Costa Rica on two wheels

Biking in Costa Rica

Por Juancho Otalvaro (

Visiting a small country allows you to go practically all around in a short time.  However, in Costa Rica, with its rugged and mountainous lands, roads are built to meander along every hill, mountain, and river, making short distances last longer than usual.   Road-tripping along Costa Rican roads is a beautiful experience, absorbing all of its constant changing landscapes, getting lost in towns and villages trying out their local food, greeting its friendly folks.

Driving through some of Costa Rican dirt roads, open windows, warm or cool breeze whirling inside the cabin gives you a better feeling of what the environment along the way is like; all the same, you must wonder what’s beyond the side of the road. Sometimes the abundance of trees and plants cover the views, leaving you with a desire to stop and roam through the undergrowth and thick vegetation.

Taking the off-beaten path can bring you spectacular inspiration, and the best way to experience this is through mountain biking.

Costa Rica has an extensive terrain with all kinds of mountain bike routes for the recreational and the most hardcore bikers.   After all, Costa Rica has the “Ruta de los Conquistadores” – “Costa Rica’s premier mountain bike race and one of the most difficult athletic events on the planet.” I recently did a quest, a trip down memory lane, back on my old mountain bike through some ancient routes in which I used to get lost.  Muscles never forget!  Once again, I felt the lactic acid streaming through my leg muscles, making me pedal on an inertia cycle, moving my body without even thinking about it.

Costa Rican weather is constantly changing, no matter where you are.  It is surely a thrill to notice the different kinds of vegetation as you bike up a hill or a mountain.   In just a short distance, you will feel a change in temperature. Thus plants, trees, terrain, and wildlife will metamorphose up and down during the ride, so embrace the weather and enjoy the exercise. Always try to be prepared for anything; ride with a patch repair kit, an extra tube, a first-aid kit, and a cell phone for emergencies.

If you’re not new to Costa Rica, you might know that San José is a hub.  From there, you may get almost anywhere in the country within a few hours.  After all, it’s the Capital City, with plenty to do if you’re planning to stay for vacations. Start by looking at hotels that offer nice amenities, like Apartotel Villas del Río, or the relaxing atmosphere found in any of the Barceló Hotels around the country.  There are always other options like Palma Real that go the extra mile on service.  Outside of San José, Casa Turire, Hotel Cristal Ballena, and the Tapirus Lodge at Rainforest Adventures are excellent choices too.

You can get reasonably easy anywhere in Costa Rica with a car. Still, if you’re on a tight schedule, you can find bike trails, routes, and tours on different parts of the country where you can fly with Aerobell and get in 30minutes or less practically anywhere. I recommend Guanacaste, especially for biking.  Guanacaste is dry most of the year, it is the hottest and usually the driest part of Costa Rica.  If you plan to bike out there, preferably do so early in the morning:  it’s sunny and cooler, and you will be close to the Pacific coast, where beautiful beaches and cold waters await for you to enjoy after a long bike ride! If you’re around, stay at Capitán Suizo or the Planet Hollywood Beach Resort.

You can try out some of the following Tour Agencies to help you find what better suits you on your trip: ARA Tours, Swiss Travel, Cast Costa Rica, Costa Rica for All, and TAM Travel.

Jungles, mountains, green valleys, low and high forests, rivers. All of them are colorful landscapes with challenging terrains and demanding climbs that will reward you with scenic views. Most of these available routes are old roads that connect villages.   They still are kept as circuit routes for delivering, selling or collecting goods; so you’ll probably get acquainted with the traditional “Tico”: the “campesinos” (farmers), milkmen, ranchers and a few other characters, that give Costa Rica that unique, friendly and welcoming spirit as they wave hello when you pass them by. You might encounter some traffic along the way; colorful oxcarts and happy horse riders usually transit the dusty, rugged trails.  Time stops along these tracks.  You might recognize the smell of burning wood, meaning there is a “Soda” (small typical restaurant)  nearby.   Here you can stop to get a snack or a big meal cooked on old iron stoves to re-fuel, re-charge, and continue on the quiet dirt roads.

As you go downhill through ridges and rocky turns, enjoy where the “vistas” open up to staggering geomorphic features, large open spaces, and thick forests.  Pedaling through nature awakens something in you; it connects your mind and body with life and makes you focus through stamina, a vigor that drives you out of your comfort zone, making you gain confidence in yourself. There is a moment while biking when you start to feel superhuman; beating a challenge, any obstacle in the way becomes a goal to conquer. You will begin to look at your surroundings differently, and that’s when you’ve started to elevate your connection with nature, a high on inspiration through the quiet scenery.

Live in the moment. Your higher heart rate will only make you feel alive, breath in deeply the environment you’re in, sharpen your senses, and when you reach that point where you have spent all of your strength…stop…feast your eyes live the present in relief and gratitude. Mountain Biking reminds you that going through any forceful effort and discomfort has its rewards. Usually, the best moments in life are after you’ve gone through some difficult ones, and that’s just part of the human experience. The important part is that any experience in life is a hill, a lake, a valley, or a mountain to conquer; a hard one or a joyful one, enjoy the ride.