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Costa Rica Rains Causing Death and Destruction

October 5th, 2013

ta2This is a travel advisory for those visiting Costa Rica but might also be of interest to anyone living here and experiencing their first “green season“.

While Costa Rica does not suffer from hurricanes (we are too far south) we certainly get some torrential rains every year during the rainy season (mid-May to maybe mid-December ).  October is the wettest month. This year is no exception, and in fact the rains have been just incredible the attendant flooding has been wiping out roads and bridges all over the country.

If this topic is of interest, read on…

Where roads have not been actually washed out, many are closed due to landslides. Detours are common and the detour routes are not at all marked clearly. The primary highway between San Jose and Limon is totally closed due to a bridge washout and will not be open for some time… with luck probably a week or two while a temporary bridge is constructed. See photo.brudge The route to Arenal has issues as well.

Night Driving

Traveling at night or during twilight can be extremely dangerous. This week proved that to a family of four (parents and two little girls, 11 and 7) traveling between San Jose and Samara (west coast) when the driver lost control of his rental car and stuck a bus head-on causing the death of the father, his wife and the 11 year old girl.  The 7 year old survived and is in Children’s Hospital.

Tips for travelers

While there is little a traveler can do if plans for a trip have already been made and you are already here or are on the way, here are some important tips, especially for those who are driving:

1. If arriving to Costa Rica in the afternoon and renting a car, please consider NOT driving that same day to any of the beaches.  The rains (normally) hit in the afternoon and early evening and can make driving treacherous… especially in an unfamiliar country where there are often NO signs nor addresses. Instead, book into a hotel near the airport for the night, and then pickup your rental car and do your traveling the next day in the morning. You can save some money doing that as well because of the shorter car rental.

2. If using a GPS do NOT play with it while driving! This IS directed at the males.

If you never paid attention to the old thing about not driving distracted, now is the time to take it seriously.  Costa Rica drivers are… ummmm… challenged, and you simply cannot afford to lose attention for a second. Remember!  Drinking and driving IS legal in Costa Rica (drunk driving no), so you should presume that you are sharing the highways with someone who is actively enjoying a beer or cocktail… especially if  you are headed to the coasts.

3, Never exceed the speed limit!  Why? Well for one it’s illegal and the other because the transitos (traffic police) are all over the highways and many target tourists.

4. If driving anywhere in the mountains or where there are steep cliffs/hills on the side of road (that includes ANY route to the coasts), expect landslides and slow your speed sufficiently to accommodate that possibility.

5. Do not tailgate, and in fact assure MORE than the assured clear distance. The beaches will still be there… I guarantee it.  Rapid and unexpected braking is very common on the highways because of all of the above problems.

6 If using a drivers license from your “home” country to rent a car, remember that your right to drive here does NOT expire on the date your home license expires but rather on the day after your visa expires (the visa stamped in your passport as you enter Costa Rica). That can be a week or two depending on the immigration attendant. It may not be 90 days as many have been led to believe.

7. There are ample gas stations here, but they are often MUCH harder to find than in the US or Canada. Plan ahead.

8. Roads in the US and Canada are graded properly to assist in runoff in heavy rains. That concept has escaped the highway construction folks in Costa Rica and that translates into a much higher probability of hydroplaning.

9. Until you get the hang of things here, drive in the daytime and drive rested.

10. While the roads here, especially the highways and toll roads are generally in decent condition, there are potholes, some quite large, that can cause you to lose control. Drive at a speed that allows you to see them and avoid them with dangerous swerving.

I may have forgotten something, so check the comments at the end of this post as a lot of my readers are pretty astute and will catch anything I forgot.

Come… Enjoy Costa Rica… but please be careful.


4 Responses to “Costa Rica Rains Causing Death and Destruction”

  1. Tim on October 5, 2013 4:56 pm

    I have just been told the route to Limon has re-opened!

  2. Jason on October 5, 2013 10:11 pm

    I’m heading to Limon from the Central Valley next weekend…glad to hear the route has re-opened.

  3. Lavae on October 6, 2013 8:55 am

    I couldn’t with agree with you more about driving at night. The mornings are beautiful, usually dry and sunny. There’s a small bridge out between Nicoya and Samara but the detour route is a good road and well marked from Nicoya to the beach; not so much, heading back. Add only 15 minutes to the drive.

  4. Walter Freeman on October 6, 2013 4:27 pm

    For the visitors –

    EVERYTHING Tim said is absolutely true. Please, please remember that this is NOT the 51st state. It IS beautiful and the people ARE friendly but your assumptions and expectations will NOT apply here.

    As to specific advice; I can only amplify Tims post about road hazards.

    While driving in rural areas be aware that, around the next bend, there may be a herd of cows, a oxcart or a slow moving funeral procession. The transition from urban to rural is extremely quick so – heads up and keep your speed down!

    Pot holes and the like are everywhere. When it rains they fill with water to the level of the surrounding road. You cannot see them, especially at night. Some of them are deep enough to do serious damage to your car or to deflect you somewhere you do NOT want to go. So do NOT be in a hurry.

    One last thing – it seems to be a national sport to remove manhole covers. If you put a wheel in one of these openings – it’s a guaranteed blown tire at the least and the worst IS the worst.

    As Tim says – “you simply cannot afford to lose attention for a second.” – we mean it!