Paved roads fan out from Paseo Colón west to Escazú and northwest to the airport and Heredia. For the North Pacific coast, Guanacaste, and on to Nicaragua, take the Pan-American Highway north (CA1). The Carretera a Caldera (Highway 27) takes you to Escazú, Santa Ana, and beyond to the Central Pacific coast. Calle 3 runs north into the highway to Guápiles, Limón, and the Atlantic coast through Braulio Carrillo National Park, with a turnoff to Sarapiquí. Follow Avenida Central or 2 east through San Pedro to enter the Pan-American Highway south (CA2), which has a turnoff for Cartago, Volcán Irazú, and Turrialba before it heads toward the South Pacific coast and Panama.

Avoid driving in the city if you can help it. Streets are narrow, rush hour (7 to 9 am and 5 to 7 pm) traffic is horrible, and drivers can be reckless. What's more, San José and neighboring San Pedro enforce rigid weekday driving restrictions (6 am to 7 pm) for all private vehicles, including your rental car. The last digit of your license plate determines your no-driving day: Monday (1 and 2), Tuesday (3 and 4), Wednesday (5 and 6), Thursday (7 and 8), and Friday (9 and 0).

Street parking is difficult to find and requires payment by a locally available app. Park your vehicle instead in a guarded lot and plan to pay $2 per hour. Leave nothing of value inside the car.

Driving is forbidden on 44 blocks in the center city—sections of Avenidas Central and 4, and Calles 2, 3, 8, 9, and 17—which have been turned into pleasant pedestrian-only thoroughfares. More of these bulevares are on the drawing board. Thank China and the European Union for much of the funding.

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