Handicapped Travel in Costa Rica

Thanks to Gordon Rattray of Able Travel for submitting this article.

I’ve heard it said that the harder you have to work to get there, the greater the reward will be when you eventually do. This is certainly true if you have mobility problems and wish to explore Costa Rica.

Although access is improving and there is now a law mandating equal opportunities for the disabled, there is still a long way to go – to date, few hotels and public buses are accessible by wheelchair. And since Costa Rica has many other more pressing financial problems, it is unlikely to become a priority in the near future.

Carolyn Underwood, who has lived in Costa Rica for 14 years, has this to say to disabled visitors:

Costa Rica is rather a hands-on, physically involved vacation. It is not an easy country to get around, especially with the roads in such abominable condition. The terrain is rough as the tiny country is resplendent with volcanoes and tropical, dry, and cloud rainforests. It is a wonderful place to come, but it takes work to be here and enjoy all that is available.’

Getting around

On foot - In San José some pavements have sloped drop-offs onto the street. Furthermore, they are often crowded, narrow and difficult to navigate due to numerous cracks and potholes. Public streets and highways are generally in poor condition, again with many potholes. Newer buildings will have wide doorways and lifts to higher floors, but despite attempts by the government to bring everywhere into line, most older buildings remain inaccessible.

By car - The Association of Costa Rican Special Taxis (tel: 506-296 6443 or 506-396 8986) has a fleet of 40 wheelchair-accessible vans able to fit up to 15 people. If you use normal local taxis, the driver will usually be happy to help with transfers, but will not be trained in this skill. You must thoroughly explain your needs and stay in control of the situation.

Roads are often bumpy, so if you are prone to skin damage you need to take extra care by placing your own pressure-relieving cushion on top of the original car seat and if necessary, padding around knees and elbows.

It is possible to hire self-drive vehicles, but I know of no company providing cars that are adapted for disabled drivers. If you’re not staying in San Jose city, you will need to use a 4x4 vehicle, which will be higher than a normal car making transfers more difficult.

By bus - There was legislation made stating that all buses had to have a degree of access within eight years. This time period expired in 2006, and unfortunately, only some companies in the San Jose area are in compliance. Traveling cross-country by bus is not for the faint-hearted.

This article is reproduced with kind permission of Bradt Travel Guides and Gordon Rattray of Able Travel.

August 2006 - For a related update on handicapped travel, please see our BLOG.

Other sites of interest:

Go With Wheel Chairs (Vaya con Silla de Ruedas) is a site offering tours and transportation in properly equipped vehicles with English and I am sure Spanish speaking staff.

Additionally,  Gray Line has handicapped equipped bus tours available.


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