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Costa Rica Tourist and Visitor Advisory

May 6th, 2011

I know a lot of the visitors to the REAL Costa Rica are folks either planning a trip to Costa Rica or are considering a move here either for retirement or work related. It occurred to me that many of these people are not Spanish speakers and have no idea of some of the issues that may affect them when they arrive here.

With this in mind, I am starting a new Category names TRAVEL ADVISORY. This way, travelers can perhaps learn about some things that may affect them negatively while in country and perhaps better prepares themselves for their visit.

If any of my Costa Rica readers have an idea of other topics (and no, I am not going to revisit crime as it is overworked everywhere), add your thoughts to the comments. I am going to start with two advisories that may or may not be well known outside of the country. The at-times dangerous beaches of Costa Rica and the travel resstrictions around San Jose. If the topic interests you… read on!

Costa Rica’s lovely beaches can be very, very dangerous

Regular readers know that I have a generally low opinion of lawyers. Here, I am referring to US lawyers who have worked hard to develop a system of conflict much to the detriment of the populace. Tort lawyers are my favorite targets. But I digress!

What is common in the US are the overabundance of warning signs nearly everywhere. This is probably because someone got sued and now puts up warning signs to avoid getting sued again!

Now some warning signs are good. Some are stupid.

Telling folks not to use the hair dryer in the shower is a good example! I prefer they USE the hair dryer while showering thus possibly removing themselves from the gene pool.

I also remember reading a warning notice while unpacking a child’s play pen that touted one of its major features as “play pen is easily folded and stored”The warning packed with the play pen  simply stated “IMPORTANT! Remove baby before folding and storing!”

I guarantee there was a lawyer there somewhere behind that warning… and likely a parent or caregiver with the IQ of a prune… but again I digress!

The one sign that pretty much nobody can argue with is that big mother near the beach that warns that “swimming is dangerous due to severe undertow or rip currents.

Sadly, while the beaches in Costa Rica can be wonderful, they can be dangerous beyond belief.

According  to the Red Cross (Cruz Roja) 47 people have drowned in Costa Rica this year.

This week, Caity Jones, James Smith and Kai Lamar, three high school students at Patriot Preparatory Academy (the old Liberty Christian Academy?) in Columbus, Ohio, drowned at Playa Bejuco, near the town of Parrita.
Unless I am mistaken, this is the SAME beach that claimed the lives of two other youths maybe two years ago.

Now some readers might wonder how these three kids ever got near the water without the chaperone or  person in charge of supervising them checking for dangerous conditions before the fact… but I suppose that is another story… one that will probably involve a lawyer.

Listen folks… PLEASE respect the beaches here and the danger they can represent. Very few beaches have lifeguards so the burden falls on you, especially if you are the parent.

Just because you see no signs warning of danger, do NOT presume there is no danger.  Most kids… and teenagers are the worst… think they are bulletproof. Nothing can happen to them.  Wrong.

Learn how to identify rip tides and undertow conditions. Learn and teach your kids what to do if caught in these conditions. If you can’t do this or feel you need more input, check with hotels or even restaurants on the beach for current conditions.  Get a few opinions.

If really concerned, patronize those beaches in Costa Rica that have lifeguards on duty.


San Jose Travel Restrictions

Most residents in and around the San Jose area or central valley already know this, but I get email from some really torqued tourists who found out about this the hard way.

Visitors to Costa Rica seldom know about this unless their car rental agency makes a point of mentioning it. Most do not, preferring a small placard that may or may not ever be read.

This is a nice little surprise and just another way that Costa Rica builds excellent relationships with its tourist trade.

Basically, here is the deal:

Traffic is restricted in and around San Jose on weekdays from 5 AM to 7 PM.

The day of the restriction is based on the last digit of your (or your rental car’s) license plate.   1 and 2 on Monday, 3 and 4 on Tuesday, 5 and 6 on Wednesday, 7 and 8 on Thursday and 9 and 0 on Friday.

The borders are Pavas and La Uruca on the west, the Circunvalación on the south and east and the main highway of Calle Blanco on the north, and  I am 100% sure that every one of you know exactly what that means… right?

So here’s the deal: Do not even try to guess where those boundaries are. Hell, I live here and only know two for sure! Basically… Just stay away from San Jose on the day that affects you.

Example: Your license plate ends in a 6? Stay away on Wednesdays.

A supposed exception will be between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m. and from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. for passenger cars containing four persons. This is horse pucky as the transit cops have no idea how to enforce the law. Supposedly, you are exempt if 1) your car is full and carries 4 passengers only or 2) 4 passengers except if 3) the vehicle can carry 9 passengers but you have 6 unless 4) your car carries 5 passengers then you really need 5 passengers unless 5) it is a Tuesday and it is raining and you are driving a blue car and using headlights, in which case… oh phooey… just stay out of San Jose on your day. Basically, the law is a good one cutting back on traffic and pollution… but geez they make it hard for anyone to just… get it! The fine is 31,600 colons or about $64 and there is probably a little extra 30% for something.

14 Responses to “Costa Rica Tourist and Visitor Advisory”

  1. Ray Wallace on May 7, 2011 5:36 am

    Great job, I really appreciate your concern about tourist and visitors coming to Costa Rica, really enjoy reading your blog. I feel the same way about american lawyers.

  2. Brandi Whitehurst on May 7, 2011 6:42 am

    So if I am flying in to San Jose on a weekday, I need to make sure the tag on my rental car will allow me to drive out of the city to my final destination? And when I come back to San Jose the day before my return flight, I will need to come in after 7 pm or be prepared to pay a fine? I am hoping this fine wouldn’t be anything that would delay our return and could be mailed or paid on the spot. Thank you so much for this advice. Perhaps I can taxi out of the city, then rent a car… Doesn’t make San Jose sound very visitor friendly, but I can appreciate their desire to reduce pollution.

  3. Deborah Hearn on May 7, 2011 7:10 am

    When I read the article about the students that drowned, my second thought besides the fact that they had died, was the horrible thought of U.S. attorneys trying to invade Costa Rica. It is funny you mention the lack of signs there. We noticed that if you missed the one and only sign telling which way to go for a certain town, you had better get your compass out(my son brought one). When we returned to Ft. Lauderdale was when I really noticed the incredible volume of signs telling you what to do and not do.
    I had spent 10 days in a beautiful country that assumed you could figure out what to do with yourself. That is when I knew I had to consider retirement in Costa Rica.
    I loved the fact that they did not require you to take off your shoes at the airport but that has now changed to removing them. I thought oh no please don’t tell me that U.S. attorneys have put some kind of sanctions on the airport there. The Mexicans are adamant about leaving your shoes on and have a sign for Americans to follow posted everywhere.

    Love the blog by the way,

    4 years to go til retirement hopefully.

  4. Tim on May 7, 2011 8:52 am

    Not that simple. First the airport is not in San Jose and you may never need enter SJ unless staying there. If you get a ticket, the car rental company pays it and you get charged.

    Best to go over routes and options with the car rental company.

  5. Wayne Crawford on May 7, 2011 9:13 am

    Excellent information. It’s refreshing to read something that is not “selling”.

    A child on vacation. Every parent’s nightmare. Our
    army of rules and regulations don’t really prepare us for a life outside the USA.

    You keep up the informative work. I’ll work a little harder with my Rosetta Stone.


  6. Richard Sher on May 7, 2011 10:02 am


    I am very very relieved to find this blog. I am moving into a home I built in Tamarindo this July.
    My children will be staying with me for several months as well.

    I have laid in bed worrying about all of the terrible stories I hear about crime in Tamarindo. The security company that I retain offers armed response but people tell me that that is insufficient and that I should add bars, razor wire and a metal gate as additional deterrents.

    I would really appreciate feedback on this so I can spend what money I have wisely.

    ALSO: When I finished the home the attorney I hired to do the closing documents put in for the value of the home the actual cost to me. That number was based on the amenities that we were supposed to receive such as a recreational facility, beach club, security, landscaping,walls and personal services. None of these ever materialized yet we must pay Taxes of $3,600 per year. I was just informed that we are stuck with these fees even though our home is worth less than half of what we paid. Does any one have any advice or offer any hope for reducing this amount.


    Richard Sher

  7. Mark H. on May 8, 2011 7:05 am

    Great information! I am in Costa Rica at least twice a year and the last for two months. I stay and am planning to move in the Manuel Antonio/Quepos area. I often see teens right out of high school who seem to be careless at the beach and in the bars. I hope as more arrive they begin to educate themselves appropriately. Maybe an article about being arrested in Costa Rica is not the same as being arrested in the U.S. would shine some insight….referring to the bars.
    I also didn’t know about the San Jose restrictions because I caught the bus everywhere. There were a couple of times when I was going to rent a car and drive to San Jose from Quepos but decided to ride the bus. Much cheaper! This was definitely helpful as I am returning next month and plan to stay in San Jose a few days. Thanks again!

  8. don derkach on May 8, 2011 9:50 am

    One more statement about Costa Rica I forgot to mention. Like all the Latin American countries I’ve visited, Cost Rica may be a tier above your average third world country, but citizens have to cultivate a sense of community. Family is important- that’s your family- and people could care less about the world beyond the stone wall and hefty gate fronting the house: cracked sidewalks, horrible roads, corruption and poorly paid government employees and shoddy uildings. Communal responsibility is visibly lacking. This pretty country can be prettier.

  9. Jim Williams on May 9, 2011 11:25 am

    We just returned from a week in CR and had the experience of being pulled over per the license plate restriction as we tried to enter San Jose. As soon as the transit police realized we were driving a rental car, they waved us on.

  10. Bert on May 9, 2011 11:27 am

    We are visiting CR for the first time next month. We are doing the 9 day tour with Caravan. I hope we made the right decision. We hope to see a lot of areas with limited risks and still have an opportunity to experience the real culture, beauty and relaxation this vacation can offer. Do you think this was a good idea?
    We hope to focus on coffee, chocalates, cigars and calmness.Our itinerary includes two days each in San Jose areas, at Pachra Lodge, Fortuna, Hacienda Pinila and one day back in San Jose. It may be too late to change our plans. but, would like your comments, if possible.
    Can you give specific names of shops to buy decent Costa Rican cigars and real Cuban cigars.

  11. Tim on May 10, 2011 7:06 am

    Well…. never used Caravan or any tour operator… but never heard anything bad. Have fun… but of course you will never “have an opportunity to experience the real culture” on a vacation. Gotta live here for that.

  12. Tim on May 10, 2011 7:07 am

    Cool! You dodged a bullet!

  13. Sarah on May 22, 2011 3:24 pm

    Thanks for this advisory. My cousin and I (2 ladies) are staying a few extra days in CR after a conference in June and your blog is very helpful.
    We are going from Escazu to Quepos for Manual Antonio for 2 days then back to San Jose for a day before heading home.
    If all the activities should be done early in the AM and our flights from Quepos arrive at noon to San Jose; any suggestions on what to do for the afternoon and evening before we have to fly out the next day?

    Thanks for your help!

  14. lisa on June 29, 2011 11:34 am


    I am considering moving my family and three very small children to costa rica. I am looking at the santo domingo de heredia area. Can you please tell me what the above post about armed response not being enough that one needs razor wire etc to protect oneself? I knew petty theft was a problem, but thought aggravated burglary and violent crimes were relatively few. Have things changed? Is this area known to be a target area?

    Thank you! I look forward to meeting you soon as a fello tican