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Costa Rica has long been a favourite with international tourists. A temperate climate, fabulous beaches and landscapes that range between verdant rainforest and volcanic terrain entice countless visitors from all over the planet every year. Visitors with their own vehicles can easily access these natural attractions as well as vibrant cities such as San Jose, Quepos and Liberia.
Principal highways are in good condition although drivers should keep an eye out for potholes. Traffic signs on the highways and in San Jose and other cities are good. On rural routes, signage is almost non-existent. Local drivers often speed and jump red lights so it pays to keep a safe distance when driving.
Driving licences: visitors from the UK can drive here with their UK licence or an International Driving Permit.
Which side of the road does Costa Rica drive on: the right.
Motorways: 50mph (80kph)
Rural areas: 37mph (60kph) or 50mph (80kph)
Built-up areas: 25mph (40kph) or 16mph (25kph) in the environs of schools and hospitals.
Alcohol limits: 0.05 per cent compared with 0.08 per cent in the UK. People convicted of drunk-driving face heavy fines and/or a possible prison sentence.
Driving age: 18 years; 21 years for car hire.
Seatbelts: the driver and all passengers have to wear seatbelts. Children under 12 years must travel in a booster seat.
Mobile phones and GPS: it is illegal to drive while using a hand-held mobile phone. GPS navigation systems are allowed and are offered as an add-on by some car hire suppliers.
Cost of fuel in Costa Rica: around half of the price it is in the UK.
Car hire and fuel payment: most of the big petrol stations and all leading car rental suppliers accept credit card payments. In rural areas, cash is a better option.
Insurance: third-party insurance is mandatory and included in car hire but it is best to get excess damage insurance too.
Traffic and parking: driving in San Jose and other large cities can be tricky as traffic congestion is bad and parking spaces are hard to find. Avoid street parking; instead park in a secure, paid garage if available.
National rail company Instituto Costarricense de Ferrocarriles operates a limited rail network in the country. The main services are from San Jose to Heredia, Belen and Pavas. Replica steam trains are one of the options for travelling around Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve.
Taxis are widely available in cities and the main tourist hot spots. Official taxis are easily recognisable as they are a brilliant red colour and have a yellow triangle with the licence number in it. Fares are generally inexpensive, with city trips rarely over £2, but passengers need to ensure the driver turns the meter on before setting off. Shared mini-buses specifically aimed at travellers are another option for inter-city journeys.
Tica Bus operates an international bus service from Tapachiula (Mexico) to Panama City that takes in San Jose and Liberia in Costa Rica, as well as locations such as Guatemala City (Guatemala) and San Salvador (El Salvador). Timetables and prices are available on the Tica Bus website. There are also buses to most areas of Costa Rica for under £4, with the bulk of the routes radiating out from San Jose. Fares are reasonable and the level of comfort onboard is good unless it is a peak holiday period, when overcrowding is a problem.
There is a daily ferry service from San Carlos in Nicaragua which crosses Costa Rica’s northern border to Los Chiles. Fares are around £4. Cruise ships often have stopovers at either Porto Caldera or Puntarenas on sea odysseys that also usually take in the Panama Canal. There are car ferry services which link the ports of Puntarenas and Paquera across the Gulf of Nicoya.
While Juan Santamaria International Airport is San Jose’s gateway for international visitors from Europe or North America, domestic connections are mainly served at Tobias Bolanos International Airport, also in San Jose. Daniel Oduber Quiros International Airport serves Liberia and the northwest Pacific coast. UK travellers can connect through Frankfurt, Madrid or a US airport.
For many visitors, San Jose is their first glimpse of the country. Exciting nightlife, Lankester Botanical Gardens, theatres and easy vehicle access to surrounding mountain attractions ensure the capital remains a tourist favourite.
Liberia, in the northwest corner of the country, is the gateway to the fabulous Pacific beaches of Papagayo and Flamingo, as well as Guanacaste National Park.
Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve is midway from San Jose to Guanacaste and boasts stunning landscapes and an abundance of activities. Forests, coffee plantations, monkeys and cooling mists are among the draws. Well-maintained hiking trails criss-cross the reserve.
The fairytale-like town of Santa Elena is near to Monteverde. Motorists taking the scenic route to Arenal Volcano can detour via the small hill town of Tilaran.
Southwards on the Pacific coast from Puntarenas to the Panamanian frontier are surfing beaches at Jaco and Hermosa, and the town of Quepos. The town has superb eateries and nightlife, and is the ideal base for trips into Manuel Antonio National Park.
Costa Rica’s proximity to the equator gives it a warm, tropical climate. Average annual temperatures range between 17°C and 35°C, although in mountainous regions and around San Jose it can be cooler at times. Most of the country’s rain falls between May and November. The Caribbean coastline is more humid and rain is liable here at any time of year.