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I am afraid of heights; I would be frightened of windy/high roads, or even roads that are not exceptionally high but do not have guard rails and are bumpy. I love wildlife, birding, and nature. Are there particular areas of Costa Rica accessible from either of the two main airports in which driving would not be a problem?
Yes! Although a mountainous country, Costa Rica has many “flat” regions where you can avoid the roads in question. Between the two international airports, we would recommend choosing to fly into/out of the LIR (Liberia) airport. This will give you access to the northern pacific coast (the Guanacaste province) which is primarily flat. Although some of the best wildlife/birding/nature tour opportunities are located in the Monteverde region of the country, we would recommend avoiding Monteverde entirely simply because there are bumpy, curvy, and mountainous roads (without guard rails) that you must travel over in order to get to/from the area. La Fortuna (Arenal) would be your next best bet for many of the activities you mention (assuming you would prefer a higher-quality nature experience than the experience tours run in/around Guanacaste offer), and fortunately, if driving to La Fortuna (Arenal) from the west (i.e., from Liberia or Guanacaste) via the route around Arenal Lake, the roads are curvy but not mountainous (i.e., they are not the best for individuals who get carsick easily, but they should not cause a problem for you and others who are afraid of heights).
If you would prefer to fly into/out of SJO (San Jose), you still have a number of good options. You could opt to travel to the Caribbean side of the country (i.e., to Tortuguero, Cahuita, or Puerto Viejo, among other areas) as the route between San Jose and the Caribbean coast is completely flat. You could also opt to head south to one of the central pacific beaches such as Jaco, Manuel Antonio, or Dominical. Note: If you choose to visit Dominical, do not take the route through Cartago and over Cerro de la Muerte; this challenging route would likely terrify you! Instead, take the route through Orotina. If you wish to travel up to La Fortuna (Arenal) from the east (i.e., from San Jose), the roads through San Ramon are curvy and mountainous (more so than the route leading into La Fortuna from the west), however they are not difficult to drive (i.e., there are no “cliffs” requiring guard rails that I would suspect would pose a problem for you).
If you would prefer only flat, paved (non-bumpy), non-mountainous, non-cliff-lined, and hardly-windy roads, we would suggest selecting a location in the Guanacaste province or along the Caribbean coast. Also, if your travel dates are flexible, plan to visit between January and April. This is Costa Rica’s dry season when rainfall is minimal (compared to rainfall amounts received during other months of the year). Less rainfall means less road potholes, which means less bumpy roads! 😉
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