Costa Rica Road Network

By | November 22, 2022

Costa Rica’s road network covered 43,702 kilometers in 2016. Of this, 7,786 kilometers belong to the Red Vial Nacional and 35,916 kilometers to the Red Vial Cantonal.

Of the Red Vial Nacional, 5,105 kilometers are asphalted (66%). Of this, 2,600 kilometers were in acceptable or good condition and 2,500 kilometers in poor condition. In general, the condition is moderate to poor, only 8% are in good condition and 0% are in excellent condition. In contrast, 42.5% was regular and 32.6% was in poor condition. 17.0% of the national road network is in very poor condition.

According to wholevehicles, Costa Rica’s road network is strongly focused on the capital San José. Half of Costa Ricans live in the highlands surrounding San José, making it by far the most important road junction in Costa Rica. Outside of the central highlands, there are no other major cities, just small regional towns on the periphery of Costa Rica. The road network is therefore relatively thin. The Carretera Interamericana runs from the border with Nicaragua via San José to the border with Panama, this consists of the Ruta 1 and Ruta 2. This is a detour through mountainous terrain, it is possible for through traffic to bypass the entire central region via the Ruta 34. However, there is little international traffic. There are no primary roads at all in the northeast of Costa Rica.

The most important roads for the economy are those to the ports. There are two port cities in Costa Rica, Puntarenas on the Pacific Ocean, accessible from San José via Ruta 27 and Limón on the Caribbean Sea, accessible from San José via Ruta 32.

This makes the Rutas 1, 2, 27 and 32 the main roads of Costa Rica.

Motorways

In and around San José there are a number of short 2×2 and 2×3 lane highways with grade separated intersections, approximately 120 kilometers in total. It concerns a western bypass, and three radial highways to the west (airport), north and east. In addition, some roads continue as a 2×2 single-level road. Tolls are charged on some roads.

Rutas nacionales and autopistas in Costa Rica
Autopista San Jose – Aeropuerto • Autopista San Jose – Caldera • Autopista Florencio del Castillo • Circunvalación de San Jose

Border crossings

With both Nicaragua and Panama there is only one major border crossing, part of the Carretera Interamericana. There is a second, more secondary border crossing with both countries, but international traffic is very limited in Costa Rica.

Road classes

In Costa Rica there are the following road classes;

  • Red Vial National
    • Rutas Primarias
    • Rutas Secundarias
    • Rutas Tercerarias
  • Red Vial Cantonal

The Red Vial Nacional encompasses an extensive network of roads, in fact all roads that have some importance for opening up cities and rural regions. The Red Vial Cantonal only includes roads of very secondary importance or the street network in the cities.

Red Vial National

List of Rutas Primarias

The rutas primarias.

# No. Procedure
Ruta 1 San José – Alajuela – San Ramón – Barranca – Liberia – Nicaragua border
Ruta 2 San José – Cartago – San Isidro – Buenos Aires – Palmar Sur – Neilly – Panama border
Ruta 3 San Jose – Heredia – Alajuela – Orotina
Ruta 4 Santa Clara – Puerto Viejo – Upala – La Cruz
Ruta 5 San Jose – Santo Domingo – Heredia
Ruta 6 Canas – Upala
Ruta 10 Cartago – Turrialba – Siquirres
Ruta 14 Rio Claro – Golfito
Ruta 17 Barranca – Puntearenas
Ruta 18 Limonal – Pueblo Viejo
Ruta 21 Liberia – Philadelphia – Santa Cruz – Bajo Negro
Ruta 23 Mata de Limon – Barranca
Ruta 27 San Jose – Orotina – Mata de Limon
Ruta 32 San Jose – Guapiles – Siquirres – Puerto Limon
Ruta 34 Pozon – Jaco – Parrita – Palmar Sur
Ruta 35 Penjamo – Los Chiles – Nicaragua border
Ruta 36 Puerto Limón – Bribri – Panama border
Ruta 39 Circunvalacion de San Jose

History

Traditionally, most Costa Ricans lived in the mountains around San José. In the 19th century, coffee was grown in the highlands around San José, and in the mid-19th century, the first modern roads and railways were built to export coffee through the ports. In 1846 a road was completed between San José and the port of Puntearenas on the Pacific Ocean. Later, Great Britain became the main destination for coffee exports and a road and railway had to be built to the Caribbean coast, to Puerto Limón. The railway was completed in 1890. In 1860, the Dirección General de Obras Públicas was established to develop Costa Rica’s infrastructure.

It was not until later in the 20th century that Costa Rica’s road network was further developed. The road network was officially established in 1972, when a “Red Vial Nacional” (national road network) and a “Red Vial Cantonal” (cantonal road network) were established, and divided into road classes. Due to the stable economy and lack of social unrest, the road network in Costa Rica could be better developed than in many other countries in Central America. During the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, the road network was increasingly asphalted. A more modern road between San José and the port city of Puntearenas was built in the 1970s. At that time, a network of double-lane roads was also built in and around San José, which were later made grade-separated. A Plan Nacional de Transportes was drawn up in 1981, 1995 and 2011.

Road management

The national road authority is the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes (MOPT). The ministry has its origins in the Dirección General de Obras Públicas of 1860, the modern ministry was created in 1948, in 1963 the Ministerio de Transportes split from here and in 1971 got its current name.

Road numbering

Costa Rica is part of the Central American road numbering system, the rutas centroamericana, which runs in six countries; Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Costa Rica and Panama. The CA 1, and in the future the CA 2. In addition, Costa Rica has a national numbering system.

Signage

The signage in Costa Rica is similar to what is found elsewhere in Latin America, with green signs with white letters, and a not-too-consistent design.

Costa Rica Road Network