Costa Rica

Best Road Trips in Costa Rica

Best Road Trips in Costa Rica

We’ve all been there: when that ever-classic car advert with a Lamborghini whizzing across clear mountainous roads appears on the TV and that deep pang of wanderlust for a faraway adventure on wheels seeps into your mind. So why not let that pang turn into a reality with an epic Costa Rica road trip? This tropical oasis is a real pocket rocket of a nation — it is around a fifth of the size of England alone but around ten times as biodiverse. Not to mention the scores of picture-perfect, palm-tree lined beaches and tucked-away national parks. If you’re not already sold already, then sit back, buckle up and let us take you on a wild ride through the best road trips in Costa Rica.


City Getaway

San Jose to Arenal (100 miles)

If you’re keen to warm up with a test drive to get your bearings, or, if you’re anything like us, and you need to get used to driving on the other side of the road, then a road trip to Arenal from the capital of San Jose is a great option. Our favourite route heads northeast out of the city towards Rio Sarapiquí, which is a great place to stop and enjoy a spot of exciting white-water rafting. From here, you cut west along the same road, through pineapple, cocoa and banana plantations to the charming town of La Fortuna, which sits on the edge of the sweeping Arenal Volcano National Park. Once there, you have a near endless plethora of adventurous activities handed to you on a silver platter. Zip-lining, dips in hot springs and strolls along suspended walkways are just some of the hallmark experiences to be had in this jungle oasis. 


Off the Beaten Track

Arenal to Culebra Bay (100+ miles)

Our next epic Costa Rica road trip is one of our absolute favourites, as it takes you off the well-trodden path and into the wildly underrated landscapes of the beautiful northwestern Guanacaste Province. The first part of this charming route hugs the coast of Lake Arenal to the east, so you’ll be making quite a few stops along the way to snap some shots of the peaceful azure waters. The northeastern tip of the lake is also a great launching point to take a detour into the lesser-visited Tenorio Volcano National Park, which is home to Celeste River, famous for its insanely blue waters, as well as hiking trails and hot springs. From here, it’s all the way east to the beautiful shores of Culebra Bay through sweeping emerald hills and via some incredible natural attractions, such as the misty wetlands of the Palo Verde National Park and the hot springs of Rio Perdido. At the end of your action-packed journey, make sure to head straight to the powdery white-sand beaches to enjoy swim in warm, emerald-blue waters.


Beach-Hopping the Pacific Coast

Culebra Bay to Manuel Antonio Park (200+ miles)

Now that you’ve made it to the pristine Pacific Coast, why not make use of the four wheels beneath you and enjoy every inch of it in all of its glory? The first part of the journey takes you right down through the wild and rugged landscapes of the Nicoya Peninsula to Sámara, via the quintessential surf towns of Tamarindo and Nosara and their many picturesque beaches. Then it’s over to Paquera, where we can whisk you off to the virtually-deserted Isla Jesuita to kayak with bioluminescent plankton before settling into a luxurious glamping tent for some much-need rest. From Paquera, you can catch a relaxing one-hour car ferry across the Gulf of Nicoya to Puntarenas. Then it’s plain-sailing right the way down the coast-hugging road to Manuel Antonio National Park, via a near endless amount of beautiful beaches, including Playa Hermosa, Playa Mantas and Playa Palo Seco, not to mention the remote beaches within the destination park itself, which range from long, white-sand beaches to idyllic coves bursting with exotic wildlife.

Beaches, Costa Rica

Image by Salva Lopez


Coast to Coast

Manuel Antonio Park to Puerto Viejo de Talamanca (250+ miles)

There are few places on Earth where it’s possible to travel between two oceans in a singular day, but again, thanks to its marvellously manageable size, Costa Rica is one of those places. Even though it’s possible, we wouldn’t particularly recommend travelling in one day (via San Jose), as there are so many sites worth seeing along the way. Our favourite route takes you from the beautiful beaches of the Pacific Coast, like Playa Hermosa and Playa Mantas near Jaco; up to the remote rainforest of San Bernardo de Bagaces and the dense jungle terrain surrounding Arenal Volcano; through pineapple, cocoa and banana plantations to Rio Saraquipi; and finally down to Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, where you can soak in the cool Caribbean vibes of the beaches and try your turn at a spot of surfing. Along the way, we can arrange for you to stay in secluded eco-lodges and old colonial haciendas in the heart of the jungle and enjoy guided horseback adventures through ancient coffee plantations, nighttime wildlife observation walks in the rainforest and private surfing lessons on either coast. This final Costa Rica road trip clocks in at 350 miles, so we recommend taking your time making your way from coast to coast.


Header image by Valentine Dreyfus / Hauser