Tips for Driving the Caldera Highway
Gone are the days of tedious drives to San Jose or popular beach towns like Jaco and Playa Hermosa. With the opening of the Caldera Highway, which connects western San Jose to the central Pacific coast, you can now zip from the capital city to the nearest beach in about an hour. From my hometown of Atenas, I can reach Escazu in less than half an hour and be in Jaco in just 45 minutes. That’s less than half the time it used to take driving the old highway!
While the Caldera has had its share of problems, including rainy season landslides and periodic closures for repairs, it has been a boon for Central Valley residents like myself who quickly tire of the congested traffic and poor roads so common on Highway 1. The Caldera’s roads are in great condition – no potholes to speak of – so buckle up and enjoy a smooth ride.
Mind the Posted Speed Limits
Unless you have a spare $200-$300 for a speeding ticket, heed those posted limits. Radar-equipped traffic police are common—I usually see two or three checkpoints strategically positioned between Atenas and San Jose alone – and most stretches are marked at 50-62 miles per hour (80-100 km/hr).
Tollbooths, locally known as peajes, are present in four locations along the highway: Escazu, Guacima, Atenas and Pozon. Attendants will accept U.S. dollars (nothing over $20), but the exchange rate is not favorable. Stick to colones, and always remember to count your change before moving on. I hate to admit this, but I’ve been shortchanged several times after paying with larger 5,000 CRC bills. Tolls range from 300 CRC up to 680 CRC, so the entire trip from San Jose to the coastal town of Caldera will cost less than $4 each way.
If you’re a regular commuter or just want to avoid toll lines, consider buying a Quick Pass from area banks like Banco Nacional, BAC San Jose, HSBC, or Lafise. For around $30, this automated transponder placed on your windshield gets you through the toll gates with no waiting. The pass does not save money on tolls, and in all my Caldera experiences (except major holidays), the lines have always been manageable and moved efficiently.
Fill Up Your Tank
Unlike most major highways in the U.S., the Caldera has no quick exits for gas station pit stops. You have to exit the highway and drive into a town, paying the toll at that exit point (Atenas is currently 300 CRC), and navigate a few miles before reaching a gas station. Better to fill up your tank before setting out.
Avoid Driving at Night
Many sections of the Caldera are poorly lit at night, leaving drivers little chance to see stray animals, improvised road blocks and merge signs clearly. Make sure you carry a flashlight and some sort of reflective sign you can put up in the case of a breakdown.
Always Carry Your Documents
If you’re not a permanent resident, always carry your passport, or a copy of your passport info page and entrance stamp page to prove your legal status in country. Traffic cops will ask for this and your current driver’s license if you are stopped. Other than speeding or not wearing your seatbelt, you may be waved down if the stickers on your windshield indicate an expired registration (Marchamo) or safety inspection (RTV).