Driving from Alajuela to Dominical

Old Sep 26th, 2007, 04:20 PM
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Driving from Alajuela to Dominical

On the morning of Dec. 21 we hope to get a bright and early start driving from Alajuela down to Dominical. Need advice please on which way is best to go: Interamerican? or coastal/Quepos route?

We will have a small 4x4wd and have never been to or driven in CR before. I have no clue how to get through San Jose down to Cartago. My partner is not the best map reader while I'll be doing the driving.

Is the road signage at all adequate to direct us on our way south through and beyond SJO to Cartago? Beyond Cartago to San Isidro de General looks like a straight (though more likely curvy) shot.

We, of course, want to minimize getting stuck in morning SJO traffic and are expecting the trip to take at least five hours...we also know the Interamerican can be really slow-going.

Finally, we know the cardinal rule of NOT driving at night. So I feel pretty prepared and have a good map but just don't know what to expect when it comes time to start out on the drive.

We don't want to lose time getting lost and desire the most straightforward way to get down to Dominical. Am more inclined toward taking the Interamerican but please help if possible with your experiences and/or observations. Paint me a picture...
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Old Sep 26th, 2007, 04:54 PM
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Bright and early with the intention of going through San Jose would mean about 6:00 to beat rush hour traffic into town. It isn't particularly hard to get through town and on your way to Cartago, but it would be optimistic to think you could do it free of error and having to stop, ask, circle, etc.
There are no street signs and getting through town requires locating landmarks (it really helps to already know what they look like!)

Once through, the signage is good all the way to San Isidro. You make the turn just before you get into Cartago--you don't actually go into town.

From Alajuela I believe it would be much easier NOT to battle a.m. San Jose traffic, but drive west/southwest through Atenas, Orotina, and Quepos. About the same drive time, you'd have to put up with a bit of a rough road the last 45 km or so between Manuel Antonio and Dominical (you've probably heard about that). It isn't that big of a deal, particularly during the dry season.

Remember Alajuela is west of San Jose about 25 minutes, so you have to add that to the time it takes to get to and through San Jose.

Head west on the Interamerican toward the Pacific beaches. You won't go too far (20 min maybe) before you'll see the exit for Atenas. From there follow signage to Orotina, then Quepos and on down. Signage is good, and the route is very scenic.

That's my 2 cents! Don't know what kind of a picture I painted, but traffic through San Jose is no picnic when you're familiar with it, not to speak of doing it for the first time!

Good luck and have a grand time! I'm excited for you and would love to hear about your trip when you return--hope you'll post a report!
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Old Sep 26th, 2007, 04:55 PM
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oops, meant to say "optimistic to think you can get through San Jose free of error and withOUT having to stop, ask, circle, wander about. ."
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Old Sep 27th, 2007, 11:08 AM
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My brother lives in Ojochal, just south of Dominical and he always takes the Interamerican route (the one over the mountains)when he goes to San Jose. When I visited him last year, he sent a driver that he uses in San Jose to meet me at the airport, take me to the rental car place and then we followed him out of town until we were through Cartago. That way we had no problems with flat tires scams etc and did not have to get lost trying to get down south. It worked very well and I don't think it cost much for the driver...might consider something like that..good luck and have a great time!
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Old Sep 27th, 2007, 03:47 PM
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Hmmm...thanks very much for the input.

Am now inclined to take the coastal route but with the unfortunate loss of seeing some sights along the mighty Cordillera Talamanca. Since our goal is to get to Dominical at a reasonable hour on same day I'm doubtful there would be much time for sight-seeing en-route anyway.

I have heard about the hellish road between Quepos and Dominical but feel more reassured...thanks to shillmac. I just want to rest assured that after a long day of driving we don't encounter a bridge out or a river we can't cross before we're almost there to Dominical.

Both above suggestions are great but I still think we're gonna go for the western route and avoid SJO...maybe come back on the Interamerican at the end of our trip on Dec. 30.
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Old Sep 27th, 2007, 03:57 PM
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Meant to add that there is now the temptation to take quick side trip to Manuel Antonio.

We were actually previously planning to skip it...still don't think there's time though to divert to MA as I know it requires at least a half-day.
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Old Sep 27th, 2007, 05:36 PM
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Are you committed to staying in Alajuela the night before? Just asking because we drove east from SJO thru Cartago etc and mts. etc. (We stopped first at Savegre in San Gerardo de Dota for a couple days. Then drove on to Dominical for a couple days. Came straight back from Dominical. Pretty drive actually - just need to stay alert. But precisely because we didn't want to drive much thru San Jose - we stayed at Hotel Bergerac on the very east edge of SJ - 1/2 block off Rt. #2 Avenida Central. It was then very easy to get from there to Cartago and on . ..
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Old Sep 27th, 2007, 07:00 PM
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sfuller82, both routes are scenic. I hate for you to think you're really missing out by not taking Rt. 2 through Cartago/San Isidro. The thing is that, although that route offers some nice scenery, MOST of the time the clouds prevent you from being able to see it. EVERY single time we've been on it (between 10:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. each time) we've looked out into vast whiteness, knowing that those clouds are hiding some beautiful sights! Perhaps one day we can time it a little earlier! Perhaps we've just been unlucky, but I think those clouds are the norm! It's the cloud forest, it's the Cerro de la Muerte, and it's very cold at the top--all of which make it an interesting drive, of course! Just to feel the cold in a tropical country. . .!!

If you really are set on doing it that way, Glover's suggestion is a good one. You can even take a taxi into San Jose and have your rental car delivered to you the next a.m. We've stayed at the Hotel Don Carlos

www.doncarloshotel.com

and while it isn't as close to the edge of town as the Bergerac, it is a very short drive over to Avenida Central from there (your route out of town) as well.

You can certainly do either route. I was just thinking of which might be quickest for you, and it seemed like avoiding the drive into and through SJO would shave quite a bit for you.

And ideally, as you mention, you can go one way and return another! Have a great time!
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Old Sep 28th, 2007, 07:26 AM
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Looking at my ITMB road map, taking the western route out of Atenas to Orotina I would be on Hwy 34 all the way down through Jaco and Parrita to Quepos and continuing on "34" through Savegre...is that right? Is that route all paved?

When/where would we encounter the bumpy/dusty road to Dominical? Will we have bridge concerns?

Thanks, all, for putting up with my naive questions.

Am truly looking forward to exploring aroung Dominical, Uvita, Ojochal, and environs for nine days!
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Old Sep 28th, 2007, 08:44 AM
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It would be a good idea to hire a taxi to get you out of town if you go the interamerican route. The interamerican is just amazing if you can get going early before the clouds move in. You really know you are getting high when you see the plants and trees getting shorter and shorter. The mountain views are beautiful. The road to Dominical from San Isidro is very scenic as well and is in good shape. It took us about an hour to get to Dominical. Look for McDonald's, there is a sign pointing to Dominical.

That said, I really prefer the coastal route. Could be because I miss seeing the ocean where I live now. I saw it every day when I was growing up. It could also be that I get nervous with cars passing on the curves through the mountains. There is some of that on the way to the coast but not as much. I will be living just outside of San Isidro soon so I guess I will have to get used to it.

Once in Dominical you shouldn't have any problem driving to the restaurants in the dark. I do the night driving and didn't have any problem. The coastal road is beautiful so don't worry about driving on the main road at night. I had to drive about 15-20 mins to Ojochal from a place we stayed south of Uvita this summer and had no problems at all.
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Old Sep 28th, 2007, 08:59 PM
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In answer to your question, there are a couple of bridges just before you get to Quepos/Manuel Antonio. Some call them the "ohmygod" bridges. They're not that bad. Just slow and careful does it! Do NOT let them be a concern to you. I've driven over them many times, even alone. Any decent driver can manage just fine.

All is paved until you leave Manuel Antonio toward Dominical. I've heard they have started working on that a bit, but don't know the extent of the progress; probably not much! South of Dominical the road is awesome!
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Old Sep 30th, 2007, 07:32 AM
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We took both routes and had no problems except we made the mistake of renting a car instead of 4x4. Both routes are completely different and should not be missed. The coastal is more straight forward and would be your better choice at the start of your trip ( with 4x4 of course) then once you have had a taste of driving in CR you could take the mountain road back. Drive cautious and enjoy.
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Old Sep 30th, 2007, 08:22 AM
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"I would be on Hwy 34 all the way down through Jaco and Parrita to Quepos and continuing on "34" through Savegre...is that right? Is that route all paved?"

Yes, it's all paved and lots of signs. I think Los Suenos Marriott has more signs than anyone so if you follow those until you are near Jaco - and just go past it on to Quepos - Dominical. It's a super easy drive and some beautiful views going through the mountains as well as once you get down to the beach. Don't worry about the bridges nor the raods - December the rain will have stopped and we'll be well on our way to summer. This time of year you needs to worry about mud slides in the mountains (which are frequent and can close the roads for hours until they are cleared) in addition to bridges out. Myself I would take coastal down and through the mountains back - the return trip would be easier to navigate.
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