Traveler Tips: Understanding Costa Rica Directions

Veteran travelers to Costa Rica know that local directions are just a wee bit different than those you’d use back home. Forget street names or numbered buildings… in the land of Pura Vida this type of information is useless mostly because it doesn’t exist outside of newly developed urban areas. Instead, Ticos rely on the cardinal points (North, South, East and West) and use these in combination with major landmarks to get where they’re going.

Driving Directions in Cost Rica

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Getting from Point A to Point B

It’s helpful to know that blocks are measured in meters (metros) in Costa Rica. So, if someone tells you the supermarket is 100 meters down the road and on the right that means it’s just one block away. For example, a typical address may be written like this: “400 meters east from the post office and 200 meters north, across from the public swimming pool.” There are relatively few roads or streets with proper names (or signs), and it’s rare to see buildings marked with numbers outside of San Jose.  If you’re driving to your hotel or beach vacation rental, you’ll likely be provided with very specific directions that utilize a combination of well-known landmarks and the distance travelled.

Benefits of GPS in Costa Rica

Driving in Costa Rica

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For those who are driving a rental car in Costa Rica, most companies offer GPS devices for a nominal daily fee ($8-$12). These can be incredibly helpful, even in some of the country’s more remote regions. The bulk of reputable car rental agencies offer the GPS system called E-Z Find Costa Rica, but if you already own a Nuvi or Garmin unit, these also function well with Costa Rica GPS maps.  Purchase the maps online for 10, 20 or 30 days depending on the length of your vacation. Most feature more than 20,000 notable points of interest ranging from airports, hotels, tourist attractions and gas stations to volcanoes, rivers and other geographical landmarks.

Practical tip for knowing east from west

If you find yourself lost and unsure of your cardinal points, keep in mind that the majority of all churches in Costa Rica face east. Every town and city has a central park flanked with a Catholic church, so from this point you can establish the rest of your cardinal points. Ticos are always willing to lend a helping hand, so when in doubt just ask a local for help. It’s a great way to practice your Spanish! Taxi drivers are a tremendous resource and will often go out of their way to show misplaced tourists the correct turn or landmark needed.

Varied transportation options

If you’re not planning on flying or driving in Costa Rica, public buses take all the hassle out of reaching your final destination, but their schedules can often be limiting. For short hops around town, taxi cabs are cheap and reliable. And several private companies offer door-to-door shuttle service in shared mini-vans that accommodate up to 16 people. However you choose to travel, decoding the local directions is half the fun!

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