Driving in Costa Rica is not for the faint of heart. In fact, as one expat remarked, “driving a car in Costa Rica is at times is like playing a video game.” After living here for almost 40 years I can asure you that my friends comments are partially true. However, with a little practice most foreign retirees, who own automobiles, usually have no trouble adjusting to way the locals drive and road conditions.
The most important thing for foreigners to survive any situation in Costa Rica, is to have is a good sense of humor. Below are two humorous articles about driving here. The first is from my bestseller “The New Golden Door to Retirement and Living in Costa Rica — the official guide to relocation.” It was written by a contributor to my book.
The second article is about how Costa Rica’s traffic lights work. As the editor points out, “Although this post is meant to be humorous, the sad part is that at times it is true about what really happens Costa Rica’s streets.”
After nearly two years of living (and driving) on Costa Rica’s scenic highways, I feel inspired to submit the following wisdom to my fellow gringos. I speak with the voice of experience, having been a taxi driver in Chicago and New York City. I’ve also lived in Mexico, driven there and in other parts of Central America.
So, without any hyperbole whatsoever, I give the following advice.
1. DON’T WORRY ABOUT THE POTHOLES: There are too many of them! Trying to avoid the potholes will only cause you to crash into other cars and/or pedestrians.Best thing to do is buy yourself a monster Sports Utility Vehicle (or Hum-vee, tank, dump truck, etc.) and drive over all obstacles, including beaches, ditches and animals.
2. IGNORE ALL STOP SIGNS, TRAFFIC LIGHTS AND SIGNS: Everyone else does! Besides, the traffic lights are usually positioned in awkward places too hard to see. Stop signs are bent, broken, faded or hidden behind shrubbery. Translations: “Alto” “means speed,” “Ceda el paso” means “get the hell out of my way!” If you find yourself in a rotunda, pretend you are in the bumper-car rides at the Parque de Diversiones (local amusement park).
3. PARK WHERE YOU WANT: That’s right! In the middle of the street, on the sidewalk, anywhere your little heart desires. No one will give you a ticket; no one will tow your car away. Continue talking with your car in idle to a person while other frustrated motorists honk their horns and curse.
4. DRIVE AS FAST AS POSSIBLE: When in Rome, do as the Romans do. You may pass on the right, drive on the sidewalk, pass on the left going up hills against oncoming traffic, it’s all fair game. Furthermore, this is a free country, and you don’t have to wear a seatbelt if you don’t want!
5. DO NOT TRY TO BRIBE A TRAFFIC COP: It will cost you more! Yes, he’ll think your just another rich gringo who overstayed your tourist visa. Wait until he offers to let you give him the propina (tip). Then barter, always barter. Show him the certified Tico driver’s license you procured from a cereal box.
6. DISCARD YOUR MAPS: Maps are useless without street signs or addresses. If you want directions, stop and ask three or four different people, who will probably tell you three or four different ways to get there.
7.DON’T LET THE PEDESTRIAN HAVE THE RIGHT OF WAY: People think they own the roads! Run them over! That also includes kamikazes on motorbikes, people on bicycles, horseback riders and oxen pulling colorful oxcarts.
Please see the English translations of the illustration below the box.
On the left is what drivers in other countries (other than Costa Rica) understand the signals mean:
Red = stop
Yellow = caution
Green = proceed
In Costa Rica, however, this is what the lights mean:
Red = make sure no one or traffic police is coming
Yellow = give it all you got (as in floor it)
Green = just go,