(QCOSTARICA) As Costa Rica does not have street names or numbered addresses, how do you find your way around? A good question asked by many new to the country, visitors and ex-pats alike.
I wish there was a simple answer, but there really isn’t, it’s just the way it is and will probably be, despite the efforts over the last several years, a project started by the Correos de Costa Rica (Post Office) with an organized postal code system.
The municipality of San Jose followed up with erecting signs with street names, names most never heard of before the signs went up and still don’t, paid for mainly by sponsor logos on the signage.
In many areas of downtown San Jose, street name signs attached to homes that literally are inches away from the road, that haven’t been painted over or have been cared for, can be spotted. But they are few.
Finding your way to your destination can be fun, daunting, challenging, and frustrating. All at the same time.
To make the task manageable, it must be broken down into two parts: narrow down the town or neighborhood, a landmark or business. The second part is the direction and distance from.
“Del antiguo higuerón 150 metros este…” (from that very large tree, that’s no longer there, 150 meters east…) begins the direction and ending with “la casa de porton negro” (the house with the black gate) assuming it wasn’t painted over since the person’s last visit.
Another example, in downtown San Jose, is the use of the former U.S. Embassy (Antigua Embajada Americana) that was (the building still stands now occupied by the Ministry of Public Education) on Avenida 3, Calle 0 and 1, as a referenced landmark.
The challenge occurs when the landmark no longer exists since it is assumed, especially by the old-timers, that everyone knows it. Like the example of the old US Embassy.
Another challenge for newcomers is the distances. As in the first exanple, 150 meters is used. But it is not literal. The 150 meters refers to a block and a half, each block being the 100 meters, irrespective of how long the block really is. In that line of reasoning, 25 meters would be a quarter block or 10 blocks a kilometer (10 x 100 meters = 1,000 meters or 1 km).
The center of San Jose and most towns across the country are a grid system, easy enough, to count the blocks. Not so easy as you move away from the center. Rural areas can be extremely challenging.
Yet another challenge is getting directions. Ticos (Costa Ricans) are very polite and will help if they don’t know. A good practice is to ask three people, take the two most similar, on your way to the next ask. Or you can ask a taxi driver, but ask first they are local. If not…
But, today, technology has come to the rescue.
Rarely does anyone give out actual directions anymore, a Waze or Google Maps link sent to you will get you there. These apps even know the street names or the name of the road you are on, even though no one knows.
As a last resort, have the phone number of the person at the destination. Call them, explain where you are, don’t read off the name of the street signs, rather the name of the local store, bar, the big tree, fence post, whatever, and have them guide you, until you reach your destination.
Pura Vida, mae.