Costa Rica Motorcycle Tour
Depending on your age, Costa Rica either means quality
coffee or a top tourist location that is on the list
of those 100 places to visit before you die. In motorcycling
terms, however, it probably is not on the list of
places to go at all, let alone featuring in a top
100 list unless you are seriously into dirt riding!
But that would be to do a great injustice to what
turned into one of the best off-road and road tour
experiences I’ve enjoyed. Motorcycling in Costa
Rica offers a diversity not found in far more accessible
locations. Imagine waking up on the side of a volcano
in the morning and riding up to the top to watch it
bubble away, and then bathing in a warm Pacific Ocean
in the afternoon after a good days ride on some spectacular
and challenging motorcycling roads – easily
achievable in Costa Rica, as is some serious off-road
riding on tracks that vary from hard packed flat trails,
to some that would challenge the likes of an off-road
world champion like David Knight. Add to that the
fact there is no such thing as an illegal trail, then
for the dirt rider it is almost motorcycle heaven.
Rica sits between Nicaragua and Panama in South America
and extends from the Pacific Ocean to the Caribbean
Sea, a distance of barely 200 miles and its land portion
occupies only 20 thousand square miles. The country
is bisected by high mountains running north to south
and is a colourful ‘smorgaboard’ of extensive
rainforests, volcanoes and rivers running through
the mountains, great beaches and natural resources
safeguarded by national parks and forest reserves
– but all accessible and great motorcycling
Of course, it’s not excatly a short hop to
get there, more like 15 hours travel by plane. However,
help is at at hand in the shape of H-C Travel and
their guide Larry Larrabure, a Peruvian who lives
and plays in San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica.
Although a lifelong motorcycle enthusiast, he first
went there in 1988 for a surfing trip and fell in
love with the country, moving there permanently in
1991. He has been a professional motorcycle guide
The tour itinerary was thorough and you can fly in
with just a crash helmet and favourite riding kit
(or you can use the kit available), jump on the bike
and follow your guide out. All you have to do is just
enjoy yourself, as the accommodation, food stops etc
are all taken care of. And when you have had enough,
just pack your bags and go home.
The ‘standard’ organised tour is a week
long, or you can do the odd day if you are in the
area on holiday. The itinerary can accommodate virtually
any request thanks to the flexibility of the now well
established operation. Up to now the emphasis has
been on the off-road side of things, which has maybe
deterred road riders from experiencing the delights
of Costa Rica. But that has all changed with the arrival
of a fleet of KTMs to go with the offroad Hondas.
Thanks to Larry’s intimate local knowledge and
the infrastructure of the road system, the road tour
days can still be filled with stunning scenery, challenging
roads, local places of interest, while still ending
up in the same remote locations you would if you used
the trails. No need therefore to have the skill to
ride off-road, feel intimidated or put off from exploring
this stunning country.
find out about the whole operation, I packed a good
book and spent a day flying into the capital San Jose
and the base of the operation, less than half and
hour from the airport. In an effort to fully assess
the appeal of Costa Rica, the idea was to spend three
days on road and two off with a day’s white
water rafting thrown in between. One book down and
a relatively timely flight, I was picked up at the
airport and taken to see the bikes and equipment store.
After a good night’s sleep and a leisurely breakfast
I met Pablo Fernandez, Larry’s right hand man
and equally proficient rider and driver, who was joining
us for the week’s ride.
Pablo is a native Costa Rican in his 30's who eats,
sleeps and breathes all forms of moto-adventure sports.
In addition, like Larry, he has a very impressive
competition history with a few championships under
his belt! For the first day it was out on the KTMs
with enough kit to satisfy our needs for a few days
away. Normally a back-up truck would take all of this
plus spares, but for our small party it was not really
necessary. Out through the congested city, the KTM
with its high seat height was ideal, giving good visibility
to allow good forward planning, which was very necessary
when the drivers (not the best) decided to change
direction without warning!
route took us on mainly tarmac roads in south westerly
direction through Cartago, the original capital and
then on through some more remote villages. The black-top
soon disappeared to be replaced with hard packed gravel
as we headed out towards a seeming wilderness. Suddenly
when you thought you had gone beyond civilisation,
there was a hanging bridge crossing the Pacuare River,
which according to Larry was built in the early 1900’s.
Just as the road ended abruptly, we turned into the
Albergue Hacienda at Moravia de Chirripo, a totally
isolated and picturesque establishment right in the
heart of Moravia Valley and in the middle of the Indian
reservation. This is used as the overnight accommodation
on some trips, but for us it was lunch.
It would have been easy to have just gone to sleep
in the warm afternoon sun, but the mountain beckoned
and we retraced some of our route as we headed back
towards the central mountain range and towards our
evening stop at the Turrialba Lodge on the side of
the volcano by the same name. The idea was to go straight
to the top, but the temperature had dropped and the
weather was closing in, so we went straight for the
warmth of the lodge and an excellent home cooked meal.
The morning saw the sun shining which made the ride
to the top in the sulphur laden air a much more pleasant
experience. After descending the easy single track
trails through old pine tree forests and cloud forests,
it was onto visit the Irazu volcano, a slightly more
active one just along the range. After a coffee stop,
it was a complete drop down into warmer temperatures
on a tortuous route through the coffee plantations,
towards the Pacific Ocean and our evening stop.
was amazing was Larry’s almost ‘Sat Nav’
route finding ability when there were no signs or
any indication as to where the next town or village
was. All of a sudden there would be a small bar for
a personal stop or a petrol station, just when you
thought you could be running low.
roads and hard packed trails continually swapped places
and it was not unusual to find a large lorry coming
towards you on what you might have believed was a
small trail, indicating in fact it was a main road!
By the end of the day we had made the Best Western
Hotel at Jaco Beach which is right on the beach abutting
the Pacific. A quick dip soon refreshed us prior to
a trip into town for a meal. This is the closest you
actually get to any real tourist areas and on the
off-road tour provides a free day to recuperate on
The following day saw us roaring along the coast
before heading back towards base at San Jose on a
mixture of tracks and roads. No matter where we were
nobody seemed to take much notice of the bikes and
when they did it was to give a friendly wave. Stops
were always at small cafes in villages where the service
and food was excellent.
‘The Ticos’, as Costa Ricans are commonly
known, are famous for their hospitality, and are quite
happy to live up to their reputation.
They are well-educated and hard working people, who
are quick with a handshake and a smile to welcome
The mixture of roads and tracks make the KTM an ideal
tool for the job with the long travel suspension dealing
with the irregularities of the roads and tracks, providing
a comfortable ride. When the roads do deteriorate,
such as on the side of the volcanoes, the bikes take
it all in their stride, and the big singles never
get out of hand as would happen with some more potent
machines. The choice of bikes were ideal, inspiring
confidence and the going was well within the capabilities
of any road based motorcyclist.
The following day was a day white water rafting,
one of the many activities that can be arranged as
part of the deal to allow you to have a break from
riding and give you a chance to try out something
new. So after a day cooling in the river it was a
change of machine to the Honda XR400 and a chance
to experience some of the proper trails and tracks
that cross the whole landmass.
In fact, we were onto the first of these within a
mile of the base camp, which took us quickly up into
the hills and on towards the coffee plantations. Climbs
seemed to zig-zag vertically in very short spaces,
climbing hundreds of feet in a matter of minutes.
It also became clear that while there were some pretty
standard, level trails, there were plenty of tracks
that provide good training for those wanting to raise
their standard of riding or practice for an ISDE.
Larry and Pablo can take groups of any level as well
as keeping the pace as hot as any riders may want!
a day playing in the hills, the evening stop was at
the Altavista, a hotel complex on a mountain range
to the south, which has views across to San Jose and
the central range of mountains beyond. Dinner in the
panoramic restaurant at night has to be experienced
to be believed. Stunning!
After a leisurely breakfast it was more riding through
the trails in a circuitous route on the way back to
base. Given the terrain, the Honda is probably one
of the best bikes for the job, especially given the
large number of riders of all standards that use it.
So, in a week I had managed to experience the entire
package, stayed at all of the range of accommodation
and enjoyed marvellous hospitality. Can I fault it?
Well, the answer is easy, No!
Service, machine standards, routes accommodation
is all first class. All tour riders are top notch
and capable of running with the best as well as nursing
novices along and there are no language problems.
In fact, apart from the time taken travelling and
the costs (outside their control) I really can’t
find anything to criticise. It would be good to add
on a beach holiday at the end in one of the more touristy
areas to make the long haul worthwhile, or do another
week as there are so many good bike routes to choose
from that you will never get bored!
Ian Kerr, 2007