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Driving in Costa Rica
Costa Rica is a relatively small country and can be easily crossed from North to South in a day. Roads are mostly one lane, with the exceptions of some parts in the highways, so take your time and be safe. Driving 20km/h (13m/h) over the speed limit or under the influences of alcohol are fined with jail and for your own safety donâ€™t drink and drive nor exceed the speed limits.
There is one main road to the Pacific coast called â€śAutopista del Solâ€ť and one main road to the Caribbean called Highway #32 to Limon. Using the above maps or with the driving description below you should easily find your way.
Ticos (Costa Ricans) are usually really nice and always willing to help tourists. Most young Ticos do speak English but trying to show some effort speaking some basic words in Spanish is always appreciated.
Two basic Spanish phrases that will get you to the highways are:
1. Disculpe seĂ±or/seĂ±ora, adonde esta la â€śAutopista del solâ€ť?
Excuse me sir/miss, where is the â€śAutopista del Solâ€ť?
2. Disculpe seĂ±or/seĂ±ora, adonde esta la Autopista a Limon?
Excuse me sir/miss, where is the highway to Limon?
Driving to the Central Pacific Coast from San Jose
From the Sabana Park get on the highway called â€śAutopista del Solâ€ť to Escazu/Santa Ana/Ciudad Colon. The â€śAutopista del Solâ€ť will take you directly to the Central Pacific. The entire trip on the highway up costs a little less than $5. Make sure you have plenty of coins or small bills ready in Colones since US dollars or any other currency isnâ€™t accepted. From San Jose you will have to pass through the Escazu, San Rafael, Atenas and the Pozon tollbooths. Do not leave the highway until you have passed all the tollbooths.
Driving to Boca Barranca
Follow the â€śAutopista del Solâ€ť until you reach Calderas (which is the end of the highway). From Caldera follow the signs to Puntarenas, before reaching the city of Puntarenas youâ€™ll see the signs to Boca Barranca.
Driving to Tivives
Follow the â€śAutopista del Solâ€ť before you reach Calderas and look for the signs toward Tivives.
Driving to Jaco
Driving to Playa Agujas, Playa Escondida and Isla Herradura
Driving to Playa Hermosa, Esterillos and Manuel Antonio
Once you reach Jaco keep on the main road and follow the signs Playa Hermosa and Playa Esterillos, both are 15/20 minutes after Jaco. Manuel Antonio is around an hour drive from Jaco on the same road.
Driving to the North Pacific from San Jose
The first step to reach the North Pacific is to follow the â€śAutopista del Solâ€ť up to Caldera and from there follow the signs to Liberia which will lead you on the road called â€śInteramericana Norteâ€ť. For the beaches in the North youâ€™ll have to drive up to Liberia and turn left at the main intersection, many signs to all the beaches are visible. For the beaches in the Center of the North Pacific it is highly recommended to use the â€śPuente de la Amistadâ€ť or Tempisque Bridge which can be reached by following the signs to Liberia from Caldera and by turning left at the Shell Gas Station located after the entrance to a town called Las Juntas, at the turn youâ€™ll see several signs. To reach the beaches at the southern end of the North Pacific you can both drive through the Tempisque Bridge and turn left once you reach Nicoya, or use the Paquera Ferry which leaves from the city of Puntarenas and takes you to Paquera from where youâ€™ll find signs to the surf spots, the Paquera Ferry schedule is shown below.
Driving to Playa Hermosa in the North Pacific and Coco
Once you reach Liberia youâ€™ll easily notice the main intersection, where youâ€™ll see a big gas station to your left and some traffic lights. There youâ€™ll have to turn left and follow the signs to Coco Beach, Playa Hermosa and any other beach located north of the North Pacific.
Driving to Tamarindo, Playa Grande, Avellanas, Nosara, Junquillal, Guiones, etc
After you reached the turn to the Tempisque Bridge (Puente de la Amistad) follow the road until you pass the bridge and stay on the main road until you reach an intersection where you can only turn left or right, here youâ€™ll see many signs to the most popular beaches in the North Pacific. Turn right and follow the road until you see the signs to the beach you want to reach. If you are driving to Tamarindo donâ€™t follow the first sign youâ€™ll see and keep on driving, the first sign will take you through the old road which is longer and in terrible condition, follow the second sign to Tamarindo which will also take you to other popular destination as Playa Grande, Avellanas, Junquillal, etc.
Driving to Santa Teresa, Mal Pais, Montezuma, etc
Once you reach Caldera follow the signs to Puntarenas and enter the city. From the entrance youâ€™ll start seeing direction to the Paquera Ferry, keep on driving until you are at the end of Puntarenas city, turn left and youâ€™ll see the Ferry entrance on your right.
Ferry ADIP Phone: 506-2641-0515
Leaves from Puntarenas at: 08:30 a.m., 01:30 p.m. and 08:30 p.m.
Leaves from Paquera at: 05:00 a.m., 11:00 a.m. and 04:00 p.m
Ferry Naviera Tambor Phone: (506) 2661-2084
Leaves from Puntarenas at: 05:00 a.m., 09:00 a.m., 1:00 p.m. and 05:00 p.m.
Leaves from Paquera at: 07:00 a.m., 11:00 a.m., 03:00 p.m. and 09:00 p.m.
Once on the other side follow the signs to Cobano and from Cobano youâ€™ll see the directions to Santa Teresa, Mal Pais, Playa del Carmen, Montezuma, etc. It is always recommended to call the Ferry Service Providers to make sure the service isnâ€™t interrupted by the weather and to ask for the fees.
Driving to the South Pacific from San Jose
Using the â€śAutopista del Solâ€ť follow the above directions to Jaco and keep on driving towards Manuel Antonio. Once you reach the entrance to Manuel Antonio keep on driving on the main road called â€śCostanera Surâ€ť and youâ€™ll find the signs to all the beaches in the South Pacific, this road will take you all the way to the Panama border.
Driving to the Caribbean (Atlantic Coast) from San Jose
To drive to any of the beaches in the Caribbean coast youâ€™ll have to reach the highway to Limon also called â€śRuta #32â€ť you have to head north on the â€śCalle 1â€ť towards â€śAvenida 1â€ť downtown San Jose, this will take you directly to the â€śRuta #32â€ť. Once on the Highway to Limon (Ruta #32) just drive on the main road passing the Braulio Carrillo National Park, Guapiles, Siquirres and Matina at the end of the road youâ€™ll find yourself at the entrance of Limon City. Before you enter the city of Limon on your left youâ€™ll see a cemetery and a few minutes later youâ€™ll see a gas station on your right, youâ€™ll have to turn here following the signs to Cahuita and Puerto Viejo. Once you reach the town of Puerto Viejo you can keep driving on a gravel road to Cocles, Playa Negra up to Manzanillo where to road stops.
Do not be afraid to ask, unfortunately driving directions in Costa Rica are complicated, if you feel lost at any moment feel free to stop at any of the numerous restaurants on the way and ask for help, this places are used to tourists (and even locals) to stop and asking for directions. Additionally a GPS with detailed driving directions to all the beaches and most hotels can be rented directly with the Car Rental companies.