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. Is the road to Monteverde paved, how far is it from San Jose Airport to Monteverde and do I really need 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.
Driving from San Jose to Monteverde
The distance from SJO Airport to Monteverde is 133 kilometers, or 83 miles via Route 606. It takes about 3 hours depending on how long it takes for you to get out of San Jose since there is a lot of traffic by the airport and in the city. Here is the route on Google Maps.
Sardinal Road Conditions and Route
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 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 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.
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 as if you’re driving to San Jose (same as Liberia except you’ll just 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.
But there is a slightly faster way going down towards Puntarenas past Limonal, Las Juntas.
Las Juntas Road Conditions
Las Juntas, Route 145 is closer coming from Guanacaste than the Sardinal route. Las Juntas is a very curvy route but not quite as bumpy as Sardinal. There are sections of the road that are very narrow so drive slowly and carefully and the road goes from paved to concrete to unpaved many times.
It is still recommended to have a 4×4 or high car for the Las Junas routes and it takes about 3 hours total depending on how fast/slow you drive.