Costa Rica (limited travel so cursory opinions)
In January 2010 we returned to Costa Rica for a few days and plan on returning in 2011 and riding to Panama. At that time we will fill in the new routes. So far the roads are narrow and busy. It seems expensive compared to Nicaragua.
In 1992 based on our limited
exposure, a bike trip that finished in San Jose and started in San Diego, California and a couple earlier trips without bikes, we are open to changing these ratings with another, longer bike trip here. The main highway riding was not what we like. The other roads are somewhat limited because of the geography. It seems that this is a better hiking destination than a biking destination.
How We Rate This Trip
The Pan American highway is narrow and dangerous in and out of San Jose. Toward the border with Nicaragua, it’s still narrow but with less traffic. The grades are manageable and the road is well engineered.
The main highway after the Puntarenas turnoff is choked with traffic into San Jose. The narrow road has so many heavy trucks that the alternative route would be on the Nicoya Peninsula.
Variable on altitude is the temperature. Variable on calendar is the amount of rain. The lowlands are hot and muggy.
Winds generally blow easterly in the north and westerly in the south.
The scenery is magnificent. Maybe it’s better to hike than to bike (at least on the Pan American Highway.
The book “Latin America by Bike” by Walter Sienko has a chapter on Costa Rica. It offers an itinerary too. It was published by the Mountaineers in 1993. It’s mostly an overview but it’s accurate. The best maps are from the Instituto Geografico National.
Road Safety: 3
Near San Jose, both east and west on the Pan American Highway, it is treacherous. Narrow with traffic and plenty of trucks and busses. Toward the borders it’s better
General Safety: 7
General personal safety is excellent. In San Jose, you could run into minor problems with pickpockets and bag snatchers, but violent crime is rare. This being said, our hotel room out on the Nicoya Peninsula was robbed. We got most of our stuff back because the locals took it on to themselves to get it back.
The cost of living is moderate. Prices are lower than North America but higher than other Central American countries.
The water is safe to drink in all major cities. Small cafes called “sodas” serve soda pop and fruit drinks which are very good. The beer is good and coffee is standard.
But it’s not exceptional nor distinctive. It tends to be more European. That being said, there’s a high standard of sanitation and freshness
Accommodations are more expensive and of a lower standard than other Central American countries. The pensions and cheaper hotels are basic and poor value.
They are sophisticated here. Very European in attitude. They are friendly but a little aloof. Compared to the rest of Central American, it’s relatively uncolorful.
There are some colonial remnants in the cities. Costa Rica pales in comparison to Guatemala and Southern Mexico for its indigenous population. They are European.
Mostly in San Jose, there is the colonial Spanish influence. The pre-Columbian history of Costa Rica is scanty. Their recent history is remarkable, orderly, and efficient. They are duly proud.
TOTAL SCORE 65
Route Descriptions and Maps
Costa Rica 2010
Penas Blancas (Nicaraguan border) to LaCruz 19Ks
Good 2-lane road with no shoulder. Light traffic but fast buses and trucks. Lush scenery. NE (tail) wind. Gradually rolling up to 11Ks then down for 2Ks then climb moderately then gradually to 18Ks, veer left into La Cruz at 19Ks.
La Cruz to Liberia 61Ks
Route 1, 2-lanes, no shoulder. Light traffic but fast and often big. Scrub land and ranches sparsely populated. So-so scenery. NE (tai) winds. Rolling mostly down. There were no stores for drinks through here. 1K climb up to 29Ks then down to the coastal plain. Straight and flat mostly. At 60Ks, right at stop light to centro at 61Ks.
Liberia to Playa El Coco 35Ks
Out from centro to Hwy. #21, across Hwy. #1 at 1K, 13Ks to airport. 2-lanes, narrow, no shoulder. lots of fast traffic. Bad riding. At 20Ks, junction. Road to Playa El Coco. Right. Another narrow road. Less traffic but still too much but only cars. No chance to look at nice scenery. NE (tail) winds. At 30Ks up 2 Ks then down into town at 35Ks.
Playa Del Coco to Playa Tamarindo 70Ks
15Ks out to Hwy #21. Right, 2-lanes, no shoulder, flat. NE (cross) winds. Moderate small but fast traffic. OK scenery. At 33Ks, Hwy. #155, right in Belen. 2-lanes, narrower and no shoulder. Could be great biking but there’s too much fast moving traffic on this narrow road. Moderately rolling hills to 47Ks then through a valley to 54Ks. Very good scenery, small mountains ranch country Tail winds. Steep 2Ks up and 2Ks down to Huacas. Hwy. #155 turns left at 58Ks. Flatter and busier to 66Ks, right. Small hills on a rougher black top road to center at 70Ks.
Playa Tamarindo to Playa Flamingo – round trip 48Ks
4Ks back to Hwy. #155 then right to Huacas at 12Ks junction, turn left. 2-lanes with shoulder for 1K then right for 1K with shoulder. Easy rolling hills all the way. After 14Ks, narrow again. Moderate but fast traffic. At 19Ks Brasilito. at 24Ks, Playa Flamingo.
Playa Tamarindo to Avellana 18Ks
Out 4Ks to Villarreal, right. Wide dusty dirt road. Moderate traffic. Often washboard. At 8Ks, right to Avellana. Paved to 10Ks then dusty corrugated road. We went through the Golf Club and back to the road so extra Ks. We arrived at 22Ks. Probably more like 18Ks on the road but we went through the paved golf course complex.
Avellana to Junquillal 13Ks
by coast road. Dirt, corrugated, moderate short hills. Some fast and dusty traffic. No ocean views. At 8Ks, Paraiso. Black top through town, then dirt again. (At 10Ks, just over the bridge is a back road to Marbella.) Some hills. At 13Ks Junquillal.
Junquillal to Marbella 25Ks
3Ks back out toward Paraiso before paved bridge. Right on dirt road. No traffic. good scenery. OK surface. At 5Ks, ford a river (you’ll get your feet wet). at 6Ks another river to ford. Easy hills. At 7Ks, to main coast road. No wash board but rockier. Less traffic. Very good scenery, easy hills. At 11Ks, Playa Lagarto. Steep climb for 1K then lots of hills until 16Ks. Good views. Down into Marbella at 17Ks.
Junquillal to Santa Cruz 34Ks
Out to Paraiso 4Ks, right on paved road with a shoulder and bike lane(when it rains it pours). NE (head) wind. Very light traffic. OK scenery. Ranch land. Coastal road south. Straight on bike lane. Gradually climbing. At 16Ks, 27 de Abrilto to the right.
Left at junction. At 17Ks, junction. Left to Santa Cruz. (right to Tamarindo, 17Ks on a dirt road). End of bike lane. A wide 2-lane asphalt road. Light traffic. A mild climb to 25Ks. The road becomes rougher and patched. More traffic. At 33Ks, junction Hwy.#21. Right, then right again to centro at 34Ks.
**In January the winds are strong. At times for 3 days or more the winds will be alost gale force out of the Northeast.
Day-by-Day Itinerary Costa Rica – 1992
Border with Nicaragua (Penas Blancas) to Liberia 80Ks
It’s 43Ks to the park entrance for Santa Rosa National Park. It’s a good narrow road. Rolling hills. Very little traffic. One climb before La Cruz. After La Cruz, the traffic increases. (In fact, the traffic continues to increase geometrically all the way to San Jose 292 Ks from the border. Also San Jose stands at 1150 meters.) After the park entrance, it’s 37Ks to Liberia.
Liberia to San Ramon 148Ks
Traffic is still manageable but increasing. The Pan American Highway is still narrow. Rolling hills. 24Ks to Bagaces. Then 22Ks to Canas. Now long distances between towns. 50Ks to Rancho Grande. 21Ks to Esparza. All of this at relatively low altitude and well graded small hills. All inland, nothing special. After the turnoff for Puntarenas, Costa Rica’s major port, the riding becomes difficult (and dangerous) because of the traffic, especially the heavy cargo. Finally, a climb to 1700 meters at San Ramon. Trucks get stacked up so stretches are quiet but then a batch of heavy trucks. A tough climb.
Liberia down the peninsula to Playa Narango 135Ks
We didn’t go this way but would next time. Filadelfia 30Ks, Belen 5Ks, Santa Cruz 16Ks, Nicoya 20Ks, Mansion 12Ks, Santa Rita 20Ks, San Pablo 5Ks, Lepanto 20Ks, and Narango 7Ks. In 1992, there were two ferries each day to Puntarenas. From Puntarenas you can take the coastal highway instead of the busy Pan American Highway.
San Ramon to Alajuela (airport) 44Ks
It’s basically downhill. (67Ks to San Jose) 13 Ks to Naranjo. Still basically downhill in hellish traffic. The road is wider her and better maintained. Vistas if you can cap a look. 31Ks to Alajuela. Alajuela, the airport is 23Ks before San Jose. It’s a divided highway into San Jose and up 200 meters over long rolling climbs and descents. Not recommended.