Driving the Nicoya Peninsula

Trip Start Apr 17, 2001
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Costa Rica  ,
Friday, January 5, 2001

Ellen and I picked up our four-wheel drive Suzuki at Daniel Obuder International Airport outside Liberia in the Guanacaste region of Costa Rica, just after 8:00 a.m. We had extensively studied our planned 300-km coastal journey to the tip of the Nicoya Peninsula. On route to the coast you pass through the little towns of Filadelfia and Belen before reaching the cut-off at Santa Cruz. From this point the real journey begins.

You put your vehicle in four-wheel drive and leave it there. One hour and 28 kms later, we arrived at the coastal hamlet of Playa Lagarto. Lagarto consists of a beautiful beach, a smattering of ramshackle houses and not much else. From there it was southward to Ostional National Wildlife Refuge. At Ostional it is said that during peak season (Aug-Sep), Ridley turtles can be seen massed shoulder to shoulder off shore, awaiting their turn to clamber onto the beach to lay their eggs. It is now January - no turtles.

Our next stop after passing through the villages of Nosara and Garza is Samara. Samara is an upscale beach village where an ex-President reportedly has a home. A little too busy for us - on we go. Next stop Playa Carillo which boasts one of the finest beaches in Costa Rica. It won't be long until sunset, so we've decided to make this little village our home for the night. The coastal perimeter of Costa Rica is state owned, which means or maybe doesn't, that you can camp on the beach. Just as we were about to pitch our tent, a dose of reluctance overcame us. We opted for a dingy little room in a hotel-like place about 1 km from the beach. After not a real good sleep, the sun rose around 5:45 a.m. and we found ourselves forging onward. At unmapped Playa San Miguel, we stopped to investigate the possibility of land ownership in Costa Rica. After viewing several beachfront properties and collecting a wealth of data as well as a nasty barbed wire cut, we were on the road again. As we passed though Jabilla and Puerto Coyote, anxiety began to build. We had read that crossing the Rio Ario at the wrong place and/or time could lead to your vehicle being washed to sea. Just south of Puerto Coyote we stopped a young fellow to ask the best route to our final destination, Playa Santa Theresa. He was driving a vehicle not unlike ours and said that the best and shortest route was to follow him. This was where the real excitement began. First it was through a 20 metre or so deep riverbed then up and down bumpy terrain before we reached the Rio Ario. We couldn't believe it. The river was so wide we couldn't even see a road on the other side. After being told to follow his exact route, we were off. Water slammed against the windshield as we accelerated. I was sure we wouldn't make it. With pounding hearts we bounced ashore on the other side. It was then up and down more very bumpy hills before reaching Playa Manzanillo. Our escort said that we must move swiftly. The tide was coming in and we were on the last leg of our journey, a 10-km jaunt along the beach or playa. We arrived at the south end of Playa Manzanillo as the Pacific Ocean crept dangerously close to our wheels. From there it was 5 km along more bad roads to maybe the best beach in all of Costa Rica - Playa Santa Teresa.

Total driving time for this 300-km trip was just under 9 hours. We forded eight rivers. At times we traveled for close to two hours without seeing another vehicle. It's very unlikely that you will come across anyone other than men on horseback who speak no English. The iguanas that cross your path grow a metre long. Playa Santa Teresa can be much more easily accessed by ferry across the Gulf of Nicoya. But I don't think it would feel nearly as rewarding as it did via the coastal route.
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