The following was emailed to us by a reader named Dennis Massion. Thanks Dennis for taking the time to tell us about your drive!
We had rented a Toyota Fortuner 4WD (In the US it’s the 4runner) and driven down to Quepos from La Fortuna on the main highways but wanted to try another route through the mountains to get back to San Jose.
This would be a much more scenic route, through some of Costa Rica’s high mountain forest, but a lot longer (Google estimated 3 hours, it took us 5, but we loved the scenery and stopped for lunch!) It was difficult to find any information about this route in the guidebooks or on-line and local information was varied.
We drove from Quepos to Paritta (about 20 miles east of Quepos) and with the help of a Garmin GPS found a main, graded road (unmarked) leading north into the mountains. Two bicyclists assured us that we were on Route 301 towards Santiago de Puriscal and that the road was “paved”. We found out that they meant graded because we didn’t hit the pavement until we were near Cangrejal.
Initially the graded road was straight and flat allowing 40 plus mph speeds. We passed large estancias of commercial oil palms. Pretty sterile, but we did see several exotic birds, including Oropendulas, Caracara and a large Kiskadee. Seven kilometers later the road paralleled a very robust river, Rio Pirris (Parrita) on the left. This is a short, but large river with its headwaters beginning at Cerro de la Muerte (11,000 feet above the Pacific). The river has overflown its banks for millennia providing rich agricultural soil to the lowlands. About seven kilometers later we left the river, passed a small settlement with “bar and restaurant Paso Real”. Route 301 now begins to ascend into the Cordillera de Talamanca mountain range.
It should be noted that Route 301 has very few services (no gas, a few soda restaurants) for the next 20 kilometers.
As the road climbs the Cordillera it switchbacks through tracts of small farms and cattle pastures that have been cleared in the Talamancan montane forests. Remnants of the forest delight the eye especially the huge oak trees, (Quercus costaricensis) festooned with large bromeliad and orchid epiphytes. Many birds were flying among the trees.
The road becomes steeper and more sinuous but the scenery just gets better! We did encounter four new mudslides, but they had been partially plowed out of the way to allow single car passage (stay close to the high side, just in case!).
As we climbed above 8000 feet we got partially engulfed in cool, misty clouds and the forests transitioned into copses of sub- páramo (dwarfed bamboo and small shrubs) interspersed in alpine grasslands. These rolling mountaintops and cloud forests are exhilarating to see and to breathe in the cool, moist air.
Coming down the northern slope was steep going, often using second gear and slowly twisting around the hairpin turns. Most oncoming vehicles drive cautiously but the maniacal motorbikes are a constant threat.
The road twists and descends down to the small village of Congrejal where it begins to pick up some pavement. Though welcomed the “paved road” is riddled with large potholes making driving more tedious than on the graveled road.
We stopped here at the “congrejetto rojo” (sp) bar and restaurant for traditional appetizer and soft drinks. The bar was very crowded with local Sunday villagers, the atmosphere genial, even festive.
After 12 more kilometers of dodging large potholes we terminated Route 301 in Acosta and turned right on highway 209, a well-maintained road, but now the final trek became much more difficult dodging pedestrians, motorbikes and oncoming traffic!
Dennis, Thank you again for taking the time to let us know about these routes. For other people looking for road condition information. Please check out our post: Road Conditions of Specific Routes in Costa Rica