Roads in Costa Rica are notorious for being in bad shape and many places like Monteverde require a 4×4 or high car. As it’s one of the most popular destinations in the country, we get this question all the time. Is the road to Monteverde paved, how far is it from San Jose Airport to Monteverde and do I really need a 4×4 for Monteverde?
In this post I’ll go over the Monteverde road conditions and how to get to Monteverde. You can also read our Monteverde, Costa Rica travel guide to learn more about this region.
Driving from San Jose to Monteverde
As of January 2019, Route 606 to Monteverde is now currently open with no restrictions or closings (construction never finished). However, it is still in very bad shape so make sure to rent a 4×4. Locals recommend to take Route 145 still.
The distance from San Jose Airport to Monteverde is 133 kilometers, or 83 miles via Route 606. The drive from San Jose to Monteverde takes about 3 hours with no traffic. It will also depend on how fast you drive up the mountainside so it could take 3-4.5 hours.
Here is the route on Google Maps.
Route 606 Road Conditions (Sardinal)
The route from San Jose is actually pretty easy. Head onto Route 27 Highway and continue for about 107 kilometers (66 miles). You’ll merge onto InterAmericana highway 1 a little past Puntarenas. This is a paved road and 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 Costa Rica, 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 (1.8 miles) 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 (10.5miles), turn right when the paved road ends to continue on Route 606 to Santa Elena.
From Sardinal, the first 18 kilometers (11 miles) are on a paved road. Then after you turn right, the road is gravel for another 18 kilometers (11 miles) 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 I recommend to drive with the windows up.
The road was unpaved, bumpy but not horribly pot holey for the first few kilometers/miles or so. But as soon as we started going up, we could see why a 4×4 with high clearance is necessary as it started getting quite steep.
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 high enough even with all the weight.
Then the last 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) 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 (~1 mile) 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!
You can see what the Sardinal route looks like in our video. We drove from Tamarindo.
Driving from Tamarindo to Monteverde (Liberia)
We live in Tamarindo so that is where we drove from. We took the Friendship bridge route towards Puntarenas (same as departing from Liberia except you’ll get on Route 1).
You can also 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.
The best route to take from Guanacaste to Monteverde is Route 145, Las Juntas.
Las Juntas Road Conditions Route 145
Route 145, Las Juntas is closer coming from Guanacaste than Route 606. Route 145 is a very curvy route with more concrete. There are sections of the road that are very narrow and goes from asphalt to concrete to unpaved many times.
It is still recommended to have a 4×4 or high car for the Las Junas route. Route 145 to Monteverde takes around 3.5 hours.
Las Juntas is the turn off a couple kilometers (~1 mile) after the Restaurant Tres Hermanas (where the big bull is). Turn left.
You will continue on this road for 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) and drive through the big city of Las Juntas and continue up towards Monteverde, passing small towns like Eco Museo, Canderlaria and Campos de Oro.
Signage is excellent and there are some nice view points when you get closer to Monteverde.
Route 145 was a nice drive for us, the scenery is very beautiful. We did run into one small thing while driving on the route. One of the huge trailer trucks got stuck going up a hill, blocking the road. We managed to drive down on the side of the road on the grass in our 4×4 but it was super steep. We narrowly got stuck in the hole. Drive carefully if there are big trucks and you need to pass.
You can see the route in our video below.
From Santa Elena, go to soccer field/school and continue on the bumpy road towards Xtremo and Don Juan Tours. You will then continue until a slight left to Route 145 (signs for Las Juntas) and continue on that road.
Here is the Google Maps.
Santa Elena and Monteverde Road Conditions
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 and is extremely bumpy. So you will need a 4×4 in town as many of the roads have huge pot holes.
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 had a high car!
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. It gets dark by 6 PM everyday in Costa Rica so if your flight arrives in late afternoon, better to stay a night in San Jose and leave early the next morning.
- Drive slow, take your time. 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.
- 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. Started pouring by 11 AM.
- You will see some sedans going on this route (locals). 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 your car could get damaged even if you make it up the mountain.
- For more driving tips, you can read our in-depth Costa Rica driving guide and Yeison’s city driving guide.
- Suggestions for cars that work for Monteverde: Hyundai Tucson/Santa Fe, Suzuki Jimny, Mitsubishi Montero Sport, Isuzu Dmax, Mitsubishi L200, Ssang Yang Korando, Toyota Rush, Ford Explorer, Toyota Rav 4, Toyota Prado/Fortrunner. A Hyundai Creta and Mitsubishi ASX also work during dry season. 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 Mitsubishi Montero Sport which is a great car.
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