Renting a Motorcycle in Costa Rica

In Travel by Abhi2 Comments

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Warning – I hope you like sloths! As you may remember, I recently spent a couple of weeks in Costa Rica. While most of that time was spent in a tour van, I did get to spend a couple of days on a motorcycle in that beautiful country, so let me share with you what happened.

First, the how: if, like me, you’re flying into San Jose (SJO), an excellent option is Wild Rider.

I discovered the shop through regional forums in ADVRider, my go to site for these sorts of inquiries. There were a few suggestions to reach out to Thorsten, the friendly German ex-pat who runs Wild Rider. Thorsten and his staff rent out small 4x4s and a variety of dual sports from the Honda XR250 Tornado to a Suzuki DR650SE and a few options in between.

I tried emailing Thorsten directly through an email address listed on the site and got no response, however he did quickly respond to a built-in online reservation request form. After we exchanged a few emails about what my plan was (riding out to the east coast to visit the Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica), Thorsten set me up with a Honda NX4 Falcon because it was better suited to the route my girlfriend and I were planning on taking. Sadly, that route was mostly pavement, with a few exceptions like this:

Once we arrived in Costa Rica and showed up at Wild Rider, Thorsten and his team took plenty of time to discuss possible routes with us and go over local customs and laws that differed from what we were used to in the US. Pictured – Not Thorsten:

Not once did I ever feel like they were in a rush to get me out. Unfortunately, there are only two roads to the east coast from San Jose and one of them had been blocked off by a landslide. That made route planning easy but it didn’t give us many options for off-road detours for exploration. Based on that, we decided to stick with the NX4, which is similar to a XR400 but with a detuned engine for improved reliability and maintenance. The 397cc engine puts out 30 horsepower and 25 pound feet of torque while yielding about 60 miles per gallon – with a 4 gallon fuel tank, I would have enough range to never be worried about finding a gas station.

In addition, Wild Rider had an aftermarket luggage rack on the back and provided us with some bungee cords so we could carry what we needed. Note that in Costa Rica, motorcyclists have to wear a reflective vest – Wild Rider provides that for you, too. And with that, you get thrown out into the chaos of Costa Rican traffic. Well, chaos isn’t fair. There’s a lot of lane changing without turn signals and the general nuttery you find in cities abroad, but at least everyone’s actually paying attention to the road and not looking at their cell phones!

Immediately, I got pointed at and pulled over by a police officer. Great. My initial concern was thankfully short-lived – it was just a safety checkpoint where they made sure you had working lights and a reflective vest!

Turns out San Jose has a Chinatown, but we decided to keep on moving.

50 colones was 9 cents.

During the rainy season, visitors to the east coast of Costa Rica should expect heavy rain at an unpredictable schedule. Vy and I hoped we’d stay as dry as possible as we hopped on the bike and headed east. About 2 hours in, we made a quick stop in Turrialba to stretch our legs. Thankfully, we were still dry.

Even though there’s one main road, don’t think it’s anything like a US freeway. Instead, expect mountain passes, sections of switchbacks, and surprisingly decent pavement. It was an enjoyable ride, though I don’t think I ever went faster than 60 miles per hour. The lack of lights on this truck were a bit freaky.

I might have hit 60 mph once or twice, but the usual speed limit of approximately 40 mph was plenty fast enough. Frankly, we were constantly on the scan for novelties and wildlife, anyway.

It’s hard to tell from this photo but the entire right lane of the highway is at a standstill because a semi has stopped to inspect (and presumably replace) a tire!

In fact, the traffic in the right lane was so slow that this cyclist went for a pass on this bus:

The sun gods smiled upon us as we approached the east coast. We encountered a few sprinkles here and there but nothing that required us to get off the bikes and put on our rain gear.

Eventually we pulled into the port town of Limon, which is notable for having a large Afro-Caribbean community. This is because the Costa Rican government did not consider these individuals to be citizens (and did not allow them to leave the Limon area) until 1948, and it also means the area is home to many delicious Caribbean food options. We decided to get lunch.

Only problem was, I couldn’t figure out where our desired restaurant was for the life of me. I asked a motorcycle cop if he could show me where to go on a map.

He responded by hopping on the back of his partner’s bike and making a “follow me” motion.

Costa Rican fare is typically rice and beans, sometimes paired with a plantain and veggies. 10 days into the trip, I was sick of it. Caribbean food was an absolute revelation for my taste buds.

At this point, those of you familiar with Costa Rica might be wondering why we were heading east, considering that most of the touristy fare in the country is on the Pacific side. The answer is simple – VyVy wanted to see some sloths! We had spent the first part of trip doing the tourist bit, but Vy had discovered the Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica and I figured it was the perfect excuse to hop on a motorcycle.

One of the smallest international airports I’ve ever seen:

An odd pairing:

Costa Rican gas prices (works out to about $4.50 a gallon):

The sanctuary has an inn on the property, so we got there the evening before our morning tour.

The staff recommended that we head south a few miles to the town of Cahuita for dinner. We did not eat here, although I found the name amusing.

We instead got a drink at a beachside resort:

And then ate at the highly recommended (and appropriately named) Sobre las Olas. Spanish for “On the Waves”, this place serves delicious seafood alongside the water. The tide was too high for us to enjoy the hammock, but we were able to survive that hardship.

After a late ride back to the sanctuary at night (not recommended, street lighting ain’t a priority out here), we got some rest and woke up early to see some sloths. Prepare yourselves.

The star of the show is Buttercup – the oldest known sloth in captivity and the reason why the sanctuary started in the first place.

They start the morning off with a little canoe trip around the backyard:

Then you start the tour.

Immediately, they hit you with a bunch of obscure sloth facts. Did you know that the biggest cause of injuries to sloths are electrical wires, or that they only go to the bathroom once a week?

Or that they take 4 weeks to digest food?

Or that the one thing they’re quick about is sex? Done in 45 seconds and the pregnancy rate is basically 100%.

The big thing you’ll take away is that sloths have a bad rap. In Spanish they’re called “oso perezosos” (lazy bears), but the staff here can’t tell you enough that sloths aren’t lazy. They just have to conserve energy because they barely get any out of their diets.

The piece de resistance of the tour is a stop with the babies.

It’s hard not to find this adorable.

Don’t worry – yours truly still made time to write up the next day’s worth of Bike-urious posts:

After lunch (included with the tour), we packed up and headed back towards San Jose – but not before I encountered the life-size replica of a Megatherium, the elephant-sized ground sloths found in South America during the Pleistocene epoch. If that means nothing to you (like it did to me), that’s the range of time that spans approximately 2.5M years ago to 11,700 years ago. What a range!

A particularly ineffective construction worker:

Before I left, reader Harold K had asked me to take a photo riding on the beach, Rollie Free style. I figured I would give it a shot on the way back, but the rain started minutes after we left.

I hopped on a local beach to see if I could still make it work.

The answer was no. Sorry, Harold. Maybe next time!

We slogged through hours of rain, sometimes in traffic.

This became exhausting and cold, so we got some cover at a bus stop.

Brief respites from the rain were very much appreciated…

…but brief was the operative word.

The occasional reminder to stay alert:

I got a little antsy due to the lack of off-roading, so occasionally I’d take some detours just to see what I could find. In this case, the answer was…not much.

Turns out the rain wasn’t annoying to just me. This tanker got itself in a bit of a predicament.

Outside of San Jose is a lovely community called Orosi. We were sick of the rain so we decided to stop here at the Orosi Lodge. It’s run by a German father/son duo and they do an excellent job of taking care of the guests.

Orosi’s Indian Weather God:

This towel animal greeted us in the room.

We asked the staff for a dinner recommendation and they suggested the local pizza joint. We got to enjoy delicious pan pizzas and conversation with our friendly waiter Emilio, who had great local stories and plenty of questions about the US.

He also drew us a map of the things we’ll have to check out the next time we visit:

The next morning we slogged through some more rain rode back to San Jose. On the way we encountered some adorable (if bland) tract housing:

A cool dam…

…which was releasing a deafening amount of water:

All hail the Falcon NX4!

Baby Jack doesn’t play by the rules.

A sweet quad-axle bus.

Apparently the plant was supposed to be your visual warning that this manhole cover was missing?

As we got into the city, the traffic came to a stop. Hooray for lane splitting.

We got to Wild Rider in the middle of the day to find the place closed.

At first, I was annoyed, but a quick call to Thorsten revealed the staff was 15 minutes away as they were picking up some renters from the airport. Not the end of the world. Remember earlier when I mentioned that of the two routes that head east, one was closed? Today we found out that all the rain we had suffered through the day before had created mudslides that closed the other road! If we were on the road just a few hours later, we would have been turned around and missed our flight. We got lucky, but these British tourists had to change their plans…looks like they were going west instead.

We had a couple of hours to kill after dropping off the bike, so we did the native Costa Rican thing and watched the soccer game – Costa Rica versus Mexico!

In a very abrupt conclusion, Wild Rider was awesome. If you’re planning a trip to Costa Rica and want to take a motorcycle, give them a shout. And if you weren’t planning a trip to Costa Rica and you need an excuse to get your wife/girlfriend to join, take them to see sloths! Thanks for reading.

Want more trip reports? Head on over to my Travel page. Or just head right on over to my favorite trip, where I go to the top of Alaska.

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