Costa Rica Map Tips: One Inch Does NOT Equal Five Miles

Costa Rica Map Tips: One Inch Does NOT Equal Five Miles

Costa Rica Map Tips: One Inch Does NOT Equal Five Miles

You know that sticker on your car’s side mirror that says things are closer than they may appear? I think all Costa Rica maps should have a sticker that says, “places are waaay farther than they may appear.”

I bet in your excitement over your vacation stay at the Discovery Beach House in Manuel Antonio (or wherever you decide to vacation in Costa Rica) you eagerly broke out your map, felt the crisp paper slide between your fingers as you noisily unfolded and laid it flat on the table. Your eyes quickly scanned the map looking for every must-see place you’ve ever heard about.

Like a ship’s navigator you began plotting your course. Then you spotted the map’s legend in the corner showing you that “[________]” is five miles. A Dr. Evil laugh slips out from between your lips as you predict, “Ha, I can see all of Costa Rica in one week, yes!”

Costa Rica Travel Times

Think again. Costa Rica’s geography and terrain can make travel times a wee bit longer than what you’re used to back home. Here “[________]” can equal three hours of driving time. For example, the distance between the airport in San Jose and Manuel Antonio beach is only about 100 miles (180km) as the toucan flies. Easy peasy right? Not necessarily!

At times the road will hug a mountainside like an old friend. Then suddenly, the road starts winding like a snake being chased by a wild boar through the tropical forest. But wait — up ahead it stretches out straight along the amazingly beautiful azure coastline. You finally reach the Pacific coast, then Manuel Antonio, where you roll down your window and deeply inhale the smell of the sea and the salt air.

Road Signs You’ll Find in Costa Rica

BTW — don’t get too excited when you see speed limit signs that say “80km.” Remember, distances here are measured in kilometers not miles — a kilometer equaling 0.6 miles. Pretty much the entire country has a maximum speed limit of 80km (about 50mph). Be sure to calculate a maximum speed of around 50mph into your drive times between places. Unexpected traffic jams, iguana crossings, cows on the road, weather or other delays can turn that four-hour trip into a six or seven-hour trip.

When you see signs that say “Ceda” that means “Yield.” Make sure you pay attention to avoid close calls on the road. When driving here, stop at signs that say “Alto.” When you see a sign that says “Puente Angosto” be careful, there’s a narrow bridge up ahead. Many of the narrow bridges here have just one lane, so yield to oncoming traffic if a “Ceda” sign is on your side. Don’t be in too much of a hurry and wait your turn if there’s traffic to cross the bridge.

Don’t Panic

Heaven forbid you should have an accident in your car but here are some tips just in case. It’s very important to not move the car. Fight your instinct to get the car out of traffic, even if you’re blocking all the lanes, stay put. It’s against the law to move your car before the police arrive at the scene. Take some pictures of your car and the other car for your records. Have the rental contract handy. Call the rental company, if you can, to report the accident. If you’re concerned about driving in Costa Rica, it might be a good idea to get the full coverage for your rental car. That way, if anything does happen, you’re covered, and it will give you peace of mind. Our concierge can help you find the best prices on rental cars for your stay.


If you have an unlocked cell phone, you could buy a Kolbi SIM card at the airport for $5. Have the person activate the data so you can use the GPS feature. You can also buy an international plan that covers Costa Rica. That way you have Google maps or Waze to help you find your way. We’re still a rural country dotted with rainforest-filled valleys and mountains. Sometimes cell service is not always available but then you’ll miss so much if you’re married to your cell phone while on vacation.

By now you’ve got to be ready to plan your Costa Rica adventure. Armed with your new Costa Rica map knowledge, you’ll be able to make the most of your Costa Rica vacation time. Remember, when planning drive times that even though it’s just an inch away on the map; it might be a three-hour side trip to see the biggest papaya tree in Costa Rica.

We look forward to your vacation with us. If you haven’t read my other articles, please check them out here. Please follow us on Instagram @discoverybeachouse. For more information or to check our availability, visit our website at Discovery Beach House. Watch our YouTube Channel for more information on Manuel Antonio, the best spot to vacation in Costa Rica.

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