If you’ve read our article on Driving in Costa Rica, then you’ve already learned the basics of what to expect when out on the road. General traffic laws, safety tips, and Costa Rica-specific idiosyncrasies are all covered in that post and should be your first source of information on driving in the country. But if you’re wondering what road conditions are like for specific routes, this is the post. We have driven most of Costa Rica ourselves, and in this article, we’ll name the most commonly traveled roads and tell you about their conditions.

Keeping our information current: If you have recently driven one of these roads and have an important update to share, let us know in the comments below. Be sure to include your travel dates. We’ll update our information as necessary based on those reports as well as our own most recent drives. 

 

Road Conditions in Costa Rica

How to Use This Guide

It is important to note that many of the roads in Costa Rica may be numbered on a map, but they are not marked with any actual road signs. If you are planning your routes ahead of time, we recommend using our guide, along with Google Maps and/or this waterproof Costa Rica travel map. Once you are here, you can use GPS to make sure you are on the right road. Or, if you have an Internet connection, you can use Google Maps or the popular Waze App to cross-reference in the same way. If you are in a rural area, the waterproof map mentioned above can be really helpful if you don’t have an Internet signal.

Tip: If you haven’t rented a car yet, check out our Rental Car Discount page, which can save you 10-25% with Adobe, one of the top companies in Costa Rica. You’ll also get a discount on a GPS, free second driver, and other extras. Adobe also rents Wifi hotspots, so you can use your device in the car to help navigate or surf the web.

Common Driving Routes in Costa Rica

IMPORTANT: Road conditions can change quickly in Costa Rica due to weather, natural disasters, construction, and other factors. The descriptions below are accurate and updated to the best of our knowledge, but because conditions are constantly changing, we don’t guarantee our accuracy. Always check for the latest road closures on Costa Rica’s government website before you set out. And if your experience driving a certain route was different than what we said, help us get the information right by leaving a comment below.

Use the Links Below to Jump to a Specific Route

 

 

 

 

 

Route 1 – Inter-Americana Highway

Connects many destinations, including San Jose and Guanacaste; Guanacaste and the Central Pacific Coast; and some Central Valley towns west of San Jose.

  • Major route. Completely paved, marked with lines, has good signage for towns/cities.
  • Starts in San Jose and goes all the way to the northern border with Nicaragua.
  • In parts, this is a modern four-to-six lane highway (e.g., near San Jose and SJO International Airport and between Liberia and Canas). Other parts are two lanes or two lanes with an occasional third passing lane (e.g., between La Garita and Esparza; Barranca and Canas; Liberia and Nicaragua).
  • Section between La Garita and Esparza was the old highway from San Jose to the northern Pacific coast/Guanacaste. It is still functional but curvy and takes longer than the newer highways (Route 27 to Route 23, then back onto Route 1).
  • Traffic can be congested around San Jose. Slowdowns also occur between Barranca and Canas because of large trucks traveling slowly and no room to pass. 
Road Conditions in Costa Rica - Route 1

Route 1 near San Jose

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Route 2

Connects San Jose to Southern Zone and is a slower way to get to the Southern Pacific Coast. Destinations on this route include San Gerardo de Dota and San Isidro de El General.

  • Major route. Completely paved, marked with lines in most places, has good signage for towns/cities.
  • Starts in San Jose and goes all the way to the southern border with Panama.
  • In parts, this is a modern four-lane highway (e.g., between San Jose and Cartago, and near San Isidro de El General). Other parts are two lanes or two lanes with an occasional third passing lane (e.g., between Cartago and San Isidro de El General, and from San Isidro de El General to the Panama border).
  • Section between Cartago and San Isidro de El General is very mountainous. This stretch is known locally as Cerro de la Muerte (Hill of Death). The road is in good condition but is narrow and very high altitude. It should not be driven at night because of thick fog and cloud cover.
  • Route 2 was the old highway from San Jose to the Panama border at Paso Canoas and Costa Rica’s southern Pacific coast. Today, most people visiting the southern Pacific coast take the coastal route (Route 27 to Route 34), which is flatter and faster. Route 2 is a very scenic drive, however, if you have some time and are up for a little adventure. At its highest points, the landscape turns to shrubby plants and trees, typical of the high-altitude forest. It also passes huge wind turbines.
  • Pavement south of Palmar Sur to Panama border is bumpy and has potholes to navigate.
Road Conditions in Costa Rica - Route 2 near San Isidro de El General

Route 2 near San Isidro de El General

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Route 3

Connects western San Jose to Route 27 in Orotina. Passes through the cities of Heredia and Alajuela and is used to access the town of Atenas. Often used as alternative route to Central Pacific Coast if Route 27 is closed. Many rental car agencies have offices on this road, near SJO International Airport.

  • Paved two-lane road marked with lines with fairly good signage for towns/cities.
  • Has more traffic lights and congestion near San Jose, Heredia, and Alajuela.
  • West of Alajuela, this road becomes more rural and scenic. It is extremely curvy with many hills, making it a slow, but beautiful, drive.
  • Route 27 is the preferred route from SJO International Airport to the Pacific coast because it is much faster. Route 3 is functional, though, if 27 is closed for a holiday (see Route 27, below, for more info on road closures).

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Route 4

Connects very northern Guanacaste to La Fortuna/Arenal and Caribbean side of the country. Destinations accessed using this route include La Fortuna, Tenorio Volcano National Park/Rio Celeste, Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui, and Tortuguero.

  • Secondary highway with two lanes. Completely paved, marked with lines in most places, has fairly good signage for towns/cities.
  • Easy drive, mostly flat road that passes lots of agricultural fields like pineapples, papayas, and sugar cane.
  • This is the most common route between La Fortuna and Tortuguero or Puerto Viejo de Talamanca on the Caribbean coast.

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Route 6

Connects Route 1, near Canas, to Route 4 at Upala, in Guanacaste Province. This road is used to access the town of Bijagua and the nearby Rio Celeste Waterfall (link) from towns in northwestern Guanacaste.

  • Paved two-lane secondary road, marked with lines. Hilly at times but smooth driving on nice pavement.
  • Nice views of Miravalles and Tenorio Volcanoes when coming from the west. Also some impressive wind turbines along the road.

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Route 10

Connects Cartago in Central Valley to Siquirres on Caribbean slope. The most popular tourist destination on this route is Turrialba.

  • Paved two-lane road, marked with lines. Hilly at times but smooth driving.
  • Passes farm fields like coffee and sugar cane, as well as dairy pastures and sections of forest.
  • Traffic can be slow in Turrialba and Paraiso.
  • The old railroad from Cartago to the Caribbean port of Limon once passed through sections of this road and the old tracks are still visible in some places.
  • This was the old highway to the Caribbean coast. Today, most people visiting Caribbean towns like Cahuita and Puerto Viejo de Talamanca take Route 32 out of San Jose because it is faster.

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Route 14

Connects the small city of Rio Claro to Golfito in Southern Zone. 

  • Paved two-lane road in fair condition.

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Route 17

Local road through port city of Puntarenas. You will take this if you are crossing the Gulf of Nicoya on the Puntarenas-Paquera Ferry.

  • Paved two-lane road, marked with lines. Smooth driving.
  • Residential and commercial zone with some traffic lights.

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Route 18

Connects Route 21 (near Nicoya) to the Inter-Americana Highway/Route 1. Used as a cut through between Guanacaste or Nicoya Peninsula and points east like Monteverde, San Jose, and Puntarenas. 

  • Paved two-lane road, marked with lines. Smooth driving.
  • Bridge at the mouth of the Tempisque River has a beautiful view of the Gulf of Nicoya.

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Route 21

Connects the city of Liberia to southern Nicoya Peninsula. LIR International Airport is located on Route 21. Driving part of this route is also necessary to reach most beach towns in Guanacaste like Tamarindo, Flamingo, Playa Conchal, Playa Hermosa, Samara, and Nosara

  • Major route. Secondary highway with two lanes. Completely paved, marked with lines, has fairly good signage for towns/cities.
  • Very flat, smooth driving.
  • Around town centers, locals often walk or ride bicycles along the side of this road so use caution for their safety.
  • There is often traffic near Liberia and the airport but otherwise the road is not very busy.

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Route 23

Connects Route 27 to Route 1 near Puntarenas. This route is used in combination with Route 27 to get to destinations in northwestern Costa Rica like the Nicoya Peninsula, Guanacaste beaches, and Monteverde from San Jose (instead of taking Route 1 all the way from San Jose). Also connects to Route 17 if traveling into Puntarenas.

  • Secondary highway with two lanes and a third passing lane near Caldera. Completely paved, marked with lines. Some stoplights closer to Puntarenas in the commercial zone.
  • This road goes right next to the beach for a short stretch in Caldera. The views of the Gulf are very pretty and lots of locals visit the beach. Cruise and/or container ships often can be seen docked in Caldera or just offshore.

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Route 27 (Autopista)

Connects San Jose to all destinations on Pacific Coast. Also most common route to Monteverde.

  • Major route. Completely paved, marked with lines, has good signage for towns/cities.
  • Around San Jose, this is a modern four-to-six lane highway. Going west out of the city, it turns to two lanes or two lanes with an occasional third passing lane. This highway is often congested since it is a popular route and there can be truck traffic.
  • Toll road. Tolls range from 310 to 670 colones and are more frequent closer to San Jose. Have colones available or small US dollars ($1 bills).
  • The Coyol Radial connects Route 27 with Route 1 for those going to or from the SJO Airport. The sign for the airport is very small so keep a lookout. The exit name is Coyol/Ciruelas.
  • There is often construction traffic west of the town of Concepcion, where workers are stabilizing the steep slopes next to the highway. It has been going on for years.
  • On the Sunday after big holidays (Christmas, New Years, Easter, etc.), westbound traffic is often rerouted from Route 27 to Route 3 or Route 1. This occurs near Orotina, where all lanes of Route 27 are turned into eastbound lanes in the direction of San Jose in order to ease the congestion of people traveling home after the holidays.
Road Conditions in Costa Rica - Route 27

Route 27 west of Escazu

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Route 32

Connects San Jose to Caribbean slope, ending at the port city of Limon. This is the newer way to access the Caribbean Coast, which was formerly through Cartago and Turrialba on Route 10.

  • Major route. Completely paved, marked with lines, has good signage for towns/cities.
  • Two lanes or two lanes with an occasional third passing lane.
  • Steep at times. Also a popular trucking route, so expect slowdowns at the steepest points.
  • Only road in Costa Rica with a tunnel. This tunnel goes under a section of Braulio Carrillo National Park. It creates an important land bridge for animals, which can safely cross over the top.
  • Sides of the road along the steep descent to Caribbean are covered with lush foliage. Sometimes landslides occur, especially during the rainy season, so use caution after heavy storms.
  • This road can get fogged in and visibility is poor in the rain. Avoid driving at night.
Road Conditions in Costa Rica - Route 32

Zurqui Tunnel going under Braulio Carrillo National Park

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Route 34 (Costanera Highway)

Connects Route 27 with Central and Southern Pacific Coast (Jaco, Quepos/Manuel Antonio, and Dominical and Uvita).

  • Major route that follows the coast. Completely paved, marked with lines, has good signage for towns/cities.
  • Two lanes or two lanes with an occasional third passing lane. Some steep areas between Tarcoles and Jaco but otherwise relatively flat and smooth.
  • Starting in Parrita and going south to Dominical, much of the highway is surrounded by palm-oil plantations.
  • A police checkpoint is often set up near Dominical. The officers might request to see your passport.
  • Common stop is the Tarcoles River Bridge, where you can see very large crocodiles along the banks of the river.
Road Conditions in Costa Rica - Route 34

Route 34 between Quepos and Dominical

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Route 36

Connects the Caribbean port city of Limon to Hone Creek and Panama Border at Sixaola. Popular destinations accessed by this route include Cahuita and Puerto Viejo de Talamanca.

  • Paved two-lane road marked with lines. Has fairly good signage for towns/cities.
  • South of Limon follows the coast for a while and has beautiful ocean views.

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Route 39 (Circunvalacion)

Loops traffic south around downtown San Jose by connecting Route 1 and Route 27 on the western side to Route 2 on the eastern side. Also connects Route 1 and Route 27.

  • Major highway around San Jose. Four lanes with some additional exit lanes. Completely paved, marked with lines, has fairly good signage for towns/cities/exits.
  • North/westbound direction is marked as Uruca and south/eastbound is marked as Hatillo.
  • Double check for motorcycles before changing lanes as they often travel between cars/lanes.
  • Typically has heavy traffic.

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Route 126

Connects the city of Heredia to Northern Lowlands near Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui. Popular attractions along this route include Poas Volcano and La Paz Waterfall Gardens.

  • Paved two-lane road marked with lines in most places. Has fairly good signage for towns/cities.
  • Steep and extremely curvy at times when road cuts around the mountains. Some sections are very narrow with drop-offs on one side.
  • Can get fogged in and visibility is poor in the rain. Avoid driving at night.
  • Has fantastic views of the surrounding jungle, especially on the section northwest of Poas Volcano.
  • Passes the beautiful La Paz Waterfall, which practically spills into the road. Has parking alongside the road for people to stop and take pictures.
  • Was partially destroyed by an earthquake in 2009 but has since been repaired.
Road Conditions in Costa Rica - Route 126

Route 126 at La Paz Waterfall

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Route 141

Common route to La Fortuna/Arenal from Central Valley starting in Naranjo de Alajuela

  • Paved two-lane road or two lanes with an occasional third passing lane. Marked with lines and has fairly good signage for towns.
  • Curvy in the mountains with nice views.
  • Fog can be thick at higher altitudes. Avoid driving at night.

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Route 142

Connects La Fortuna to Canas in Guanacaste. Goes around Lake Arenal, Costa Rica’s largest lake. This route is also used for traveling between La Fortuna and Monteverde.  

  • Paved two-lane road marked with lines. 
  • Very curvy around Lake Arenal but also scenic. There are several interesting places to stop and eat on the lake. See our post 6 Great Eats Around Lake Arenal.
  • Be aware that GPS will often try to take you on a shortcut (to go around Tilaran), but the side closest to Lake Arenal is steep dirt and requires 4×4. This would only save a few minutes anyway so better to stay on Route 142 the whole time.
  • After heavy rainfall, small landslides can sometimes block portions of the road around the lake. Usually road crews have these cleaned up quickly, but it is always good to check for closures ahead of time on the Transito website.
Road Conditions in Costa Rica - Route 142

Cow traffic on Route 142 near Lake Arenal

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Route 145

Connects Tilaran to Route 606 and Monteverde. Used by travelers going from La Fortuna or Lake Arenal area to Monteverde/Santa Elena.

  • Paved leaving Tilaran but turns to dirt after a few miles. Continues as bumpy dirt road and turns into Route 606. A 4×4 is recommended during all times of year. See our post about Driving to Monteverde for more information and a video.
  • Nice farm-pasture views, also impressive wind turbines along the ridge.
  • An attraction of interest along this route are the Viento Fresco Waterfalls
Road Conditions in Costa Rica - Route 145

Muddy rut on Route 145 between Tilaran and Monteverde

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Route 150

Connects the inland city of Nicoya to beach town of Samara in Guanacaste. Also connects with roads going west to Nosara

  • Paved two-lane road marked with lines. 
  • Hilly but smooth driving all the way from Nicoya to Samara.
  • Turnoff for Nosara is about 10 minutes before Samara (marked with a sign). This side road is partially paved and eventually connects with Route 160. Higher clearance is recommended because of the bumpy terrain.

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Route 151

Connects Route 21 to Playas del Coco and Playa Hermosa in northern Guanacaste.

  • Paved two-lane road marked with lines. Has good signage for towns/cities.

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Route 155

Connects Belen to Tamarindo area in Guanacaste.  

  • Paved two-lane road marked with lines. Has fairly good signage for towns/cities.
  • Does not go all the way to Tamarindo but there is signage in Villareal indicating the turnoff.

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Route 160  

Important: Route 160 has two portions – (1) Naranjo to Cobano on southeastern Nicoya Peninsula. This is the best route (in combination with Route 21) to access Montezuma, Mal Pais, and Santa Teresa. (2) Pacific coastal stretch on western side of Nicoya Peninsula. Part of this is an alternative route to Nosara from Liberia, but is more remote. See below for details.

Naranjo to Cobano Section of Route 160 (to access Montezuma and Mal Pais/Santa Teresa)

  • Mixture of dirt and paved sections. Some steep sections have loose gravel. A 4×4 is recommended for traction.
  • You can also connect to this section of Route 160 if taking the Puntarenas Ferry to the Nicoya Peninsula.
  • Overall, this isn’t a horrible drive if you have the right vehicle. The road is bumpy at times but smooth (regraded) in other parts. The scenery is beautiful and gives you a bit of the off-the-beaten path experience.
  • At Cobano, the road that continues to Mal Pais/Santa Teresa is rough dirt with some large rocks jutting out. 4×4 highly recommended.
Road Conditions in Costa Rica - Route 160

Small landslide on Route 160 between Naranjo and Cobano (June)

 

Pacific Coast Sections of Route 160, from north to south (Alternative route from LIR to Nosara and points south)

  • Overall, mostly dirt and some parts may not be passable in the rainy season due to river crossings, mud, and ruts. An SUV with higher clearance is recommended all times of year. During the rainy season, 4×4 may be necessary.
  • Section north of Nosara/Ostional: An alternative coastal route from LIR International Airport to Nosara. It is a more difficult drive than taking Route 21 to 150 to 160 (south of Nosara), but also more scenic, as it passes rural beach towns. This portion of road is very remote, with few businesses along the way so be sure to stock up on gas and supplies around Santa Cruz or Liberia. The terrain is fairly flat with a few bumpy areas. Not recommended in the rainy season (overall muddy conditions and river between Ostional and Nosara is sometimes not passable), but usually fine in the dry season. Also has several one-lane bridges where you have to yield to oncoming traffic; however, this road is not usually very busy.
  • From Nosara to Playa Garza/Playa Barrigona: Passable at any time of year. This stretch is very bumpy with many potholes to navigate but is the best route to Nosara (in combination with Route 150 from Nicoya).
  • From Playa Garza/Playa Barrigona to Samara: There is a river to cross. This section is often not passable in the rainy months due to the river’s height and muddy conditions on the northern side of the river (see photo, below). Better to drive around using Route 150.
  • South of Samara along the coast: Connects to Santa Teresa/Mal Pais and is sometimes considered Route 160. We have never driven this whole stretch, but have heard that the southern sections are difficult to pass without experience. Driving on the beach and several river crossings are required. This is a very remote area and there have been incidents of crime against tourists driving this route near Santa Teresa. We strongly recommend using the Naranjo to Cobano side of Route 160 instead (see above).
Road Conditions in Costa Rica - Route 160 just north of Samara

Muddy mess on Route 160, just north of the river crossing in Samara (May). The car in the picture is actually stuck in a deep mud hole. 

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Route 164

Connects Route 1 at Bagaces to Route 4, north of Upala. Primarily used to visit the towns of Guayabo and Fortuna near the Miravalles Volcano. Also used to access the Rio Perdido Resort.

  • Paved two-lane secondary road marked with lines in most places. In fair condition with some bumps and potholes.

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Route 223

Connects Route 2 to town of Sierpe in Southern Zone. This route is used to get to the shuttle boats that go to Drake Bay. Also passes Finca 6 archeological site.

  • Paved two-lane road, some lines but otherwise unmarked.
  • Scenic drive through the palm-oil fields. You can also see some pre-Columbian stone spheres along the roadside.

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Route 237

Connects Route 2 to San Vito and San Vito to Ciudad Neily in Southern Zone.

  • Section between Route 2 and San Vito: Paved two-lane road marked with lines. Has fairly good signage for towns/cities. Curvy at times. Also many school zones so speed limits are lower. Beautiful valley views toward La Amistad National Park. A police checkpoint is often set up along this stretch. Officers may ask for your passport and inquire about any purchases made in Panama.
  • Section between San Vito and Ciudad Neily: Paved and mostly marked with lines. Is in good condition but some parts are narrow and very curvy so you can’t go too fast (it takes 1 hour from Ciudad Neily to San Vito). The views on the hills are very pretty and there are some special spots to stop where you can see all the way to Golfito, the Coto Valley, and the gulf. [Thanks to our reader, Grethel, for her comment on this section. We recently drove it and she was completely correct!] 

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Route 239

Connects Ciudad Colon to Puriscal and Puriscal to Pacific Coast.

  • Section from Route 34 to Mastatal is bumpy and dirt but in fair condition.
  • We’ve never driven the section from Ciudad Colon to Puriscal, so if you have, let us know in the comments below.
Road Conditions in Costa Rica - Route 239

Route 239 between Puriscal and the Pacific coast

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Route 243

Connects the inland city of San Isidro de El General to Dominical on Southern Pacific Coast.

  • Paved two-lane road, no lines painted.
  • Curvy and steep at times. Truck traffic can cause slowdowns.
  • Several one-lane bridges to cross. Be careful to yield to oncoming traffic.
  • Often foggy at the higher altitudes, near Alfombra.
  • Not recommended to drive at night or in heavy rain since it is hard to see the road (no lines, reflectors, or street lights).
Road Conditions in Costa Rica - Route 243

Construction traffic on Route 243 between Dominical and San Isidro de El General

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Route 245

Connects Route 2 at Piedras Blancas to Puerto Jimenez in Southern Zone.

  • Paved two-lane road in fair condition.
  • Curvy at times around the edge of the Gulfo Dulce but also very scenic with forest for miles.
  • Remote with few places to stop. Be sure to refuel and get any refreshments before you turn off Route 2. There is a gas station at the turnoff.

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Route 253

Connects Papagayo Peninsula to Route 21, west of LIR International Airport.

  • Paved two-lane road marked with lines.
  • Closer to Papagayo Peninsula, there are some pull-offs with beautiful ocean views.

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Route 256

Connects Route 36 to Puerto Viejo de Talamanca and Manzanillo on Caribbean Coast.

  • Paved two-lane secondary road marked with lines in most places. In fair condition, very flat and fairly straight.
  • Goes through downtown Puerto Viejo and through beach communities to the south, including Playa Cocles, Playa Chiquita, Playa Punta Uva, and Manzanillo. Many people walk or use bicycles, especially between Puerto Viejo and Manzanillo, so use caution for their safety.

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Route 606

Connects Route 1, north of Puntarenas, to Monteverde. Most popular route to Monteverde from Pacific Coast or San Jose.

  • From Route 1, paved for the first 16 km (10 miles), then becomes dirt for the last 20 km (12.4 miles). Pavement is in good condition with lines in most places. Dirt section is steep and curvy at times. Depending on the time of year, this section will be rougher, with mud and large ruts. A 4×4 vehicle is recommended.
  • Some short sections are narrow with steep embankments or drop-offs.
  • Read our post Driving to Monteverde for more information and a video of the road.
Driving to Monteverde, Costa Rica: Best Routes and Road Conditions

Route 606 to Monteverde

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Route 702

Common route to La Fortuna/Arenal from the Central Valley starting in San Ramon

  • Paved two-lane road with occasional one-lane bridges. Marked with lines in most areas. 
  • Very curvy and somewhat narrow at times. People prone to car sickness often have a hard time on this road.
  • Pretty views of mountains and farm fields.
  • Fog can be thick at higher altitudes. Avoid driving at night.

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Route 911 (Monkey Trail)

Connects Sardinal (Guanacaste) to beach towns of Playa Potrero and Playa Flamingo. Shorter stretch connects Flamingo to Potrero along the coast.

  • Coastal section between Potrero and Flamingo: Paved road in good condition.
  • Inland section between Sardinal and Potrero: An alternative route from Liberia to certain destinations in northern Guanacaste, like Playa Potrero, Playa Flamingo, and the Riu Resort. Section until turnoff for the Riu is in fairly good condition. After that, it is a rough dirt road and some parts may not be passable in the rainy season or after heavy rain due to stream crossings and muddy ruts. There are also a few steep spots where good traction is necessary. Even in the dry season, this road is best traveled with a 4×4 with high ground clearance. Google Maps and others sometimes advise taking this route, but it is better to go around using paved roads (Routes 21 to 155 to 180).

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Have a question about road conditions that we didn’t mention? Or do you have an update based on a recent drive? Let us know in the comments below (Email subscribers, click here to post your comment online.).

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