The drive from the San Jose airport (Juan Santamaria International Airport) to the Nicoya Peninsula is usually about 5 hours and is fully paved with the new highway in place. You must take a ferry that transports vehicles across the bay. We suggest exchanging at least $5 US dollars into Costa Rican colones for the tolls on the highway. Ask the rental car agent to send you off in the right direction, which should be west on Route 1, past the airport. Drive defensively and be aware when two lanes become one, “CEDA” means “Yield.
Note: The first 13 km uses the same “old” route to Manuel Antonio. GPS devices might not be updated and will likely still have the “old” route so do not rely on them to follow the complete recommended route.
Once on Route 1 – follow signs to San Ramon, and continue straight ahead for about 10 km. After the second bridge crossing, get in the right lane and take the next exit (Route 3) for Jaco / Quepos / Manuel Antonio. There is also a sign here for Punta Leona and Atenas. Turn left at the stop sign, crossing back over Route 1.
Follow Route 3 for about 3 km. Look for a large Christian church on the left and then a soccer field and make a left on the road immediately after it. You are on the road to Turrucares. There are no signs and it’s a secondary road, so don’t think you’ve made a mistake. It’s currently the best connection to the toll highway from the airport.
Drive for another 3 km through this somewhat winding road. Once you arrive at the highway intersection turn left BEFORE the highway. Again, there are no signs here yet. Be careful as it’s a narrow two-way gravel access road. After some 300 meters you will arrive at a roundabout. Make a right following the highway signs to Orotina / Atenas.
Stay on this highway and you will be passing a few toll booths so make sure you have some colones. You will pass signs for Jaco/Quepos and shortly after you will see the Pacific Ocean in front of you. Continue a couple more minutes with the ocean along the left of you and you will see an exit sign to the right for Puntarenas. Here you will be heading north into downtown Puntarenas. The ferry to cross is located in the way north end of Puntarenas. If you’re not sure you can ask locals where the ferry is and will continue to point you in the right direction.
Once you reach the ferry you will get in line and park with the rest of the cars waiting to get on. You need to walk to the ticket counter to purchase your ticket which is located in the front of the line on that same street on the right hand side. The first ticket purchased will include the vehicle AND driver. The rest will be for the other guests you are traveling with. Once the ferry starts to board, only the driver can be in the vehicle and the rest of the passengers must walk onto the ferry unless there is a disabled person. It will take about 1 to 1:15 minutes to reach Paquera on the Nicoya peninsula. The ferry has air-conditioning and stores to buy food and drinks.
Once in Paquera only the driver can retrieve the vehicle and the rest of the passengers will wait where the cars exit the ferry. From here it is about a 40 minute drive to the Tambor Airport. You have reached the Nicoya Peninsula Area.