Driving in Costa Rica from San Jose to the Southern Pacific Coast

I just got back from a wonderful trip to Costa Rica; it is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. I’ll be doing a series of posts about my travels there starting with this one. We arrived in San Jose airport late in the evening and decided to stay at Kaps Place B&B in San Jose. It’s $50 a night including a great breakfast (fresh fruit, hot dishes, cereal) and you can check in at all hours of the day; tea and coffee are available at all hours. We also did not want to have to deal with the hassle of buses or taxis after a long flight so Karolina, the owner, arranged a pickup for us from the airport for $30. The next morning, we walked around San Jose a bit before our rental car arrived. San Jose has lots of interesting street art and also a couple of nice parks where you can often see people just hanging out and talking to each other. We walked to the Mercado Borbon on Calle 8 to check out some of the fruits and vegetables local to San Jose. There didn’t seem to be a huge amount to do in San Jose and a couple of hours seemed like the perfect amount of time to spend there.

Street Art in San Jose

When we arrived back at the hotel, our car was waiting for us. All of the rental car agencies will deliver your vehicle for free to any hotel in San Jose; delivery to an airport hotel is something like $20. We rented from Adobe Rent-A-Car and everything went very smoothly. I highly recommend getting the Costa Rica Discount card for your rental; you pay $30 for the card and receive a discount of 20% of the rental. In the high season, for our SUV, we saved over $200 using the card. Note that insurance is mandatory in Costa Rica and can’t be declined. And so we began our drive down to Ojochal. Driving seemed very safe but it’s super easy to get lost in Costa Rica so if you are not getting a GPS, I would recommend printing out maps using Google maps and having a good sense of the cities and landmarks in the direction that you are going. Ticos are also super friendly so ask for directions if you are lost! The road between San Jose and the Pacific is all paved so you do not need an SUV unless you plan on going to remote villages. Also, we tried to drive long distances only during the day in Costa Rica but driving small distances at night (<30 km) did not present any problems. Also, there are lots of animals in Costa Rica and a lot of them cross the road so please try not to hit them and listen to this awesome sign:

Yo Freno por los Animales
I Brake for Animals!, photo from the mckee-jaco animal rescue

On the drive to the Costanera Sur (the highway along the Pacific) there are various fruit stands; I highly recommend stopping at one of them and buying pineapple or watermelon and also getting a refreshing pipa fria. The pineapple in Costa Rica is much sweeter and juicier than what we get in America; I think it’s because the imported pineapple must be cut before it reaches maturity. Pipa fria is basically a coconut with a hole cut into the top; the water inside is a bit sweet and super healthy apparently. The taste is slightly different from the coco frios you get in Mexico; there’s a bit of tanginess that makes it more delicious in my opinion.

Fresh Coconuts in Costa Rica
Using a Machete to make Pipa Fria (you can’t cut it with anything less, we tried!), photo by Jim Larrison

I would also recommend stopping at MaxiPali or BM if the place where you’re staying has a kitchen or if you like snacks as much as I do. I consumed many bags of ProSnacks Plantain chips while in Costa Rica. AutoMercado has more imported goods but it is more expensive than MaxiPali or BM (and since you’re in Costa Rica, might as well try the Costa Rican brands, no?). You can make a quick stop at the bridge over the Rio Tarcoles to spot many large American crocodiles hanging out on the shore below. They look huge and very ancient.

A very scary crocodile along the Tarcoles River

We reached Ojochal after about 4.5 hours of driving. In the next post, I’ll detail some of the awesomeness of this place.

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