Costa Rica Transportation: Driving

Costa Rica Guide Service

This is the Zurqui, the high mountain backbone that divides Central America. On a clear day this drive is gorgeous. At night, in the rain and fog it’s a nightmare!


Driving gives you freedom and independence but for newcomers it is my least recommended way to travel. You have to go through San Jose, which can be nerve wracking. It is easy to get lost. The traffic is terrible and the drivers are crazy. You’ve got to plan your trip so that you are not driving in the dark and if there is construction or an accident you can be delayed for hours. I have also heard horror stories from those who have had bad experiences with the car rental agencies. What you see online is not necessarily what you get. Besides, you don’t really need a car in Puerto Viejo. You can go anywhere you want to go by taxi, bus, bike or on foot. I say: save your car rental expenses and use the cash for fun excursions when you get here.

Still, there are real advantages to having your own car and many people enjoy that freedom. You can rent a car and drive from San Jose to the Caribbean. Or you can wait until you get to Puerto Viejo to rent a car locally for only the days you need it for around $80.00 – 100.00 per day.

PLEASE NOTE: If you are coming by car to stay at my guest house, HIDDEN JUNGLE BEACH HOUSE, please let me know at the time you make your reservation. Parking is limited so I have to make sure there is space for you. Thanks!

Driving Directions to the Caribbean

I’ve made this trip by car many times. I always enjoy it if I get an early start. Leaving later than noon can get you stuck in long lines of traffic. The trip to Puerto Viejo passes the port city of Limon, where you will see millions of piled shipping containers along the road. And tractor trailers on their way to load clog the highway in the late afternoon. The trip from the airport to Puerto Viejo takes about 5 hours. It gets dark at 6 p.m. If you are not familiar with the country it can be dangerous to drive in the dark. There are bad spots with potholes, obstacles and it’s easy to get lost. If your flight comes in later than noon, I suggest you postpone your drive until the next day. And don’t forget to get a car with a GPS.

The San Jose airport is not actually in San Jose, it is on the highway at Alajuela, a town west of San Jose. The road to the Caribbean side where you find Puerto Viejo – Route 32 – is east of San Jose. It can take an hour or more just to get from east to west, depending on traffic. People generally take the pista (highway) which runs past the airport and smack into the middle of the city. There are few street signs. If you get lost and you don’t speak Spanish it can be difficult. The GPS will help.

I would suggest that you don’t have your rental car delivered to you at the airport unless your flight arrives in the morning and you wish to drive out to the Caribbean the same day. If it is later than noon, stay the night near the airport on the day you fly in. Have your car delivered to your hotel the next morning. This will save you from getting lost or stuck in traffic on your way to the hotel and it gives you a chance to rest up after your trip and start fresh for your drive the next day. Vida Tropical in Alajuela is a lovely place to stay. They will send a taxi to pick you up from the airport and I can make the reservation for you. The next morning you can ask the hosts at the hotel the best way to get across San Jose to route 32.


Driving Costa Rica: Acident on the Zurqui

Overturned Truck on the Zurqui

Once you get to route 32 its a breeze. You begin by going up over the Zurqui – the high mountain range of the Braulio Carrillo rain forest. It is a gorgeous drive up, up and up higher. The roads are windy and considered a bit dangerous due to the speeding 18 wheelers, (as you can see from the photo). But as long as its a nice day and you are cautious there will be no problem and can be quite fun. Don’t do it at night in the rain ! I can tell you from experience. I recount the story here in my Trip to San Jose.

Costa Rica Restaurant Mural


The other side of the Zurqui takes you down onto the Caribbean Slope. At the bottom of the last hill, on the right, you’ll see a big restaurant – El Yugo – with lots of cars and trucks parked outside. I love this place! The food is good and fresh, served cafeteria style so you can see what you are getting and pick what you want. The bathrooms are spotless. And there’s a beautiful mural showing the tunnel you drove through. After that it’s a straight shot east to the city of Limon – straight, flat and a pretty drive.

Limon airport

Along the Way – Entrance to Limon airport











Navigating past Limon is not difficult. You don’t go through the downtown area. Just stay on the main road and make a right turn where the sign says “Puerto Viejo.” This is at a main intersection and is easy to see. It is before the port. You’ll exit the town fast and soon enjoy your first sight of the ocean. It’s just beautiful! This is Route 36, the road that takes you to Puerto Viejo. You’ll pass the Limon Airport on your right. You’ll be on this road for about an hour. Along the way you will sometimes see the ocean to your left, sometimes only jungle. You’ll cross bridges like the one in the photo. It is a lovely drive on a pretty good, paved, two lane road – but there are occasional pot holes, so watch out. There is one confusing spot about twenty minutes past Limon. The main road appears to go straight but it really curves to the left. As long as you stay to the left you will be following the shoreline towards Puerto Viejo. After about an hour you will come to an intersection at Hone Creek. Continue straight towards Puerto Viejo. You’ll see a road sign.

Road to Puerto Viejo

Road to Puerto Viejo























Costa Rica Puerto Viejo Guest House


Costa Rica Puerto Viejo Guest House

















Driving Directions to Hidden Jungle Beach House
1. Take Route 32 leaving San Jose in the direction of the city of Limon. Proceed approximately 4 hours on Route 32 until you enter Limon and see a sign for Puerto Viejo.

2. Take a right at the sign for Puerto Viejo. You will now be on route 36. Continue for an hour on route 36, to the town of Hone Creek.

3.About 3 1/2 miles past Hone Creek you will see the ocean. Continue 1/2 mile and you’ll see Kaya’s Place Hotel on your right.

4. Make a right on the dirt road immediately after Kaya’s Place. Go only about 50 meters (half a block).

5. Our place is the FIRST PLACE ON THE LEFT. There is a big wooden gate with a small door to walk through. You’ll see a sign on the door that says Hidden Jungle Beach House. Contact me in advance to let me know what time you will arrive and I will be waiting: 8310-5061. (If you drive into the town of Puerto Viejo, you have gone too far.)