Did you know that there are no addresses in Costa Rica? It may sound crazy, but it’s true! It’s not uncommon to get direction from people saying things like,”Turn left at the soccer field and drive 500 meters. It’s a pink house with black trim.” Soccer fields are an integral part of directions here. Because of this craziness, driving directions in Costa Rica can be a bit complicated.
We created this beginner’s guide to driving directions in Costa Rica to save you all from lots of frustration and wrong turns.
There Are No Addresses in Costa Rica?
I mean just what I said. There are no addresses here. In fact, people don’t even use street names within the capital, San Jose, because often there are numerous streets with the same name. For example, the road we live on has the same name as a road two streets over from us. Completely confusing, right?
I swear that I read once that this craziness is due to multiple countries trying to install their own street systems into the city of San Jose and the overlapping cultural influence just messed everything up. I wish I could find the article because it was really interesting, but I just spent an hour trying to find that info without much luck. If anyone knows more about this, please comment down below. I’d love to read up on it!
Despite there not being any addresses, we find it relatively easy to get around. Just put in the name of the hotel, restaurant, beach etc. that you would like to go to in your chosen direction app and it will (hopefully) direct you without any problems.
GPS in Costa Rica
All rental car companies in Costa Rica offer GPS rental as an add-on to your rental car. If you through Adobe (our favorite rental car company here) they will charge you $9 a day for a GPS. This is pretty standard here. However, this adds up fast. If you have the option of using your cell phone for directions it will likely be much cheaper.
Note: Grab your 10% car rental discount with Adobe here.
If you do opt to rent a GPS unit from your rental car company you can expect updated road information and accurate directions. We have never had any issues using a GPS unit in Costa Rica.
Waze in Costa Rica
Waze is a free app which we absolutely love for driving in Costa Rica. This app is really popular here, which helps make it even better. See, on Waze, you can mark if you are driving and there is something in the road, a policeman ahead, etc. This is great because as you are driving you will be warned of everything to come. You can also do your part and help make other drivers aware of things coming up on their journey.
If you would like to use Waze during your time in Costa Rica (which we highly recommend) you will need cell phone service. We wrote a complete post about how to use your cell phone in Costa Rica here.
Google Maps in Costa Rica
We have used Google Maps for directions in Costa Rica, but definitely, prefer Waze. We just really like the features on Waze that help to make us fully aware of what is happening on the roads around us.
Google Maps now has a feature where you can put your route in ahead of time and save it for offline use. It will then direct you even without internet. You can even take wrong turns and it will redirect you back on to the correct road.
If you do not want to rent a GPS and will not be able to use your cell phone in Costa Rica, this is a great option for getting around. The one downfall of this feature is that we have had it glitch out a few times. This means you could end up stuck somewhere and have the directions stop working. We definitely suggest playing around with it a bit before coming to Costa Rica so you can determine if it works for you.
Helpful Spanish Phrases for Driving
In case you find yourself in a situation in which you are unable to figure out where to go, don’t hesitate to ask for help.
We just have to warn you though, that Ticos are so sweet and hate to look bad, so even if they aren’t totally positive where you need to go, they might attempt to give you directions anyway. Really, you just have to be the judge of how much the person you asked for help seemed to actually know what they were talking about.
Anyway, here are some phrases you can use in Spanish to get help.
You can say:
Do you speak English? – ¿Hable ingles?
I am going to ….. – Voy a…..
Can you give me directions? – ¿Me puede dar direcciones?
How do I get to… – Como llego a…?
Where is… – Donde esta…?
Where am I? – Donde estoy?
I am lost. – Estoy perdido.
Their answers may contain:
Left – Izquierda
Right – Derecha
Straight – Derecho
Continue straight – Sigue Directo
First – Primero
Next – Siguiente
Corner – Esquina
Block – Cien Metros
Stoplight – Semáforo
North – Norte
South – Sur
West – Oeste
East – Este
Our Experience With Driving Directions in Costa Rica
About a month after we moved here my mom came down from Boston as a way of escaping the snow. My mom has a bad habit of getting excited about the places I am living and being the first person to visit. This means she ends up being the first travel guinea pig and there are almost always disasters. This time was no different! Besides our hellish car rental experience, we also turned what should have been a three-ish hour drive up to La Fortuna into about a five-hour drive.
Thomas and I hadn’t driven in Costa Rica yet, so although we know that there were no addresses we were unaware of how poorly the roads tend to be marked. I naively thought I could just take screenshots on Google maps and we would be good to go….yea…no!
We somehow (I honestly have no idea how) ended up in some hilly community with nobody around. We eventually found a town center and in limited Spanish asked how to get on the correct road. We eventually found the correct road and there were luckily signs for La Fortuna which we were able to follow. Although, even the signs for La Fortuna were very confusing. There would be a sign saying “20 kilometers to La Fortuna” and the next sign would say “24 kilometers to La Fortuna.” It really wasn’t helpful.
Thomas and I were also in a situation the is past year with my dad in which all the roads were blocked after Tropical Storm Nate. Yes, my parents have really great luck with getting around in Costa Rica! 😉 Anyway, we luckily have Waze on our phones and were eventually able to get home (after over 24 hours of trying to get back to San Jose). It was a bit of a nightmare at the time, but it makes a good story now! You can read about our experience here.
Anyway, the lesson is, you never know what is going to happen while driving in Costa Rica so having a good way of navigating the country is essential.
Our Suggestions for Directions in Costa Rica
– Although directions can be a bit difficult, we still think that renting a car and driving is definitely the best way to get around in Costa Rica. By renting a car you have the flexibility to see what you want when you want. We are all about off the beaten path activities and these just aren’t possible when you are traveling by public bus, shuttle, or pre-arranged tours.
We have partnered with our favorite rental car company in Costa Rica, Adobe to bring you a 10% discount plus other great perks. You can find out more about this discount here.
– Keep in mind that often drives take longer than listed on your GPS. In fact, I can only think of one time when we got to a destination faster than Waze originally predicted and that was only because we left San Jose at about 4 am to drive to Tamarindo in order to skip the commuter traffic.
– Please don’t try to depend on a map for directions. You are much better off with some sort of GPS/ direction app.
– The roads in Costa Rica tend to be very curvy. If you often get car sick, like me, I highly suggest bringing your favorite method of preventing motion sickness.
If you have any questions about driving directions in Costa Rica or have any suggestions please leave them in the comment section below. We love to hear from you and are always happy to help you out.
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