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.
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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.
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.
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
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!