Driving during the honeymoon - Just trying to remove stressors before they happen.
December 18, 2012 12:17 PM   Subscribe

We're going to Costa Rica for our honeymoon! We’re risk-averse and easily scared / frustrated while driving in the US. Should we drive ourselves or hire a driver / drivers in Costa Rica?

We're going to Costa Rica for our honeymoon in late May & early June 2013! But we're torn on whether to rent a car or hire (a) driver(s). We'll be staying near the Arenal Volcano for 5 nights and travelling around the area to do hikes, kayaking, and whatever other adventure we choose. Then we’ll be in the Guanacaste area for 4 nights and mostly relaxing but may need to get around a couple days.

The issue is: we are both easily flustered on the road. My fiancee does not like unfamiliar situations, and she usually asks me to drive in areas we don’t know very well. But both of us are easily scared and irritated by any craziness on the road. Cars coming into our lane are scary, cars getting too close alongside us is bothersome, uncertainty about road rules & right-of-way can be scary. When something like that happens, she gets scared, and I get a little scared + end up frustrated and feeling responsible for scaring her (even when it’s 100% not my fault, I still get frustrated - go figure). I’m worried that in an unfamiliar country we’re both going to get scared every time we’re on the road, which will lead to frustration and stress on our honeymoon. Neither of us has been in an accident in years, yet this lingers. “Think of driving there as an adventure” has no appeal to us.

This fear/frustration isn’t a huge deal - it’s far from a phobia - and if this were any trip besides our honeymoon I would definitely just rent a car and we would deal with the occasional scare just like we do today. But after all the wedding craziness, I want to make this as low-stress as possible, and this is a very likely stressor. So I thought that hiring a driver for some or all of our days might be a way to avoid some of this. We would still be on the same roads, but at least the driver would be used to the roads and how people drive, would know how to get where we’re going, and I wouldn’t end up feeling irrationally responsible for everything. Seems like a major stress reliever.

So help me out Hive Mind: am I overestimating how crazy and different it will be driving in Costa Rica? Some travel sites say “no problem!” and others say “look out, it’s nuts!” Are there reputable companies where we can hire a trustworthy driver for a day or several days? How much should we expect it to cost?
posted by Tehhund to Travel & Transportation around Costa Rica (19 answers total)
You DO NOT want to drive in Costa Rica if the US flips you out. You wouldn't even want to drive in Miami.

If you're looking for a stress free, enjoyable holiday, let the hotel point you to a driver who can do right by you. Besides, who better will know the little dives with tasty, fresh fish, or that wonderful stew like Mama makes?
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:19 PM on December 18, 2012

Driver, definitely. If you're getting between towns you might want to look into van transfers.

Costa Rica is incredibly fun but if you're scared of driving ( as I am) then don't risk it.
posted by sweetkid at 12:26 PM on December 18, 2012

The problem with driving in Costa Rica isn't the other drivers, but the unbelievably bad roads. We've driven all over the world, but Costa Rica wins the prize for unimaginably bad roads. So bad that sometimes 5 mph is your maximum safe speed. So bad that complete washouts, potholes that plunge toward China, and profound mud are not at all uncommon. So bad that you should never rent anything but an SUV.

I'd get a driver, you.
posted by bearwife at 12:31 PM on December 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

Get a driver. I spent about a month there a few years back (mostly in San Jose, but I got out to the countryside a bit) and you couldn't pay me to try driving there.

On the up side, the entire country is gorgeous, so you'll get to enjoy the the sights and sounds while someone else does the work.
posted by Perthuz at 12:53 PM on December 18, 2012

If you think it will be a stressful don't do it, you're on vacation.

I rented a car and drove for a week or so in Costa Rica in 2010 and I didn't think it was that bad, but it was very dry at the time so there weren't mud issues. Non-main roads were quite rough though, some hilariously so, and there aren't really any directional road signs.
posted by ghharr at 12:56 PM on December 18, 2012

Yeah, I've been to Costa Rica as a tourist and then I lived there and I have NEVER driven there and would never want to. Just being a pedestrian is scary as hell in some areas due to a lack of sidewalks, crazy driving, etc. It's totally not worth the stress, especially on your honeymoon.

When I was a tourist there and needed to go somewhere that wasn't practical by bus, I just had my hotel/hostel call me a cab(cheaper) or one of the private charter buses (nicer, more expensive, are basically vans that look like this and have a charter-type license for transportation). If you're staying at a busy hotel, and are looking to do most of the standard tourist things for each area, a lot of times the hotel will have a list of them that they can offer transportation to, so it can save you money because other people at the hotel can book and they can split the cost. I've only ever taken one from Arenal to Lake Arenal and then, after getting off a boat, from the other side of Lake Arenal to Monteverde. It was a little crowded but fine.

Sometimes the "cabs" they'll call are totally just a dude who is friends with the hotel owner but I've never had a problem. Just agree on the price beforehand. And if you want a ride back at a certain time let them know ahead of time and they'll come pick you up. It's really, really common to do this.

Lastly, I am super jealous. I love Costa Rica and would move back there in a heartbeat if I could swing it. I really love Arenal, the area around it is great and everyone is super nice. If you're staying in the actual town and interested in the "secret" local swimming hole that you can walk to, MeMail me. One of my favorite days ever was just swimming in the river with my boyfriend, away from everyone, watching birds and butterflies (this was in the off season though the town was still super full of tourists). Also, feel free to MeMail me if you need any other help. I have a lot of experience navigating the country and I've been all over it.

Oh and on preview: and there aren't really any directional road signs

Not only that, places do not have addresses. My address when I lived there was literally

Name of the town I lived in
10 meters past the Supermercado
diagonal from the Pulperia Abast
posted by primalux at 1:00 PM on December 18, 2012 [5 favorites]

I'll just add that when I stayed near Arenal several years ago, we took a taxi when we wanted to travel around, but there weren't any nearby where we were staying, so they had to drive quite a distance just to pick us up, which meant a fair amount of waiting and expense. We were at a B&B that may have been a bit remote, though; I don't know the area of Arenal that well (and it may have changed). YMMV.
posted by Ms. Toad at 1:03 PM on December 18, 2012

Driver. Driver, driver, driver, oh my GOD driver. Road conditions are not to be underestimated. Other drivers are fine, really, and generally less aggressive than in the US, but the horrific road conditions and constant threat of hitting a stray dog (there are SO MANY near La Fortuna) make driving in Costa Rica a nightmare. And I say this as having driven in Boston every day quite happily for fifteen years.

You will not regret a driver. Happy honeymoon!
posted by jesourie at 1:41 PM on December 18, 2012

Unless you're going to very remote places or have tricky logistical issues that require having a car (multiple parties with different schedules in your group, for instance), there's no reason to rent a vehicle in Costa Rica. Pretty much the whole country caters to tourists and even tiny towns in the middle of nowhere have plentiful taxi and turismo van options. Ruthless Bunny has it right, too: your driver will often make a great tour guide and turn you on to the best food/bar/beach that isn't in the guidebook.

Have a great trip! Pura Vida!
posted by maniactown at 1:46 PM on December 18, 2012

Central American roads are terrifying, although Costa Rica is a lot better than, say, Guatemala.

Every hotel and hostel in Costa Rica can arrange travel for wherever you want to go, and the public buses are the nicest I saw in Central America. Don't rent a car if you're at all stressed out by driving. You want enjoy it, and there is no real benefit to it.
posted by empath at 2:01 PM on December 18, 2012

Oh, and don't hire a driver, it's a waste of money. Either take a cab or the bus or go on a guided trip arranged by your hotel. The guided day trips are expensive, but you can meet other travelers, which is really nice, half of the friends I met when I was travelling I met that way. If you take a bus, don't check your bags, they don't really watch them. Buy a second seat to put them in if you have to. If you take a taxi in San Jose, watch the fare, because they will rip you of if you don't pay attention. You can also negotiate fares -- ask the price before you get in.
posted by empath at 2:06 PM on December 18, 2012

I live in Kenya, so in my warped POV the roads at least around San Jose were as delightful as northern California ;)

That said, I've got a great driver in San Jose for your time there, happy to memail you his contacts, just send me a note if you want them. He'd be way to pricey for getting around in the volcanoes area, but for getting out there and even coming back, and for all your needs around SJ, he'd hook you up with good prices. He does a lot of non-official work (airport pickups, house-sitting, etc.) for the higher ups / expats at Habitat for Humanity in CR as well as some people at my NGO, so he's very reliable and used to working with foreigners.
posted by allkindsoftime at 2:50 PM on December 18, 2012

A lot of terrain in Costa Rica is what I, a flatlander, would call mountainous. If you have never driven on said lumpy terrain, in the rain and fog, don't. not worth the stress.
posted by Jacen at 3:53 PM on December 18, 2012

May/June is also rainy season. When we went for our honeymoon in late May, some of the roads were actively being washed out. Add me to the barrage of voices saying to hire a driver. We had one during our honeymoon and it was an awesome experience.
posted by Addlepated at 6:25 PM on December 18, 2012

I'm Costa Rican and just to nth, GET A DRIVER. Roads are terrible, drivers are scary (my own family included, sorry about that), addresses are hilariously non-existent, mountains with spiraling roads of doom everywhere (or you can take the highway, which is prone to bridge collapses and landslides)...yeah, just have someone else drive you, it'll be a much less stressful honeymoon.
posted by Papagayo at 7:10 PM on December 18, 2012

I went to CR in May a few years ago. We rented a car for one day, but the rest of the transport was by transfer companies and plane within the country. It was awesome having a pro drive our little group of four. They always knew the best places to stop and had great insight into our destinations. I planned our whole trip with the help of forum members on tripadvisor.
posted by coolsara at 7:30 PM on December 18, 2012

I drive in pretty hazardous conditions occasionally, but I also tend to get anxious about driving.

My ex and I rented a car in Costa Rica. When the roads were bumpy we drove slowly. When it was dark and wet we drove slowly. When the construction workers were cleaning up the landslide that blocked the road for 30 minutes as we sat there, I got anxious that we might not make it to our ferry, but I don't think having a driver would have helped.

If not having to worry about driving makes it more of a vacation, then do that.

But my friends spent a few weeks in CR and only took buses everywhere.
posted by MonsieurBon at 9:13 PM on December 18, 2012

I spent about three years living there. If you're easily stressed out driving, you definitely don't want to try driving in Costa Rica as a foreigner. It's not for the timid, especially if you end up driving in the boondocks.
posted by Oso Mocoso at 10:37 PM on December 18, 2012

yes, grab a taxi, it'll be inexpensive. I went to a small beach town, Playa Dominical, and was picked up by the hotel I was staying at from the airport (SJO), but there were plenty of taxis run by independent owner-operators to be had.
posted by honey badger at 4:09 PM on December 19, 2012

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