The Coolest Road Trips to Take in Costa Rica

Drive your car right up to the beach and make sure you never miss out on a spectacular sunset
Drive your car right up to the beach and make sure you never miss out on a spectacular sunset | © Maskot / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Jenn Parker
2 September 2021

The road is calling your name. Endless paths, surprises and sights to see; windows down, tunes on, and nowhere to be. For the adventurous, wanderlust-driven traveler, a Costa Rican road trip will satiate your soul. There are innumerable destination you can pick for your road trip itinerary and Costa Rica is a relatively easy country to navigate by car. With a little bit of planning, the perfect road trip is just around the corner.

Arrival in San José

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A typical dirt road in Santa Teresa beach Nicoya peninsula Costa Rica. Image shot 02/2007. Exact date unknown.
© Yadid Levy / Alamy Stock Photo

Most major airlines fly into the Juan Sanatamaria International Airport. This is also where you will pick up your rental car. It is highly recommended that you reserve a 4×4 and purchase insurance. Car rentals can be a bit pricey but the benefits will far outweigh the cost.

The adventure begins

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Arenal Volcano National Park, Costa Rica
© Art Kowalsky / Alamy Stock Photo
San José to La Fortuna (approximately 135km/84mi)

While there are points where the road gets a bit curvy, the drive from San José to La Fortuna isn’t too treacherous. This part of Costa Rica is a must-see, especially for nature-lovers and adventure-seekers – and you can visit as part of a small group of culturally curious travellers by joining Culture Trip’s specially curated nine-day Costa Rica trip. Near La Fortuna, you will find the Arenal Volcano National Park, an impressive forest which hosts a great assortment of wildlife and exotic plants. There are fabulous white-water rafting tours, horseback riding trips, hanging bridges, rainforest walks, and for when you’re ready to call it a day, a few different accommodation-options ranging from hostels to five-star boutique hotels and resorts. We recommend you spend at least two full days exploring the area.

Venture on

Forest, Hiking Trail
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A male hiker looking through binoculars in Monteverde Cloud Forest, Costa Rica
© Cavan Images / Alamy Stock Photo
La Fortuna to Monteverde (approximately 148km/92mi) Monteverde is a mystical cloud-forest reserve that has continued to capture the hearts of scientists, bird watchers, and nature enthusiasts. Spending time here is like spending time in a fairy tale. There are moments when you are literally inside the clouds as they pass through the dense virgin forests. On a clear day, from an elevated viewpoint, you can see both the Caribbean and Pacific coasts. There are zip line canopy tours, suspension bridges to trek through the forest, a butterfly garden, and even a famous cheese factory.

Experience it with Culture Trip on our epic nine-day Costa Rica adventure, led by our local insider.

Head to the coast

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Tourboat anchored at Tamarindo beach,  Guanacaste, Costa Rica
© Cultura Creative RF / Alamy Stock Photo
Monteverde to Tamarindo (approximately 162km/101mi)

After spending time in the sleepy cloud-forests of Monteverde, a few days in Tamarindo will be a welcome change of pace. Tamarindo is a melting pot of cultures from around the world. There are over a 100 different dining options, multiple two for one (drinks) sunset spots on the beach, several yoga studios, incredible boutiques, surf lessons, and all night parties (if that’s your thing). Tamarindo is also an excellent starting point to explore the surrounding beaches, embark on adventure tours, and explore the flora and fauna of the dry forest.

Road tripping south

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Surf on a sea stack between Santa Teresa and Hermosa beaches, far south Nicoya Peninsula, Santa Teresa, Puntarenas, Costa Rica
© robertharding / Alamy Stock Photo
Tamarindo to Santa Teresa (approximately 194km/121mi)

There are two different routes from Tamarindo to Santa Teresa. The coastal route should only be taken if you are road tripping during the dry season months. Both routes offer quite splendid scenery. You will also drive through little towns where you can stop for homemade empanadas or a casados at any of the sodas (small restaurants which serve local food) along the way. Santa Teresa has a beautiful bohemian vibe and is a great destination for those looking to surf, hike to waterfalls, do yoga, and or just zen-out and relax in one a picturesque beach setting. There are also a wide variety of accommodation and dining options in Santa Teresa to meet every traveler’s needs.

A journey to where the rainforest meets the sea

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Aerial View of Tropical espadilla beach and Coastline near the Manuel Antonio national park, Costa Rica.
© Christoph Lischetzki / Alamy Stock Photo
Santa Teresa to Manuel Antonio (approximately 233km/145mi) While you can drive to Manuel Antonio from Santa Teresa, the best and most exciting option is to take the ferry across the Gulf of Nicoya with your car. There is a ferry that leaves once a day from Montezuma, just a short drive from Santa Teresa. The ferry takes approximately three and a half hours. This is a unique opportunity to experience Costa Rica from the sea (and get a well earned break from driving). Manuel Antonio is home to one of Costa Rica’s most famous national parks — a very special place where dense rainforest meets the area’s stunning beaches. The flora and fauna is rich and quite diverse here. All in all, a nature-lovers paradise.

Loop back around

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National Theatre of San Jose; Costa Rica; Central America
© flashover / Alamy Stock Photo
Manuel Antonio to San José (approximately 170km/106mi)

The end of the road is coming soon, unless of course you decide to keep venturing on. There is actually a great selection of cafés, restaurants, museums, and boutique hotels in San José for those who want a few extra days in Costa Rica. The surrounding areas of San José also offer some great adventure tours like zip lining, white-water rafting, horseback riding, and hiking. You can also participate in some very informative, and delicious, coffee and chocolate tours.

These recommendations were updated on September 2, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh. This article is an updated version of a story created by Jenn Parker

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