Street names? – dead loss! How to correctly understand address information in Costa Rica

Address information in Costa Rica

The address of your hostel is 50 meters east of the green palm and the nearest supermarket is located 150 meters south of the bank? You are searching in vain for street names and if there are any, they don’t help you any further? Or do you even want to send something by mail to Costa Rica?

Then you probably feel like many travelers coming to Costa Rica for the first time. But of course, it is not impossible to find the right address here too, and sometimes it is even very easy. How? Don’t worry, I am going to explain in this article.

50 meters westwards???

Street from Puerto Viejo to Manzanillo
Street from Puerto Viejo to Manzanillo

Before starting my language course in Costa Rica, I received the “exact address” of my host family. Great, I thought, so I can already go exploring the place on Google Earth. But in the face of Barrio Jesús, Heredia, 50 meters west on the road to Santa Bárbara even Google was powerless. So I decided to just wait and see, somehow this puzzle would be solved.

Fortunately, after a few weeks in Costa Rica and frequent searches for addresses, I got a little smarter and am not so lost anymore – mostly anyway.

Actually, the streets in Costa Rica really have no name, with the exception of some major cities. And if they have a name, most residents probably do not even know. Also, you do not even need to look for house numbers, never mind mailboxes. The orientation works just different here.

So how do you find a particular address in Costa Rica?

Steet in Heredia, Costa Rica
Street in Heredia, Costa Rica

The answer is – at least for Costa Ricans – quite simple.

Instead by street names, addresses in Costa Rica work by landmarks such as parks, churches, important buildings and shops. So addresses are given in meter distances and directions with respect to the next landmark. And what’s more, 100 meters (cien metros) might really refer to about 100 meters, or else to one street block of the city.

The indication 150 meters west of the church could thus mean, for example, one and a half blocks west of the church. So the meter information does not always refer to the actual distance!

For Costa Ricans, these kinds of addresses are a the most natural thing in the world, because they know their city and the important landmarks. For us foreigners, the matter looks quite different, of course. Because how is a traveler to know where the church or a particular supermarket is? Sometimes a map can help, sometimes Google, but most of the time it’s best to ask around.

However, it gets worse.
When I, totally impressed, asked a Costa Rican, if they always knew where north-south-east-west is, his answer simply took away any hope for me to ever arrive anywhere:

Well, it’s quite easy. North is always at the front and South always at the back. No problem.

No problem?! You may understand that I saw a big problem there, but all I got for an answer to that was a shoulder shrug. Additionally problematic is the fact that some Ticos politely point in one direction even though they do not know your destination. This is usually no evil intention! But for this reason, it is always better to ask several people. Because if they point in the same direction, that could be the right one.

Street in Uvita
Street in Uvita

The solution to the puzzle is thus as you might guess: to ask, to ask, to ask!

Of course, some Spanish skills won’t hurt. And if necessary, just show a note with your address and be creative with gestures to get understood. Ticos (Costa Ricans) are usually very helpful! So do not hesitate and find your way through the streets by asking and asking. Doing so, I’ve always somehow managed to reach my destination and I can especially recommend to ask bus drivers.

And in the end, it’s usually not that bad anyway if you’re late in Costa Rica.

For any case, here are some helpful Spanish expressions:

¿Dónde está (la iglesia / el parque / …)? – Where is (the church / the parc / …)?
¿Para ir a …? – How do I get to …?
Por favor, muéstrelo en el mapa. – Please show it to me on the city map.
a la derecha / a la izquierda – right / left
por aquí cerca / lejos – close / far away
¡Muchas gracias! – Thank you very much!
(don’t forget that!)

But how do you send mail to Costa Rica?

Beach path in Costa Rica
Beach path

Believe it or not, but apparently the post arrives even 50 meters east of the green palm tree.
Even if that can take a long time.

As always, you should provide the package or letter well readable with the full name and the most accurate location (village + city + province) of the receiver. If you want to play it safe, send your mail to a post office, where it can be picked up.

Did my report help you? What do you think about the address system in Costa Rica? What are your experiences with orientation and post delivery in Costa Rica? Let me know in the comments.

Good luck with your orientation and of course Pura Vida!!



The beautiful English language is only my second language. So if you find any mistakes or unattractive expressions, please let me know! ♡

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