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Traveling by car - San Jose to Tamarindo

Hoboken, New Jersey
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Traveling by car - San Jose to Tamarindo

Hello everyone.

I've been doing some research about driving in Costa Rica and it seems most people advise against it. However, most of the posts I have seen refer to people exploring in Costa Rica and not just traveling from point A to point B on the main roads.

So, my question is, is the road from San Jose airport to Tamarindo reasonably safe to drive myself? Keep in mind that one way I plan to drive in the day but on the other leg I need to go at night. Also, I hope to make this drive at the end of May so not sure if road conditions are any worse or better at this time of year.

Any help is greatly appreciated.

Nowhere
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1. Re: Traveling by car - San Jose to Tamarindo

You've read that most people advise against driving in CR? Where?

The only people I've ever heard advise against it are those who shouldn't be on the road to begin with - anywhere. They can't figure out how to drive around an obstacle that can be seen from a mile away. Instead, they'll panic and stop dead in their tracks.

Driving in CR is different than it is in the US. Alas, driving in Italy is different than in the US. Driving in Germany is different than in the US. Driving in Turkey is different than in the US. And so forth. In other words, there are always people who are intimidated by rules and behaviors unfamiliar to them. Italy? Too chaotic. Germany? Too fast. Australia? Wrong side of the road. India? All of the above. I see some of these people on the roads where I live - and it is clear to me that they would NEVER be able to drive abroad. Alas, they wouldn't be able to drive in NYC, either.

Do you ever drive into Manhattan? CR is a cake walk compared to that.

Yes, traffic can be excruciatingly slow to the point where you know that you can walk faster. Signage can be, well, confusing or absent. Potholes can be huge. Cows and other animals may be on the road. Drunk driving does happen on Fridays. People will pass in blind curves. Roads are narrower than in the US.

Alas, that's just what it is. You don't have to participate in any of it. All you need to do is keep your eyes open and adhere to the speed limit and other traffic laws.

Driving from SJ to Tamarindo is easy and straight-forward. I really don't know what dangers you expect.

Costa Rica
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2. Re: Traveling by car - San Jose to Tamarindo

Totally agree with Framptonian.

It's like driving in the US before the Interstate system was put in place. Many two-lane roads that pass through villages, etc. But nothing inherently dangerous.

And PS: don't drive from one location to another at night -- unless they are very close.

Here's the scenario: You are driving along in the dark and you suddenly see a person on a bicycle who is wearing dark clothes and no reflectors so you are pretty close. You will have to go into the other lane to pass the person on the bicycle. Coming towards you in the other lane is an 18-wheeler.

Nowhere
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3. Re: Traveling by car - San Jose to Tamarindo

Indeed, that's the only caveat: Avoid driving at night unless it's short distance and you know where you are going. Otherwise, it's too easy to get lost, run into a cow (nothing beats a black cow on black tarmac when there's no moon! - don't laugh! That has happened to me!), or encounter some person who has fallen asleep in the middle of the road (has happened to me, too).

Chicago, Illinois
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4. Re: Traveling by car - San Jose to Tamarindo

I agree with the above advice but keep in mind that the OP noted he plans to drive one way at night. I assume you have one of those crazy departures leaving in the middle of the night. In that case I would suggest you leave mid-afternoon for the return leg so that you can do most of the drive before dark. Then drop off the rental car, take a taxi to downtown Alajuela or one of the airport hotels for a late dinner before heading to the airport. One of the hazards of driving in Costa Rica after dark is hitting a pothole and I always seems to get a flat on the darkest stretch of road making tire changes a real pain in the neck. You do need to leave extra time in your return trip in case of that flat tire or accidents that can block the roadway.

For directions check out www.yourtravlemap.com Just input Alajuela as the starting/ending point since the San Jose airport is actually NW of town in Alajuela.

Edited: 12:14 pm, May 15, 2014
Chicago, Illinois
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5. Re: Traveling by car - San Jose to Tamarindo

Oops typing error - the link is www.yourtravelmap.com

Hoboken, New Jersey
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6. Re: Traveling by car - San Jose to Tamarindo

Wow! Thanks for the input and fast responses.

I've driven in countries all over the world including Ireland, France, Australia, India (danger!) and yes, Manhattan. Sounds like renting a car it is. However, the night drive is unavoidable I think but sounds like if I take it easy and go slow there should be no problem.

To address the question of where I read that it was not advised to drive in CR for a first time visitor:

anywherecostarica.com/travel-guide/rental-ca…

frommers.com/destinations/costa-rica/733113#…

Costa Rica
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7. Re: Traveling by car - San Jose to Tamarindo

Where will you be driving at night? Maybe we can give you some "things to look out for."

Nowhere
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8. Re: Traveling by car - San Jose to Tamarindo

Ah, I see. I think the warnings on those two sites are actually right on target. I wouldn't interpret them as "don't drive in CR," though. You can tell that their assessment of the situation is essentially the same you were given here.

And rightfully so. Some people lack any and all confidence behind the wheel and for them, driving in CR is about as advisable as driving in Rome. They can't do it and they shouldn't.

If you have confidence and experience (and haven driven in India definitely counts), you'll be fine.

Still, driving at night is a different game. I wouldn't recommend it to somebody who doesn't know the country - but I, myself, have no problem doing so. If there's no way around it, you'll have to bite the bullet - but go slow and always expect the unexpected.

I once had a car come toward me on a steep and curvy mountain road. The car was way too fast - and on its roof. Turns out that a tanker had lost many gallons of oil on the road. Nobody had closed the road, nobody was cleaning it up, nobody warned any drivers. I put my car in four-wheel mode and was sliding all over the road in an attempt to get out of that situation.

Anything can happen - don't speed and don't assume that the road goes straight because there are no warnings as to the opposite. Always be defensive, even when you are uber-frustrated.

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9. Re: Traveling by car - San Jose to Tamarindo

On your route you have been given great advice but in most cities, especially San Jose, driving at night is easier - less traffic and distractions and you can actually see ehat colour the street lights are.

Nowhere
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10. Re: Traveling by car - San Jose to Tamarindo

CanaTico - I think he is wondering about driving from Guanacaste to San Jose at night...

Alas, I am not sure that driving in San Jose at night is all that great or recommendable, either. One wrong turn and you can find yourself in Leon XIII or the Hatillos. I don't like being there during the day and certainly would NOT EVER want to be there after dark. No, thank you.

I am one of those expats who don't fear SJ after dark and I have been known to find myself in unpleasant circumstances (no surprise to Sara F, I am sure) and while I agree that there are fewer distractions and a whole lot less traffic, there's a certain downside, too. Sure, I love driving from Las Yoses toward the airport late at night due to the smooth flow of nonexistent traffic, but man, some areas certainly make me roll up my windows, keep the door locked, and ignore red lights.

Certainly, driving in Tamarindo, Liberia, or any other town is not a problem. Short distances are always easy. Traveling through the mountains for long distances? Now, that is a different question.