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February 7th, 2010
Click photo to enlarge. Dotted line is now completed
The long awaited (30+ years) highway from San Jose to Caldera opened a couple of weeks ago. I had a hunch that anything that long in the making would draw the curious and traffic would be a disaster. Turns out that I called it, and the touted 45-60 minute trip to the Port of Caldera (Puerto Caldera), Costa Rica’s only commercial and cruise terminal on the Pacific coast, took up to three hours for much of last week
Not so yesterday!
Yesterday, I thought it might be worth a chance, so my wife Maria Luisa, my sister Pamela and I jumped on the new highway and found ourselves pretty much alone with pretty minimal traffic. Better yet, we were in Orotina in 45 minutes and in Caldera in 60. Another 15 minutes put us in Puntarenas and walking on the beach. this is a big deal to expats and Ticos and will certainly have a positive commercial effect in all those locations.
Thirty years or not, this was worth the wait. Interested? Read on!
Before the completion of this highway, the alternative was to take the Pan American Highway (aka Route 1, or the InterAmericana, etc) northwest to the Atenas/Jaco cutoff in La Garita, then deal with horrendous traffic to the beach… or, you could continue a bit further on Route 1 and get off around Puntarenas. Either way, you were in for a nasty time having to follow trucks moving at 8 mph through winding, but admittedly beautiful, mountain roads. You were looking at a minimum of 2 hours, or more likely longer, to get to Jaco or Puntarenas. Two hours of breathing exhaust, and that was if you were leaving from the San Jose airport. From downtown San Jose you’d need to add an (optimistic) thirty minutes more. You can see how this will make things a lot better for anyone wanting to get to the the beach quickly and comfortably.
The drive is pretty spectacular too. The new bridge over the Rio Grande is quite beautiful and the mountain views are worth the trip.
This trip is not cheap, and by Costa Rica toll standards, it is a fortune. There are three toll booths (peajes) en route, The first and third are 490 colones each and the second is 640 colones. This is a bit under $3.00, cheap by most US standards, but huge by Costa Rica standards. Still, with gas prices at ridiculous levels and the time saving, I am guessing this is not going to deter anyone.
I picked yesterday as I thought that many Ticos might choose to hang around their homes in preparation for today’s presidential elections. Lucky guess!
The road is in beautiful shape as you might expect from something two weeks old. It is generally two lanes wide (one in each direction) though it widens to an additional lane going uphill (for use in passing slow traffic). Now saying that, Costa Rica drivers may be the worst drivers in the world. Patience is a word few Ticos (and some really dumb tourists) understand when behind the wheel of a car. Illegal passing on all highways (autopistas) is a primary cause of many incredibly violent and needless accidents every week.
Yesterday, I traveled at the 80 kmh speed limit (about 55 MPH) as I was not at all in a hurry and wanted to take it all in. I was passed by no less than TEN cars traveling at an estimated 120 kmh minimum and at least twice more by semis at the same speed. All but one of these required crossing a double yellow line. There was no police presence at all except two on motorcycles chatting under a bridge and I suppose getting out of the sun
This illegal passing thing places everyone in real danger, and while the trip down was a piece o’ cake, the drive back, took nearly two hours because of a really bad head-on collision (see photo above right), doubtless caused by illegal passing.
Why only two lanes? Now there is a question.
I love Costa Rica, but honestly, the concept of planning seems to evade the Costa Rican government(s). One might argue that planning for this highway began long before there were so many cars and so many tourists, but to me, that dog won’t hunt. Traffic to and from Caldera certainly could have been predicted ten to fifteen years ago allowing for widening of this toll road. Granted, widening roads here in Costa Rica that wind through mountains and cross many rivers would clearly be a major expense… still, if they were not planning to enforce the driving laws, then the real cost of reckless driving will must include numerous lost lives.
Another example: To reach the toll road to Caldera from say the San Jose airport, the most direct route (but maybe not the fastest) would be to access the toll road using the Lindora highway that runs between Panasonic and Santa Ana. The problem here is that there are at least 6-8 new high rise office buildings, several dozen new stores, strip malls and supermarkets, every fast food outlet known to man, a zillion new restaurants and several hundred new condos and houses lining Lindora which remains not 6 inches wider than it was ten years ago when it was almost all farm land.
That means that the (perhaps) 1.5 mile drive from Panasonic to the toll road can easily take 40 minutes. Yesterday, it took 15 minutes and the traffic was not all that bad. Still, they are continuing to all new construction almost daily. Oh well!
Anyway… we had a fine time walking along the beach in Puntarenas and stopping at the many dozens of kiosks selling jewelry, souvenirs, and clothing. It was warm (high 80′s) but there was a fine breeze making it all tolerable. I also got nice brownie points for buying my wife new earrings and a pair of shorts. Life is good!
Filed under Costa Rica, Costa Rica Tourism, Driving in Costa Rica, Life in Costa Rica, Living in Costa Rica, Tourism, Travel, Travel to Costa Rica | Comments (15)