Named by the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s longest Drivable roads, the Pan American Highway has its own share of dangerous sections too. The highway runs for over 30,000 miles cutting through the North and South American continents. Many competent truckers have made it from Prudhoe Bay in Alaska to the lower cities of South America. As any Trucker who has had the honor of completing this challenge will tell you, the most treacherous section of this highway lies in Costa Rica. In fact this section is so perilous that it is considered as one world’s most dangerous roads.
The State Of Roads In Costa Rica
There are three categories for Costa Rican country roads. They range from bad, terribly bad, and extremely atrocious. Most sections of the Pan American Highway in Costa Rica are either a network of unpaved but connected routes or paved surfaces riddled with untold number of large potholes. Roads in Costa Rica are normally paved with an economically thin layer of asphalt which is easily washed away in most sections during the rainy season. This creates numerous potholes rarely addressed by the government.
Any “reluctant” attempt by the government to fill the potholes only results in half baked work which worsen the road conditions by creating a pattern of bumpy rises amid potholes. Ironically the less travelled roads such as the route leading south from Dominical to Palmar, or the northwest road that cuts across Volcanos Tenerio and Miravalles to Orosi, get the smoothest and thickest layer of asphalt. Some sections of the Pan American Highway in Costa Rica are simply bare gravel and in such a bad need of maintenance that most local and foreign Truckers wonder if the country has road graders.
The situation is worse on unpaved roads. These roads are basically made of crushed rock. Truckers have developed a high level of dexterity from driving side to side in search of the flattest stretch to drive on. There are potholes on unpaved roads too. The norm is to take your time driving around the potholes while seeking for the flattest surface with the sole guidance of the roads center line, wherever there is one. A speed of 20 kilometers per hour while circumventing potholes and rocky bumps along this road is an impressive feat for a seasoned Trucker.
Truckers have learned to memorize the exact location of some of the worst potholes. These are deep crevices with sharp edges which suddenly appear after a relieving mile or two on paved highway. The government seems reluctant to repair these sudden crevices probably because all truckers and local drivers seem to have memorized the exact location of these potholes. The same applies to highway signs because you will hardly see any along the highway. The locals always know where they are, they have no need for signs.
Truckers will tell you that the terribly bad section between Tilaran and Monteverde is a driver’s paradise compared to the atrocious condition of the stretch known as the Hill of Death between San Isidiro de El General to Cartago. The highway has earned a place among the world’s most dangerous roads primarily because of this Hill of Death section.
San Isidiro: The Hill Of Death
San Isidiro de El General is 85 miles from the city of San Jose. The 70 mile stretch from San Isidiro to Cartago calls for thorough mental and physical preparation. The drive is however not without pleasant mountain driving experiences and sceneries that reveal a lot about the Costa Rican country life. San Isidiro is in the province of San Jose and is characterized by fertile tropical climate and pleasant looking mountain valleys. Driving in and out of San Isidiro, Truckers are treated to hillside views of new groves and sunny fields of oranges. The mountainous horizons and green valleys provide a breathtaking view until you ram into a massive pothole or miss the next sharp curve.
As the highway winds up the Talamanca Mountain range, truckers and other seasoned drivers are treated to views of several ecosystems of Costa Rica. The drive towards Cartago takes you from 5,000 feet to close to 13,000 feet at Cerro de la Muerte (Hill of Death) which also happens to be highest point in the whole of Costa Rico. The highway narrows down considerably at this height and becomes a zigzag maze through stunted cloud forests and endless fog, especially at higher altitudes. Tired and frustrated drivers worsen the conditions by trying to overtake slow trucks in poor visibility causing near mishaps and sometimes fatal accidents.
Life Threatening Hazards Along The San Isidiro To Cartago Highway
The life threatening dangers of this Pan American Highway section arise from this region’s rough terrain, land formations, and mountainous climates. The potential to run into flash floods and unexpected landslides while driving up the steep incline is always present especially during the rainy season. The poorly maintained road is riddled with narrow curves along steep cliffs. There is always the chance of a fatigued trucker missing a sharp curve and ending down a deep ravine. This stretch is notorious for accidents due to steep curves and potholes dangerously located close to the edge of the road.
Even the drivable track of the highway leading to the summit is subjected to freezing temperatures especially at night which can be a great test to truckers. Most accidents are caused by poor visibility as truckers strive to make their way through endless fog. The road rises to close to 13,000 feet which presents additional challenges to Truckers in the form of altitude sickness and inability to make accurate judgments. Under such conditions most drivers become irritable and prone to aggressive and irresponsible driving. Fortunately, Truckers always find a respite from the harsh conditions at a restaurant called Las Torres (The Towers) near the summit.
A Better Alternative
There seems to be little or no government efforts in making the San Isidiro to Cartago stretch of the Pan American Highway safer for both truckers and other road users. The safer alternative is to use the newly paved and well maintained road between Quepos and Dominical. This newly completed highway connects to the Pan American Highway and provides a safer alternative to the Hill of Death road.