ยป Gallery / 2005 / Costa Rica and Galapagos /

Driving in Costa Rica

Ow my back

We’d heard all the stories, from message boards and people at parties. “The river cut across the road.” “The front bumper was missing when we returned the car.” “My brother-in-law lost an eye.” Some folks online recommended setting up private vans to shuttle us from hotel to hotel, and we did try to make that work. Trouble was we were planning to do a lot of our moving on holidays and that was making it tough to line up drivers. We gave in and rented a big car, signing all the damage waivers put in front of us… even after noting the exclusions for tires and axles.

They have signs in Costa Rica, white on green just like in the US, but the reflective bits in the letters have all washed away so on a rainy night the signs look like cloudy green rectangles. The four-hour drive from San Jose to Manuel Antonio was harrowing for both driver and navigator.

The awful bridges


There are two of these one-lane bastards on the road from Jaco to Manuel Antonio. Originally used by the Chiquita company for hauling bananas they’ve fallen into disrepair in the years since disease knocked out the plantations. They’re bad enough by light of day, and a nasty surpise on a slick night.


Crocodiles make a home of that muddy water, so try not to slip off the broken slats.

The paved parts



Potholes crater the paved roads along the Pacific coast. Riding high up in the SUV it felt like we were about to roll into Baghdad after an air strike. The swerving gets to you after a while.

At least it kept us under the limit – there were speed traps every few miles near the beaches, in each spot a couple of cops at the side of the road lazily brandishing radar guns.

The unpaved parts



The roads leading from the coast up into the mountains are an uneven washboard of dirt and gravel. Late December tends to bring a break in the rains, and we benefited from dry conditions – never had to kick it into four wheel drive, but it was comforting to know we had the option if we ever did start to lose grip.

The 2006 Mitsubishi Montero faithfully transmits every bump in the road directly to the passenger cabin. I think I lost a filling on the way to Santa Elena.

Puente en Mal Estado



At some point this suspension bridge north of San Ramon stopped suspending. One solution would be to repair the bridge.

Another solution would be to dump tons of rubble a half mile downstream and make that the bridge.

We made it back to San Jose a week after we left without so much as a ding on the car. Had it been the rainy season things may well have been very different, and those hundreds of dollars of loss damage waivers might have covered a missing front end or rollover bodywork. Asi es la vida.