Costa Rica – overland, drive through report…

San Jose plastic bottle sculpture by night

People had been warning us for weeks about how expensive Costa Rica is – so we’d stocked up with food, smokes and a bottle of Flor de Caña, crossing the border from Nicaragua on the Pan American with the determination of flying through to Panama if it all got a bit too much for the old budget. There were, however, a few problems with this plan;

  1. I was still technically convalescing with a damaged rib that required some easy beach time.
  2. We had plans to meet friends on Costa Rica’s west coast, plans to meet friends in the Central Valley and plans to catch up with some friends on the east coast.
  3. Costs Rica is well known for being one of the world’s most biologically and diverse countries with immensely stunning National Parks and natural scenery that shouldn’t be rushed.
  4. The old budget got well busted a long time ago and we could hardly recruit it’s stinking corpse into our route planning now, could we?
Santa Teresa Surfer

First stop, then, was Santa Teresa, a surfer’s paradise, down at the end of the Nicoya Peninsular. This is a beautiful beach and, even if you don’t surf, it is very entertaining to watch the hundreds that do come down every morning and evening for their watery fix. The Costa Rican regulations against building right on the beachfront is truly inspired – the place looks lush, green, jungle and wild when you turn round to look at it, the persistent waves crashing around. I suppose it must mean a real lack of water-front, beach-view cabinas and camping is not allowed – yet, no one said anything to us, parked for a few days, a mere 2 or 3 metres from high tide.

Beach side parking in Costa Rica

People had also been warning us about the roads on the peninsula. Coming from the north, from Liberia, the road was actually brand new for quite a few kilometres. The best road in Costa Rica as it turned out. And then between Playa Naranjo and Paquera, the road is totally unpaved for 30km, probably the worst that we saw, and took us 3 hours. From Paquera, it is paved until the turn offs for Montezuma and Mal Pais/Santa Teresa which are only ten or so klicks further on. Paquera is where you can catch the ferry to Punta Arenas in order to continue further south and San Jose which is the way most people are driving in – limiting their bumpy, bumpy to just a few kilometres worth. But, for our truck, that ferry’s $40 so, if you’re coming from the north, it is cheaper on the wallet (if not on your suspension) to endure the section between Naranjos and Paquera.

Santa Teresa beach dogs

Anyway, the real thing to say here is that Costa Rican roads and traffic conditions are the worst we have experienced since the more busy sections of Russia, say through the Urals. Yes, funny that, no? One of the more wealthier countries in Central America (which means we see more traffic in a few hours than the whole of Guatemala or Honduras) has a pretty inadequate road network that seemed to be crumbling away on every mountain corner with single-lane bridges over most rivers. Of course, you feel kind of feel wrong advocating more roads in such a beautiful country but, believe me, chugging around at an average 10 mph ain’t doing anyone any favours.


Stencil wall art in Orosi

From the Pacific coast, we got to San Jose, past nightfall in a real rush-hour jam, and parked up on a traffic island next to a McDonalds to nick their WiFi and some mayonnaise for our home-cooked chips. The next day, it took us quite a few hours in the Sunday traffic to cover the 25 klicks to the small town of Orosi where we had our second rendez-vous to make. This area is quite breathtaking country (well, don’t look at the roads) and, incredibly, it gets cool at night. For the first time in a month I put a T-shirt on.

Typical Costa Rican dwelling in Orosi

A few days later, we leave for the Caribbean coast, spending a couple of days at Puerto Viejo just before the border with Panama. PV seems a cool place to hang out. We found a nice enough park up at the Todo Es Posible Hostel which is next to Rocking J’s (the supposed party place of the town). Again, these places are set back from the beaches leaving them unspoilt and beautiful.

Special seat for relaxing in Puerto Viejo

So in the end, we kinda rushed through Costa Rica. It was, of course, a bit heavy on the pocket – diesel was $1.25 a litre, smokes $2 a pack and a bottle of beer the same. Supermarkets were like being in the States again; as usual you wonder how the poorest survive. I don’t know if the infamous Tico ‘Pura Vida’ goes that far. (Hint – before I forget to mention it: locked WiFi signals may respond to a ‘Pura Vida’ password). Another cliche that rang true was the flora and fauna – the wildlife will come to you – it’s not just the traffic that’s crawling…

Puerto Viejo sitting in the sea


Geo Big Map

Big Map can't be displayed. This is almost always because JavaScript is turned off, or there are JavaScript errors on this page preventing the map script from running (check the browser console for error messages)