Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Drive from Manuel Antonio to Arenal - Costa Rica, Part 5

We finally witness the rainy season in full force and it has been pouring rain since last night. We wake up to a misty cloudy day and even though we put some bananas on the terrace (we have bought upwards of 30 bananas to make sure we have a sizeable monkey population to observe) no one shows up. I guess the monkeys do not like the rain either.

Today, we will be driving off to Arenal and even though the GPS says it will only take us three and a half hours we decide to make it an early start and are loaded in the cars by 10 am. We stop on the Tarcoles River (about 1.5 hours from Manual Antonio) to watch the crocodiles for a bit and we have lunch as a small road-side restaurant and we feel pretty good because the roads are nice and we are making great headway.
Tarcoles River bridge

Rt 34 - nice pavement and little traffic
Well, not so fast. We get off the highway and start crossing the mountain and that’s when everything changes. Arenal is located high up in the mountains that divide Costa Rica’s North from the South. There are only two main roads that you can take up the mountains – 702 (which is the shorter but infinitely slower route as we soon find out) and Rt 35 which is longer in distance but somewhat better in quality. Our GPS takes us on Rt 702. Pretty soon the road changes to a one lane (no markings really) road dotted with small villages and greenery. 

There are tons of curves and it’s pretty steep up so we creep up slowly at about 20 mph. The target arrival time on the GPS keeps moving and goes from 4pm to 4:30 and then to 5pm. Then we hit the fog – thick, milk-white fog accompanied by drizzle. 

It is hard to see our friends’ cars in front of up so we just keep driving, at least the pavement is OK and there are very few cars in either direction. By the time we finally get to Rt 401 (the road to Arenal) it is already dark outside and I am in mild panic mode as I really did not want to be driving on dirt roads in darkness.

In Arenal we will be renting another house and the owner had sent me very detailed descriptions how to get there. The last part of the directions included driving for 7 km on an “unpaved road”. Well, 7 kilometers is nothing, right? Just under 5 miles is what I thought. Well, after 6 hours in the car we finally got on the “unpaved road” which was a muddy, super bumpy, windy, steep excuse for a road – our first encounter with “real” Costa Rican roads. It took us exactly 25 minutes of jumping up and down on my seat to get to the house.

But, the house itself was up in the mountain with a clear view of Lake Arenal and a large outdoor hot tub and, best of all, we had decided to splurge and hire a private chef for the 3 days we would be there. Considering that it took us 30 min to drive to town on the bumpy road, hiring the chef was the best decision we made. We arrive in the house and Emilce (our chef) is already cooking something that smells very good and the kids park themselves on the sofa to watch a movie while we unpack.


  1. Manuel Antonio and Arenal Volcano National parks are some of the best destinations in Costa Rica. Vacation with these two places are a really nice combination. People love to stop at Tarcoles River bridge and see how crocodiles live in the river.

  2. The Manuel Antonio and Arenal Volcano National are Costa Rica’s most visited national parks. The park is the perfect place for travelers who enjoy wildlife, nature and adventure. Click Here to know more about National parks in Costa Rica.

  3. I'm thinking of renting a car and driving from San Jose to Costa Rica. I'm a bit scare because of all the comments on different blogs about the aggressive driving. I'm a single female traveling with two kids and my mom. I will be arriving to SJO at 1:30 pm do you think it will be safe to drive to arenal at that time? Or should I just book a transfer ?

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