Addresses, directions and navigation in Costa Rica are simultaneously methodically logical and maddeningly chaotic.
The method is a rectilinear roadway grid with north south calles (streets) and east west avenidas (avenues).
Calles count up by odd numbers from the east of Calle Central, and odd numbered avenidas north of Avenida Central. The even numbers are on the other side of town and the Catholic church, Parque Central and Mercado Central (Central park and market) are usually at the center of town.
Cross streets are used to identify locations – on Avenida 3 between Calles 4 & 6.
A New Yorker could feel right at home – on Park Avenue between 108th and 109th streets (the New York City Housing Authority… right at home … get it ;-).
The Madness is Everything Else
Most streets lack signs, so unless you have been counting since you crossed Central the ordered naming may be of little benefit.
In reality, Ticos often use directions from landmarks in lieu of addresses. Indeed when a place is “off the grid” this is the only option. This can be particularly disconcerting when addressing a letter or package.
One family we know lives on a corner, and calle 5, avenida 7, Heredia, Costa Rica, Central America which sounds reassuringly like a real address.
However, another “address” in our book starts out, 250 metros sur de la iglesia vieja… and seems ominously nonspecific.
Rest assured that the postman has likely known the family his whole life or the business since it was built, and your mail will arrive at its intended destination. You on the other hand might find finding places quite challenging at times.
Addresses are coming to Costa Rica slowly but surely… In 2007 a marketing company announce with great fanfare that it had made an agreement with the government to put signs on every street in Costa Rica by the end of the year at no cost to the government. They would find sponsors to put an advertisement on one half of the sign and the street name on the other half.
Ten years later you can still find a few of these if you travel to the small towns of the Tarrazú coffee region.
Bewildering Array of New Street Naming Conventions
Where the government has failed communities have started their own initiatives. Above San Ramón you can see streets that were apparently named after peoples pets and other local trivia.
Other places have adopted the historical or commonly known names and for example south of Jacó you’ll find Calle Hermosa. Logically it would be the road running parallel to Playa Hermosa, but in fact it heads off into the mountains…
In La Fortuna Arenal despite the fact that there are only a couple of dozen streets in the whole town the Banco Nacional is on the corner of 468th street and 331st avenue. Fortuna has grown a lot but I don’t think it’s bigger than New York City yet.
Perhaps it is some misguided attempt to use an official highway department nationwide naming convention?
They’ve abandoned the perfectly sensible old system of even and odd numbers and instead choose an apparently random three digit number to stick at one end of town then work their way across.
To add to the confusion the two main roads that intersect in the middle of town are national routes 142 and 702. So the calle names progress through town from east to west 466, 468, 470, then 702, followed by 474, 476 etc.
Despite the fact that the street numbers are well up into the hundreds they also appear to have run out of usable digits and started adding letters. The next street west of Calle 476 is NOT Calle 478 but Calle 476A.
My only guess is that the La Fortuna street numbers are actually projected out across the countryside from the San José street number grid.
Sounds completely insane but it’s the only thing that fits… all the avenidas are odd as they should be since they’re all north of Avenida Central in San José and the calles are even numbered as they should be west of Calle Central in San José…
Ave. 325 in La Fortuna could be roughly a hundred and eighty “blocks” north of San José centro…
Just Ask for GPS Coordinates
In summary, if all you have to go off is an old fashioned address then hopefully the information above will help you find it… or at least understand it.
If at all possible you request a link in WAZE or the GPS coordinates so you can put them into your phone navigation app.