Southeast of San Jose and Cartago in the Orosi Valley, the Tapanti National Park (aka Tapanti Wildlife Refuge) and surrounding Macho River Forest Reserve offers several mountain biking routes. Keep in mind that this is one of the rainiest, wettest places in Costa Rica. But that just means there are also waterfalls in this lush forest. The dirt roads of the northern sector are very popular with mountain bikers.
To reach the Tapanti National Park from Cartago, head to the east side of town and follow the road leading to Paraiso. Follow the signs to Orosi. The road to Orosi heads steeply down into the Orosi River Valley, then crosses the bridge and then climbs back up to the Tapanti National Park. Once you are in Orosi, turn right at Beneficiadora Renex (coffee factory), go about 10 Km. (6.2 mi.).
High Mountain Pass Route: Take the main road up towards Purisil. It turns to dirt then at the Y in the road (at power company fence) go right. Follow this up for 2km until you see a right turn (1st right). Head up very steep broken pavement and dirt into a small village. Bear to the left then back to the right. Keep heading up eventually coming to another chainlink fence and another dirt road. Continue beyond the fence on and follow the dirt trail and road up for 4km. Eventually, youll run into road construction and now follow the blue signs always bearing right. Eventually, start down a series of very steep switchbacks on the dirt road. This road brings you down through outer Purasil and down to the main road you started on. The total ride time is between 2 to 3 hours.
Coffee Plantation Loop In Palomo Area: Follow the main road heading toward Purasil. Bear left at the Y intersection and cross over the bridge (Rio Macho River). Follow the pavement to the left for 3km until you reach the yellow church. Then, turn right and head up the steep donkey cart, washed out dirt road. This feels like an endless climb and a series of switchbacks going up seem to help but hardly reduces the intensity. Once at the top, follow the ridgeline road/trail always bearing to the left. Eventually, you ll begin what seems like an endless downhill. The steep switchbacks on dirt roads and cart trails eventually end back on the pavement paralleling the Rio Macho River and lead back to the bridge. If youre still seeking more adventure, theres a single track on the ridge but these are steep and work their way down through the plantation always crossing the main dirt roads. The total ride time is between 3 to 4 hours.
Here are some basic notes on driving in Costa Rica for the tourist. There is a myth about the quality of the roads and of VW bus sized pot-holes. This may have been true years ago, but on the main routes, this is no longer true. With that said, there are still numerous challenges for first time drivers in Costa Rica. First, do not expect much out of so-call “highways”, like the InterAmerican Highway. The fancy name makes the uninitiated think this is a major 4 lane divided, restricted access road. Well, yes, about 1% is. The rest is two lane (marginally), undivided, rural roads with tons of traffic constantly stopping, turning, passing or driving slowly. Like every other road in the country, you can expect to see on the road numerous unexpected cows, cyclists, pedestrians, bus stops, school crossing zones, dogs, mud slides, police check points, unannounced one-lane bridges, missing manhole covers, and, of course, a never ending stream of semi-trucks driving erratically fast. What you do not find on any roads is much signage. There are infrequent signs indicating the distance to the next town, and even more infrequent are road names or numbers (if at all), including even within major towns. To make matters worse, signs that used to exist are disappearing due to deterioration or theft. Also, do not expect drivers to use their head lights, even in a heavy rain shower, unless it is really dark. This makes passing in rain a game of roulette since you can't see the oncoming traffic. Speaking of dark, do not drive at night since the roads in some areas can be ruled by those under the influence of alcohol.
If you have to drive through San Jose, make sure to do it at dawn to avoid the horrendous traffic all day long, including weekends. Keep in mind several maps show highways passing through San Jose. This is not true. They end abruptly on the outskirts of town and you have to slug it out in a crazy stop-and-go traffic and many unmarked turns to get to the other side all day long. There are unsigned so-called by-pass routes around San Jose, but finding them can be a challenging game of trial-and-error, and they are only marginally better.
If you have to drive on the Nicoya Peninsula, you can expect to find generally better roads with better signage. However, there are numerous unmarked eroded road sides, especially over stream culverts. Do not drive at night. Watch out for the iguanas sprinting across the road.
A GPS unit can be helpful when navigating roads, however, the maps in Costa Rica were created using a special map datum. This datum is not usually available on GPS units but the road base maps were created with it. Therefore if you use the default WGS84 datum with a base road map on the GPS unit, you will always show a position being about 0.5 miles to the north of the road base map.
When picking up a rental car, make sure to check all the tires for wear, check the spare tire pressure, check the tire jack, and make sure to test the lock on the spare tire. It would be wise to quickly purchase a can of Fix-A-Flat.