Goodbye, Mountain of Death!

Shout out the good news! Costa Rica’s coastal highway, the Costanera Sur, is finally paved all the way! Add this to the completion of the Caldera highway, and boy oh boy, getting around in Costa Rica is beginning to lose its nightmare status.

Way back in the distant past (2003) I did my first visit to Costa Rica. I asked a taxi driver whether he thought I should visit Jaco or Quepos, and he said Quepos. Good enough for me (at the time). I located the Coca Cola bus station, bought a ticket for Quepos, and a mere 3.5 hours later, there I was in Quepos. The distance between San Jose and Quepos, as the quetzal flies, is perhaps 50 miles. My problem was I couldn’t find a quetzal big enough to carry me, so I took the bus.

After a couple of days in Quepos, I headed south to Dominical. The 25 mile journey took over an hour. 4 and a half hours to go 75 miles. That’s not so bad, really, compared to rush hour in any big city. You say you came to Costa Rica to escape big cities? Don’t be so picky.

But Costa Rica wasn’t content to rest on it’s laurels… no way. Back in 2001, they began planning to pave the 25 miles of flat, straight gravel highway, and replace some old rickety (and that’s being kind) bridges. A mere 9 years later, the project is complete! Glory, glory! Now you can get from San Jose all the way to Dominical in around 3 hours, unless you go during peak hours, when you’ll spend lots of time waiting to pay tolls between SJ and Jaco. From Dominical, you can get all the way to the Panama border in another couple of hours.

The old route south to Panama was over a mountain pass called ‘Cerro de la Muerte’ – Mountain of Death in English. It takes 3 hours to get from San Jose to the other side of the mountain range on an incredibly twisting and dangerous road. Not for the faint of heart or stomach. But that’s all over now for most destinations south. Unless…

Unless of course you don’t want to rent a car. The buses are not allowed to use the new Autopista del Sol. Not for safety reasons, though. It has to do with ‘concessions’ being granted for routes. At the moment, no bus company has the right to use that highway. When will the government get around to granting concessions to save hours of travel time for ordinary people? WHEN THEY GOOD AND WELL FEEL LIKE IT! So there.

So as a non-vehicle owner, the new highways are a big nothingburger. Unless one of my rich friends invites me along, I will have to take the old, snakey route through the mountains to get to the coast. I would be able to enjoy the new paved section from Quepos to Dominical though. I’ll check it out if I ever have any reason to see Dominical again.

Just one little parting factiod and I’m done with this. I don’t have figures for the total cost of paving and improving this 25 mile stretch of flat, straight gravel road, but the cost of paving it alone is estimated to be $34 million dollars. Talk about a million dollar mile! If you are thinking about buying some country property and getting a paved road put in, check your bank statement first.

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  1. Living in La Zona Sur the shortest route to SJ is still over the InterAmericana, it wouldn't pay to head to the coast first and then northward, though I'd like to try it some time just for grins. It's probably still shorter to Panama to turn west off the InterAmericana at San Isidro (take the so-called cemetery road shortcut to save 5 minutes), head to Dominical and then south. The road from San Isidro (aka Pérez Zeledón) to Dominical was recently completely refurb'd and though snaky it's smooth and well marked. Be sure to stop in at Reptilandia along the way!

  2. Poor you. Our first visit to Quepos had us driving on unpaved roads the whole way. Steve and Lisa's was an oasis in a sea of dust then. Now you go by it so fast you can miss it. Fortunately, they have signs up telling you where to find them now that they have moved. we moved to CR to get away from the fast lane.

    We live in Perez Zeledon and love going over the Cerro. The views, should you be lucky enough to see them, are beautiful. Now, with many of the trucks going on the coastal hwy, the ride is even nicer. We recently went on the new road to the coast and down to Dominical and over to PZ. Except for the wonderful macaw sighting there wasn't much scenery to enjoy anymore in our opinion. The darling little towns with their little soccer fields that were along the road are being replaced by high rises and condos (finished and unfinished) and pavement.

  3. I've been over Cerro de la Muerte a couple of times, one time in the rain under a leaky bus vent in a tank top. Brrrr. I like it that there is a place in Costa Rica where people wear ski jackets. As long as I'm not one of them.