The Costa Rican roads are save, easy to drive and easy to navigate with google maps and therefore a road trip is the best way to travel this magnificent country. That’s why we created this itinerary to offer you an epic Costa Rica Road Trip vacation.
Things to know when renting a car in Costa Rica
Getting a rental car in Costa Rica is fairly easy and you will get the best deals when using a price comparison website. We used billiger-mietwagen.de and got a great deal on a small SUV, as a 4×4 is not necessary. Make sure that the insurances you need are included as otherwise the local car rental station will try to sell you a package.
In case you plan to drive to Panama on your road trip, we recommend you to clarify ahead with the local car rental office as this is normally not possible. We had to learn this the hard way.
And of course try to exactly follow the traffic rules as some police men specialized on tourists. In case you get fined don’t play their game and pay a bribe, but insist on the ticket.
Best time to travel Costa Rica by car
Costa Rica can be travelled all year round but there is a dry and a wet season. The driest it gets from December to April but then accommodation prices are also the highest. From May to July there are more rainy days but also cheaper accommodation until the wet season is reached from August to November. But sometimes it also needs a bit of luck. We did our road trip in Costa Rica in October and had almost no rain.
Nothing to find in San José
Start your Costa Rica road trip in San José as this is the only city with an international airport anyway. But don’t stay too long as there is not much to see or do in this city. And there is not only nothing to see but also nothing to find. This evolves from the fact, that there are no street numbers, without which it is pretty hard to find literally anything.
Dive into nature in Tortuguero National Park
First stop of your Costa Rican road trip should be the Tortuguero National Park. When leaving San José the true beauty of Costa Rica starts to unfold. By boat you can easily reach Tortuguero and to bridge the waiting time you can already book some tours for your time in the park.
Maybe the first night you wonder why people go to bed that early, but at latest the next morning at 5am when you’re getting softly awaken by the howler monkeys you understand that there is a different rhythm in Costa Rica.
You can go on walks by yourself where you may see some poisonous red frogs, go on guided walks or guided boat tours. The guided tours are worth their money as you learn a lot about the jungle and its inhabitants and you see way more animals then when going alone. You can see huge colorful iguanas, spider monkeys, crocodiles, turtles, different kind of water birds, toucans, vultures and Jesus Crist lizards. This last one grants its name to the fact that it can actually walk on water.
At night you can try to see seaturles nesting and when you are really, really lucky you can see the little ones hatching the next day and trying to make their way to the sea.
Relax with Sloths in Cahuita National Park
The next stop on your Costa Rica road trip should be Cahuita as this town is an absolute pearl at the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica. There you can find hotels where sloths sleep in the trees and howler monkeys not only wake you with their characteristic roaring sound but also by throwing branches and nutshells on your roof – at 5am of course.
You can go snorkeling or take a walk in the Cahuita National Park. While snorkeling you have the chance to see moray eels, spider crabs, devil fishes or even sting rays. And when walking the variety gets even bigger. You can spot hawks and squirrel monkeys, patriot crabs and various snakes and of course the famous sloths chilling in the trees.
Take a detour to Bocas del Toro in Panama
As you most likely will not be able to cross the border with your rental car, you will need to park it at the border to reach the next stop of your Costa Rica road trip. Cross the border by foot, take a shuttle to the harbor and reach Boccas del Toro by boat. From there another boat can bring you to the island of Bastimentos to one of the most unique resorts you can imagine – the Al Natural. A place with no internet, doors or even windows. You basically stay in an open bungalow in the middle of the jungle with nothing in front of your two-story veranda than the majestic ocean.
After dinner you get the chance to observe the feeding of some of the cutest animals you can imagine – night monkeys. And during the day you can either take your time to relax at the water or go diving with the Italian resort manager and dive guide. There you have the chance to explore remote islands and beaches, underwater caves and sunken wrecks. Even though the variety of marine life isn’t huge you may still be lucky and see a nurse shark or even an eagle ray.
Diving and Macaw watching in Drake Bay
As you don’t have your car, crossing to the pacific coast on the panama side isn’t an option and you therefore have to go back to Costa Rica and cross the mountains. One of the good parts of this detour is, that you get to see the mysterious cloud forest.
There is a possibility to drive to Drake Bay but without a 4×4 you better take a boat from Sierpe.
At this beautiful place at the pacific coast of Costa Rica you can experience some of the best diving and bush walks of Costa Rica. The water is so clear that you can see entire mountains and as the waves are so high it pushes you up and down while you are trying to observe the sharks and turtles.
On your way to the bush walk you might be lucky and see a humpback whale with her baby. And on the walk, some of the most beautiful macaws you’ve ever seen. There are also some cat like animals called coatis and with some luck you might spot an ant eater walking from treetop to treetop on his search for food.
Beautiful Manuel Antonio National Park
The next stop on your Costa Rica road trip should be Manuel Antonio national park. There is a beautiful hotel called Gaia hotel that accommodates adults only. This is rather perfect when you are not eager to share your pool with a bunch of crying or fighting kids.
Besides that, the national park is absolutely gorgeous. You can see bats and basilisk lizards, green iguanas and sloths, white faced monkeys, agouti and squirrel monkeys. And also, local guides who cannot understand why Europeans are so fascinated by racoons.
Besides all those animals and plants, Manuel Antonio is also right at the water and home to some of the most beautiful beaches of Central America.
More diving in Playa del Coco
The last stop on your Costa Rica road trip will be Playa del Coco on the north end of the Nicoya peninsula. Playa del Coco is another beach and dive spot in Costa Rica and for sure the one with the coolest village. You can probably experience some of the closest encounters with white tip sharks you ever had. Further on you can also see scorpion fishes, turtles, moray eels, schools of jacks, day octopus and one of the most beautiful crabs there is – the harlequin shrimp. There is also a lot of surfing and partying going on as many US tourists flock to this beach town at the pacific coast and make it the perfect place to end an epic road trip through Costa Rica.