Laguna de Arenal

Coast to Coast – Tamarindo to Limon

It is not very often you can say that you have seen the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea in one day. Even less often can you say that after having driven from the Pacific to the Caribbean.

Laguna de Arenal Coast to Coast - Tamarindo to Limon

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We made a last minute decision after 8 days on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, to drive what we thought was a quick 6-hour adventure to Limon. Little did we know that the lack of infrastructure throughout the country would set us back another 6-hours. It was 9:00 am, and we were enjoying our breakfast and coffee on the beautiful patio at our Airbnb in Tamarindo. Brett figured if we left by 10:00am, we would arrive at Limon by 6:00pm at the latest. We did a quick map of our journey and hit the road right on time. We headed northeast through Liberia. Then straight through to Tilaran which was a windy little town right before Laguna de Arenal.

Pro Tip: Do your diligence. Spend a little more time than a quick glance at your route before you take off on a crazy road trip.

We chose this route to Limon for the scenic lake views, and adventurous off roading through the jungle. If you wanted to make better time to the Caribbean from Tamarindo, you would go through San Jose. As you are driving into view of the lake, you come along side the hilltop with white cottage like homes cascading down to the waters edge. If I hadn’t already known, I would have thought we were coming into a small seaside village in Italy. The earth beneath the lake was a burnt orange, similar to the terracotta roofs of the surrounding houses. This deep vibrant hot sand made the lake water an eerie ice blue reminiscent of the Caribbean Sea. This pristine crystal clear lake was completely untouched, not a single boat of any kind. The view would be ruined if it was active with boaters and water skiers disrupting its pristine beauty.

We drove along the shoreline for 2-hours, weaving through the jungle, spotting all kinds of wild life. A small toucan swooped in front of our car, along with several other unidentifiable tropical birds. Howler monkeys are like crows here. They are always within earshot, and can be seen perched among the canopies draping over the single lane roads. Coming out of the lake country, we drove through a small Germanic village. The most random thing you could imagine in the jungle, is authentic 1800’s alpine houses that reminiscent of gingerbread houses. There is a large German community in Costa Rica, which explains this unique tourist trap.

Just past the odd German town, is a tourist stop in La Fortuna with several resorts, and wellness retreats. This is an area known for the natural hot springs within the jungle. At this high altitude, the climate is completely different here, in the dense jungle it is almost always cloudy and raining. This weather makes for the perfect spa day to lounge in the springs.

I have to be honest here; La Fortuna was the end of our picturesque road trip. Driving through the jungle was like seeing the color green for the very first time. Your sense of smell is working in overtime now with all the fresh new jungle fragrances wafting into the car. We had found paradise. Sadly, that bubble of paradise is burst as you realize traffic is becoming more and more congested. Trading the vibrant fresh jungle for a concrete one.

howler monkeys Coast to Coast - Tamarindo to Limon

The most frustrating thing (as I am writing this in the backseat of our car with Jack heading back to Tamarindo, while Brett is cursing under his breath slingshotting around vehicles), is that drivers either go 40kmp or 140kpm. There are so many commercial vehicles that are obviously driving at the lower end of that speed spectrum. So what would have been a 6-hour drive is now slowed down by the single lane pileups. It pays off to have a motorbike in this country. There is always some daredevil weaving in and out of traffic is constantly trying to cut you off. Everyone is trying to pass each other; my anxiety is escalating as Brett is playing chicken with a semi truck. It’s lawless here, but the drivers are not as bad as some of the other countries we’ve been to.

The clusters of drivers are coming mostly out of San Jose, and are heading towards the Caribbean coast. However they are not all just tourists. The commercial trucks are mostly headed for the ports of Limon. Or south to either make Panamanian boarder curfew, or to unload at one of the truck stops.

Unfortunately there aren’t too many options to avoid the pileup of semi trucks. There is one route to Limon from San Jose, and there is one road down the coast to Panama. Your choices are to spend 2-hours in bumper to bumper traffic with these monstrous semi trucks. Or to risk taking one of the unpaved, unlit gravel roads through the rough residential outskirts of Limon. Given that it was already 6:00pm, and we were tired and Jack was grumpy, we decided not to risk the side roads and spotty Internet connection to navigate us through Google Maps. We had already had enough adventuring for the day. Unfortunately this meant an unknown amount of time waiting to get through the bulk of the Limon traffic.

Laguna de Arenal

Finally the glowing high beams started becoming fewer and father between, and we were no longer at a stand still, but now slowly gaining on the road ahead. At last Google Maps indicated that we were coming up next to the palm tree lined white sands of the Caribbean coast. Unfortunately we could barely see in front of our car, so we could have been in a corn field for all we knew.

We arrived at Cabinas Iguanas just after 9:00pm, where a young boy showed us our cabin and the facilities. Click HERE to sign up for Airbnb and get $45 CAD towards your next trip! We left our stuff in the car and crawled into bed under a thin sheet, under a bug netting, and with Jack in the middle of us on a twin bed. We had yet to sleep under a bug net, so Brett graciously instilled fear in the two of us that we would wake up with spiders and stick bugs all over the net. So needless to say, I did not sleep thanks to that and two chubby little feet kicking me in the ribs. Luckily there wasn’t as much a mosquito in the morning, so our sleeps were much better after that night.

In hindsight, there is much we would do different if we made this trip again.

We wanted adventure in Costa Rica, and we certainly got it, biting off a little more than we could chew. Was it worth it? Well, we never went into Limon itself, as the traffic leading up to it left a bad taste in our mouths and we could only imagine what the city traffic would be like. We stayed in a small town an hour south of Limon called Cahuita, which was a lively retreat town with a heavy Caribe vibe.

The Caribbean Sea off the coast of Costa Rica is not lined with the silver white sands that you would find in the Bahamas, although it is much finer and softer than the sands of Tamarindo, and the water is like bath water, clear and salty. The currants are strong, and the waves were many, so like the Pacific, there are lots of surfing

Cahuita national park Coast to Coast - Tamarindo to Limon

opportunities available. Snorkeling and adventure walks through national parks are what drives tourists to the area. With promise of seeing Sloths, lemurs and sea turtles, among other things.

I am glad we made the trip over, just to say we did it, but I am not sure we will be back any time soon. If we did, there are other areas I’d like to see such as Puerto Viejo. Right now, we are heading back to the Pacific coast to do a bit more exploring of the southern Peninsula and the Nosara region. If you haven’t already, you can read more about the Pacific Coast here!

Pura Vida!

Megan

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17 Comments

    1. I’m all about the road trips! This one would be really cool but the driving sounds a bit crazy! I road trip a lot in NZ and we mostly have to be careful of other tourist drivers driving on the wrong side of the road! Its also very windy and narrow roads!

      1. We’ve never been to NZ, but have family in Christchurch! We will have to knock it off the bucket list one day!

    1. It took me a little while to figure out you were talking about Costa Rica! I’ve heard the driving there can be quite intense! I can’t believe you took on an adventure like this, but it sounds like you had fun!

      1. It is quite the driving experience. Even after this, the area where we are currently staying, the “highway” is a gravel, washed away road that runs for 2 hours. THAT was quite a driving experience as well!

    1. So exciting to experience Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea in one day – i would love be part of a similar road trip 🙂

    1. Hi Megan. What an adventure.! I’m usually a solo traveler, so it’s not a trip I’d do myself. Great shot of the monkey in the tree.

      1. I hear you! I’d be wary driving here on my own too, as I didn’t do much driving in Canada. But, it is so much more fun here! The monkeys are great! Except for at 4:30 in the morning when the sun is starting to come out!

    1. Oh gosh, there is always a back story to the beauty at the end of the road. I went to Costa Rica last year and did a road trip. But I had a local driver lol. I’m glad I did. Great post and thanks for telling your adventure.

      1. It was a great trip, not sure if we will drive it in one day again though!

    1. Wow it is so exciting to visit Pacific and Caribbean Ocean in one day. Your 6 hours adventure drive to Limon looks very interesting with many stopovers at dense forests. I am saving it for my future travel plans to this exotic place.

      1. Oh it was much longer than 6 hours! It was 12 by the time we reached our final destination! But yes, the drive was unlike any other we’ve done.

    1. Loving your blog!! My hubby and I are planning a trip to CR beginning in Jan 18 and will be staying for 2 months to see if CR is where we’d like to move or at least have a part time residence. We are a semi retired couple in our early 60’s and are raising a 10 year old grandson. We so want him to have adventures and different cultural experiences and want to use our time there in a manner that lets us see as much of the country as possible.
      I wonder if you can recommend the most central place to call home base while we are there. I am thinking it would be less expensive to do a short term rental and then day and weekend trip from there rather than paying 2 months worth of hotels or Airbnb. I am so excited about our upcoming trip and reading your adventures makes me even more thrilled about the whole idea! Keep writing and I’d love your thoughts on my home base question if you have the time.
      Happy travels!

      1. Hi Peg! That is fantastic! Definitely, there will be great adventures and Costa Rica will offer a wonderful cultural upbringing for your grandson! Much like what we want for Jack!
        I would recommend flying into Liberia, then travelling to the Tamarindo area. From there, I would research the “downtown” Tamarindo area, and the Flamingo and Coco area. From what I gather, these are great areas for families. We have only explored the Tamarindo area, but these other two areas would make great alternatives to compare your research to. The Nosara area where we have spent most of our time is very off the beaten path. When Jack is older, we will explore the areas I have mentioned, as well as Tamarindo as there are some great schools there. Look up some of the Costa Rica Expat groups on Facebook. They provide great information from people who have already made the jump, however, there can be some sour apples in the group so just watch out for any negative Nancy’s and just ignore them. We gathered a lot of great info from these groups before we made the plunge! As far as rentals go, we rented our place in Nosara for 3 months and found the rental online in a Facebook group. Airbnb will give you discounts for long-term rentals as well, so don’t rule that out!

        Good Luck, you won’t regret moving there!

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