One of the best places in Central America to drive and have lots of family fun is Costa Rica – It has amazing beaches, rainforests, cloud forests, active volcanoes (that you can see erupt), adrenalin activities, party places and culture.
The roads are very safe as long as you keep safe distance between vehicles and avoid driving in the night time, especially on Pan American Highway (Highway 1).
We landed into San Jose (the Capital), rented a car and traveled the entire country for full 10 days. It was one of the most memorable road-trips we had done – with amazing food places on the highways – called ‘Cantinas’, scenic beauty and great culture.
THE ROUTE AND PLACES
Stop-1 San Jose
Landed in the late evening and went straight to the hotel and we were amazed with the jewel in old town district, the hotel was Grano de Oro with an amazing restaurant. No matter where you stay in San Jose, this is a great place to have a steak, you will get a feel of ‘South American Steak’. In the morning take a walk around the block and have a breakfast at one of the small street restaurants and you will be amazed with the taste. We spent full day walking and visiting the museums and the Mercado. You don’t need to spend more than a full day, but it is worth it. Must Do in San Jose – Jade Museum, Precolumbian Gold Museum and Mercado Nacional de Artesanias. All these places are close to each other, get a shuttle from the hotel and get dropped by in the city center and visit them all. We spent 1 full day here and loved it.
Stop-2 Arenal Volcano
Next day morning, picked up the rental car and started driving on Route 1 and then on to Route 72. Watch out for traffic on Route 1 while exiting San Jose, it will be bumper to bumper during peak hours. The drive was full of surprises with scenic little towns, cantinas and rows and rows of pineapple & palm plantations. The ride is about 4 hours but you will (should) take longer as there is a lot to stop for on the way, including fresh fruits vendors by the road and little cantinas serving fresh water seafood. There are few rivers you will cross by where you will see crocodiles.
Arenal Volcano is a must see place in Costa Rica, it is inside Arenal Volcano National Park (Parque Nacional Volcan Arenal) and hope you do not have a cloud cover and you stay in a hotel where rooms are facing the Volcano. Must to in Arenal Volcano – Night time view of erupting volcano, Arenal Volcano day hike, Baldi Hot Springs (It is also a hotel) and time permitting then Cerro Chato. We spent 2 full days here and it was enough.
Stop-3 Monteverde Cloud Forest
Now in the middle of Costa Rica, every evening we had rain showers at sharp 5PM, clouds come either from Pacific or from Atlantic, but clouds do come and fall. Monteverde is famous for the Cloud forest – Biodiversity at maximum. We spent one full day with a guide who was certified in ecology of Bosque Nuboso (Cloud Forest). Must do in Monteverde – Ziplining through the clouds & 1.5 Mile trail inside the cloud forest called – Sendero Nuboso (Path to Clouds). Make sure to have a learned and certified guide who will explain the flora and fauna of the forest and constantly lookout for wild avocados, orchids, Spider Monkeys and Howler Monkeys.
Stop-4 Punta Arenas
Short mountainous drive, now in the middle of Costa Rica, every evening we had rain showers at sharp 5PM, clouds come either from Pacific or from Atlantic, but clouds do come and fall, drenching. Punta Arenas has a nice beach and the surrounding areas are famous for crocodiles and red crabs. We just spent few hours here and moved on.
Stop-5 Manuel Antonio
After about 3 hours of driving and an hour stop at Playa Hermosa for some fresh seafood, we reached Manuel Antonio around 8pm. We stayed at a really beautiful boutique villa hotel called Mango Moon, the view is amazing and it is situated on a hill right on the cove. Manuel Antonio is famous for its beaches, night life and Manuel Antonio National Park. All of these are must do here and if you have missed Zip Line in Monteverde then this is another place to do it. There are some great hiking trails in the rainforest that ends up finally at a beach, where you will see Sloth bears. We spent 3 nights and 4 full days here and very well worth it.