Description of the trip to southern Costa Rica

Journey along the 'Interamericana' (The Pan-American Highway)

The Southern Region of Costa Rica is largely flat due to the erosion of the central volcanic mountain range. However, there is an array of mountains, peaks and slopes, among them the highest peak in Costa Rica (el Cerro Chirripo) located within the Chirripo National Park. Travelling along the Pan-American Highway from the capital to Cartago towards the south the climb to the Cerro de la Muerte (literally Death Peak) begins. According to tradition, this peak is so-called because when the colonization of Central America began, the first travelers died from exposure to the extremely cold climate. Today it seems ironic because temperatures rarely reach sub-zero - possibly in the past the climate was colder.


Today the journey is pleasant due to an abundance of mountain vegetation, and in particular the 'paramo' vegetation (unique to Costa Rica) which is characterized by being short and woody.


Around el 'Cerro de la Muerte' there are several hotels, cabins, restaurants, and places where trout fishing, mountain walks and bird-watching (the bird most looked-out for is the 'quetzal') can be enjoyed, and of course other species of mountain animal can also be observed. In this high and cold region blackberries, apples, strawberries, flowers, garden vegetables, peaches and other fruits/vegetables are produced for export. The temperature during the day is some 15 degrees centigrade and it is frequently cloudy and humid.


In this area is localized the nice city of "San Gerardo de Dota", well know for their nice Hotels, Cabins, Quetzal Watching among other options.


The journey continues downwards towards the Zona Sur, reaching the 'Valle del General' or San Isidro del General, also known as Perez Zeledon. This is an immense valley, and home to the largest city in the region. The area is rich in commerce and agricultural activities, such as the cultivation of coffee and sugar cane. It is a strategic point, only 30 minutes from the pacific coast (the beaches of Dominical, Uvita and others), and an hour from San Gerardo de Rivas and Cerro Chirripo. There are also tourist centres nearby with lakes for tilapia fishing, hot springs, beautiful waterfalls, mountain walks in private reserves, theatre, internet cafes, sports facilities, clean rivers for swimming, swimming pools etc.


The temperature in San Isidro is some 30 degrees centigrade, the climate is humid and the dry season lasts from about January to June.


Here in Pérez Zeledón, if you want go to Dominical, Uvita beaches, then you have to take a right in McDonald´s (you will see that because it´s located next the main road), then go straight in this way to Dominical at 35 km west of San Isidro de Pérez Zeledón.


Leaving the city of Perez Zeledon and continuing towards the south, you come to the city of Buenos Aires, where the indigenous reserves of Cabagra and Boruca can be visited. Here you can appreciate the way of life of some of Costa Rica's indigenous people and buy some of their souvenirs and handicrafts. The temperature here is higher (+/- 33 degrees centigrade) and the region is flat. The area is known for the cultivation of pineapples for export.


Continuing on towards the southern region, you will travel alongside the River Terraba, one of the biggest rivers in Costa Rica. On this part of the Pan-American Highway you will come to a crossroads (called Paso Real). Turning left (eastwards) at this crossroads will take you up into the mountains towards San Vito.


San Vito was originally an Italian colony and is now rich in commerce and agricultural activities. The climate is very pleasant, the temperature around 25 degrees centigrade. One of the most popular of the tourist activities available here is the visit to the Lancaster Gardens. These gardens house the biggest collection of plants in the region, and possibly in the entire country. From here, you can continue your journey to the Panamá border in Rio Sereno, or if you are an experienced driver you can take the "Fila de Cal" road to "Villa Neily" (only for experienced drivers because the road is very narrow, very hilly and dangerous, although is paved) or you can return to the Pan-American Highway.


Continuing towards the south at the crossroads (in Paso Real), you will reach Palmar Norte, where the road then joins the 'Costanera' (the coastal road).


Journey along the Costanera



The journey along the Costanera from San Jose to Palmar Norte in the Zona Sur is beautiful and you will find many opportunities to buy souvenirs. The temperatures along the coast range between 30 and 38 degrees centigrade.


Approximately 2 hours from San Jose the first beach you will come to is Jaco. This is a very popular destination with foreigners with a great nightlife and party atmosphere. About an hour further down the coast you reach Quepos. This beach has similar attractions to those of Jaco, with many activities available to foreign tourists. The Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio is nearby. The Park has attractive beaches and is rich in wildlife.


Continuing along from Quepos, ussing the nice "Carretera Costanera", which is in very good condition because is almost brand new, you will come to several small villages and find entrances to beaches at regular intervals. About 45 min from Quepos towards the south you will come to one intersection. If you take this road east, you will reach San Isidro (30 minutes away) and if you continue towards the south (after crossing the River Baru) you will reach the beach of Dominical. This beach has many tourist facilities and is particularly good for surfers.


Some 20 minutes further down the coast from Dominical is Uvita beach. Here you can access the Marino Ballena National Park , a very attractive marine conservation area which you are well advised to visit.


Further down the coast towards the south you will come to Ventanas beach. 15 minutes from Uvita this is a very beautiful beach where the tide has eroded two caves in the rocks. When the tide goes out it is possible to cross some 25 metres underground and come out at the other side of a mountain. However, be careful. To get to this beach you have to leave your vehicle parked about 200 metres away, and sometimes local delinquents will take the opportunity to break into cars and steal your personal belongings.


From Uvita, passing near Ciudad Cortes, the road joins the Pan-American Highway in Palmar Norte.


Journey from Palmar Norte towards the border with Panama


Palmar Norte is where the two access roads to the Zona Sur (the Pan-American Highway - also known as the InterAmericana - and the Costanera) meet. The remainder of the journey is through a primarily flat, humid region, rich in wildlife and natural beauty.


Immediately beyond the point where these two roads meet there is a bridge which crosses the River Terraba (one of the biggest rivers in Costa Rica), and beyond this there are several turnings off to the right (towards the west) which take you to places of interest for tourists, one of them is exactly taking the right after the bridge, and going to Palmar Sur, in this place you will be able to see the Stone Spheres. Other attractions include the mangrooves or Térraba - Sierpe which are found at the mouth of the River Terraba, the most expansive Mangrooves in Costa Rica.


Continuing towards the south, about an hour's drive from Palmar Norte you will come to Chacarita.


Turning right at the crossroads (where there is a gas station) you will reach the Corcovado National Park. This park is recorded as having the greatest bio-diversity in the world. Rich in animal and plant wildlife, this is an extremely beautiful region where the sea meets mountains and rivers.


If you continue straight on at the crossroads in Chacarita instead of turning right towards Corcovado, you will come to Rio Claro. From here, after a right (west) turn, a 25-minute drive will take you to Golfito.


Golfito is a small and pleasant town located within a natural gulf. This is the site of the 'Puerto Libre' (Tax/Duty Free Zone), where you can buy items such as electrical goods at very low prices (due to them being exempt from tax). Normally the prices are from 25% to 50% lower than the shop price. This is a good way of making a saving on TVs, refrigerators, electric fans, washing machines and other expensive electrical items.


Around this area of Golfito there are also many hotels, Cabins and restaurants offering a wide range of activities for tourists. These include sports fishing, trail walking and boat trips amongst other things.


Not far from Golfito is Pavones beach which is another good surfing beach, and boasts the second longest left wave in the world. You could reach Pavones by Boat (around 30 min trip) or by Car (1 hour trip).


However, if you are in Rio Claro intersection and you decide to continue your drive along the Pan-American Highway instead of turning off to Golfito, your journey will take you through a small town called Ciudad/Villa Neilly and, after about 45 minutes from Rio Claro, to the border with Panama (also called Paso Canoas) . This is a favorite shopping-spot with many people because prices on the Panamanian side are lower, but on the Costa Rican side bags are usually checked to make sure people are not carrying 'contraband' merchandise.


© Ecotourism 2013