When I was exploring different destinations for my move abroad, I wanted somewhere I could live without a car. In San Antonio, like most families, we owned two cars. I drove a cute Mazda 5 “micro-minivan” and Chris drove a Prius.
My kids had a nickname for me when I got in a car with them: “Traffic Mama”. They were terrified of Traffic Mama and had a list of rules for dealing with me when I was in that mode:
1) Don’t speak unless spoken to.
2) Agree with every word she says by nodding.
3) Don’t make eye contact, she may take it as an act of defiance.
4) Don’t breathe too loudly.
5) No laughing.
6) Don’t make any noise.
Yes, I was that crazy lady. I am not proud of my Traffic Mama persona. The “rules” clearly indicate that when I got into a car I turned into a horrible Mrs. Hyde. I addition to looking for a simpler life, a break from the rat race, and an opportunity to bond with my children, I moved to Costa Rica with my family to take a break from driving….and give my kids a break from the evil Traffic Mama.
In San Antonio, our lives completely depended on our cars. Public transport in SA was not conveniently available in my yuppy side of town. I would have had to drive 10 minutes to the nearest Park and Ride to take the bus to work. The closest grocery store was about two miles from my house along a busy, road-kill happy 4-lane highway. SA is not a walking or bike-friendly city, though they are making some progress with the greenway and bike rental systems.
Many of the places we looked at as potential destinations for our move abroad were cities and towns where we could live without a car. One of the many reasons we settled with Monteverde, our final destination, was because it was the smallest town we considered, and much of the research I did indicated that most of the expats did not own a car.
I don’t miss having a car at all. I feel more in control of my time because I don’t depend on unpredictable traffic to get somewhere. If anything delays me at times, it is chatting on the street with some of the wonderful friends we have made here. This is much better than being delayed due to a 10 car pile-up. I walk to the grocery store, farmer’s market, pharmacy, restaurants, and friend’s houses. The kids walk to the school bus stop. When I go up to Creativa on Wednesday mornings to volunteer, I head up the hill on the school bus with the kids, and then I walk back home. If I have to go to the school later in the day, I walk up the hill with no problem.
Taxis abound in Monteverde, and they are fairly cheap. We take a cab to the kids’ guitar lessons every week because the teacher lives about 1 ½ miles away, and walking with a guitar in tow is not fun. We also take a cab when we go out to dinner on Friday nights in Monteverde proper. When we have to go out of Monteverde, we take the public bus. One of our taxi driver friends has also offered to drive us to the Nicaraguan border and San Jose whenever we need, and we plan to take him up on that offer for our December/January border hop. The cost will be about the same as using the Central Line bus for all of us, but we won’t risk missing the bus at Sardinal (the town off the main highway where the turn up the mountain to Monteverde is located). Some of our expat friends who have to do border hops will take the bus to Sardinal, and then arrange for a cab to pick them up there. This is also less risky than waiting for the public bus as it goes up the mountain to Monteverde. Living in Monteverde, we quickly got to know the taxi drivers, and have our pick of favorites that I now call directly when I need to get somewhere. They know how to get anywhere! When I call dispatch, I just have to say I live in my land lady’s house and all the taxi drivers know where I am. This is especially useful in a country where addresses don’t really exist.
Monteverde does have a public bus that goes from Santa Elena to the Monteverde Biological Reserve, but its schedule is unpredictable. I have never used it but some of our friends who live up the mountain in Monteverde proper use it all the time.
The downside of not owning a car becomes evident when I am trying to arrange for the kids to visit their friends. Because most people don’t have a car, arranging “playdates” can get tricky. With a combination of walking, meeting halfway, and putting kids in the cabs with trust worthy and well known taxi drivers, we figure something out. I have also taken a cab back from Santa Elena town or Monteverde proper when it’s raining hard and I forgot my rain gear.
Useful Phone Numbers and Websites To Get Around in Monteverde and Costa Rica
Monteverde Taxi Dispatch 506-2645-7171
Central Line Bus (506) 2221-9115 / (506) 2257-7214
Costa Rica Shuttle (506) 4000-1040 or 2289-4292
If you do want to own a car in Costa Rica, you can bring your own, purchase one from the US and import it, or buy off the lot here. The problem with this is that import taxes are exorbitant and cars here cost more than in the US. Maintenance fees and insurance here is also expensive because the roads are so bad, that cars get banged up with just day to day use.
I love living without a car. Personally, I would rather walk, take a cab, or use public transport. It is cheaper, less stressful, and better for the environment.
Do you have any questions about what it’s like to live without a car? Let me know in the comments below.