Don't know why, but the tico way of life - Pura Vida - does not apply to the roads.
I've been very happy with my decision to use shared shuttles and public buses to get around in Costa Rica. Rail transport in Costa Rica is very limited, and according to my calculations, renting a car made no sense when you travel solo for a month and spend several days at each stop.
I've heard people argue that having a car gives you more freedom, but I think it's more a burden really. Now I've been free to enjoy the few (too many) hours on the backseat as I please: watching the scenery, dozing off, listening to music or audio books. Had I spent those long hours behind the wheel trying to stay alert, I'd been exhausted - especially considering the condition of the roads and the crazy tico driving habits.
Roads in the rural areas of Costa Rica are often narrow, curvy and in poor condition. Except for the most populated areas, you'd best have a 4WD, a jeep or something that you can maneuver around - or over - the frequent potholes and other hindrances thrown on your way. And it's not just the roads, it's the driving and traffic that get crazy from time to time. I think most people forget Pura Vida the minute they sit behind the wheel and roar the engine.
The traffic rules in Costa Rica are not that different from most of Europe and North America. It's just that you rarely see anyone following the rules. It's too hot for helmets, right? And sometimes you just have to fit your family of four on a moped. You see motorcycles zigzag between lanes. Drivers recklessly pass each other in blind curves, and other places with zero visibility of upcoming traffic. But where's the seat belt? -Sí sí, es obligatorio.
On the other hand, the drivers very dutifully, even devotedly, honk their horns, flash their lights, let the emergency lights blink to signal recognition of various sorts to each other and to the passers-by. All very unofficial, probably unlawful, and certainly quite unnecessary practices.
See the car in the photo, flipped to its side in a ditch? It got pushed there by a school bus. The bus driver was distracted by someone about to cross the street on his left side and made a too wide turn to the right.
No passengers in the bus, luckily. No one got hurt. The driver of the smaller car and two passengers climbed out of the ditch a little shaken but unharmed. Lots of people saw the accident and came to help. I was there too, on the backseat, sideways in the ditch, surprised. I'd just gotten a lift to town from my very nice neighbours. And got helped by some very nice townspeople.
Lucky us. Seriously, I'm all right, mum.