By Soren Rivero
Any trip to Costa Rica requires ample time spent outdoors, as that’s where you’ll get to experience the country’s natural beauty. Still, visiting Costa Rica’s famous national parks and beaches isn’t enough to soak in all the scenery. You’ll want to hit the road and explore.
For that, you need to acquaint yourself with Costa Rica’s best driving routes. To help get you started, here are some of the best scenic driving routes in Costa Rica.
Naranjo de Alajuela to Arenal Volcano
Naranjo is the capital city of Costa Rica’s Alajuela province. It’s located just a few miles Northwest of San Jose. Naranjo prides itself on what is called “pura vida” (pure life), which is a popular phrase in Costa Rica meaning to enjoy life to the fullest. Vibrant orange trees used to dominate the landscape of the city, hence the name “naranjo”, but over some decades, the city became synonymous with agriculture and a down-to-Earth way of living.
Simply driving around the city is enough to suffice even the pickiest of scenic-view-seekers. However, you’ll want to take the 2hr30m~ drive from Naranjo to the Arenal Volcano up north. Along the way, you’ll encounter views of enchanting forest greenery spread throughout the trail, condensed even more in areas such as the park Las Nubes. Other notable places to see along these beautiful scenic drives in Costa Rica include El Valle Mineral Springs, Sloth’s Territory, and Monkey Park la Fortuna.
Arenal Volcano to Guanacaste via Route 142
Visitors and locals love to visit the Arenal Volcano area as it is one of the calmest volcanoes in Costa Rica. While there, be sure to stop by Arenal Park, walk through the lava viewing trails, dive off waterfalls in Catarata Danta, and explore the jungle area.
While there’s plenty of things to do at Arenal Park, you’ll want to continue exploring more of what Costa Rica has to offer. Luckily, there’s an incredible scenic drive from the Arenal Volcano area to the province of Guanacaste. If you’re looking for beaches in Costa Rica, you’ll love this side of the country.
The drive over to Guanacaste varies depending on where you want to go. To get the best scenic drive in Costa Rica, start from Arenal Volcano and make your way towards Puerto Humo. Right from the start, the drive over will be incredible thanks to Lake Arenal that stretches far beyond the Arenal Volcano park area. The primary trail you’ll take is Route 142 which borders the lake. Along the path, keep an eye out for Los Heroes train sign 2 and the Ceiba Tree.
You’ll find yourself in Guanacaste right after you pass through the gorgeous waterfalls and luscious trees of Parque Nacional Volcán Tenorio. Enjoy the tranquil and relaxing scenery until you arrive at Puerto Humo. This lakeside and isolated area is great for spending some quiet time outdoors.
Puerto Humo to Tamarindo via Route 21
Ready for some beach fun? For this next scenic driving route in Costa Rica, head on Route 21 to take the 1hr30m~ drive from Puerto Humo to Tamarindo. Located in the Guanacaste province, this is one of Costa Rica’s best beach areas. The town is best known for its incredible surfing scene, glistening beaches, and some of the best nightlife around. Visitors love to drive through Central Street to get fantastic views of Tamarindo Beach.
But first: getting there. The path from Puerto Humo to Tamarindo via Route 21 is mostly barren, so you’ll get a great chance to see Costa Rica’s natural beauty. In addition, the route passes through some of Costa Rica’s more unique small cities. Some of which stay true to Costa Rica’s natural beauty, but combine it with a more modern lifestyle. These include the cities of Santa Cruz and Nicoya.
Please Note: Keep in mind that driving in Costa Rica is rough without the right vehicle. We recommend renting a 4x4 all-wheel drive vehicle for your safety and overall experience.
San Jose to Tortuguero vía Ctra. Braulio Carrillo/Route 32
The capital city of Costa Rica leaves nothing to be desired, and while there are tons of things to do in San Jose, one of our main recommendations would be taking a day trip to the coastal village of Tortuguero.
The route to this quiet and colorful village is about 4 hours long and filled with breathtaking scenery. You’ll want to take Ctra. Braulio Carrillo/Route 32, as it's not only the easiest route but also the most exciting. As soon as you leave the outskirts of San Jose, you’ll be greeted by the enormous trees and mountains that belong to Braulio Carrillo National Park. Careful not to get distracted – this park has pre-carved trails specifically designed for hiking and driving.
You’ll soon find yourself in Limon Province. This province borders the Caribbean Sea and shares the Parque Internacional La Amistad with Panama. You’ll cross Sucio River and many other small bodies of water along the way. Admire the plentiful cities and barrios during your journey until you land in the seaside-village of Tortuguero.
If you’re looking for a scenic driving route in Costa Rica with some adventure and risk attached to it, Monkey Trail is for you.
Visitors and locals attempt this daring trail for both the fun of it, and as a shortcut. Though it really doesn’t save that much time, Monkey Trail is often referred to as the shortcut between Flamingo Beach and Playa del Coco. Experienced road-trippers with well-equipped vehicles should be the only ones attempting this trail. Expect puddles, winding paths, jungle terrain, and a river with no bridge. If it sounds too dangerous, you can take the safer Congo Trail that requires a small fee to pass through.
Both trails offer phenomenal views of the jungle and of both beaches. You can’t get views like this anywhere else in the area. Consider taking this scenic driving route in Costa Rica if you’re up for a bit of adventure. Note that the trail is drier and much safer in Costa Rica’s dry months.
San Jose to Monteverde vía Route 606
Monteverde is one of Costa Rica’s must-see places. The cloud forests you’ll find here are spectacular, and will definitely make for some great memories during your vacation to Costa Rica. While there, visitors can take a tour of the forest via a guide, or stick to the carved pathways and hike freely. Zip lining, coffee tours, exploring butterfly exhibits, and walking the hanging bridge are just a few amazing things you can do at Monteverde.
Driving to Monteverde from a few of Costa Rica’s main cities is quite the adventure. The drive from San Jose to Monteverde in particular is a fantastic scenic drive in Costa Rica. The path starts on Route 27 out of San Jose, where you’ll pass through a couple more cities, forests, mineral rock formations, and more.
Right as you hit the Puntarenas province, you’ll cross the Muelle del estero Caldera on a bridge. For the next few miles, you’ll get stunning views of the nearby beaches along the Gulf of Nicoya. From Route 1 to Route 606 is a pretty smooth drive. The latter is more treacherous, as drivers will have to maneuver through winding roads, steep cliffs, potholes, crossing animals, and low visibility at night. The recent pavement has made the ride much smoother, however. During clear days, you can see far into the Pacific Ocean from the highest points of Route 606.
Want to take some of these scenic driving routes in Costa Rica? Check out our Costa Rica vacation packages!
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