The roads in Costa Rica are much different than in most parts of the United States, Canada and European countries. The standards are much lower with few road signs, guardrails, shoulders and no street lights (only in populated areas). Bridges are often only one lane and can come up without warning. The majority of roads are two lanes and in many cases, wind through the mountains. The mountains can become foggy at night, so between the lack of street lights, no guard rails and fog, it is not advised to drive at night.
Trucks are a constant nuisance that clog the roads of Costa Rica. Many would not pass safety inspections in North America. Between the poor road conditions and trucks that in many cases are only capable of going up to 40 km per hour, the main roads can become congested.
There is usually a single paved road that leads to most destinations (with the exceptions of Monteverde, Tortuguero and the Osa Peninsula). Rural roads are often unpaved. You will not be able to drive to Tortuguero or Drake Bay as they can only be accessed by boat or plane.
If you do choose a rental car, we recommend a 4 wheel drive vehicle equipped with both a GPS system and a good map. GPS will lead the way, but landslides and road construction are common. In which case, you can use your map to find another way.
We recommend going with private or shared transfers or a combination of both for your first vacation to Costa Rica. You can then see the road conditions and make an informed decision for your next trip.
Unsure of what to do? Let us make you a free custom trip plan!