(2021) Costa Rica Highway Conditions By Route

Last updated on April 18th, 2021 at 11:41 am EST

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Learn what to expect from Costa Rica highway conditions according to where you plan to travel

Want to know what kind of Costa Rica highway conditions you’ll encounter before hitting the road? No sweat! Below we compare and contrast several of Costa Rica’s highways according to the following factors:

  • Alternative highway names: Other names for the highway that locals, GPS navigational systems, and maps may cite
  • Popular destinations encountered along the route: Cities, towns, and sights of interest you’ll pass through (or come close to) along the highway
  • Popular destinations reached by cutoffs along the route: Cities, towns, and sights of interest that are accessible by taking a side road that branches off the highway
  • Highway conditions and design: Whether you can expect a paved, rocky, or dirt highway, as well as a multi-lane or single-lane highway
  • Terrain: Whether you can expect to drive over flat land or through mountains
  • Pace: Whether you can expect to drive at a fast speed, at an average speed, or at a slow speed along the highway
  • Traffic: Whether you can expect traffic to be standard (the highway is shared with other vehicles but moves well) or heavy (anywhere from rush hour congestion to bumper-to-bumper stalls)
  • Flow: Whether you can expect a one-way or two-way highway; for one-way highways, we provide the direction of traffic flow
  • Tolls: Whether you’ll need to pay one or more tolls to travel the route
  • River crossings: Whether you’ll likely need to cross a river along the route (depending on the weather and the time of year you plan to visit)
  • 4×4 vehicle required: Whether a 4×4 vehicle is required to maneuver the highway

Our Costa Rica highway ranking system

We also rate Costa Rica highway conditions according to a 1-10 scale (1 being the worst and 10 being the best). If you’re short on time, look for the scales below to quickly identify how we rate each highway.

The scales look like this:

Costa Rica road conditions
The above image depicts the lowest rating (the overall highway quality is 1 out of 10)

and this:

Costa Rica road conditions
The above image depicts the highest rating (the overall highway quality is 10 out of 10)

Most highways in Costa Rica are rated 7/10, 8/10 or 9/10 because they’re fairly well kept. As described in our related blog post, Costa Rica Road Conditions By Route (coming soon!), other roads in Costa Rica (non-highways, such as back roads) are rated much lower.

Want to know the Costa Rica highway conditions for a route we don’t cover below?

No problem! Leave us a comment at the bottom of this page and we’ll add the route rating and details to our list.

Not sure if you should rent a car in Costa Rica? We can help!

Don’t miss our comparison of advantages and disadvantages in our related blog post:

Renting A Car In Costa Rica: Should You Do It?

Highway 1

Driving Highway 1 in Costa Rica between San Jose and Penas Blancas / the border shared with Nicaragua

Costa Rica road conditions
Overall highway quality: 9/10

Highway 1 is Costa Rica’s most popular highway. It connects the west end of the centrally located capital city (San Jose) with the northwest corner of the country. It’s also considered an extension of Highway 2.

If you fly into the SJO airport, you’ll travel part of this highway on the way to destinations in Guanacaste, on the Nicoya Peninsula, or to inland hot spots including Monteverde and Rincon de la Vieja. If you fly into the LIR airport, you’ll travel part of this highway on the way to destinations southeast of Liberia. The highway also connects with Nicaragua at the Costa Rican border town of Penas Blancas.

  • Alternative highway names: Carretera Interamericana; Inter-American Highway; Pan-American Highway; Autopista General Canas (east of Alajuela); Autopista Bernardo Soto (west of Alajuela); Carretera Esparza-Puntarenas (west of Esparza to Highway 17)
  • Popular destinations encountered along the route: San Jose, Canas, Bagaces, Liberia, and the border community of Penas Blancas
  • Popular destinations reached by cutoffs along the route: Monteverde, Puntarenas, beach towns on the Nicoya Peninsula, Bijagua, beach towns in along the northern Pacific coast, the Rincon de la Vieja National Park, and the Santa Rosa National Park
  • Highway conditions and design: paved, multi-lane (2-3 lane) highway in some areas and paved, single-lane highway in others
  • Terrain: primarily flat and straight
  • Pace: fast
  • Traffic: heavy at times; highway is commonly shared with transport trucks
  • Flow: two-way highway
  • Tolls: yes; the highway has 2 tollbooths, one between Alajuela and San Jose and one between Alajuela and San Ramon
  • River crossings: no
  • 4×4 vehicle required: no

Connections for onward travel from Highway 1

Highways that connect with Highway 1 include Highway 3, Highway 6, Highway 17, Highway 18, Highway 21, Highway 27, and Highway 39.

Highway 2

Driving Highway 2 in Costa Rica between San Jose and Paso Canoas / the border shared with Panama

Costa Rica road conditions
Overall highway quality: 8/10

Highway 2 is Costa Rica’s second most popular highway. It connects the west end of the centrally located capital city (San Jose) with the southeast corner of the country. It’s also considered an extension of Highway 1.

If you fly into the SJO airport, you may travel part of this highway on the way to destinations along the central Pacific coast, on the Osa Peninsula, in the southern inlands, or along the southern Pacific coast. If you fly into the LIR airport, you’ll first need to travel on Highway 1 to San Jose before taking Highway 2 (on the east side of San Jose) to southern destinations. The highway also connects with Panama at the Costa Rican border town of Paso Canoas.

Special / important notes

Highway 2 travels through downtown San Jose. If you wish to avoid Costa Rica’s chaotic capital city, don’t take Highway 2.

Between Cartago and San Isidro de El General, Highway 2 travels over the notorious mountain Cerro de la Muerte. If you’d prefer to avoid the mountainous stretch altogether, instead travel Highway 34 along the central Pacific coast to the southern half of the country.

  • Alternative highway names: Carretera Interamericana; Inter-American Highway; Pan-American Highway; Paseo Colon (west side of San Jose); Avenida Central (in downtown San Jose); Avenida 2 (in downtown San Jose following the split of Avenida Central); Avenida 3 (in downtown San Jose following the split of Avenida Central); Avenida del Libertador Juan Rafael Mora (alternative name for Avenida 2)
  • Popular destinations encountered along the route: San Jose, Cartago, San Isidro de El General, Palmar, and the border community of Paso Canoas
  • Popular destinations reached by cutoffs along the route: San Gerardo de Dota, San Gerardo de Rivas (Cerro Chirripo), Dominical, Sierpe, Puerto Jimenez, and Golfito
  • Highway conditions and design: paved, multi-lane highway in some areas and paved, single-lane highway in others
  • Terrain: partly flat and partly mountainous; curvy in places
  • Pace: fast in flat areas and slow in mountainous areas
  • Traffic: heavy between San Jose and Cartago; highway is sometimes shared with transport trucks
  • Flow: mostly two-way highway; one-way highway through downtown San Jose (between Calle 20 and Calle 29, traffic flows east on Highway 2 / Avenida 2 and traffic flows west on Highway 2 / Avenida 3)
  • Tolls: yes; the highway has 1 tollbooth between San Jose and Cartago
  • River crossings: no
  • 4×4 vehicle required: no

Connections for onward travel from Highway 2

Highways that connect with Highway 2 include Highway 1, Highway 10, Highway 14, Highway 34, and Highway 39.

Highway 3

Driving Highway 3 in Costa Rica between San Jose and Highway 27 at Orotina

Costa Rica road conditions
Overall highway quality: 7/10

Highway 3 is the old version of Costa Rica’s current Highway 1. It nearly connects the centrally located capital city (San Jose) with the central Pacific port city of Puntarenas. It stops short of Puntarenas roughly 35 kilometers to the east where Highway 3 joins Highway 27.

Most visitors who fly into the SJO airport use Highway 1 to travel to destinations in Guanacaste, on the Nicoya Peninsula, or to inland hot spots including Monteverde and Rincon de la Vieja. Highway 3 provides a slower but more scenic alternative as far as the community of San Mateo, where a short jaunt on Road 131 leads to Highway 1. Alternatively, you can take Highway 3 as far as the town of Orotina, where the highway meets Highway 27 and leads to Highway 34, the gateway to the central Pacific coast.

  • Alternative highway names: The old Highway 1; the old coffee trail; el Aguacate; Avenida 6 / Avenida Domingo Sarmiento / Calle 7 (in downtown Heredia following the split of Highway 3); Avenida 4 / Avenida Obispo Morel / Calle 9 / Calle Pedro Henriquez Urena (in downtown Heredia following the split of Highway 3)
  • Popular destinations encountered along the route: Heredia, Alajuela, and Atenas
  • Popular destinations reached by cutoffs along the route: none
  • Highway conditions and design: paved, single-lane highway
  • Terrain: primarily flat through Heredia and Alajuela; mountainous and curvy the remainder of the route
  • Pace: average
  • Traffic: can be congested between San Jose and Alajuela; standard the remainder of the route
  • Flow: mostly two-way highway; one-way highway through downtown Heredia (between Road 111 and Road 113, traffic flows east on Avenida 6 / Avenida Domingo Sarmiento and south on Calle 7, as well as west on Avenida 4 / Avenida Obispo Morel and north on Calle 9 / Calle Pedro Henriquez Urena)
  • Tolls: no
  • River crossings: no
  • 4×4 vehicle required: no

Connections for onward travel from Highway 3

Highways that connect with Highway 3 include Highway 1 and Highway 27.

Highway 4

Driving Highway 4 in Costa Rica between Highway 32 at San Jose and Highway 6 at Upala

Costa Rica road conditions
Overall highway quality: 9/10

North of San Jose, Highway 4 branches off from the Caribbean-bound Highway 32 and travels throughout the northern zone. You’ll experience this highway if you plan to travel between the Caribbean and destinations in the northern zone, like Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui, La Fortuna, Guatuso, and Bijagua.

  • Alternative highway names: Corredor Noratlántico; Chilamate-Vuelta Kopper Highway (between Chilamate and Vuelta Kopper)
  • Popular destinations encountered along the route: Sarapiqui, Muelle, Guatuso, and Upala
  • Popular destinations reached by cutoffs along the route: La Fortuna, the Venado Caves, the Tenorio Volcano National Park / Rio Celeste, and the Cano Negro Mixed Wildlife Refuge
  • Highway conditions and design: paved, single-lane highway
  • Terrain: primarily flat and straight
  • Pace: fast
  • Traffic: standard
  • Flow: two-way highway
  • Tolls: no
  • River crossings: no
  • 4×4 vehicle required: no

Connections for onward travel from Highway 4

Highways that connect with Highway 4 include Highway 6 and Highway 32.

Highway 6

Driving Highway 6 in Costa Rica between Highway 4 at Upala and Highway 1 northwest of Canas

Costa Rica road conditions
Overall highway quality: 9/10

East of Liberia, Highway 4 departs from Highway 1 to the north and slices through Costa Rica’s northern zone. As one of Costa Rica’s least traveled highways, Highway 6 provides a leisurely drive. It also rewards with pretty pastoral scenes and volcano views.

If you find yourself on this highway it’s probably because you’re destined for the small town of Bijagua and its primary attraction: the Tenorio Volcano National Park. The stunning Rio Celeste, which hides within the park, is the area’s primary draw.

  • Alternative highway names: none
  • Popular destinations encountered along the route: Bijagua and Upala
  • Popular destinations reached by cutoffs along the route: the Tenorio Volcano National Park / Rio Celeste
  • Highway conditions and design: paved single-lane highway
  • Terrain: primarily flat and straight
  • Pace: average
  • Traffic: standard
  • Flow: two-way highway
  • Tolls: no
  • River crossings: no
  • 4×4 vehicle required: no

Connections for onward travel from Highway 6

Highways that connect with Highway 6 include Highway 1 and Highway 4.

Highway 10

Driving Highway 10 in Costa Rica between Highway 2 at Cartago and Highway 32 at Siquirres

Costa Rica road conditions
Overall highway quality: 7/10

East of San Jose, Highway 10 branches off the southbound Highway 2 and travels east through Cartago and Turrialba to Siquirres where it ends at Highway 32. You’ll experience this highway if you plan to travel from the Central Valley to the Caribbean via the scenic route (as opposed to the direct route provided by Highway 32).

Special / important notes

The section of Highway 10 between Turrialba and Siquirres is one of our favorite drives in the country. The mountainous stretch provides views of the Turrialba valley, the Turrialba Volcano (sometimes mid-eruption), and the Pacuare River valley.

Some sections of Highway 10 climb through clouds. Avoid driving this route after dark.

  • Alternative highway names: Avenida 1 / Avenida 2 (in downtown Cartago following the split of Highway 10); Avenida Central (in downtown Cartago following the split of Highway 10); Avenida 4 (between Cartago and Paraiso); Avenida 0 (in downtown Paraiso following the split of Highway 10); Avenida 1 (in downtown Paraiso following the split of Highway 10); Calle 4 / Avenida 1 (in downtown Turrialba following the split of Highway 10); Calle 2 / Avenida 4 (in downtown Turrialba following the split of Highway 10)
  • Popular destinations encountered along the route: Cartago, Turrialba, Siquirres
  • Popular destinations reached by cutoffs along the route: Orosi, Cachi, and Ujarras
  • Highway conditions and design: paved, single-lane highway
  • Terrain: flat through Cartago to Paraiso and in Turrialba; mountainous and curvy the remainder of the route
  • Pace: average; slow-moving trucks carrying sugarcane can slow traffic
  • Traffic: can be congested between Cartago and Paraiso; standard the remainder of the route
  • Flow: mostly two-way highway; one-way highway through downtown Cartago (between Highway 2 and Calle 17, traffic flows east on Avenida Central and west on Avenida 1 / Avenida 2); one-way highway through downtown Paraiso (between Calle 10 and Calle Central, traffic flows east on Avenida 0 and west on Avenida 1); one-way highway through downtown Turrialba (between Calle 6 and Avenida 1, traffic flows south on Calle 4 and east on Avenida 1, as well as north on Calle 2 and west on Avenida 4)
  • Tolls: no
  • River crossings: no
  • 4×4 vehicle required: no

Connections for onward travel from Highway 10

Highways that connect with Highway 10 include Highway 2 and Highway 32.

Highway 14

Driving Highway 14 in Costa Rica between Golfito and Highway 2 at Rio Claro

Costa Rica road conditions
Overall highway quality: 8/10

In the southeastern corner of Costa Rica, Highway 14 branches off Highway 2 and runs through downtown Golfito before ending at a roundabout on the northwest side of town. You’ll experience this highway only if you plan to visit Golfito or a beach community further south down the coast, such as Zancudo or Pavones.

  • Alternative highway names: none
  • Popular destinations encountered along the route: Golfito
  • Popular destinations reached by cutoffs along the route: Zancudo and Pavones
  • Highway conditions and design: paved, single-lane highway
  • Terrain: TBD
  • Pace: average
  • Traffic: standard
  • Tolls: no
  • Flow: two-way highway
  • River crossings: no
  • 4×4 vehicle required: no

Connections for onward travel from Highway 14

Highways that connect with Highway 14 include Highway 2.

Highway 17

Driving Highway 17 in Costa Rica between Puntarenas and Highway 1 at El Roble

Costa Rica road conditions
Overall highway quality: 7/10

Highway 17 is the main thoroughfare of the port city of Puntarenas. It branches off from Highway 1 just west of Esparza and runs through Puntarenas before ending at the city’s westernmost tip.

The primary purpose for traveling the route is to reach Puntarenas. If you don’t plan to visit the destination (or to take the ferry from Puntarenas to destinations on the Nicoya Peninsula), Highway 17 can be avoided.

  • Alternative highway names: Carretera Esparza-Puntarenas; Avenida Central / Avenida Alberto Echandi Montero (in downtown Puntarenas); Avenida 1 (in downtown Puntarenas following the split of Avenida Central); Avenida 2 (in downtown Puntarenas following the split of Avenida Central)
  • Popular destinations encountered along the route: Puntarenas
  • Popular destinations reached by cutoffs along the route: none
  • Highway conditions and design: paved, single-lane highway
  • Terrain: primarily flat and straight
  • Pace: fast until downtown Puntarenas, where city traffic and streetlights slow the pace
  • Traffic: can be congested upon arrival into Puntarenas
  • Flow: mostly two-way highway; one-way highway upon arrival into Puntarenas (between Calle 44 and Calle 76, traffic flows east on Avenida 2 and traffic flows west on Avenida 1)
  • Tolls: no
  • River crossings: no
  • 4×4 vehicle required: no

Connections for onward travel from Highway 17

Highways that connect with Highway 17 include Highway 1.

Highway 18

Driving Highway 18 in Costa Rica between Highway 1 at Limonal and Highway 21 at Pueblo Viejo

Costa Rica road conditions
Overall highway quality: 8/10

Highway 18 is a 50-kilometer highway that connects Highway 1, Costa Rica’s busiest highway, with Highway 21, the primary highway on the Nicoya Peninsula.

If you plan to travel to the Nicoya Peninsula via the SJO airport or destinations in the Central Valley, in the northern zone, in the Caribbean, along the central Pacific coast, or in the southern half of the country, and assuming you don’t plan to reach the peninsula by taking the ferry that departs from Puntarenas, you’ll pass over Highway 18 along the way.

  • Alternative highway names: Paso del Tempisque
  • Popular destinations encountered along the route: none
  • Popular destinations reached by cutoffs along the route: the Barra Honda National Park
  • Highway conditions and design: paved, single-lane highway
  • Terrain: primarily flat; curvy in places
  • Pace: average
  • Traffic: standard
  • Flow: two-way highway
  • Tolls: no
  • River crossings: no
  • 4×4 vehicle required: no

Connections for onward travel from Highway 18

Highways that connect with Highway 18 include Highway 1 and Highway 21.

Highway 21

Driving Highway 21 in Costa Rica between Playa Naranjo and Highway 1 at Liberia

Costa Rica road conditions
Overall highway quality: 8/10

If you enjoy beach hopping and you plan to do it along Costa Rica’s northern Pacific coast or the Nicoya Peninsula, familiarize yourself with Highway 21. This highway connects with Highway 1 in the center of Liberia and travels south throughout Guanacaste and the Nicoya Peninsula. The name “Highway 21” officially ends at the small port community of Playa Naranjo, though an unnamed continuation of the road further explores the peninsula, edging the coast in places and providing access to several beach towns including Tambor, Montezuma, Santa Teresa, Carmen, and Mal Pais.

  • Alternative highway names: none
  • Popular destinations encountered along the route: Liberia, Santa Cruz, Nicoya, and Playa Naranjo
  • Popular destinations reached by cutoffs along the route: Papagayo, Playa Hermosa, Playas del Coco, Potrero, Playa Flamingo, Brasilito, Playa Grande, Tamarindo, Nosara, and Samara
  • Highway conditions and design: paved, single-lane highway
  • Terrain: primarily flat; curvy in places
  • Pace: average
  • Traffic: standard
  • Flow: two-way highway
  • Tolls: no
  • River crossings: no
  • 4×4 vehicle required: no

Connections for onward travel from Highway 21

Highways that connect with Highway 21 include Highway 1 and Highway 18.

Highway 27

Driving Highway 27 in Costa Rica between Caldera and Highway 1 at San Jose

Costa Rica road conditions
Overall highway quality: 8/10

One of the newest Costa Rica highways is Highway 27, a fast-paced shortcut to the central Pacific coast from the Central Valley.

There are several reasons why you might find yourself on Highway 27, the biggest being you’re destined for the central Pacific coast (or cities, towns, or beaches on the Osa Peninsula or in the southern Pacific) and you’d prefer not to take the slower (albeit more scenic) Highway 3. Highway 27 begins where Highway 1 ends on the west side of San Jose (at the southeast corner of San Jose’s largest park, Parque Metropolitano La Sabana) and ends at Highway 23 at the port town of Caldera.

  • Alternative highway names: Autopista del Sol; Autopista Prospero Fernandez (between San Jose and Santa Ana); Autopista Jose Maria Castro Madriz (between Santa Ana and Caldera)
  • Popular destinations encountered along the route: San Jose and Escazu
  • Popular destinations reached by cutoffs along the route: Santa Ana and Atenas
  • Highway conditions and design: paved, multi-lane highway in some areas and paved, single-lane highway in others
  • Terrain: partly flat and partly mountainous; curvy in places
  • Pace: fast
  • Traffic: heavy at times; highway is commonly shared with transport trucks; landslides can cause delays
  • Flow: two-way highway
  • Tolls: yes; the highway has 4 tollbooths at Escazu, San Rafael, Atenas, and Pozon, plus 5 additional tollbooths at the exits to Ciudad Colon, La Guacima, Siquiares, Atenas, and Pozon
  • River crossings: no
  • 4×4 vehicle required: no

Connections for onward travel from Highway 27

Highways that connect with Highway 27 include Highway 1, Highway 3, and Highway 34.

Highway 32

Driving Highway 32 in Costa Rica between San Jose and Limon

Costa Rica road conditions
Overall highway quality: 8/10

Are you headed to the Caribbean? If you, you’ll likely travel Highway 32, the main access road to Costa Rica’s eastern side.

Regardless of whether you fly into the SJO airport or the LIR airport, you’ll experience Highway 32 if you’re destined for the Caribbean coast. The highway, which departs from San Jose to the north and weaves through the Braulio Carrillo National Park before providing a nearly straight run to the coast, is one of the most traveled roads in the country.

Special / important notes

The southernmost section of Highway 32 (between San Jose and Highway 4) travels through the Braulio Carrillo National Park. The dense, mountainous stretch provides pretty views of the park and Central Valley, as well as dangerous hairpin turns. East of Highway 4, Highway 32 is an easy drive all the way to the port city of Limon.

Some sections of Highway 32 (primarily the stretch between San Jose and Highway 4) climb through clouds and edge cliffs. Avoid driving this route after dark.

  • Alternative highway names: Carretera Braulio Carrillo
  • Popular destinations encountered along the route: San Jose, the Braulio Carrillo National Park, Guapiles, Siquirres, and Limon
  • Popular destinations reached by cutoffs along the route: Sarapiqui, Tortuguero, Turrialba, and beach destinations in the southern Caribbean
  • Highway conditions and design: paved, multi-lane highway in some areas and paved, single-lane highway in others
  • Terrain: partly flat and partly mountainous; curvy in places
  • Pace: fast
  • Traffic: heavy at times; highway is commonly shared with transport trucks; landslides and street protests can cause delays
  • Flow: mostly two-way highway; one-way highway immediately north of San Jose (between Road 108 and Avenida 3, traffic flows north on Calle 3 and south on Calle 1)
  • Tolls: yes; the highway has 1 tollbooth between San Jose and Highway 4
  • River crossings: no
  • 4×4 vehicle required: no

Connections for onward travel from Highway 32

Highways that connect with Highway 32 include Highway 2, Highway 4, and Highway 34.

Highway 34

Driving Highway 34 in Costa Rica between Highway 27 west of Orotina and Highway 2 at Palmar

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