Nicoya Peninsula Dirt Road Odyssey, Costa Rica

  • Distance

    185 Mi.

    (298 KM)
  • Days


  • % Unpaved


  • % Singletrack


  • Difficulty (1-10)


  • % Rideable (time)


  • Total Ascent


    (3,389 M)
  • High Point


    (203 M)
A 182 mile off-pavement adventure over the challenging and rewarding costal terrain of the Rich Coast…
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Although there are a few tourist hotspots on the Peninsula de Nicoya, the majority of it is fairly undeveloped. Nicoya’s rugged topography and unpaved dirt and gravel roads make it a great place for an off-road tour. We began our odyssey from Liberia, which conveniently has an international airport for those looking for a quick escape.

Day one consisted of a mostly paved traverse toward the coast where we made camp on Playa Conchal, a beautiful, protected, and fairly desolate beach. In the early hours the next morning we were woken by sea turtle egg poachers. We tried to find authorities to file a report, but no luck. A few days later at Ostional, we had a close encounter with a sea turtle nesting on the beach only 15 feet away from the tent.

Several days in we hit a stretch of remarkable beach riding that took us through the remote Playa Manzanillo. There is more beach riding on the southwestern point, but once you round the corner, it gets a little touristy.

If you are planning a bikepacking trip in Costa Rica, Nicoya should make your list, just be prepared for some hearty climbs and dusty roads. Read the full ‘Must Know’ section below…

  • Highlights


  • Must Know


  • Camping


  • Food/H2O


  • Desolate beach riding.
  • Wild camping on remote beaches.
  • Spotting sea turtles and camping amongst them.
  • Enjoying nice post-ride swims in perfectly clear water.
  • Exotic bird species and marine wildlife.
  • Tying in a surf vacation with a bikepacking trip!
  • December through April is classified as the dry season. There are many water crossings on the route and that during the wet/shoulder season or after heavy rain might require a cautious approach.
  • Flying into and out if Liberia is ideal; there is an International airport on route! Otherwise, you could fly to San Jose and take a shuttle to the ferry at El Roble, then do the route in reverse and bus back from Liberia to San Jose.
  • However, the roads on Nicoya can get really dusty during the dry season, so May or the fall months might not be so bad.
  • The coastal section near Manzanillo is tide critical. You will need to approach this section and river crossing before Manzanillo at or near low tide. Check tides here.
  • With high waters and flooded rivers, crocodiles may be an issue. We’re not a croc experts but there are signs. Another rider was warned at Rio Bongo. At times of high flow this river is definitely not crossable without a boat.
  • Throughout our 6 days on the peninsula, we found several wonderful wild camp sites and two pay campgrounds, one of which was right on the beach at Ostional.
  • There are also hostels and cheap hotels in the touristed towns.
  • There are small stores with food in most small towns.
  • Most people will let you refill water bottles from their spigot, just ask.

Terms of Use: As with each bikepacking route guide published on, should you choose to cycle this route, do so at your own risk. Prior to setting out check current local weather, conditions, and land/road closures. While riding, obey all public and private land use restrictions and rules, carry proper safety and navigational equipment, and of course, follow the #leavenotrace guidelines. The information found herein is simply a planning resource to be used as a point of inspiration in conjunction with your own due-diligence. In spite of the fact that this route, associated GPS track (GPX and maps), and all route guidelines were prepared under diligent research by the specified contributor and/or contributors, the accuracy of such and judgement of the author is not guaranteed. LLC, its partners, associates, and contributors are in no way liable for personal injury, damage to personal property, or any other such situation that might happen to individual riders cycling or following this route.

  • jamie

    This is an excellent write up. I used it as my frame work for my ride in CR last year. The roads, towns, and people are amazing. I loved the combination of dirt roads, beach/ocean, and wildlife! I flew into Liberia and got a shuttle to a hostel in Tamarindo where I stashed my bike box.



  • Thanks for the feedback Jamie… glad you were able to use the route!

  • Ernie Baker

    Hey Logan. My wife and I and some friends are going to do part of this route in November. We’re going to start out of Tamarindo and end at Montezuma Beach. What GPS devise did you use and were you able to get a good map of Costa Rica?

  • jamesframes

    Perhaps a tad late- I used a Garmin 800 for navigating assistance, otherwise bought some sort of travel map for the N. peninsula. Travel was easy as there are few roads and you huge the coast the entire time. Ostional was a highlight-turtles and great eco lodge right in “town”. Jamie

  • Landon Mackey

    quick question: how did you guys get back to the start after finishing the route? thanks for any and all help!

  • Landon Mackey

    quick question: how did you guys get back to the start after finishing the route? thanks for any and all help!

  • Hi Landon. We kept going. But, you should be able to take a ferry to Puntarenas, then possibly get a bus or transport back to Liberia.

  • Cale Wenthur

    Just Finished the route in reverse last friday, such a fantastic route. Flew into San Jose and took a shuttle to the ferry then took the bus from LIberia to San Jose, worked out perfectly. The camping and Scenery on the trip was amazing, we hit a hotel one night just for a change of pace in Playa Coyote and ended in Playa Coco for some fishing but other than that we stuck to the route pretty closely, great job putting this one together.

  • Awesome! Glad to hear you had a good time on the route! (sorry for the delayed response, I must have missed this one in the inbox)

  • Felipe

    Hey buddy! What an awesome ride. Thanks for sharing. I’m planning to do this on September. Do you think it’d be doable with a cyclocross bike?! I’m on 700C 38 tyres… Just a little worried on the beach riding part. Cheers!

  • Thanks! I wouldn’t. The beach riding would be too difficult on skinny tires, I think….

  • Will Explode

    Hey all! Planning on doing this trip in December! Having an issue getting my bike there, any advice? Most airlines seem to have a baggage embargo that time of year. Oversized bags are just not accepted. Coming back to the US, I’ve got it figured out. Need help getting the bike there, though!

  • You could try BikeFlights. Make sure to try and get the package to ‘international dimensions’ 130in/330cm in combined length (W+H+D). It will likely be expensive, but probably the cheapest means available if you can’t fly it. Also, you could consider renting a bike somewhere.

  • Anna Marie Clifton

    Any recommendations for renting?

  • No, sorry…

  • Pedalnomad not sure they would rent for bikepacking but seemed like solid guys. Also they are near the start of route.

  • Pedalnomad

    This was a fun way to explore the peninsula. I rode it in June and had a great time. I will say riding this in the wet season is an adventure. Bring a solid tent… Thanks Logan

  • Liza Bean

    Just bought flights to go do this in January, so excited!!! Perfect for a quick trip.

  • Awesome… have fun!

  • Mollie Futterman

    This looks like a fantastic route. Where did you go after Paquera? I have about two weeks to spend in Costa Rica and I’m hoping to find some dirt or to do a loop back to Liberia.

  • We took the ferry across and then booked it south on pavement for a bit…

  • Matthew Kadey

    Hi Logan;
    About to tackle this route in Jan/Feb as part a month long trip to Costa Rica to explore a bunch of the backroads there. Does it matter if you do this from north to south or south to north with respect to wind? Just wondering if there is a predominant wind direction.

  • Hmm. Good question. I don’t think so, but it’s been almost 5 years since I rode it. I would say no, it shouldn’t make too much of a difference. Have fun! and let me know if you have any suggestions or changes after riding it. I’d ultimately like to go back down and male this a full loop from Liberia.

  • Matthew Kadey

    Thanks Logan. Will definitely report back on a possible full loop.

  • Trevor Smith

    A friend and I did this route in 2013. There is a hotel just down the road from the Liberia airport, called the HOTEL SANTA ANA. The owners name is William and he is a cyclist. When we go to CR I have him pick me us from at the airport and take us to his place to assemble our bikes. We payed for a room for the night before we fly out and paid for the ride to the airport and he kindly let us assemble our bikes there and he stored our boxes.

  • Great to know, thanks Trevor!

  • Maciej Laskowski

    Just finished the ride from Montezuma to Playas el Coco yesterday. The wind was mostly from the east (seems to be the dominant direction in the dry season), which helped a bit when I was heading west from Samara. I spent most nights in hotels and hostels, with one night at a campsite at Playa Potrero, in the northern part of the Peninsula. The ride was really challenging at times, with steep uphills near the Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve (between Cabuya and Malpais) and also between Jabilla and Samara. But the beauty of the beaches and nature was a great reward. Plenty of animals along the way, howler monkeys, coatis, plenty of birds. All the rivers were possible to cross, knee-deep at most. I only got lost once while fording a river trying to follow the route between Camaronal and Estrada (east of Samara), couldn’t find the trail on the other side and had to backtrack to the main road. Other than that, navigation was no problem. Thank you Logan so much for the route, the info and the inspiration!

  • awesome. great to hear!! It definitely has some hills in there! I had just uploaded a new gpx 2 days ago with a little extension and a couple fixes, but glad everything worked out for you. Are you continuing from there?

  • Maciej Laskowski

    By bus to Nicaragua, I’m planning on riding Isla de Ometepe after some diving in Corn Islands.

  • Andrew Connolly

    My wife and I recently rode this route on our tour through the Americas and enjoyed some parts of it very much.
    The best parts are:
    Beautiful beaches and wonderful wild camping opportunities.
    The opportunity to ride on these beaches and cross lovely rivers which makes it very atmospheric.
    Some parts of the route are traffic free.
    Some lovely roads and tracks with great views of an unspoilt coast.

    The more challenging aspects are:
    Lots and lots and lots of dust during the dry season (see the ‘Must know” section). It was horrendous.
    Some very, very steep and loose road surfaces. These are mostly found in the initial section between Km 15 and 25 on the profile and will require pushing by all but the very fit and able.
    Some sections are unbalanced and seek out the single track difficulties which is out of character with the rest of the route.
    Some of the towns are awful.

    I would say in retrospect that to visit Costa Rica with the sole intent of riding this route would not be a great idea as its just OK (not a classic). But as part of a through biking trip or part of a bigger tour then its very worthwhile and will make an excellent addition to your itinerary. I would also download iOverlander (an excellent application) which shows a huge range of wild camping and accommodation opportunities along the route. Thanks for Logan for uploading it as we enjoyed it as part of our route through Costa Rica.
    I hope this helps and feel free to contact me if you need any more info.

  • Matthew Kadey

    After spending a month last winter exploring this route and others in Costa Rica, I was able to put together what would be a stand-alone loop for people who just want to escape the winter chill for a couple weeks of bikepacking fun. The route as it stands now is great but is really just designed for people who are heading in one direction – like those cycling the length of the Americas. I see no reason why the Nicoya could not be a trip on it’s own, especially with direct flights from North America to Liberia on offer.

    Here is the route:

    A couple notes:

    1) Notice my suggestion for an alternative start point to Liberia. This makes it easy to avoid the need to cycle the awful airport road in and out of Liberia at the start and end of the trip. A cab ride would be no further than if you were taking one from the airport to Liberia.

    2) I’d suggest doing this in a clockwise direction. The northern section has generally gentler grades and more pavement so you can get in better shape for the steep dirt that awaits as you make your way around the peninsula.

    3) In Las Catalinas there is an excellent singletrack network. We did not do the trails but they look like a lot of fun.

    4) There are plenty of unspoiled beaches worthy of pitching a tent or simple riding down to and enjoying a peaceful place to enjoy a snack.

    5) Yes, the route can be hot and dusty in places. But in February I’d rather deal with that than shoveling my car out of the snow :)