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Local Driving Tips Only "Ticos" Know

Driving in Costa Rica can be complicated, but it doesn’t have to be. A few reasons are that the country lacks adequate signage, the infrastructure isn’t always in the best condition, and there are unspoken social communication that everyone knows…unless of course, they come from abroad!

Here’s some examples of Tico driving tips, especially for downtown San Jose:

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"Abbey Road" photo ©

1. Running a Red Light

It’s common for many drivers to speed up at the last second, when the light’s changing from yellow to red. This means drivers end up whizzing through the red light, or during the first few seconds after the change to red. If you’re waiting at a traffic light and it turns green, wait a few seconds before starting to drive — despite the inevitable honking from the impatient people behind you!

2. Disappearing Lanes

Often a street will have two lanes and one of them suddenly narrows and disappears. We recommend that you drive in the left lane to avoid being caught off guard during such occurrences.

3. Stuck Behind a Bus

Streets are quite disorganized, so buses normally stop and block drivers who are behind them. Do not drive behind buses on your route. This will take a LOT longer. Much like the narrowing street instances above, try to keep to the left as much as possible.

4. Difficult Road Signs

Probably one of the biggest challenges to driving in Costa Rica is the lack of signposting. Some areas do have appropriate and consistent signs, but many others do not. Do not expect all street signs to be perfect — some may even be hand-made. To help you along, one of our new WazePhones will aid in your navigational needs.

"Frog Sign" photo ©

5. Courtesy

Some drivers are friendlier than others, but most will follow these steps. When you need another driver to give you some space or let you through, it is common to establish eye contact and make a hand gesture. If there’s a passenger with you; they can help by lowering the window and waving to the other driver, so they’ll let you merge. Don’t forget to gesture a friendly "Thanks!" afterwards.

6. Horn

It is used liberally and with varied meanings. If you hear honking, another driver may be concerned you are rolling back towards them, you are being passed, you are too slow at going through traffic lights or there is an attractive woman passing by. Ya just never know!

7. Headlights

Flashing lights can signal that your high beams are blinding the approaching driver, there are traffic cops ahead, or a "Thanks." Roads may be badly lit, so full beams are sometimes a must. Try to be proactive in using high and low beams. Remember to use regular beams when driving in the rain or climbing steep mountains, versus blinding yourself with high beams.


With our insider tips on how to really drive like a local in Costa Rica, you’ll be ready to hit the roads with a smile. Our advice for the city will make your driving stress-free — just as a vacation should be!

"Our advice for the city will make your driving stress-free
— just as a vacation should be!"