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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 don’t drink and drive nor exceed the speed limits.

There is one main road to the Pacific coast called “Autopista del Sol” 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 señor/señora, adonde esta la “Autopista del sol”?
Excuse me sir/miss, where is the “Autopista del Sol”?
2. Disculpe señor/señora, 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 “Autopista del Sol” to Escazu/Santa Ana/Ciudad Colon. The “Autopista del Sol” 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 isn’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 “Autopista del Sol” until you reach Calderas (which is the end of the highway). From Caldera follow the signs to Puntarenas, before reaching the city of Puntarenas you’ll see the signs to Boca Barranca.

Driving to Tivives

Follow the “Autopista del Sol” before you reach Calderas and look for the signs toward Tivives.

Driving to Jaco

On the “Autopista del Sol” before reaching Caldera take the exit to Limonal and from there follow the signs to Jaco/Hermosa/Manuel Antonio.

Driving to Playa Agujas, Playa Escondida and Isla Herradura

All these beaches are a few miles before Jaco. Just drive as if you were going towards Jaco and you’ll find all these spots on the way.

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 “Autopista del Sol” up to Caldera and from there follow the signs to Liberia which will lead you on the road called “Interamericana Norte”. For the beaches in the North you’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 “Puente de la Amistad” 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 you’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 you’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 you’ll easily notice the main intersection, where you’ll see a big gas station to your left and some traffic lights. There you’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 you’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 don’t follow the first sign you’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 you’ll start seeing direction to the Paquera Ferry, keep on driving until you are at the end of Puntarenas city, turn left and you’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 you’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 isn’t interrupted by the weather and to ask for the fees.

Driving to the South Pacific from San Jose

Using the “Autopista del Sol” 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 “Costanera Sur” and you’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 you’ll have to reach the highway to Limon also called “Ruta #32” you have to head north on the “Calle 1” towards “Avenida 1” downtown San Jose, this will take you directly to the “Ruta #32”. 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 you’ll find yourself at the entrance of Limon City. Before you enter the city of Limon on your left you’ll see a cemetery and a few minutes later you’ll see a gas station on your right, you’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.