One thing you may have noticed when planning to come to Costa Rica is that no one lists directions by a street address. The reason for that is simply that they don’t exist here (not yet anyhow). It’s true that in some cities and larger towns they’re starting to put street signs up to at least give a name to the roads, there are still no house numbers and pretty much no-one even knows the name of the road they live on. A lot of times directions from a local can be very confusing because they will use reference points that may or may not exist anymore (a big tree, old store, or a well known local’s house).
Directions: Meters and Compass Points
In most tourist areas you should be able to figure out the system pretty quickly with just a few basic tips. First of all directions will be given in meters. In general when they say 100 meters what they actually mean is one block (so don’t bother trying to pace things out). When you’re in a town with blocks this will usually be pretty accurate, but if you’re on a rural road just be warned that for a Tico 100 meters could be anything between 100 meters and the next intersection a mile down the road.
The next part of the direction will be Norte (north), Sur (south), Este (east), or Oeste (west). In La Fortuna it’s easy to orient yourself because Arenal Volcano is pretty much due west of La Fortuna, so if you face the Volcano north is to your right, south is to your left, and east is behind you. Otherwise most smart phones have a Compass app built into them to help you out.
As an example, I will give directions on how to get from the park in La Fortuna to the grocery store that I recommend (Super Rosvil). From the south-west corner of the park go 100 m west then go 200 m south (crossing the bridge) and Super Rosvil will be on your right. Or in Spanish: “de la esquina sur-oeste del parque vaya 100 m oeste y después 200 m sur (cruzando la puente) y Super Rosvil será al mano derecha”.
So when you’re in a town find a reference point (the Church/Park in the center of town is usually your best bet) and from there it’s just a matter of counting blocks on a scale of 100 meters equals 1 block. And if you get lost like I did at first, just flag down a taxi and get to where you need to go.