Costa Rica

Costa Rica Itinerary Day 13: An Epic Drive from Montezuma to Samara

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Last Updated on December 11, 2023 by Carolyn

The Coastal Drive from Montezuma to Samara

Montezuma Beach
View of the Bohemian town of Montezuma from Coastal Road

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After spending two nights in Montezuma it was again time to hit the road and explore some more of Costa Rica. Today we’d drive from Montezuma to Samara, another beach town approximately 80km northwest of Montezuma.

Our Google map wanted to take us on an inland route from Montezuma to Samara but we wanted to see the coast so we headed south to travel the coastal route which is pretty much a one-lane dirt road following the Pacific Coast edge of the Nicoya Peninsula.

Cabuya And our First Water Crossing

We left Montezuma via the beach road that goes to Cabuya, a small fishing village consisting of a handful of houses, a few restaurants, and several hotels. On the way to Cabuya, we stopped to take photos at El Higueron one of the largest trees in Costa Rica. El Higueron is a giant banyan tree (also known as strangler fig) whose girth is truly impressive at about 70 feet in diameter.

El Higueron
El Higueron, One of the Largest Trees in Costa Rica

From Cabuya we headed west towards Malpais. It wasn’t long before we got to a water crossing, where if you want to continue on that road, you have to drive through a creek. We got out and surveyed the situation- the creek that the road passed through was about a foot deep and 15 feet in breadth. We decided we didn’t want to risk damage to the rental car and turned around.

River Crossing in Malpais
Our First River Crossing in Costa Rica

As we were heading back we passed another vehicle and asked the driver if he was going across the creek. He said he was and waved us to turn around and said “Follow me”, we turned around and headed back to the water crossing.

He drove through with ease so we went for it! With bated breath, we drove in! The water swirled around the car but no errant sticks or stones struck us, and then we were across!  We thanked the helpful Tico and proceeded on our way with our first water crossing under our belts!

Malpais and Santa Teresa

Just 5km from Cabuya is the tiny fishing village of Malpais. If you blink as you drive through you will miss it. We were through it and were in Santa Teresa before we realized we’d passed through it.  Santa Teresa is a very popular booming surf town with nightlife catering to that same surf crowd. The morning we drove through it too was very quiet.

At the north end of Santa Teresa, we stopped at Playa Cocal and walked amongst the extensive tide pools.

Playa Cocal Tide Pools
Tide Pools at Playa Cocal, Santa Teresa

From Santa Teresa, we continued driving up the coastal road, which at this point was more like a path. The drive is scenic with the Pacific Ocean on one side and dense jungle with waterfalls spilling over the roads on the other side and a few small water crossings. Progress was slow but enjoyable.

Rio Ario

 I noticed my Google map gps wanted to route us back inland and do a huge loop that seemed way out of our way to get to our destination. I couldn’t understand why as the road obviously continued onwards, so I opted to ignore my GPS and go the more direct route.

It wasn’t long before I found out why Google was mapping me elsewhere. We were driving happily along when we came to a sign “Rio Ario 100 mts.” Beside that sign was another “ Budget Rental Does Not Cover Water Damage to Rental Cars”. “Hmm”, I thought, “this doesn’t bode well”. We drove down the hill towards the crossing and when we saw it we couldn’t believe our eyes.

Rio Ario Warning Signs
Warning Signs at Rio Ario

The road disappeared into a river, not a tiny river but a river about 30 or 40 feet wide and of unknown depth and flowing fast. And did I mention crocodiles live in these rivers?

It’s a common protocol for the passenger to wade into the river to gauge depth and the best place to cross. I can assure you this passenger stayed firmly rooted to my seat!

Rio Ario Water Crossing
What do You Think We’re Crazy? We’re not Crossing This!

There were tracks in the sloppy mud that indicated that some brave ( or perhaps crazy) people had recently driven across but there was no way we were going to dare cross that river. So we turned back and followed the Google map directions ( I think I may have heard the voice on my GPS say “I told you so”).

Doubling Back

The Route we Had Planned to Take for our Drive from Montezuma to Samara
Coastal Route to Drive from Montezuma to Samara

We had to double back to Santa Teresa and then the town of Cobano to access the more inland route to Samara. We also filled up with fuel having realized that gas stations were few and far between and what might look like a short route may end up being a day-long journey.

We thought that this drive wouldn’t be as interesting as the originally planned coastal drive from Montezuma to Samara, but we were proven wrong!

Bovine Encounters

Brahman Bull on the Road
Brahman Bull Sizing us Up

We headed out on the muddy dirt roads behind Cobano and hadn’t gone far when we ran into a herd of cows coming down the road. 

This wasn’t just a few cows but an entire herd that surrounded us as we slowly drove through them. I was laughing at this unexpected adventure then I saw the bull staring at us. Yikes, he didn’t look too happy about our presence. The herd began to thin and thankfully we were able to make our getaway before got ugly with us. About a mile down the road were two cowboys texting on their cell phones and smoking cigarettes without a care in the world. Meanwhile, their herd had disappeared.

This Video Captures the Highlights of our Drive from Montezuma to Samara

Onwards to Samara

We proceeded along almost taking a couple of wrong turns but in the nick of time, we realized the error in our ways and got back on route. There were several water crossings some fairly intimidating but nothing like the Rio Ario crossing. 

We eventually came to Rio Ario and thankfully here, there was a bridge to cross the river. 3 hours lost due to not believing my GPS, but on the other hand, had I listened to it,  I wouldn’t have had much of a story to tell.

The dirt road took us through some very pretty countryside which featured cattle pastures, teak farms and jungles, and a few horses strolling along the road.

Road Closure

We arrived at the T in the road where we would again turn West back to the coast and to our dismay there was a road-closed barrier. We looked at each other in dismay “ Now what to do?” 

The truth of the matter was the barrier was askew just enough to make us wonder if the road was actually closed or not. Perhaps a worker anxious to go home hadn’t pushed it aside fully or maybe it had been knocked by a passing vehicle into the road. Regardless, perhaps foolishly we turned West and ignored the barrier.

Just a few minutes further down the road, the road turned to run alongside the cliffs overlooking the ocean and beaches below, and we ran into the road construction. Our hearts sank and we both uttered “Uh-oh”. The road narrowed to just the width of our car and we were seriously doubting our wisdom in pursuing this route.

 What if a construction vehicle blocked our way or even worse came at us head-on? Or if the road really was closed and we couldn’t pass through on it? There was no turning around. It would mean backing up the way we had come along the narrow winding cliffside dirt road. Did I mention there were no barriers to stop a car from going off the side? And to make matters worse dusk was setting in and in no time it would be dark.

 I crossed my fingers and toes that we could get through. After a kilometer or so we saw some workers and we both took a deep breath – they’d either let us continue or tell us we had to go back. We drove by, avoiding direct eye contact, and to our relief, they didn’t take any notice of us and we continued on our way.

Samara At Last

Before too long the road dropped back down to sea level and we could enjoy the scenery again. We passed through Bejuco, Punta Islita, and then Puerto Carillo. If it hadn’t been so late we certainly would have stopped in Puerto Carillo, it features a beautiful palm-lined beach in a crescent bay and is strikingly beautiful.

Finally, we arrived in Samara and checked into our hotel, Pension Playa Samara. It was very pleasant and within walking distance of the beach, restaurants, and shops. 

We were famished since we had been driving all day and had only our car snacks to eat. We’d asked at the hotel desk if it was safe to walk around after dark and they assured us it was. A quick Google search didn’t yield any closeby sodas so we settled for pizza bought from a rather American-looking store in an American-looking mall.

We returned to the hotel room to browse the internet to make plans for the last few days of our scouting trip. We’d walk around Samara in the morning and then head to? We still wanted to see the Monteverde area, Nuevo Arenal, and in the central valley, San Ramon, Athenas, and Grecia, and we only had 3 nights left!

Want to Explore More of Costa Rica with Me?

Here is where the whole journey started with the planting of an idea, our 17 day itinerary posts and Costa Rica Adventure page.

Pin for later-Montezuma to Samara Epic Drive
Pin for later-Montezuma to Samara Epic Drive

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  • Katie

    Thank you for this! There is so much to see and experience in Costa Rica, and this post is so helpful when planning a CR vacation. Pura Vida!

  • Christine

    What an incredible trip! I’ve always wanted to visit Costa Rica and this road trip sounds like a very exciting way to do it! I’m not sure I would have been brave enough for some of those roads and river crossings. Thank you for sharing your amazing experience!

  • Vicky

    Just wanted to know if you found your dream property? We are from the UK and will be visiting CR early next year in search of a second home. It will be our third trip!

    • Carolyn

      If you love beaches and nature you should LOVE Costa Rica! Feel free to ask me questions when you make plans to visit.

  • Ambra

    Thank you for sharing your Costa Rica journey! I’d love to experience those breathtaking landscapes and adventurous road trips someday too!????

  • Sande

    We just returned from a trip to Panama, where we took a relocation tour and then stayed at an eco-resort in the Bocas Del Toro archipelago. I’ve already started planning next year’s scouting trip to Costa Rica, so reading about your adventures is an inspiration.

    As much as I love beaches and snorkeling, neither one of us does well with heat and humidity, so we’re looking mostly at the Central and Orosi Valleys where we can be at a cooler elevation.

    • Carolyn

      I think you’re wise to look in the Central and Orosi Valley’s-the humidity along the coast is a lot! You’ll find Costa Rica more expensive than Panama.

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