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8 Rules on how not to get lost in Costa Rica

Estimated Reading Time: 8 Minutes

8 Rules to not get lost in Costa Rica

It’s difficult not to get lost in Costa Rica. Particularly when you are not familiar with the way we give directions here.

Few countries in the world use such directions. Instead, in most countries, giving an address involves a street name and a house number. Well, not in Costa Rica!

Here we have a very unusual way of giving guests directions on how to get to our house. But it works; you just need to get the hang of it, and you will not get lost in Costa Rica.

The fast way of sending someone a Costa Rica an address or directions to a place is to send a Waze or Google Map location. Nonetheless, thousands still use the old way of giving you an address.

Our real estate company has a real easy address: San Rafael de Escazu, de la antigua Paco, 200 norte, 25 este. Primera casa mano izquierda con tapia blanca y bougainvillea.

The first thing any foreigner bought for their car when arriving in Costa Rica was a compass. But, of course, I’m talking about those that you can stick on the inside of your windshield. Like you do now with your cell phone. That’s because you needed the cardinal points to understand where the north is to find an address.

A Weird Escazu Address

As you will see, the cardinal point system is essential to find out how not to get lost in Costa Rica. But, of course, you’ll first need to find out where la antigua Paco is. Let me help!

We use landmarks as a starting point and, from there, the cardinal points. More about landmarks below.

Paco, a famous landmark, was a doll factory in Escazu in the 1980s, owned by the Patterson family. Everyone in Escazu knew where the Paco was, so it was used for an address by anyone within a couple of miles. Next door was Trac-Taco, a retread tire factory. When the factory closed its doors, due to competition from China, Trac-Taco moved to San Jose. The owners of the real estate turned the two buildings into a strip mall, which became Centro Comercial Paco.

Of course, people could have started to talk about “Centro Comercial Paco” but memories seem to be important. Therefore the location became la antigua Paco and that’s what people still use to give directions here in Escazu.

In the old days, most businesses were at the same place forever. But nowadays few stay in business longer than 5 years. Therefore, Even if you find out where the Paco used to be, you will still need to find out where the north is to find our office if you do not want to get lost.

It would have been a lot easier to say: Carretera John F Kennedy, San José Province, San Rafael de Escazú, 10203, Costa Rica. The only thing missing is the house number, which we don’t have. That is how Google will give you our address when you check.

How not to get lost in Costa Rica
Do you know the way to San Jose

Street Signs

The streets in Costa Rica don’t carry a lot of signs. If you find one, it might be hidden or upside down and hard to figure out. So it’s not really something you can really trust to not get lost in Costa Rica. The lack of road signs doesn’t make driving in Costa Rica easier for you. Only the larger cities use the Avenue and Street sign system, such as used in the United States, although most signs are missing now.

Few corners carry street signs. You’ll also find street names that are invented by its neighbors, such as “Calle Perro Loco”. But if you put it on an envelope as an address, it might arrive, or it might not. Some municipalities have started to install street signs but nobody seems to pay attention to them.

House Numbers

I grew up with house numbers. Even numbers on one side of the street and uneven numbers on the other side. BUT, house numbers do not exist in Costa Rica either. Houses don’t carry numbers unless a homeowner uses an invented number to help identify his home. Here we use the color of the house, the gate, a column, a roof design, or we say it’s next to…

If you do not want to get lost in Costa Rica, do not count on using the street signs, or house numbers.

8 Rules on how not to get lost in Costa Rica
You have arrived at Calle Perro Loco (Photo: Solo en Costa Rica)

The lack of addresses

The Wall Street Journal is right, we don’t have real addresses in Costa Rica. So which way to go when you’re lost in Costa Rica? It’s quite simple. Just like so many other things you need to learn when you move to Costa Rica. Just like learning Spanish, you need to learn about the address system in Costa Rica, or better said: the lack of it.

8 Rules on how not to get lost

I put together 8 rules you need to follow if you do not want to get lost in Costa Rica:

1.    When you hit the ocean

When you hit the ocean, no matter which one, you went too far. We have two, in case you didn’t know. Oh, and we’re not an island!

2.    Use the sun

Get oriented by using the sun. Sunrise in the east, Sunset in the west. People have done it that way for centuries, so why wouldn’t you?

The address is 300 West, 200 south and 25 east of Lechería Bin Laden
The address is 300 West, 200 south, and 25 east of Lechería Bin Laden (Photo: Solo en Costa Rica)

3.    Find the church

If you get lost, find a Catholic church. 99% Of the Catholic churches in Costa Rica face west. That will give you the right direction. Pray you won’t find the 1% that looks a different way.

4.    Watch the mountains

If you are in the Central Valley, watch the surrounding mountains of the valley and learn to recognize them. See if they’re on the south side or any other side of the valley. Then you will be able to recognize the cardinal points pretty quickly.

5.    Drive in circles

If you are in a beach area, there is a good chance you will have a mountain range on one side and the ocean on the other. So there are not so many places to go to. If you can’t find your way out, drive in circles until you find someone who speaks your language and knows the area.

6.    Learn Spanish

Learn basic Spanish, so you can ask the locals for directions. Do not always trust someone who speaks your language.

7.    Use the landmarks

Costa Ricans give directions by giving you a landmark in a certain town or city and from there on using the cardinal points. Usually, these landmarks are a church, a park, or a well-known pulpería (small grocery store), maybe a place like Lechería Bin Laden as in the photo.

You will always be able to find a landmark in Costa Rica, still existent or not because everyone in town uses it. Although are called “antigua” which means it used to exist but is not anymore. Here are a few famous ones:

  • X meters from el antiguo Higueron in San Pedro – a fig tree that was cut down 25 years ago
  • Y meters from el antiguo palo de Mango in Bello Horizonte – a tree that was cut down
  • Z meters from la casa de Matute Gomez . He was an exiled general from Venezuela who passed away in 1958, but his house is still used as a landmark

First, drive to the city or town where you need to go to. Once you arrive, ask for the landmark. On the way, check where the north is, so you will understand where to go from the landmark.

If you don’t know how to ask for directions, go one step back to #6.

Which way is the one way?
Which way is the one way?

8.    Use a GPS or Waze

If you don’t want to do 1 – 7, get yourself a GPS with Costa Rica maps on it or use Waze or Google maps on your phone.

More rules

There are a few other rules you will need to know when driving and not to get lost in Costa Rica:

One way streets

Costa Rican cities have lots of one-way streets. A long time ago one Street would go north, the next one south and the next one north again. One Avenue would go west, the next one east and the next one west again. The one way streets are still customary but you might find 3 streets in a row go north and only one south as traffic planning in Costa Rica is in-existent.

Honk if you don’t know

Not all one-way streets have street signs telling you it’s a one-way street. Very few roads will carry a no-enter sign. If you’re not sure it’s a two-way or a one-way, drive carefully until you’re honked at, or not.

You might not be able to see the stop sign
You might not be able to see the stop sign (Photo: Varas Extrañas en Tiquicia)

Few one-way streets in small towns

Smaller towns have two-way streets and very seldom you will find one-way streets except for downtown.

Highway 27 during vacation

Highway 27 is used on heavy traffic weekends during vacation time as a one-way freeway. So ALL lanes, coming and going will be going in one direction only. There will be a barrier so you won’t be able to enter if you’re coming in the wrong way. Inform yourself at all times before using the 27 because you might drive from San Jose all the way to Ciudad Colon to find out you cannot go any further. Then you will have to go all the way to Highway 1 to get to Puntarenas.

Hints and tips

With these hints and tips on driving and on how not to get lost in Costa Rica, we hope to get you started on your property purchase. Jus in case you decide not to use one of our affiliate agents. Of course, our agents will, besides selling you a property, assist you in a million other things when you move to Costa Rica.

8 Rules on how not to get lost in Costa Rica
Which way to go when you’re lost? See 8 Rules on how not to get lost in Costa Rica

Contact us when you need our assistance in your property purchase in Costa Rica

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Ivo Henfling

Your West-side of San Jose real estate agent, covering Escazu and Santa Ana, Rohrmoser and Ciudad Colon. If you are looking to buy a home in Costa Rica or invest in a condo anywhere in the Central Valley or looking for any property for sale in Escazu or Santa Ana, you need to contact Costa Rica real estate agent Ivo Henfling. Ivo has been selling Costa Rica real estate on the westside of San Jose, in the locations of Rohrmoser, Sabana, Escazu, Santa Ana and Ciudad Colon for over 20 years and can show you hundreds of happy buyers of real estate in Escazu and those other areas. For Ivo, a deal is not a good one unless both buyer and seller are happy.

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