If you’re planning on renting a car in Costa Rica and driving for your trip, you absolutely need to research how the road conditions are for your destinations. Every country has its own driving culture and Costa Rica is no different – you need to know about the Costa Rican driving mentality, city and rural driving and certain things before you go. One of those is road conditions.
Roads in Costa Rica are notorious for being in bad shape and many places require a 4×4 like Monteverde. As it’s one of the most popular destinations in the country, we get this question all the time. What are the roads like in Monteverde and it is really necessary to have a 4×4?
In this post I’ll go over the Monteverde road conditions and why you need a 4×4 to get in and around Monteverde. You can also read our Monteverde travel guide to learn more about this region.
Monteverde Road Conditions
Driving from San Jose
The route from San Jose is actually pretty easy. Head onto Route 27 Highway as if you’re going towards Liberia and continue for about 107 kilometers depending on where in San Jose you’re leaving from. (107 kilometers from La Sabana). You’ll merge onto InterAmericana highway 1 a little past Puntarenas. This is a paved road and though you may get stuck behind some trucks, it’ll take you around 1.5 hours depending on how fast you drive and how traffic is in San Jose.
Then you will turn right onto Route 606, the route to Monteverde via Sardinal. You will see a gas station on your right and a huge billboard for SkyAdventures.
Drive onto this road for about 3 kilometers and turn left. There are plenty of signs for Sardinal and Monteverde so you know you’re going the right way.
After about 17 kilometers, turn right when the paved road ends to continue on Route 606 to Santa Elena.
From Sardinal, the first 18 kilometers are on a paved road. Then after you turn right, the road is gravel for another 18 kilometers or so.
The Gravel Road
We visited during March, the driest time of the year for most of Costa Rica. It was extremely dusty so drive with the windows up if the dust bothers you, especially if you’re driving close behind someone.
The road was unpaved, bumpy but not horribly pot holey for the first few kilometers. But as soon as we started going up, we could see why a 4×4 with high clearance is necessary.
Since the route goes up and around mountains, you first need a car with a good engine that can make those steep hills on a bumpy road. Then if you’re coming with a large group and lots of luggage, you need a car that is still high enough even with all the weight.
Then the last 10 kilometers or so, the road gets very bumpy and you can see large rocks on the side of the road. And as soon as you enter the Monteverde region, a couple kilometers from the turn to Santa Elena town, the road has fairly large pot holes. But luckily, the road becomes paved once you are in Santa Elena town and you can breathe a huge sigh of relief!
In total, the drive will take you around 3.5 – 4 hours depending on how fast you drive and the weather conditions.
There are a couple ways to go from Liberia. You can take the route through Tilaran (on the way to Arenal, but turn right at the intersection where you can continue to Arenal to your left or go to Monteverde to your right). This takes a little longer and this road is unpaved as well.
The more popular way is by way of Las Juntas, Route 145. Las Juntas is not as in great condition as Sardinal and it is unpaved, most of the road is on big stones so you can’t go very fast and is very bumpy. You probably can’t really go more than 30 or 40 kilometers or so an hour depending on how much experience you have driving on gravel roads.
Depending on your driving skills and what you’re comfortable with, you may want to drive down to Sardinal and take that route instead. Even though it takes a little bit longer, you have more paved road via Sardinal.
Las Juntas is the turn off a couple kilometers after the Restaurant Tres Hermanas (where the big bull is). You’ll turn left after a gas station.
From Tamarindo: Take the road to the Friendship bridge and you can take either Las Juntas or drive a bit south more to Sardinal.
These routes will also take you around 3 hours depending on how fast you drive and the weather conditions. Sardinal will take a little bit longer.
Road Conditions in Santa Elena and Around Monteverde
Santa Elena town itself has paved roads. Cerro Plano, the smaller town also has paved roads but it ends where the El Establo Hotel is. That road continues on to the Monteverde cloud forest reserves, San Luis town and Curi-Cancha Reserve. So you will need a 4×4 in town as many of the roads have huge pot holes, like the one towards San Luis or the roads near the cemetery.
We stayed at 2 Airbnbs in Monteverde that had awful roads. Awful. Like hitting your head on top of the car awful (these roads are the way to Finca Modelo and around the Santa Elena cemetery). We were very happy that we were driving a 4×4!
Tips for Driving to Monteverde
- Don’t forget to put the 4×4 on!
- Signage is excellent but it is still helpful to use Waze, the GPS app.
- Don’t drive to Monteverde at night, especially if you’re visiting during rainy season. The route up in the mountains is very curvy with loose rocks and no guard rails.
- Drive slow, take your time. It’s better to go slow and take another 30 minutes to get there than driving too fast and getting in an accident/damaging the car.
- Don’t pass if you’re not comfortable. You will run into some cars that are verrrrrry slow (huge trucks/old cars), pass when you’re comfortable and clear. Don’t try to be like speed racer. It’s OK to go slow!
- There are a few spots on the route where you can pull over to enjoy the view. Do it! (Safely of course). The views on these routes are gorgeous!
- Leave as early as possible when visiting in rainy season. It usually rains in the late afternoon and evening. When we visited in November, peak rainy season time, we left around 7 AM and had great weather. No rain, not even cloudy skies so it was a beautiful ride.
- Bring water and snacks. After Sardinal, there isn’t really anything along the way until you get to Santa Elena.
- You will see some sedans going on this route (mostly Tico drivers). Like Yeison says, “Give a Tico a compact car and he’ll drive it like a 4×4.” But for foreigners, it is better to have a 4×4 even if you’re an experienced driver. Since you want to be as safe as possible for your trip, rent a 4×4 (trust me), especially if you’re coming during rainy season as the holes get bigger and you may have to drive in the rain.
- For more driving tips, you can read our in-depth Costa Rica driving guide and Yeison’s city driving guide.
- Suggestions for 4×4 cars: Hyundai Tucson/Santa Fe, Suzuki Jimny, Mitsubishi Montero Sport, Isuzu Dmax, Ford Explorer, Ssangyong Tivoli, Toyota Prado/Fortuner. A Hyundai Creta can work too for dry season and light luggage/couple passengers. If you’re coming with a lot of people and luggage, make sure the car has high enough clearance, even if it’s a 4×4. We drove our Hyundai Galloper (the old version of Hyundai Tucson). Our car is like a tractor, it’s very high and strong so we had no problem with 2 people and all our luggage and equipment.
I hope this post gives you more a better picture of the Monteverde road conditions. Since Monteverde is known for being a destination in Costa Rica that needs a 4×4, it’s helpful to see what the road actually looks like.
You can also watch our short video below to see the route via Sardinal!
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