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Costa Rica Driving Times

Old Sep 19th, 2007, 11:24 AM
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Jen
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Costa Rica Driving Times

Will be in Costa Rica for a wedding in October. Plan to rent a car. Our itinerary is as follows: Arrival night in San Jose, drive to Domenical, where wedding will take place, then a couple of days later drive to Arenal, then back to San Jose for flight home a few days later. Note that we can't really adjust this, as this is what the wedding party has laid out for everyone. I know that the roads aren't great, which makes for driving times that are considerably longer than what they might appear by looking at a map... but I need an idea of how long it will likely take to drive from:

San Jose to Domenical
Domenical to Arenal
I've been told Arenal to San Jose is about 3 hours. Sound right?

Thanks so much!
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Old Sep 19th, 2007, 06:15 PM
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Yes, San Jose to Arenal about 3 hours. From the airport to Quepos is about 3 hours give or take and then Quepos to Dominical is 1-2 hours (really state of road dependent). October is rainy though so many of these can be a lot longer, especially to Dominical.
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Old Sep 19th, 2007, 06:21 PM
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You're right on the Arenal to SJO part. Maybe a little less. We usually do it in 2.5 hours with a quick snack/restroom stop and normal (no obstructed roads!) traffic.

SJO to Dominical, you have some options. Here's the thing. It's a pain to drive through San Jose (not to mention the strong possibility of getting lost a time or two and needing at least a LITTLE language skill). Big city, no street signs, etc. BUT, it can be done because we've done it many times. And there WAS a first time!

If you do that, you can expect the drive time to be in the vicinity of 5 hours, depending on lots of things. I've allowed 30 min. from airport to SJO, 30 minutes through town, 3 hours to San Isidro and another hour to Dominical.

The other option is to avoid driving through SJO and driving to Manuel Antonio/Quepos area instead. That drive takes about 3 hours. Nice area to visit, very popular with good reason! Dominical is south of there on a very difficult road --another hour and 30-45 minutes. So not much difference timewise.

I guess you can figure about 5 hours either way and decide whether you want to navigate San Jose or put up with the rough road that last hour and a half! The EASIEST route, to me, would be through Manuel Antonio.

If you want to see LOTS of the country (which would appeal to me), you could go one way and return the other way, then on to Arenal. If you do that, I'd suggest the San Jose/San Isidro route to Dominical, returning by way of Manuel Antonio. Whatever you decide, this is the way I'd choose to return, I think. The drive time will be about 6.5-7 hours, including a short break or two.

These times may seem shocking to you, and you may thing "no way". Just rest assured that most of us with extensive driving experience throughout Costa Rica will tell you it ALWAYS takes a bit longer than you think it should. Even if it's because you see something interesting and want to stop and check it out on the way (like the crocodiles in the Rio Tarcoles an hour or so north of Manuel Antonio).

If you can adjust your thinking and get yourselves into "chill" mentality, you'll find the drives to be absolutely beautiful and profoundly interesting! Those hours won't seem like a waste of time.

I hope this helps. Good luck!
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Old Sep 20th, 2007, 10:24 AM
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Thanks to you both, very helpful.

One note-- our hotel in San Jose is not by the airport, but in the city itself... so Shillmac, would the San Isidro route to Domenical make more sense? Or is it still a toss-up between the two routes you mentioned?

I do have a "chill" mentality, and long drives don't bother me-- a good way to see the country, as you pointed out! One question though-- I'm not a timid driver by any means, but I am curious to know what you mean by a "very difficult" road... wind-y? narrow? on the edge of a cliff? unpaved? all of the above? Just wanting to know what I'm in for...
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Old Sep 20th, 2007, 12:13 PM
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Oh, and one more question: we'll need to rent a 4x4 in October, right?
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Old Sep 20th, 2007, 06:15 PM
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Yes, you need a 4X4 if there is even a remote chance you will be driving between Dom. and MA.

Staying in SJO, I think I'd opt for the San Isidro route to Dominical, then return by way of Manuel Antonio. You'll see a great deal of the country---lots of variety.

Getting around San Jose, we rely on the Berndston & Berndston map that can be purchased at Barnes & Noble (or ordered online). Which hotel? Just curious.

Have the hotel front desk look at your map with you and have them draw out a separate set of directions or write them. As I said, once you get on the avenida that takes you out of town (and it is the main road through town) you pretty much have it made. You'll have to do one of those little circle things where you start around the circle to the right, go halfway around, then continue in the same direction you were already going.

It will take you to Cartago (in about 20 min). You won't go all the way into town, but will follow directions to San Isidro. If you find yourself in Cartago, get yourself back out of town (reverse!) and on the highway to San Isidro. That said, you may WANT to go into Cartago to look at the basilica. It is an interesting church and there are some ruins there. But with your luggage with you, you need to keep your car in sight.

You COULD do the drive from there to SI in 2.5 hours, but 3 is probably more realistic. Start early because this highway goes over some very high country and the clouds come in during the mid to late morning. There is a lot of truck and bus traffic on this highway, but it is in good condition.

Regarding the road between Dominical and Quepos, it is not paved, but gravelly and rutty. Certainly doable, it will just jar you a bit--for a good while. There are a couple of rivers (estuaries) and at TIMES the bridges wash out. The only time we drove this road was in late June, a bridge was out, and we had to cross the river. It was a matter of stopping, wading, determining a path, and watching the rest of the traffic navigate it. All very adventurous! I could send you a photo! [email protected]

But that's about as exciting as it gets. It's flat, not on any cliffs, and not dangerous. Just annoying and slow going. Last I heard they were starting to work on it a bit. Not sure how far they've gotten or how strong the commitment to get it fixed. You won't have a problem with it, and you really should drive up to Arenal using that route. Again, you won't really be able to stop in Manuel Antonio and get out and away from your vehicle while transporting your luggage around. I wonder if you'll get to visit the park during your stay in Dominical? Then you'd be on that road TWICE! I hate for you to be passing through there and not get to enjoy the park--it's quite nice with lots of interesting wildlife and pretty beaches.

Anyway, you then have the Rio Tarcoles to look forward to--and the crocodiles!

You'll have a great time. . sounds like you're definitely in the right frame of mind! Enjoy!

Hi Tully!
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Old Sep 21st, 2007, 12:17 PM
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Sounds like I can handle it! I've driven in big cities in Europe before, so am used to navigating roundabouts, and not being able to rely on maps (useless in urban areas) and street signs (non-existant). Would love to see your photo... I'll email you.

We're staying at the Best Western Irazu in San Jose (not my pick) the night we arrive. It looks to be just outside of city center... although the map function on the website doesn't work...
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Old Sep 21st, 2007, 03:51 PM
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You'll have to get yourself through town, then, from the far (west) side, but truly, it isn't that difficult.
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Old Sep 22nd, 2007, 06:23 AM
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I was told by the owner of the house we're considering renting in Dominical that the drive time from San Jose to Dominical (San Isidro route) is 4 hours max and that they have done it in 3.5 hours.
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Old Sep 22nd, 2007, 07:53 PM
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Weeelllll, maybe so. It's been a couple of years since we've driven it all in one piece. I'm just remembering that it takes a couple of hours to get from San Jose to the turn off for Savegre Hotel (km marker 81). From that turnoff, it is another hour to San Isidro. . .then about 45 min to an hour west to Dominical.

So, yeah, that's about 3 hours, 45 min. BUT, if you're first driving all the way (or part way) through San Jose, it's gonna take another 30 min--with luck! And you MIGHT have to correct a wrong turn or two, a common occurence for those of us who don't know the road like the back of our hands! AND you might want to stop along the road for a bathroom break, a snack, whatever. I think it is typical for those who drive the road frequently to be able to shave a little more time off the trip than the rest of us!

So, for someone making that drive for the first time ever, I'd say 3.5 or 4 hours would be extremely optimistic! I'm trying to offer you a more REALISTIC possibility!

Always, your time will depend on the traffic as well. As I mentioned earlier, there are a LOT of trucks and buses on that road. It is a mountainous road, and sometimes you get stuck for a few minutes (or 30 min!) at a slower rate of speed than what you'd ideally be driving. . also typical!

I guess, bottom line, I try to estimate conservatively. You're probably not going to be trying to "make it" in a certain amount of time, but rather enjoying what you're seeing along the way. Hey, if you get there in 3.5 or 4 hours, terrific. If it takes you 5, you won't be surprised.
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Old Sep 24th, 2007, 07:19 AM
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Thanks again Shill, we've booked the Tulemar bungalows (can you believe Buena Vista is booked solid for February already?) instead of the rental in Dominical...my husband would rather be closer not do a rental on our first trip to CR, so it looks like our drive from Alejuela to MA shouldn't be more than 3 hours, correct?
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Old Sep 24th, 2007, 05:41 PM
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It will be close to that. We usually stop for a few minutes at the Rio Tarcoles to look at the crocodiles. What do I mean, "usually"--we stop there every time!

And if it's mealtime during your drive, there are a couple of interesting places to eat, such as Steve and Lisa's (on your right a little further south of the river). So those things (and odd traffic situations) can alter the time. . .but generally, it's 3-3.5 hours.
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Old Sep 25th, 2007, 06:55 AM
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So, having talked to some of my fellow travelers, we're considering heading to the Osa Penisula after Domenical rather than driving 6-7 hours to Arenal (I don't mind long drives, but we only have 2 nights to spend in either place, and therefore would rather not use nearly a whole day driving in this case). We would then drop off the rental car at Osa and fly back to San Jose.

So, new questions: Osa is obviously much closer to Domenical, but again, can anyone give me an idea of driving time? And, what will that part of the country be like during rainy season? We're ready for some rain, but I know some areas get more than others... is Osa likely to be a total washout in October?

Thanks so much!!
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Old Sep 25th, 2007, 08:55 AM
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Jen, personally I would not do the Osa in October. I asked Phillip at Bosque del Cabo about traveling there in October, and he said, "Who in their right mind would do that?" It's the height of the rainy season for them. You could get lucky, but I wouldn't want to chance it.
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Old Sep 25th, 2007, 04:58 PM
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volcanogirl is right on. October the WORST time to visit the Osa, no question. Save it for a time when you can really enjoy it because it is fabulous. Arenal is your best choice, still, I think. It too is a very special area with lots of things to do and enjoy.
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