Written by Philly_Girl on 26 Aug, 2005
My husband and I were not new to the "driving-in-foreign-countries-adventure" club, after having driven a tin can on wheels (the fabulous Twingo!) in Rhodes, Greece in 1998 and out-honking drivers in Israel in 1999. But driving a car in Costa Rica really took the…Read More
My husband and I were not new to the "driving-in-foreign-countries-adventure" club, after having driven a tin can on wheels (the fabulous Twingo!) in Rhodes, Greece in 1998 and out-honking drivers in Israel in 1999. But driving a car in Costa Rica really took the foreign driving experience to a new level—you might call it the GIANT potholes level.
I had read online that while in Costa Rica one should rent a 4-wheel drive (SUV) because the roads could be "rough from time to time" so that's what hubby and I did--for a mere $450 plus gas for a week. We took off from the San Jose airport with a map and trunk full of hiking and swimming gear, and headed for our first stop, Arenal Volcano and Observatory Lodge.
About 15 minutes outside San Jose, we realized that driving in Costa Rica would not be the same as driving in the US when we started noticing an increased frequency of potholes--maybe every 100 yards or so, then every 50 yards or so, then 25... we had no idea what was ahead. By the time we reached the road up to Arenal Volcano, we were going 2-3 mph and zigzagging across the road. We circumvented potholes that could easily swallow our entire SUV. Cars were literally turned sideways on the roads, trying to find the path with the fewest potholes.
Another thing we soon noticed about Costa Rica was that many of the bridges were labeled with Despacio. "El puente en mal estado". Not being fluent in Spanish (or anywhere close) it took us a few of these signs to fully understand what the warning was: Go slowly. Bridge is in bad shape. Fantastic! But we watched the cars ahead of us plunging ahead over rickety structures and we just held our breath and did the same. A couple times during the week, we saw where the locals (Ticos) ahead of us would drive through the river instead of taking the bridge, and we did the same. Thank goodness for the 4-wheel-drive!
After we left the Arenal area, the pothole situation improved slightly, though we never were able to go over 45 mph during our visit. But the nice thing about driving that slowly is you really have a chance to see the countryside and the occasional Coati (see photo, they were so cute!) and of course monkeys. And, when you finally do arrive at your destination, you have a ready-made conversation to talk about with your fellow travelers!
We drove to the beaches of northern Costa Rica (through Liberia and the Guanacaste region) to Playa Grande, where we had hoped to observe a sea turtle nesting, though unfortunately we were not successful. We did manage to see a volunteer digging out a baby sea turtle just breaking out of its shell, which was pretty incredible. Then from northern Costa Rica we drove down to Manuel Antonio (a solid 6+ hour drive) for some relaxing time at Si Como No hotel (see journal description for more info). Finally, it was time to return to the airport, and we carefully navigated a narrow, winding mountain pass filled with small trucks transporting coffee back to the Pan American Highway and finally back to Xandari Resort near San Jose.
Driving in Costa Rica is challenging, but it does give you the freedom to go where you want at your own pace. We enjoyed the experience, and will probably rent a car again the next time we return to Costa Rica.
Remember, if you see a Tico avoid a bridge while in Costa Rica, we recommend you do the same! Pura Vida. Close
Written by SFPhotocraft on 13 Sep, 2005
There are three main choices from getting from San Jose International Airport and Manuel Antonio. The first is by bus; there are several bus companies that make this run. It's inexpensive but takes a long time. I wasn't up for spending my valuable…Read More
There are three main choices from getting from San Jose International Airport and Manuel Antonio. The first is by bus; there are several bus companies that make this run. It's inexpensive but takes a long time. I wasn't up for spending my valuable travel time on a bus. The next option is to fly. There are several small commuter airlines who fly the San Jose to Quepos (the airport nearest the national park). These flights are the quickest and easiest way, but this was rainy season, and I didn't feel up to flying a small prop plane in the height of a summer thunderstorm. So I opted for the third choice, and that was to drive.
I can proudly say I have driven all over the world, in many major cities and remote parts of the globe, so I was confident I could easily handle the roads of Costa Rica.
I had taken an all night flight from LAX to San Jose and I was a little on the punchy side by the time we landed in the morning. I first off urge anyone taking the all-nighters NOT to do as I did. The drive takes your full attention and being alert. If I ever did the all-nighter again, I would make sure I was very rested, and I would get a room in San Jose before I made the perilous drive to Manuel Antonio.
I was surprised as I went into the Avis lot to pick up my car. The bus had to drive through a huge iron gate with an armed guard allowing us in. The entire lot was surrounded by massive barbed wire. It was a little daunting. The agent gave me a verbal and written warning on numerous scams taking place on the highway. He warned us to always get to a gas station with a flat, or if anyone hits you, not to pull over but head to a police station instead. Some of the robbers throw nails or glass on the road in hopes you will pull over to change your tire or even pour sugar in a not-watched car at a filling station. Again, it made one a little anxious to hear so many warnings and scams. But soon, I was on my way with the warnings seared into my brain.
Just getting out of San Jose was a challenge. You share the highway with vendors, dogs, horses, ox carts, and just folks on foot. The ticos did not slow down a bit. I felt nervous being on this fast-moving obstacle course. I have to admit, I saw numerous dead dogs who did not fare so well.
Soon, I was out of the city and learned that not all roads are well- or clearly marked. Even those with signs don't give you advance notice. The first time you will see a sign is when you are at the place you need to turn. I learned I had better keep a sharp eye and watch what looked like a sign up ahead. It would have helped to have a navigator on this drive!
Soon you are beyond the city limits and the road goes through some magnificent country side. You start climbing the steep hills, and down below, you can see the green, green rain forest. Rapid rivers and streams poured down the hills below me. It was so scenic, it was hard not to take my eyes off the road to just gaze. Unfortunately, these roads are narrow and curvy, and there is no place to pull over and just soak in the view.
The traffic is bad and the road often gets clogged behind large trucks hauling everything from lumber to oil up this mountain road, and at times the traffic barely inches along. The "ticos" take unbelievable chances on these roads. They will pass anywhere. I have seen cars charging around blind curves, passing a truck. They go well beyond the speed limit and fly around the mountain curves. It made my heart skip a beat more than a few times, watching these daredevils pass. A few times, I too had to pass a truck that was barely moving, but I tried to keep it in areas where I could see a few miles down the road for other cars. This part of the road takes a lot of concentration and a lot of skill.
One of the must-stops enroute is Crocodile Bridge. You can't miss it. It's a large bridge that has cars parked by the dozens on both sides. You too should park on either side and walk on the footpath on this bridge. Look down, and you will see what all the fuss is about. Below you are dozens of crocodiles just basking in the sun. Actually, the merchants on both sides of the bridge keep these crocs well feed. It's good for business, as when you stop your car to observe, you may end up buying a Coca-Cola or even lunch. It's a win-win deal for the crocs and the merchants. I stopped and was amazed at these fat and happy crocs; there were at least twenty of them, and I was thankful they were far below while I had the safety of the bridge!
Soon the hills start to flatten out and you come to the beach town of Jaco. Jaco is surf-central, and the town has the same buzz as on of the surf towns in California. It's full of young men and woman with blonde hair and dark tans. The city has tons of surf shops. The local traffic is more Californian than Costa Rican. You will hear awesome, dude and very little Spanish on the streets. Like any surf town, Jaco is filled with fun bars, cafes, and restaurants. This is about halfway to Manuel Antonio and a great lunch stop. I ate here on my way back and it was great to watch the surfers master some awesome waves.
When I got back on the road, I no longer had to worry about ox carts, but skateboarders. The highway was clogged with young guys, all challenging the cars with their skateboards.
From Jaco, the road flattens out. It looks like on the map this should be an interesting drive as the road hugs the coastline. However, you are just far enough away from the coast that you don't see it. Every once in a while you get a treat an a small peek at the ocean, but mostly you see the farm land. Here the rain forest has been cut away for farms. This used to be the biggest banana growing region in Central America, but a disease wiped all the banana plantations away. Today they grow coconut oil here. You will get behind large trucks hauling hundreds of coconuts to the refinerary down the road. This area is not scenic and very uninteresting. Many large vacation home developments have also marred the landscape here.
Coming near Quepos, you will cross several bridges that look more like something from the set of Indian Jones. They are rusty, missing most of their wooden boards, and you can't imagine safely crossing them. But you must--this is the only way to get to Quepos. I bit my lip and pressed on. The vehicle ahead of me was a large truck--it made it, and so did I. I had to stop and take a photo of one of these bridges, they were really in bad shape!
Soon, you have made it to Quepos, and from here, Manuel Antonio is just up the hill. It took me about four hours without any stops, and I was exhausted.
On the way home, I was pulled over by a policeman near Jaco. I was going 88km (54mph) in a 80km (49mph) zone (although a lot of traffic was passing me). The officer told me the fine would be $40 and was to be paid in cash to him. He did not write me a receipt or a written ticket. But what was I to do? I had a flight to catch. So I gave him two twenties and was on my way. When I got back to Avis, the agent confirmed this was a scam. He told me often local cops will clock speeders and let the Costa Ricans off with a warning and a wink. The tourists are asked to pay a fine on the spot that goes right into the officer's pocket. The agent told me I was lucky--he has often heard of fines of $100 or more.
I was happy I drove the route. I saw some sights that I would not see by air. The countryside here is breathtaking. My only warning is to stay alert and be well rested before taking the four-hour drive through Costa Rica. You will need all your senses!
Written by serandal on 16 Nov, 2002
There is a visitor center just before the entrance to Manuel Antonio. Drinking water is also available outside, as well as several inexpensive restaurants. The park is open from 7am until 4pm. You can walk in earlier and then pay on your way out.There are…Read More
There is a visitor center just before the entrance to Manuel Antonio. Drinking water is also available outside, as well as several inexpensive restaurants. The park is open from 7am until 4pm. You can walk in earlier and then pay on your way out.
There are five beaches, Playa Espadilla is outside the park. Playa Espadilla Sur is the second beach, Playa Manuel Antonio is the third, Playa Escondido is the fourth (quite a walk in the heat, leave time) and Playita is the fifth. The entrance fee varies. Once I paid 12 dollars. The last time I went it was six. Costa Rican nationals pay less. You must wade across the estuary to enter the park. You can do it at low tide. If you leave in the afternoon around closing time, the water is too high and you will have to pay someone to row you across in a rowboat - or swim.
Follow the trail through the forest to an isthmus separating Espadill Sur and Manuel Antonio beaches. Be careful you don't step on the iguanas. Don't get too close as they will hiss and be quite aggressive if they feel threatened. You can follow the high trail to a bluff overlooking Puerto Escondido or follow the lower trail to the Playa Escondido beach. I always take the upper trail and have always seen monkeys. See them here because when you get to the picnic area it's not as nice to see them drinking coke from the tourist coke cans. You should be able to see monkeys, sloths, coatimundis, and agouties fairly easily. Sometimes you can see a peccary.
What is nice about this park is that there is beach and jungle combined. The water for snorkeling was never clear enough when I was there. Be careful which beach you choose to swim at. There are dangerous currents in some- ask the park rangers.
Written by kjun12 on 28 Apr, 2003
What a fine place. Just drive to the end of the road coming from Quepos and you're there. You will be directed where to park your vehicle.
Getting into the park requires a walk through a small stream, so be prepared to take your shoes…Read More
What a fine place. Just drive to the end of the road coming from Quepos and you're there. You will be directed where to park your vehicle.
Getting into the park requires a walk through a small stream, so be prepared to take your shoes off or walk in them while they are wet. This park is beautiful, if not pristine. Going through it can be a strenuous hike, but not overly so, because you do not have to hike all of the trails. It is also safe and people of all ages are found here.
The wildlife is the park's most outstanding feature. You are sure to see animals here. We viewed monkeys, sloths, birds, iguanas, and snakes. Please heed the signs and do not feed them. It only causes them problems.
Admission is only $7. You're in for a real treat.
Swinging through the trees was something I always wanted to do -- this is the next best thing. While tethered to a cable, you travel at varying speeds through the forest. Unfortunately, the area is visited so much that one would indeed be fortunate to…Read More
Swinging through the trees was something I always wanted to do -- this is the next best thing. While tethered to a cable, you travel at varying speeds through the forest. Unfortunately, the area is visited so much that one would indeed be fortunate to see any wildlife. You do it just for the thrill. Our guides did provide some interesting information about the vegetation and the area. Lots of fun!
A top notch gay/lesbian bar located on the left side of the road on the way to Manuel Antonio National Park. Any city would be proud to have this architechturally fine place located there. The primary bar in on the first floor. It…Read More
A top notch gay/lesbian bar located on the left side of the road on the way to Manuel Antonio National Park. Any city would be proud to have this architechturally fine place located there. The primary bar in on the first floor. It is complete with a full bar, nice art, flower arrangements and fountains. The roof top bar on the second story is nicely done and also has a full bar.
Previously located on the second story of a restaurant, it has moved to its present location, which is a large very nice-looking structure. Special parties are heldon holidays.
The crowd is mixed and a bit off in the slow season. The bartenders are nice-looking gents. Local boys willing to to home with you are always present. Just make eye contact and start a conversation. No problem.
Written by kjun12 on 15 Jun, 2003
Located on the left side of the road just before you get to Quepos. Promoted as a Gay bar/disco but it is mixed. Meeting people is easy and pick-ups are possible. The place is somewhat large and not nearly as nice as Cockatoo. It is…Read More
Located on the left side of the road just before you get to Quepos. Promoted as a Gay bar/disco but it is mixed. Meeting people is easy and pick-ups are possible. The place is somewhat large and not nearly as nice as Cockatoo. It is a late night bar. Close
A bar/disco in the same location where Cockatoo bar was previously. Above the resturant Gato Negro. This is on the left side of the road on the way to Manuel Antonio park. Rather small but fun. Possible pick-ups here and dancing.…Read More
A bar/disco in the same location where Cockatoo bar was previously. Above the resturant Gato Negro. This is on the left side of the road on the way to Manuel Antonio park. Rather small but fun. Possible pick-ups here and dancing. Close
Written by kjun12 on 13 Jun, 2003
A new disco in Manuel Antonio. Open on Friday through Sunday beginning at 8pm. The place is exciting with a flare for good music. The crowd moves between here and Cockatoo on weekends.…Read More
A new disco in Manuel Antonio. Open on Friday through Sunday beginning at 8pm. The place is exciting with a flare for good music. The crowd moves between here and Cockatoo on weekends. Close