country, if you can manage to cover 100 miles in a day, you’re doing better than most. Want to make sure you don’t get terribly lost? Have your car-hire company add a GPS to your vehicle, as these are likely to be very well updated, as opposed to any map you can download off the net. The most important point here is to take is easy, relax, drive carefully and try not to push yourself, something one should never do when driving in a foreign country.
You may want to learn some Spanish
Getting off the beaten track means you won’t meet many English-speaking Ticos. Learning a few basic phrases and bringing along a phrasebook will be an absolute godsend should you get lost in the middle of nowhere, and need assistance finding your way back.
You’ll have insane fun!
When it comes to road trippin’ there are actually few countries that offer this much fun. Thrill-seeking daredevils take on the challenge of the Monkey Trail during dry season every year. This is one of Costa Rica’s most perfidious roads, although ‘road’ is a bit of a stretch. With four river crossing and very steep gravel stretches, this is about as extreme as Costa Rica gets, and only advisable for experienced and return visitors. But boy is it fun!
The variation in Costa Rica is also very unique. In just a single day, you could be cruising along spectacular beach roads, gravel trails through thick forests and winding mountain pass roads. Even if you skip the hard bits and stick to well paved roads, you’re bound to have a sensational time. The most enjoyable parts, for many, is stopping in random roadside eateries, taking photo stops at every turn and enjoying the scenery and the adventures, as they