Costa Rica - why do so many people hire drivers?

Old Dec 29th, 2007, 09:49 AM
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Costa Rica - why do so many people hire drivers?

We plan to take our first trip to Costa Rica this year. We're a family, with kids aged 13 and 15.

We always just hire a car and go (except in China and Japan...) So, I was surprised to see that so many people hire drivers or take public transportation around Costa Rica.

How bad are the roads, really? Is safety really an issue?

We'll probably be making the usual first-timer's trip: San Jose, Arenal, Manuel Antonio...

Thanks!
travelgirl2 is offline  
Old Dec 29th, 2007, 10:19 AM
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We just came back (last night) from a 9 day trip to CR. We traveled with a 12 & 8 year old, and met up with family that included 5 other kids. We all rented cars. We saw lots of other tourists with rental cars, and many with the Tourismo tour buses. The roads ARE bad, especially going to the Monteverde Cloud Forest (nothing but one and 1/2 lane dirt/rock roads)and barely two lane roads paved roads over much of the rest of the country. And safety is a real issue. The locals are awful drivers. Lots of people on bikes, and walking on the side of the roads, dogs running all over the place. We had an accident - were side-swiped by a drunk Tico on the way to Arenal Volcano, and spent 2 valuable hours waiting in the driving rain on a mountainside for the police to come and file an accident report. There is a lot of driving involved if you go from one side of the country to another. We started in San Jose and drove to Playa Samara, and from there to the mountains. Since the roads are so narrow, we spent a lot of time looking at the back end of trucks going up the hills. And it does not take much (like a broken down truck) to back up traffic for miles.
If you have a weak stomach for mountain side driving, or are impatient, hire a driver. But be prepared for them to not be much better than the average Tico driver.
I saw lots of Tourismo drivers doing some crazy things! We had a great time (when we were out of the car!). If you rent a car, you'll have to pay a required fee for liability insurance. And be sure that your auto insurance, or credit card will cover any accidents.
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Old Dec 29th, 2007, 12:38 PM
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travelgirl2,
Driving from SJO to Arenal to Manuel Antonio and back to SJO shouldn't present any problems for you. These routes are simple. We and many, many others have done it numerous times. The roads on these particular routes are better than you might expect, and I think you'll find the sightseeing on the way interesting and fun.
When you ask how bad are the roads, it is hard to get the same answer from everyone. Growing up in the midwest, rural areas of our country, it isn't unusual for us to see potholes on the road or to drive on some washboardy country roads (unpaved). So from our perspective, most of the roads in CR are quite decent. To someone who has grow up knowing only freeways, perspective is different.
We have been literally all over the country and have been quite pleased with the roads with a couple of exceptions in more remote areas, where we have had to go slower, be bumped around a bit more, etc. But never, ever had any difficulty getting from one place to the other.
You do have to drive defensively and you do need to obey the speed limits. There are a few bridges that require extra care, etc. There is definitely a high fatality rate in CR, no question about that. But whether or not you do the driving yourself will not have a bearing on that. The roads are mostly narrow with no shoulders to speak of. Lots of curves, etc. Yes, animals on the road (or on the side--dogs, cows, horses, you name it). People have to walk on the roads because most don't have cars, and there are no shoulders for them to walk on. You'll find bicyclers on the roads as well. Given the same circumstances here, our fatality rates would be higher as well.
I, for one, wouldn't enjoy myself near as much there if it were more like "home". We expect to (and enjoy) experiencing the different culture, local people and roads included!
More than likely, you'll be pleasantly surprised.
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Old Dec 29th, 2007, 02:26 PM
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Why - has lots of different answers.

Obviously for those that have never driven in a foriegn country.

Safety - the other posters have touched on this, so I will only add that you will need to always watch your valuables. Never leave anything in the car unattended.

For us it is not about how bad the roads are or safety. It all depends on where we will be, how tired will we be when we arrive, where do we want to be on night one and sometimes what do we want to learn along the way. So we mix it up.

The year we visited MA we were arriving late afternoon. Wanted to be in MA when I woke the next morning. We hired a driver. I knew that in MA we would not need a car, and I hate to waste the money with a car sitting in a lot. Public bus in MA is cheap and convenient. Had car delivered at the end of our stay and drove to Arenal.

Sometimes we fly, drive and hire a driver all in the same trip. Like I said it just depends on what we are doing and where we will be. Costa Rica is a tiny country, but it takes a long time to get from one place to the other.

Renting a car in CR is not inexpensive, sometimes people just want or need to take the less expensive route.

And sometimes we just enjoy hiring a driver. They are so interesting and know just where to take you, what to point out, they are full of such valuable information.

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Old Dec 29th, 2007, 07:08 PM
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Here's why we used a driver in Belize and are going to use one again when we go to Costa Rica this summer:

1. Factoring rental cost, insurance, gas, etc..the cost is not all that much more
2. Not having to worry about driving and enjoying the scenery is a huge plus
3. A local driver will not only save you on travel time but can also point out local points of interest

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