Driving in CR

Jul 26th, 2004, 07:38 AM
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Driving in CR

Returned from CR a few weeks ago. I used this message board for much great info. Though I did want to clear up alot the conflicting information that gets posted with regards to driving and the roads. Our trip consisted of SJO-Tamarindo-Arenal-Monteverde-SJO. Pretty much the drive times were accurate, but some things I wish I had known and others just flat out wrong. The Pan American highway was extremely slow going, one lane each way and lots of trucks, some sections uphill had a passing lane but you only got behind another truck. Don't plan on averaging more than 30mph, now this is just the section from SJO to the left for the bridge to Tamarindo...other sections might be different. Once we turned left to head west for Tamarindo the road was great, very little traffic therefore easy passing....made great time on that section. The drive to Arenal we opted to go back the way we came vs. driving north through Liberia. According to the map it seemed equidistant, but the southerly route resulted in less distance on Pan American highway...worked great. Once in Arenal area the roads are very pot holed and deep pot holes. The drive from Arenal to Monteverde took 3.5 hours, we made very good time. The road up to Monteverde is fine, there's nothing scary about it. Its not paved so its slow going but better than a paved road with many deep pot holes! Anyone mentioning trying to drive several hours to make a flight the same day all were cautioned about possible breakdowns but people failed to pass on to others the real and more potential delays. We were delayed for 6 hours by a mud slide around Arenal and also an hour or so on Pan American hwy for a truck that dumped its load, then torrential rain. Lastly, Costa Ricans are not suicidal drivers...we did more passing than were passed. I guess it depends on where you are from, I'm in the DC area I found CR driving very tame. Could be I'm a suicidal driver and don't even know it Our teenagers even did alot of the driving..they are more into the adventure type driving so they enjoyed it very much. Definitely rent a 4wd for the clearance. Anyone considering renting a car and driving in CR its a piece of cake but do get a good road map beforehand. I hope this helps.
Traveler863 is offline  
Jul 26th, 2004, 06:08 PM
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Thanks for the driving tips. We are going in August & renting a 4wd. What was it like driving through the mountains? Are the roads as narrow & twisty as people say? That part scares me, but my husband will be driving. Did you drive in heavy rains?
Where did you stay in Arenal?
Kwoo is offline  
Jul 27th, 2004, 05:38 PM
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yes, the roads are twisty and narrow...white knuckle driving. they are generally in good shape, you just have to share them with 18-wheelers and tour buses, a bit scary on such narrow roads. that being said, we enjoy the adventure. you just have to settle back and accept the fact that you are going to go about 25-30 mph. stop frequently and enjoy the scenery and take a very good road map (signs are scarce). and hug your lane when going around curves!!
kimschulze is offline  
Jul 28th, 2004, 04:04 AM
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Trust me there's nothing white knuckling or scary about the drive up to Monteverde. It is not that narrow and not that twisty as people lead you to beleive. Although two large trucks or two busses would have some difficulty passing....but a car and a truck or bus no problem. The scenery is beautiful, stop and take pictures. In Arenal we stayed at the Arenal Lodge, beautiful hotel and property...great view of the volcano.
Traveler863 is offline  
Jul 28th, 2004, 04:12 AM
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I agree with Traveler863 - although we didnt go to Monteverde. I wonder if it really depends on where (& when) you go. The first several days I was wondering where the potholes were that everyone talks about - and then we found then around Lake Arenal. Still - it was just like you said - slow going....not scary or hard driving. But not a nice smooth road either. We loved driving & I have been wondering about Monteverde in thinking already about another trip. Wondered if it were as bad there as people talk about. Luckily we were never delayed except for trucks on the highway going back into SJO. 6 hours for a mudslide.....My husband would have NEEDED a mudslide by that point or I wouldn't have wanted to be in the car with him!! We used to live in the Balt/DC area & he is a crazy driver too - and we passed more people than ever passed us too! He was actually pretty patient (considering it took so long to get around Lake Arenal) but we couldnt do anything but laugh & enjoy the scenery! And, we loved being able to pull over wherever we wanted for pictures, snacks, lunch, etc. We would drive again in a heart beat!
sclubb is offline  
Jul 28th, 2004, 04:29 AM
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Thanks for your upbeat words. We will be driving from SJO to MA, then from MA to Arenal, Arenal to Poas, and then Poas to Alajuela. I bought the Berndston & Berndston map. In 2 weeks we will be in Costa Rica!! Can't wait!

sclubb, where did you drive in CR?
Kwoo is offline  
Jul 28th, 2004, 05:37 AM
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We went from the SJO airport to La Paz (Peace Lodge - north of Poas), side trip to Hacienda Pozo Azul near La Virgen, from there to Arenal, then to Tamarindo & then back to SJO (Melia Cariari) & back to airport.

I imagine you won't have any difficulty for the places you're going; it seems I've read MA is easy to get to/from. The hardest thing was just that there were few road signs so you just had to trust you were going the right way - passing through a "town" (sometimes very small) would confirm it when using a good map. There aren't usually that many roads and so I think it would be hard to get too lost. I had the B&B map but rarely used it & used one that one of the hotels gave me instead. But, B&B is a good one. FYI - for Arenal, you will see volcano signs pointing the way & I am sure you will see signs for MA too.
sclubb is offline  
Jul 28th, 2004, 02:07 PM
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After reading these interesting posts I guess it's a matter of personal preference whether or not to rent a mid-size sedan or 4x4 for our trip in Feb. Our itinerary is SJ-Arenal-Monteverde-MA-SJ. From these and other posts driving presents some challenges but is doable, and probably easier in "dry" season.
arbegold is offline  
Jul 28th, 2004, 02:19 PM
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the 4x4 was definitely nice to have for all the bumping around on potholes - and being higher off the ground. i would think you probably would want 4x4 for monteverde, but havent been there so can't say for sure.
sclubb is offline  
Jul 29th, 2004, 02:46 AM
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Hello Arbegold,
In Arenal the pot holes are numerous and some very deep, 4x4 for the clearance really is best but a car can do it...the drive up to Monteverde a car can do no sweat.
Traveler863 is offline  
Jul 30th, 2004, 01:18 PM
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We are leaving Aug. 6th flying into Liberia and staying in the Playa Hermosa area. We have rented a 4x4 and will be going to Monteverde first and then on to Arenal. What would be the best way to get there in the opinion of those having driven the roads lately. Thanks for any advice you mat have.
jemuir is offline  
Jul 30th, 2004, 10:01 PM
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Thanks for the driving tips! I'm planning a trip in January and was considering driving. Everyone mentions that you need a good road map. Where did you get the maps and are there any specific maps that you found helpful?
prushata is offline  
Jul 31st, 2004, 11:09 PM
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From Liberia there's really only one road that feeds into the Pan American hwy, travel that till the cutoff for Canas/Tilaran. I think you can bypass Tilaran to the west, there's alot of minor roads that go into Monteverde. Get a good map, we used the National Geographic Traveler map for Costa Rica, its available through Amazon.com and nice about this map is its pretty well detailed and is waterproof and tear resistant.
Traveler863 is offline  
Aug 2nd, 2004, 05:59 PM
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I have read multiple messages about the drive up to Monteverde. When you refer to that are you talking the drive from Tilaran to Monteverde or one of the other two ways I can see on the map. The Juntas to Candelaria route or the Estrella/Guacimal route. I'm just trying to get an idea of what the best routes are. Thanks
jemuir is offline  
Aug 2nd, 2004, 06:28 PM
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IMO, the best way to get to Monteverde off the Interamerican Highway is to take the road at the Rio Lagarto Bridge (just past the Km 149 marker). This road is approx. 15 km. north of the Rancho Grande turnoff (the first turnoff you see for Monteverde). The road is dirt, rocky and bumpy, but in otherwise good condition. It has less bus and truck traffic than the Rancho Grande and Juntas roads.

The drive between Santa Elena and Tilaran is one of my favorite drives in Costa Rica. The countryside is incredibly beautiful and the road really isn't that bad - rocky and slow going but otherwise in decent condition for a dirt road.
TAGriffin is offline  
Aug 3rd, 2004, 04:46 AM
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Best routes to/from Monteverde depends on where you're coming from or going to. We did two different routes, we went from Arenal via Tilaran to Monteverde and then from Monteverde via Guacimal/Sardinal to get to San Jose.
Roads were similar, unpaved and not bad but slow going. Scenery is great on both, though Guacimal route did have a few more dramatic vistas. The whole area reminds me of Interlaken Switzerland, just take away the real high snowcapped peaks. Also of note, the Guacimal route about the last 10-15 miles to where it feeds into the Pan American hwy its wide and paved.
Traveler863 is offline  
Aug 5th, 2004, 08:26 AM
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The Berndston & Berndston map is excellent. Very accurate (although you will still need to ask directions occasionally--part of the fun. You can purchase one at Barnes and Noble or order online.
shillmac is offline  
Aug 5th, 2004, 03:45 PM
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That map worked well for us too, although I think we could have gotten by on the one our rental car company gave us. The detail is only necessary if you're going to out of the way locations or trying to take a "short cut".

Overall, we found the driving to be much easier than we expected. Most of the roads weren't bad or even that pot holed and the drivers weren't any worse than here in the States. The only scarey area for us was Alajuela, because it was so busy!
LA_FadeAway is offline  
Aug 20th, 2004, 10:10 PM
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We got back from CR a month ago, travelled the first two weeks of July. It was my first time and boy, do I miss it!!
We were a group of fourteen and rented three 4x4....we were glad we did. First they were very comfortable for those long drives as well as for the many potholes! And secondly we felt definitely safer in the mountains and some of the back roads with a 4 x 4. There were a few times where we wondered whether a car would even have made it. I definitely recommend a 4 x 4. We rented from Avis in San Jose (Mazda Tributes) and when one of our transmissions broke down in Monteverde, they brought us another vehicle the next morning...with a smile! We were very impressed!
We had also heard of crazy drivers but I don't think it's the speed that kills so much as we found that stop signs and red lights were merely suggestions! If no one else was coming, the locals would just zip through. Look both ways before entering an intersection!
One of our group suffered from motion sickness but she sat in the front and it seemed to help. The jostling you get from going around potholes (especially around Lake Arenal from La Fortuna to Monteverde) can eventually get to you! We found our three drivers were exhausted at the end of a drive.
Other than that, we found the drives slow, wonderful, and a lovely reprieve from North American travel. There was so much to see in the trees...we got some awesome pictures of monkeys on the phone wires, toucans in a tree....we had time to spot them rather than just zipping by too fast!
On anothe note: for anyone planning their first trip to CR I would highly recommend reading Culture Shock!Costa Rica by Claire Wallerstein. What a great way to understand the culture and norms before going there. When you go, you'll understand about Tico tiempe (time) and just taking it slow, and "quedar bien" (which explains why ticos are soooo nice!) ...Never overplan your trip....take it easy and just enjoy!
I can't wait to go back...!
Pura vida!
BusyMama is offline  
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