The Zen of Costa Rica's Mysterious Address System: Getting Around a country with virtually no street signs or street names and address numbers
by Christine Krishnan, Community Builder, Desafio Adventure Company
When I first came to Costa Rica, I was working as a tour leader and had to get my non-Spanish speaking clients from one place to the other – no small task when trying to navigate in a country that prides itself on the fact the streets aren't named. There are literally no street signs and the houses don't have numbers!
I decided to take a Zen approach every time someone gives me Costa Rican directions:
“Go 200 meters to the north, take a left at the restaurant that used to be called Soda Los Laureles, then 50 meters west. It's a grey house with a metal fence…”
I am convinced one of the reasons the people of Costa Rica are considered among the happiest in the world is because you are forced to talk to strangers every day to ask for directions ! Some say the system is leftover from the strongly agrarian society of the past when it probably wasn’t unusual to send someone down the road past the big palm tree to find the next farm house.
As one of our drivers explained to me years ago: “it’s all about Zen… you just have to feel your way from place to place and practice plenty of patience.” When asked if he were embarrassed to have to ask for directions: “Embarrassed to ask for directions? Why? Of course not. How else am I supposed to get where I’m going?”
Most North Americans don’t realize the chaos they’d get themselves into if they decide to drive on their own.
Although it might seem quaint to be stopping several times along the way to ask which way to go, it’s not efficient for a country of over 4 million inhabitants with the highest level of education and standard of living of all of Central America.
That isn’t to say that our drivers like getting lost either. In fact, they have become big fans of the phone application WAZE, but sometimes it’s still hard to find where you’re going if you are not familiar with important nearby landmarks.
The Costa Rican government is actually in the process of making big changes to the address system and have begun to assign building and house numbers, street names and ZIP Codes throughout the country.
So, in the future the only Zen you’ll need is the time you spend relaxing once you find your way to a nice hammock at one of our favorite beaches in Costa Rica!
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