Arrival in San José
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 a 4×4 is reserved and insurance purchased. Car rentals can be a bit pricey in Costa Rica, especially with the added insurance, but the cost will be cheaper than private transfers and you can’t put a price-tag on the freedom of the road.
The adventure begins
San José to La Fortuna (approximately 135 kilometers/84 miles)
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. Near La Fortuna, is the Arenal Volcano National Park a predominately primary 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, waterfall repelling excursions, and quite a few different accommodation-options ranging from hostels to five-star boutique hotels and resorts. Stay two full days here at the very least .
La Fortuna to Monteverde (approximately 148 kilometers/92 miles)
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.
Head to the coast
Monteverde to Tamarindo (approximately 162 kilometers/101 miles)
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 boutique shopping, 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
Tamarindo to Santa Teresa (approximately 194 kilometers/121 miles)
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 of the most picturesque of beach settings. There are a wide variety of accommodation and dining options in Santa Teresa to meet every type of traveler’s needs.
A journey to where the rainforest meets the sea
Santa Teresa to Manuel Antonio (233 kilometers/145 miles)
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 three and a half hour 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 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
Manuel Antonio to San José (170 kilometers/106 miles)
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. There are also very informative and delicious coffee and chocolate tours available too.