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Traffic in Costa Rica

Hello everyone,

Which city or area do you live in in Costa Rica, and how do you find the traffic?

How long does it take to commute to work or run errands?

Is there a rush hour in your city? What times of the day would you recommend people to avoid driving if they can?

Are there any ways to avoid spending too much time in traffic in Costa Rica?

What is parking availability and cost like?

Thank you for sharing your experience.

Priscilla

Priscilla :

Hello everyone,

Which city or area do you live in in Costa Rica, and how do you find the traffic?

How long does it take to commute to work or run errands?

Is there a rush hour in your city? What times of the day would you recommend people to avoid driving if they can?

Are there any ways to avoid spending too much time in traffic in Costa Rica?

What is parking availability and cost like?

Thank you for sharing your experience.

Priscilla

Okay, well, let's start with a few adjectives as it relates to driving and traffic here in Costa Rica - insane, incredibly fast, unnecessarily slow, death-wish, crowded, pot holes (close to being ponds in the road), gravel, dirt, mud.  ...could go on and on.

Although I live in a relatively small town, there is rarely parking.  This can be said of any town that I have visited with a population of more than 5,000 people.  Many people commute between San Ramon, Alajuela and the San Jose area each morning.  On a Sunday morning this trip would take 45 minutes +/- .  During commute hours 1.5-2 hours, sometime more. 

I've always found it interesting how Tico's are very nice people, slow going in life, casual, move slow; however, about 60% of them get in a car and become Mr. Hyde.  Drive very fast, very unsafe and pretty much ignore every rule of the road.  Not sure how many even know their own laws.  Their driving manual is a "book" so that's somewhat understandable.

"What times of the day would you recommend people to avoid driving if they can?"

If you don't like traffic, between 7:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m.  Oh, you will definitely not want to drive at night either.  The truck driver's here believe that they own two lanes and have no issue with driving a full meter into oncoming traffic.  "Hey, they'll move out of my way."

So the sun comes up about 5:30, so, the safest time to drive would be between 5:30 in the morning and 7:00 in the morning.   :proud

The funny thing about this is that I've become used to it over the years.  There really are not "that many" bad drivers.  It's just that there are some REALLY bad drivers here and they stand out.  You have to look past it and not let it get to you.  (That can be said of many things here.)  I like my glass half-full so I choose to ignore the negative and look at the many, many positives here. 

...and I have a video camera on my car dash and on my moto for those special run-ins with the possible crazies.   :D

- Expat Dave

ExpatDave :

Okay, well, let's start with a few adjectives as it relates to driving and traffic here in Costa Rica - insane, incredibly fast, unnecessarily slow, death-wish, crowded, pot holes (close to being ponds in the road), gravel, dirt, mud.  ...could go on and on.

How dare you say anything less than complimentary about Ticos; or excuse me, some Ticos?

ExpatDave :

Although I live in a relatively small town, there is rarely parking.  This can be said of any town that I have visited with a population of more than 5,000 people.  Many people commute between San Ramon, Alajuela and the San Jose area each morning.  On a Sunday morning this trip would take 45 minutes +/- .  During commute hours 1.5-2 hours, sometime more.
I've always found it interesting how Tico's are very nice people, slow going in life, casual, move slow; however, about 60% of them get in a car and become Mr. Hyde.  Drive very fast, very unsafe and pretty much ignore every rule of the road.  Not sure how many even know their own laws.  Their driving manual is a "book" so that's somewhat understandable.

Agreed.
It was explained to me, by a Tico taxi driver, that the reason there is so much traffic now is that the banks made it easier for Ticos to buy cars and so everyone went out and bought one whereas before a lot of people didn't have cars.
Along those lines, I think it's pretty clear many Ticos don't know how to drive, plus they're new drivers with little experience.
And then there's the Tico attitude some Ticos have, that you don't need to follow laws or rules, you just do what you want. If that is parking in the middle of the highway or double-parking downtown , blocking traffic during heavy commute hours, then so be it...
Some Ticos will park right in the street or highway causing you to have to go around them. Sometimes going around them requires you to pass them on a blind curve or blind hill.
So this isn't just a "pet peeve" of mine, this is a truly dangerous thing that some Ticos do; and it's more than just a few; I see this constantly.

ExpatDave :

"What times of the day would you recommend people to avoid driving if they can?"

If you don't like traffic, between 7:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m.  Oh, you will definitely not want to drive at night either.  The truck driver's here believe that they own two lanes and have no issue with driving a full meter into oncoming traffic.  "Hey, they'll move out of my way."

I was going to mention this one myself, as well.
I have seen cars and pickup trucks and vans run off the road into ditches that could have killed them by trucks coming towards them INTO their lane. In fact it has nearly happened to me about 3 times. One time it scared me so much I was afraid to drive on that *major* road for months afterwards. The truck came into my lane on a curve and I swear his truck came within ONE INCH of hitting my car! It scared the bejeezus outta my wife and me!

ExpatDave :

So the sun comes up about 5:30, so, the safest time to drive would be between 5:30 in the morning and 7:00 in the morning.   :proud

The funny thing about this is that I've become used to it over the years.  There really are not "that many" bad drivers.  It's just that there are some REALLY bad drivers here and they stand out.  You have to look past it and not let it get to you.  (That can be said of many things here.)  I like my glass half-full so I choose to ignore the negative and look at the many, many positives here. 

...and I have a video camera on my car dash and on my moto for those special run-ins with the possible crazies.   :D

- Expat Dave

I agree with you about focusing on the positive and getting used to stuff. But it ain't easy!
The driving thing is my #1 complaint about Ticos and Costa Rica. I hate driving here. It's dangerous and you didn't even touch on the huge holes in the roads, the way they don't place cones to warn people of dangers and if they do they put them right on top of the danger instead of giving you lead time... Or in some cases they put the cones such that you have to pass on a blind curve to avoid the road work... with no one there to direct traffic. It's called "Oncoming Traffic Roulette"! Oh what fun and games!

But hey I'm telling the truth as I see it. I'm not anti-Costa Rica in fact I prefer living here over the USA. But I calls em as I sees em and issues around driving here is NOT one of the great things about Costa Rica.

Just to be pro-active here, being that some people will see my post above as unduly critical:

The great things:

Often helpful people
A generally more relaxed lifestyle
Abundant nature
Beautiful beaches
A friendly experience in most of the smaller towns (not necessarily San Jose)
No snow (only 1 exception I know of, Mt. Chirripo)
Cheap labor including cheaper mechanics, yard workers, construction, dentists, even doctors
Cheaper land and cheaper homes and home construction
And more ...

I live in Cariari, a small town 10 minutes from the airport, off ruta 1within the greater San Jose Metro area.   the traffic within Cariari is very little given that there is only one small commercial center in this town around the golf course.  But, to go anywhere, one must use Ruta 1 into San Jose or surrounding towns like Pavas, Uruca, Sabana, etc.  or use what I call calle 122 to go up, into Heredia or down into San Antonio de Belen.  Ruta 1 is bumper to bumper during rush hour.  Other hours are about a third of the cars, but there are always issues, like a semi rig wanting to turn, or construcion.    This entire area reminds me of a small town in America that refused to add or widen roads because it wanted to keep it's charm.  what it got instead was way too many cars on way too few traffic lanes.  so one lives with it.  And it is part of the charm of the place, actually. 

I don't mind the drivers.  Most drivers here are way more courteous than any I encountered in the US.  The drivers also communicate by tapping their horns, or briefly hitting the emergency flasher button to say thank you to the driver behind them for letting them into the lane of traffic.  Thankfully there is much less traffic control here than in the US.  There are no quotas that each traffic cop has to meet so there are far fewer traffic tickets issued than in the US.  The police don't pull people over here just because they don't like the look of them. 

One annoying issue is all the motorcycle riders think they have right away over all roads.  they pull in front of cars at traffic lights then proceed to drive slower than I drive, or they zoom up between crowded traffic lanes on the freeway, narrowly avoiding cars changing lanes.  it can be a bit frustrating . 

There is never enough parking for most businesses one deals with.  So one hunts for a space nearby.  it is what it is. 

It is always an adventure but almost always one of charm, amusement or shake the head bewilderment.  it keeps one on their toes so to speak.

With the new parking restrictions now in effect with huge fines and your plates being taken, hopefully parking ...and driving...will improve.

kohlerias :

With the new parking restrictions now in effect with huge fines and your plates being taken, hopefully parking ...and driving...will improve.

Let me explain for those who don't know. By the way I don't even know: Is this the same all over Costa Rica or just some areas, where they take the license plate if you get a parking ticket?

So the way it's been told to me is this: (Luckily I've never gotten a parking ticket but it's hard not to when there's no parking available sometimes due to all the yellow curbs!)

The transito gives you a parking ticket and they take  your license plate so you have to go into San Jose and stand in line somewhere to pay your ticket so you can get your plate back. Right?

If it is like that I can only say "That's KRAZY!"

Why not just do the same as I understand they do with moving violations: make you pay it  because if not you can't register  your car or go through RTV next time you need to. (not sure how that works either so correct me if I'm wrong but I heard that it's at least one of those, RTV or Marchamo, where you can't do it without paying your fine first.)

So yeah, if you live far away from San Jose, you have to take a bus into San Jose or get a ride, and go stand in line to get your plate back, right?

I know you'll correct me if I have it wrong. I want to know for sure how it is. Since I've never gotten any tickets I don't know 1st hand, I just know what I've been told.

Yes, they may take your plates, and recently it has been said on the news that it is taking weeks to retrieve them. There was an article this past week, explaining this but I looked for it earlier, but can't find it.

Traffic is Horrible most of the time and HORRIBLE-er😱 During rush hour! 10 kilometers may take 30 minutes or more! A helicopter would be a great way to beat it, lol, but realistically...a scooter! That 30 minute, 10K in a scooter..maybe 10 minutes. Parking is an adventure as well. People park EVERYWHERE.. Really! Even in areas that are marked as no parking. They Stop in middle of the road to drop someone off or pick them up or make a delivery!! Seemed like police ignored violations unless they were having a bad day until recently! They've started cracking down. Took plates off a 100 or more cars in downtown. (That's what they do here. You get a ticket and they take your plates! It takes weeks to get it resolved!) problem here is that the Car population grew much faster than  the roads. They are small and horribly laid out. Hey...the people are great and the weather phenomenal!

I live in San Pedro, San Jose area...I have a car and scooter by the way.

depends where you coming from

Samuel

Hmmm in my experience after over 2 years here it doesn't really matter.  Example: 11/2 to get to Jaco Beach..not bad for most part. Return trip 3-31/2 hours. Areas where 2-3 roads converge into one with NO signs, no lights nothing. It just happens and you are at a crawl 4 ever! Happens several times. I love the beach but stopped going because of stress with return traffic.
R

kohlerias :

Yes, they may take your plates, and recently it has been said on the news that it is taking weeks to retrieve them. There was an article this past week, explaining this but I looked for it earlier, but can't find it.

And so am I correct that it is illegal to drive without your plates even though you are driving to SJ to pay your fine to GET your plates?

Rahstingo :

Hmmm in my experience after over 2 years here it doesn't really matter.  Example: 11/2 to get to Jaco Beach..not bad for most part. Return trip 3-31/2 hours. Areas where 2-3 roads converge into one with NO signs, no lights nothing. It just happens and you are at a crawl 4 ever! Happens several times. I love the beach but stopped going because of stress with return traffic.
R

Is that just when coming back on Sunday or is it any day of the week, coming back from the beach?

Yes it is illegal!! You take taxi or Uber. Ive been through it! Took me 3 weeks and 2-3 different offices because the officer didnt turn in my plates...until he decided to! I hope it continúes though! Many times you have a 2 lane road, suficiente For 2 cars BUT they park illegally on BOTH SIDES OF THE ROAD!! Enough room for a single car...maybe!

In regards to the heavy traffic, especially on holiday  weekends, when many beachgoers are returning on the Caldera Highway, it has  one-way traffic on Sundays to assist  those traveling back to San José.

Actually not sure. Always go on weekend. Maybe Breyer during week BUT the secret is to leave very early on Sunday. Friend tried and return trip was only 11/2.  I think everyone leave early evening and then it becomes...hell!

I can only add....NOTHING!! You are spot on!! Except you failed to mention the IDIOTS on motos!! Aaaaa I have a scooter! I didn't know until recently that it is actually LEGAL here to drive in between car up to a certain speed😜 I was doing it already...I try to be courteous. But again I have nothing to add to you assessment on traffic. I actually take Uber to downtown. $4+- and  When I drive it costs $6-$10 to park!!

Rahstingo :

I can only add....NOTHING!! You are spot on!! Except you failed to mention the IDIOTS on motos!! Aaaaa I have a scooter! I didn't know until recently that it is actually LEGAL here to drive in between car up to a certain speed😜 I was doing it already...I try to be courteous. But again I have nothing to add to you assessment on traffic. I actually take Uber to downtown. $4+- and  When I drive it costs $6-$10 to park!!

I was going to mention this but was afraid I might mobbed by the rest of you.  😳  I also ride a moto and it's legal to pass between the first two lanes of cars or on the left.  I ride a larger bike so it's not something I always do.  But if traffic is stopped, it's soooo nice to simply pass "you all."  The thing that was strange to me here is how other motorcyclist will cut you off the same as they do cars.  So there's not even respect for other motos.  I actually kicked  guy off to the side who was on little moto who was about to tip me over by cutting too close.

On the ticket issue, my daughter got a ticket almost immediately after they painted the corners yellow in San Ramon.  She was about a foot into the yellow and got a $80 ticket.  Fortunately the did not take the plates, maybe because she was right there?  The insane part of this is that the whole block was painted yellow about a year ago but parking is legal - except on the corners  ...only in Costa Rica.   :joking:

- Expat Dave

Yesss it is nice to cruise by everyone. My wife won't ride with me so if we meet to eat, I'll be in my house half way through a movie before she gets home! LOL Last ticket I got was by San Pedro Mall. It was $8.00. Actually was cheaper than $2-+ per hour to park. I don't drive to downtown anymore either. Average parking cost was $6-$10 each time. Uber is about $3 from San Pedro. No dealing with traffic.

I have to drive my wife from Jardines de Tibas to Saban Sur everyday and it's terrible. The infrastructure in this country is abysmal; it's like they haven't progressed passed the 1920s here. The Costa Ricans also don't know how to pave roads properly. Often you'll see a freshly paved road and within a few weeks it will start to show....what I call "ripples" or little "waves." Soon after potholes will appear that often take months or weeks to be filled in. The potholes are often filled with any sort of debris-- sometimes even nails! I have had three flat tires in about nine months.

With the lack of freeways and expressways-- trucks and buses (cars too) are forced to traverse locals streets and avenues causing a lot of pollution in residential areas with all the stopping and going. The air in the central valley is pretty bad because of this and affects the health of the people. My brother-in-law commented on this on his recent visit from Oklahoma. He told me he noticed the terrible air quality as soon as he walked out of the airport.

I was a bus driver in the states so I am used to being a defensive driver which is really necessary here. Like someone stated above, the Ticos are very laid back and friendly in-person, but when these people are in cars......they become sociopathic and ruthless. Just selfish selfish motorists that do whatever they want to regardless of the toll on others. Not all, but a lot of them are just terrible drivers. They just don't think. 

The motorcyclists are the bane of the roadways. These jerks zig-zag in and out of traffic and feel that they are entitled to the entire roadway. While you are busy looking forward, they are always behind you.....scheming how to get ahead of you-- whether by passing you on the right or left. You need to be constantly scanning the roadways here when you drive.

Driving in Costa Rica sucks. : )

The Roads are as bad as the Traffic. With all the taxes here it makes you Wonder What they do with the money (left over from What polititians don't steal:)
It's  funny. I live near the Presidential office and...no holes in road! Also in more affluent areas the roads are in very good shape.
Well, the general consensus seems to be, traffic and roads in Costa Rica are....
H O R R I B L E !!!!

Rahstingo :

Traffic is Horrible most of the time and HORRIBLE-er😱 During rush hour! 10 kilometers may take 30 minutes or more! A helicopter would be a great way to beat it, lol, but realistically...a scooter! That 30 minute, 10K in a scooter..maybe 10 minutes. Parking is an adventure as well. People park EVERYWHERE.. Really! Even in areas that are marked as no parking. They Stop in middle of the road to drop someone off or pick them up or make a delivery!! Seemed like police ignored violations unless they were having a bad day until recently! They've started cracking down. Took plates off a 100 or more cars in downtown. (That's what they do here. You get a ticket and they take your plates! It takes weeks to get it resolved!) problem here is that the Car population grew much faster than  the roads. They are small and horribly laid out. Hey...the people are great and the weather phenomenal!

So, are you talking about Costa Rica or downtown LA?   :lol:   As you've pointed out, you live in the heart of San Jose.  This does not really apply to other parts of the country.  As with any country, you get near the larger cities, you will experience these same issues.

Have you spent much time in the rural areas?  You will find a different world here and might find a more positive outlook on CR.

- Expat Dave

ExpatDave :
Rahstingo :

I can only add....NOTHING!! You are spot on!! Except you failed to mention the IDIOTS on motos!! Aaaaa I have a scooter! I didn't know until recently that it is actually LEGAL here to drive in between car up to a certain speed😜 I was doing it already...I try to be courteous. But again I have nothing to add to you assessment on traffic. I actually take Uber to downtown. $4+- and  When I drive it costs $6-$10 to park!!

I was going to mention this but was afraid I might mobbed by the rest of you.  😳  I also ride a moto and it's legal to pass between the first two lanes of cars or on the left.  I ride a larger bike so it's not something I always do.  But if traffic is stopped, it's soooo nice to simply pass "you all."  The thing that was strange to me here is how other motorcyclist will cut you off the same as they do cars.  So there's not even respect for other motos.  I actually kicked  guy off to the side who was on little moto who was about to tip me over by cutting too close.

On the ticket issue, my daughter got a ticket almost immediately after they painted the corners yellow in San Ramon.  She was about a foot into the yellow and got a $80 ticket.  Fortunately the did not take the plates, maybe because she was right there?  The insane part of this is that the whole block was painted yellow about a year ago but parking is legal - except on the corners  ...only in Costa Rica.   :joking:

- Expat Dave

How do you know they won't give you a ticket for parking in the yellow that's not on the corners? I'd be willing to get a group together to donate some gray or ? paint to paint over the yellow in parts that "don't count"! Because it makes me nervous parking in yellow painted areas!
The last thing I want to do is make trips to San Jose or wherever it is, to get my license plate back!

samramon :
Rahstingo :

Hmmm in my experience after over 2 years here it doesn't really matter.  Example: 11/2 to get to Jaco Beach..not bad for most part. Return trip 3-31/2 hours. Areas where 2-3 roads converge into one with NO signs, no lights nothing. It just happens and you are at a crawl 4 ever! Happens several times. I love the beach but stopped going because of stress with return traffic.
R

Is that just when coming back on Sunday or is it any day of the week, coming back from the beach?

They only "re-painted" the corners.  So for now, the curbs on the corners are a bright yellow and the areas on the rest of the blocks that they painted in error about a year ago have now faded to a pale yellow.

Kind of a funny sentence to read if you don't live here.  Almost needs to be translated.   :lol:

- Expat Dave

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