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THE NEW CHILAMATE VUELTA KOOPER HIGHWAY IS OPEN!
Ricky and I have had a longstanding joke with a good friend of ours (and owner of one of Costa Rica’s greatest white water rafting outfitters) that we should be the individuals to cut the ribbon at the inauguration of the new Chilamate Vuelta Kooper highway when it opens. As a white water rafting guide and safety kayaker on the Pacuare River for over six years (the only Pacuare River tour guide stationed in La Fortuna), Ricky travelled back and forth between Arenal and the Pacuare River (i.e., the town of Siquirres) daily, and while he didn’t mind the nearly six-hour drive each day (approximately three hours to the river and another three hours back) as it provided him with ample time to chat and make friends with thousands of awesome people from various countries around the world, we couldn’t help but laugh when–a few weeks from Ricky’s retirement from his station in La Fortuna–the government announced a plan to build the Chilamate Vuelta Kooper highway; a direct route designed to connect the La Fortuna region with locales to the east, which would significantly shorten the duration of the route travelled for participation in the Pacuare River rafting tour, among other things.
Interested in rafting the Pacaure River during your time in Costa Rica? Don’t miss our related blog post:
Fast forward more than five years to today, and we’re pleased to be able to announce that the new Chilamate Vuelta Kooper highway is officially open! No, we were not at yesterday’s inauguration ceremony, but we did raise a glass at dinner last night and toast the start of a new era of transportation in Costa Rica; an era that future visitors will likely have no idea they are a part of, but past visitors who are familiar with the old, longer, slower, and curvier route will surely appreciate.
THE CHILAMATE VUELTA KOOPER HIGHWAY ROUTE
Given its recent development, the new Chilamate Vuelta Kooper route is not yet entirely visible on Google Maps. However, we can inform you that at its westernmost point, the highway begins at the intersection of highway #4 and road #751, nearby the small community of Vuelta de Kooper (GPS coordinates: 10°26’21.1″N 84°20’30.8″W). At its easternmost point, the highway ends at road #126, just before Bajos de Chilamate (GPS coordinates: 10°26’35.4″N 84°06’53.3″W). Roughly 27kms long and with a maximum speed limit of 80kms per hour, the new Chilamate Vuelta Kooper highway takes approximately 20 minutes to drive.
Taking the Chilamate Vuelta Kooper highway route: What you’ll miss
In the past, ground transportation between La Fortuna and Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui (or any other destination further east) was led down a route that passed through small towns and communities including Los Chiles, Aguas Zarcas, Venencia, Rio Cuarto, San Miguel, and La Virgen. If we are honest, the route was never a bad one; we always found greatness in small things along the way each and every time we passed through. Kids were always playing futbol in Los Chiles, and we came across a friendly carniceria owner and a great second-hand shop in Aguas Zarcas. We have long admired the landscape and farm fields that surround Venencia and Rio Cuarto, and we routinely stopped for gas and coffee at the station and cafe in the heart of San Miguel. To this day, every time we see San Miguel’s cracked central church, we remember the area’s Cinchona earthquake of 2009–a natural disaster in which many Costa Ricans lost their lives, and the strongest earthquake we have personally felt to date as it caused the floor and walls in our La Fortuna home to move. The stretch from San Miguel down the mountain always provided a concoction of slow-moving transport trucks, windy roads, and beautiful views. Once we passed the infamous speed bumps at La Virgin, it was smooth sailing to Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui and onward from there. Unfortunately, given that the new Chilamate Vuelta Kooper highway bypasses each of these notable towns, the character, culture, and communities that make up each will be missed.
Taking the Chilamate Vuelta Kooper highway route: What you’ll gain
Since the above mentioned route (Los Chiles->Aguas Zarcas->Venencia->Rio Cuarto->San Miguel->La Virgen) is roughly 87kms long, opting to take the Chilamate Vuelta Kooper highway will save approximately 60kms of ground travel. Furthermore, since the old route was one that passed through towns, was curvy and mountainous in sections, and was often slowed by impassable transport trucks, a drive that used to take approximately 60 minutes to complete can now be accomplished in almost 1/3 of that time. In short, choosing to take the Chilamate Vuelta Kooper highway will save at least 40 minutes of drive time, and possibly more, given that slowdowns and delays were common on the old route. In addition, travellers who choose to take the Chilamate Vuelta Kooper highway will also gain the convenience of driving a direct route, on a nicer/newer road, and at a higher speed.
- Unlike a few of the newer stretches of highway in and around the San Jose area, the Chilamate Vuelta Kooper highway is not a toll road; there is no cost associated with driving on the highway.
- We love that the new highway includes 20 passageways for wildlife that wish to cross the road (12 overhead passageways and 8 underground passageways). While we hope all animals learn to cross the road safely, please be alert when you drive; watch for wildlife at the side of the road such as monkeys, sloths, turtles, dogs, koatis, and more.
- As part of the highway project’s green initiative, approximately 1,500 trees have already been planted to help offset the roadway’s construction. Another 4,500 trees have been promised and are yet to come.
HERE’S WHAT THE CHILAMATE VUELTA KOOPER HIGHWAY REALLY MEANS FOR YOU (WITH MAPS)
Depending on where you plan to travel in Costa Rica, the development of the Chilamate Vuelta Kooper highway may or may not be an advantage to you. Continue reading below to determine whether you should take (or likely won’t need to take) Costa Rica’s newest roadwork masterpiece according to the destinations you plan to visit during your trip.
If you plan to travel to or from La Fortuna via Liberia, Monteverde, or any Guanacaste/Nicoya Peninsula/Central Pacific coast beach location…
The most notable difference in drive time will be experienced by individuals who opt to travel between Costa Rica’s La Fortuna region and its Caribbean coast (including locales encountered along the way, such as Sarapiqui, Guapiles, Siquirres, prior to reaching the coast at Limon). Individuals who plan to visit La Fortuna from the west (i.e., from Liberia, Monteverde, or any Guanacaste beach location) will be unaffected by the development of the new highway. Similarly, individuals who plan to travel between La Fortuna and the Central Pacific coast or Nicoya Peninsula will be unaffected by the development of the new highway.
If you plan to travel to or from La Fortuna via San Jose…
For travel between San Jose and La Fortuna, the majority of travellers will not take the Chilamate Vuelta Kooper highway. The most popular routes between these two destinations remain the route through San Ramon, followed by the route through Ciudad Quesada. Alternatively, individuals who plan to depart from San Jose to visit the Poas Volcano and/or the La Paz Waterfall before continuing on to La Fortuna would be best to take the old route through San Miguel as doing so would be the fastest and most direct option. Only those who have a specific interest in travelling from San Jose to La Fortuna via the Braullio Carrillo National Park or the Sarapiqui region should plan to take the Chilamate Vuelta Kooper highway.
If you plan to travel to or from La Fortuna via Guapiles, Siquirres, Limon, Tortuguero, or any Caribbean coast beach location…
Plan to take the Chilamate Vuelta Kooper highway; as described above, doing so will be more convenient and will save you time. If you don’t plan to drive yourselves, note that your shared shuttle service driver, your private transfer service driver, or your tour/activity driver will likely take the highway as well. Fortunately, taking the new highway will result in both later morning departure times in anticipation of tours and transfer services, and earlier afternoon/evening arrival times following the completion of tours and transfer services. Yay for sleeping in later while on vacation AND having extra time to spend at a destination (as opposed to time spent on the road); it’s win-win either way. Although it may take transportation service providers and tour operators a while to switch over to the new Chilamate Vuelta Kooper highway route and update their service scheduling (i.e., their tour/service pick-up times and approximate activity/service durations), rest assured that the new operation will be well worth the wait.