En route to… Arenal
Driving Distances in Costa Rica…. They are not what they seem in the map.
Yes, we are a small country. 51,100 square kilometers (Almost 20,000 sq miles), and if you look at it on a World map, you will probably think that you can get from one coast to the other in two or three hours… Diiiing! Wrong! You can do it in a day… But not in a couple of hours.
You see, what happens in Costa Rica, and what makes it so amazing, is that we have a lot of mountains crossing it, from ocean to ocean and from border to border. And there are many winding roads… Many!
But not only that! There are winding roads with fog conditions, and high cliffs, there are mountain roads with trucks of pineapple or a tractor filled with sugar cane ahead… There are roads closed due to landslides or a car accident…. Yes! It is good to have an operations team backing you up!
So, let’s talk about the main touristic routes, best departure times (If you are driving) and where people with motion sickness problems should watch out. And most importantly, where are rest rooms, and when you should skip the reading and ask your travel consultant.
So, this being said, we are happy to tell you some of the most usual routes, times, and conditions.
We are starting today with The Route San José – Arenal:
From San Jose:
First of all, best time to leave and come back to San José is out of traffic jam hours, meaning: From 9:00 a.m. (Or before 7:00 a.m.) to 3:30 p.m. Watch out if you are coming into San José on payday (15th or 30th of the month or if it’s Friday, or if it is both, if so, time to come in the city goes down to 2:00 p.m.)
San José – Arenal:
Route 1: San José – San Ramón – Chachagua – La Fortuna
Approximately 3.5 hours.
Road conditions are good. It is a winding road (Motion sickness pill needed), and in the afternoons or early mornings it can be foggy.
There is a big town (San Ramon) right after you go out from the Panamerican Highway where you can find pharmacies, and grocery stores.
And for bathroom and lunch stop, probably the best is at San Luis Canopy Tour where they have a delicious typical lunch and a great forest to hike around if you have the time (It is also a great canopy tour, if you don’t have that already set anywhere else).
Please find out (With our operations team) if the road is open and fine. Sometimes there are landslides that close it.
Alternative Route #2:
San Jose – Naranjo – Zarcero – Ciudad Quesada – Florencia
About 5 hours
Road conditions are good. It is a winding road (Yes, motion sickness pills needed), and at least 50% of the time is really foggy. Plus, this is a route that is used by the sugar cane trucks (January to April) and this can make it really slow. But whenever it is clear and the trucks are not around is one of the most beautiful and picturesque routes in Costa Rica!
Highly recommend for breakfast or lunch (And yes! Bio-stop) to go to Ceci’s Restaurant (About a kilometer and a half after you exit Zarcero on the way to Quesada).
Once in Florencia the road gets to be much easier and flat.
Alternative Route #3:
San José – Alajuela – Fraijanes – Vara Blanca – Rio Cuarto – Aguas Zarcas – Muelle – La Fortuna
About 6 -7 hours
Road conditions are good. It takes so long because the road is really winding, it can be foggy and there are lots of things to see!
On the way up you will be passing by Alajuela, and right outside of it, on the way up you will see a big shopping area with a big AM sign on the left side of the road. That is a great place to stop for snacks or bathrooms.
Probably the most important on the way in is the Poas Volcano National Park. It is pretty close to Varablanca and if it is a clear day it is worth it to pay a visit.
Then comes the Waterfalls Garden. Which is an amazing place. If you don’t do it, as you pass it, and maybe a couple of miles after it, you will see the famous and beautiful Paz Waterfall, where you have to stop on the side (Be careful with cars please!!) and take a picture.
And then, as you drive on you will be finding several little places to stop by (Hummingbird Cafe on the right hand side, about three or four miles after the waterfall are also worth to pay a visit, especially if you are into photography or birdwatching). This is also a great bio-stop opportunity here.
After you pass the San Miguel crossing, you will be in an easier to drive road, flat and nice. Keep your eyes open for toucan flying around or even a sloth on the trees by the road.
Driving in Costa Rica can be easy if you know the tricks. And sometimes Waze is not enough. Ask our operations team on your way from San Jose to Arenal Volcano. Humans sometimes know things that neither GPS or any apps may tell you.
It is important to say, that these are great directions if you decided to rent a car for your stay. Our guides and drivers though, know several little secrets of the roads in Costa Rica and when you are on a travel day with them, these can truly be the highlight of your trip!