Monday, 24 August 2015

Thoughts On 4-Wheel Drive in Costa Rica

Vern.  Major highways in Costa Rica are fully paved and well-maintained.  Some back-country roads absolutely require a 4x4, while for others it’s a good suggestion.  Car rental companies these days often offer a GPS unit with the car.  For some of the roads we’ve travelled in Costa Rica, the option of helmets, neck braces and post-trip chiropractic adjustments would be far more appropriate.

Carolyn.  So here is some advice if you ever rent a car in Costa Rica and decide to drive to the Monteverde cloud forest.  There are only two routes into the Monteverde/Santa Elena area:  one from the south, and one from the north-west.  We decided to take the one from the NW.  Don't do this.  Wish someone had told us!  We made sure to leave the area via the south route, and it is MUCH BETTER - although you will still think it is terrible.

The road approaching Monteverde from the NW (via a town called Tilaran) is the WORST ROAD we have ever been on in our lives.  We knew it would be unpaved - but this label suggests we'd merely be on a gravel road - which we've done lots in Canada, right?  We also knew that 4WD is recommended - but this makes it sound like we'd just encounter a few bumps...

In reality, this is not a gravel road:  it is a boulder-strewn nightmare with thousands of DEEP potholes that swallow your entire wheel, across your entire path, ALWAYS - there is not a moment's reprieve.  You can try to zig-zag across the road, to find level ground but it's impossible - there is no way to go around them all, you MUST go through them...and the frequent deep ridges (minor canyons, really) cutting across the way make the monster potholes seem like minor pockmarks.

This was a seriously-white-knuckled, bone-jarring, brain-rattling journey.  I was the lucky driver for this segment.  I suppose that might have been better because it spared poor Vern my back-seat driver tendencies when I'm a front-seat passenger.  Vern and Cooper were bounced around like nobody's business, no way to make this ride smooth for the passengers!  (see Vern's note above about neck braces and chiropractic adjustments)

It took us over two hours to travel 40 km through the worst of this area.  We stopped briefly a couple times so that I could uncurl my fingers that had been gripping the wheel too hard, and do some shoulder rolls to release the extreme tension through the next & shoulders.  There really were not a lot of other vehicles on this route.  Go figure.  We did pass a cow on the road.

After this, every other 4x4 road we drove on in Costa Rica was a piece of cake!


  1. Your comment about the roads reminder me of when I was there with my sister. We went to the volcano and water park and had a blast. The trip when leaving there was hair raising. We had torrential rain. So bad that you couldn't see the roads. After seeing the roads and how bad they were on our way there it was horrific. My sister sat with her eyes closed and prayed the whole time.

    1. Yep...saying a little prayer never hurts! Most of our driving in Costa Rica was on perfectly good roads, and some of the highways are actually great. But when the road is bad, it is REALLY bad!!!! CJ