Driving in Costa Rica

Driving has become easier over the past few years, as the road between Jaco (pronounced "hah-CO") and Quepos (pronounced "KAY-pos") has been paved. But the road is still subject to some potholes, animals, pedestrians, horses and bicycles, and has little to no line markings, safety signs, and several bridges. We don't recommend driving at night. (The same applies anywhere in Costa Rica.) Fuel is available just past Jacó, and just past Esterillos Oeste. Visa and Mastercard credit cards are accepted for gas purchases at most fuel stations. Fuel is more expensive than in the U.S. at about $4/gallon (though it's sold in Liters). Gas station attendants will pump the gas for you, and often wash the windows and check the oil (and they appreciate a tip for doing so).

"Traficos" or traffic police, use radar to enforce speed limits along many stretches of Costa Rican roads. Please obey posted speed limits. On straight, open sections of road where there are no posted speed limits, generally 80Km/H or 50 MPH applies. 60 Km/H or 35 MPH applies in urban and city areas, and even 40 Km/H or 25 MPH in downtown areas of Esterillos Oeste, Parrita, Jaco, and other cities. Traficos sometimes target rental cars knowing that tourists have money.

Always carry your home country driver's license and either your passport, or a photocopy of the photo page from your passport, and a photocopy of the entry stamp from your passport, showing when you entered Costa Rica. These are routinely asked for by Traficos.

A good map is essential. We recommend this Costa Rica Map which is waterproof or the free Costa Rica Map that are available for download. But more importantly, don't be afraid to ask the locals, even if your Spanish is not very good. They are generally very friendly and usually eager to help.

Driving Directions to Esterillos Oeste from the San Jose International Airport

Costa Rica

Esterillos Oeste is less than 120 Kilometers (75 miles) from San Jose, on the Central Pacific coast of Costa Rica. It's a beautiful drive that takes you through Atenas, Orotina, Tarcoles, and Jaco. Even though it is less than 75 miles on paved roads, it is best to plan about 2 to 3 hours (depending on weather and traffic) to drive it by car.

As you leave Juan Santamaria airport (San Jose), turn right at the sign that reads "Alajuela" (approximately 200 meters or 600 feet as you leave the airport (you will be completing a U-turn). Follow the signs to "San Ramon" If the car rental location is not on the premises of the airport, get directions to the main highway towards San Ramon

Highway Signs to AtenasHighway Signs to AtenasHighway Turnoff
About 10 Kilometers (6 miles) past the airport take the Atenas exit (large green/blue sign for Atenas and Alajuela).
Signs to Quepos & Punta Leona
At the stop sign turn left. You will also see signs here that say Quepos and Punta Leona

The road slowly winds its way through the mountains. Take your time and enjoy the scenery. The bridges are one lane bridges and except for the first one, all others you have to yield (CEDA) for oncoming cars. Follow the main street through Atenas to San Mateo.

At San Mateo the road jogs right one block due to one-way traffic. After making the jog, the road takes you back onto the main drag.

As you approach Orotina a sign directs you right DO NOT take that right, that goes into the business district. Instead, remain on the highway and continue straight ahead you will then pass through an area with sodas (small restaurants) on your right and left. This is a good place to use the restroom. You are now about an hour away from Esterillos Oeste, Soon after there will be a sign pointing right, to Jaco/Puntarenas/Quepos. This is the road you want.

The highway is in good condition here. There are a couple of times you need to negotiate interchanges. They are marked well, directing you to Jaco, but without much advance warning.

A long bridge crosses the Tarcoles River. Often crocodiles can be seen below the bridge, and many tourists stop to look for them. About two miles past the bridge on the left is the administration building for Carara Biological Reserve. This is a nice stop-off, with trails along the river. Wildlife and waterfowl are abundant; scarlet macaws are frequently seen. From here you are now about 40 minutes from Esterillos Oeste

Now the road parallels the coast. Watch for potholes and a few rough, torn-up areas.

Shortly you will pass the entrance to Punta Leona and then in another 5 minutes you will see signs for Jaco. Continue on this main highway heading south. The road then climbs and veers toward the shore. Watch for a pull-off on the right with a small shelter, and a great view of Jaco Beach. About 2 Km (1.2 miles) further, on a ridge, is an area where you can look down on Playa Hermosa, a popular surfing destination, with powerful beach-break waves and dark sand. You are now 20 minutes from Esterillos Oeste.

The entrance to Esterillos Oeste has a large tropical sign on your right that says Bienvenidos a Esterillos Oeste, as well, as bus stops on both sides of the road.

Esterillos Oeste SignEsterillos Oeste Sign

Take this exit now and follow this road for about 150 meters into the Entrance of The Hills of Esterillos Community. Tell the guard that your are staying at Casa Coral (Number 14)

You've arrived... Bienvenidos!