All Roads Lead to San José
There are a few surprises awaiting the unsuspecting traveler when they first consider transportation in Costa Rica. The first is that almost literally, all roads lead to San José.
Beyond that geography, water and infrastructure can conspire to make it surprisingly difficult to get to some areas.
Take a look at the map linked in the image to see what we mean. It’s a PDF so you can also download and print it for sketching in possible routes, taking notes or even (it’s current, accurate and has enough detail for almost any trips) use it to navigate when you arrive.
For example, Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve and Arenal Volcano National Park are two of the most popular destinations for travelers to Costa Rica and they’re only 15 km apart as the crow flies. Unfortunately as the cliché goes on to note, we’re not crows. Vehicle traffic must travel more than 100 km and four hours circumnavigating Lake Arenal on alternately paved and rugged roads.
Public buses make the trip in around eight hours and require a change at Tilarán. Most people could walk the 15 km straight line distance in significantly less than eight hours (if it weren’t also straight up and dense jungle).
Fortunately there are alternatives. Several local hotels and tour operators offer minibus/boat/jeep or minibus/boat/horseback options that not only cut hours off of the travel time but also pass through some beautiful forests and provide spectacular views.
No Roads or Seasonal Roads
Other destinations where transportation alternatives are important to consider include Tortuguero National Park (air or boat access only), Corcovado National Park and especially the northern gateway Drake Bay (roads impassable in the rainy season), the southern Nicoya Peninsula (ferry or overland), border crossing to Panama or Nicaragua (illegal to take a rental car across).
Make Life Simpler – Choose Destinations First
It will be much easier if you just decide where you want to go and what you want to see and do then worry about transportation later. There’s almost always some reasonable way to arrange destinations and plug in transportation between them no matter where you decide to go.
It can also be very helpful to look at pre-made itineraries designed by people with years of experience even if you aren’t planning on using a travel service. Transportation, variety and wow factor are already built in to professional itineraries and there’s no rule that says you can’t do the same on your own.
If you need help, contact us.