When the clouds part, you are rewarded with a fabulous vista, the whole Valle de El General spread out before you. The route is often fog-bound, and there are many large trucks (some without lights). Frequent landslides, fathoms-deep potholes, and too many accidents for comfort are among the dangers—take extreme care. Avoid this road at night!
A statue of Christ balances precariously above a 100-meter sheer cliff face. The impressive La Piedra de Cristo (Km 104), by artist Francisco Ulloa, was erected in 1978 above the highway two kilometers north of San Rafael.
Mirador Vista del Valle (Km 119, tel. 506/2200-5465, www.valledelgeneral.com , $15) has a zip-line tour with seven platforms, six cables, and a rappel.
If you’re stuck on the mountain, Hotel/Restaurant Las Georgina (tel./fax 506/2770-8043, $25 s/d), five kilometers below the summit at Villa Mills, has four simple rooms with hot water; two have bunks, one has a TV. It also has a cabin with kitchen, fireplace, and views. The huge buffet is a treat (6 A.M.–8 P.M.), and the views as you dine at 3,100 meters are awesome when the clouds clear!
Similarly, Mirador Vista del Valle (Km 119, tel. 506/2200-5465, www.valledelgeneral.com , $55 s/d) is a delightfully rustic restaurant named for its stunning view. It has eight simple wooden cabinas (overpriced, I think) with modern bathrooms. Bird-watching and fishing are offered.
A Canadian/German couple, Lisa and Rolf Zersch, lovingly tend their bed-and-breakfast home, Bosque del Tolomuco (tel. 506/8847-7207, www.bosquedeltolomuco.com , $57–68 s/d including breakfast and taxes), at Kilometer 118. Their charming inn, set in lush landscaped gardens, has five cozy wooden cabins with modern bathrooms. The simply appointed lounge is heated by a roaring wood-burning stove. It has WiFi. Dinners are served by appointment. There’s a heated swimming pool, and trails lead into a private forest, good for spotting wildlife and birds. Day visitors are welcome ($2 pp). What a thrill to awaken to sunrise views toward Chirripó ; you can see as far as the Osa Peninsula on a clear day from atop the mountain.
Competing for valley views is La Princesa Hotel (tel. 506/2772-0324, fax 506/2770-3164, www.laprincesahotel.com , $35–55 s/d), at San Rafael Norte about 8 kilometers north of San Isidro. It’s another comfy, modern hotel albeit with modest, unremarkable furnishings. It has a huge outdoor hot tub perched on the hillside.
A small, traditional trapiche (ox-driven sugar mill) is still in operation at El Trapiche de Nayo (tel. 506/2271-7267, trapichenayo [at] costarricense [dot] cr), immediately below the Piedra de Cristo. It serves delicious traditional meals.