First Impressions – Driving in Costa Rica

(This article includes video)

As my wife and I began the trip to Costa Rica, we decided to keep a journal to document our impressions. Like any situation, I had a mental image of what we were getting into. Boy, was I off!

When we landed at the San Jose airport in Costa Rica, we were impressed with how modern and clean the facility is. There were no lines to clear customs, people were polite and the only difference I noted was that our luggage was X-rayed after we collected it. This was to look for drugs or other contraband. We walked out of the exit door and quickly found Matias. The first surprise was that all money transactions at the airport, including parking, took place in US dollars. Costa Ricans use the col√≥n as currency, with roughly 500 colons to a US dollar. The actually conversion was higher, but as we didn’t expect to spend much money, this was close enough. As a footnote, when left, we discovered all monies used in the airport were in US dollars, including for the exit fee and food.

Matias had mentioned that we would be in the mountains at an elevation of 6,000 feet. I grew up in the mountains of western Pennsylvania and had visited Colorado. While 6,000 feet was higher than I was used to, it didn’t intimidate me. What I didn’t expect was how steep the hills are. There are small rivers or streams in the valleys, and roads are cut into the mountain slopes. This means one side of the road is a wall, and the other a cliff. At first we were concerned with riding so close to the edge, but by the end of the week, I was standing on the edge of cliffs taking pictures.

We used both public and private roads. The public tended to be better maintained and wider, but still when two vehicles met, there was a dance to do. The car going uphill has the right-of-way most of the time, but whoever pulled over seems to be decided more on who has a convenient place to do so.

Cliff Beside Public Road

In this public road picture, the surface here is smooth, but not far to a significant drop-off. We went on these roads in everything from the Ford truck to a Kia Sorento and Isuzu Trooper. The biggest challenges were how steep parts were and the tight switch-backs. In some ways, going down a steep slope was more dangerous than going up.

The private road from the house to the new plantation was more of a trail. It was so narrow, that Matias’ truck couldn’t maneuver back there. Instead we used a 1975 Toyota Land Cruiser. The trails were not only rougher, but the drop-offs were steeper.

The Waterfall Turn

What quickly became our favorite road was the one from the house to the new plantation. This private road is so narrow, we had to use the Land Cruiser. This turn we called the Waterfall Turn. It is so tight that the driver has to cross the water and turn as hard as possible until the front touches the wall, then back up and finish the turn. The most we had between the vehicle and the cliff was about 4 feet.

The Waterfall Cliff

This is looking down the cliff to the left of the Waterfall Turn. While it may not look deep, that is about a 100-foot drop.


Matias driving the Land Cruiser through the Waterfall Turn.

This video shows Matias driving the Land Cruiser through the Waterfall Turn. First is the turn as viewed from them outside, then from my view as the passenger. You get a very different perspective in the second segment.

Seat Belts - We don't need no seatbelts

What really struck us was driving home after our return to Canada. Going 80 kph on our dirt road seemed so unusual.

5 thoughts on “First Impressions – Driving in Costa Rica”

  1. I swear I’ll never look at another cup of java the same ever again.

    I love Dorothea’s sound bite… “Oh God. Oh God.” as Matias expertly (Oh God. Thank God!) makes his hairpin Waterfall turn.

    I wish I could have been riding shotgun for this adventure.

    The Helms rock!

    Glad you’re both back on Canadian terrafirma.

    xoxo

  2. Wow, this site rocks! Literally. I just love the pictures, the comments, all the detail. No wonder I have an almost religious relationship with coffee. It comes from God’s country! What struck me about the video is how much fun you seem to be having. And Rich saying, ‘you have about a metre’…. so calm, so Rich. Marvellous!

  3. Sally – yes when we would look around the words “God’s country” came to mind. It was so beautiful and peaceful.

  4. Pingback: Living on a Coffee Plantation in Costa Rica - Rich Helms ca

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