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Driving by car is great option to visit CR and thousands of visitors every year rent a car and hit the road. This will give you the freedom and flexibility to go where and when you want. You will be able to reach places where the public transportation is poor or taxis not readily available. Many roads lead to/from San José but the road network is well developed in most of CR.
You do not need an international driver's license; you can drive up to 3 months on your valid home country issued. Police are very used to North American and many other foreign driver's licenses. An International Drivers Licence can be helpfulif if your licence is not in latin alphabet (ie Russian, Chinese, Arabic, etc.). The road traffic rules are no different from other countries, however, it is a good idea to drive carefully and defensively. Be careful at night, as some road are poorly lit and pedestrians are common on the roadsides as well as cars and bicycles with poor or no lights, animals, potholes and unmarked roadworks and other obstacles.
Speed limit: 50 km/h in the city, 80 km/h outside (90 km/h on highways). Keep to the speed limits at all times: traffic fines in Costa Rica can be as high as $600 for a small speed infraction, also speed cameras are being installed in cities and towns across Costa Rica. You will have no problem finding gas stations on the main roads. Unleaded gasoline and diesel are readily available and prices are fixedby the government (Recope) so all gas stations will have the same price.
Most roads are paved and in good condition (except potholes), but there are also gravel and dirt roads, mainly in the north and the east, where a 4WD is the better option - especially in the rainy season from May to November. You should get travel advice from your rental car agency, hotels and on the forum about your route.
A GPS is a useful tool and if you have one you can purchase and download a map before you get here, this will save you money instead of renting one, and many have features that will warn you of speed limits, intersections, one lane bridges, etc. You can buy a detailed, waterproof road map from your local bookstore and orient yourself with basic routes and lay of the land before consulting the forum for directions etc.
Driving times listed on websites can be deceiving; most trips take longer than planned because there are many unexpected situations that can, and will, slow you down: curves, pot holes, fog, rain, beautiful landscapes, monkeys on the side of the road, etc.
Check out this link for an interactive route planner and map with driving times and driving distances:
Check out this link for an interactive road map of Costa Rica
Check this link for many distances, road conditions and driving times:http://www.govisitcostarica.co.cr/tra...
Current gas prices in CR (Top box right column price in Colones per Lts): http://www.recope.go.cr/info_clientes...
Check out this link for a chart of the main distances and the difference in flying and driving. The chart can be found at the bottom right and will gives you good insight into which destinations are worth flying and which ones are worth driving.