In Costa Rica, Holy week is the spring break equivalent to the United States and Costa Ricans travel like crazy. It’s nearly the end of the dry season and Thursday and Friday are public holidays (thank you non-separation of church/state) so many look to get in that final rain free getaway. In my 10+ years living in Costa Rica I’ve only made the sin of trying to travel this week twice, and the second time was just complacency of forgetting how horrible the first experience was having been so long ago.
If you attempt to travel the first or second weekends of Holy week you need to be very strategic. One hour trips turn into 4 hour trips and 4 hour trips just aren’t worth taking at reasonable hours. Last year, I had a ferry ticket for 12:30pm and left my house at 9am for the typical hour and a half drive, a little earlier than normal as I was expecting more traffic. I didn’t make it to the ferry till 4pm and by then the only ferry that had space wasn’t leaving till 8pm.
It was absolutely nuts. We hit traffic just outside our city limits and at first we assumed there had been an accident. Traffic snailed along and we thought at each corner we’d see the wreck and traffic would open up. After a couple hours of this we realized it was just bumper-to-bumper for miles and miles. We ended up pulling off the road for the sake of our mental health. Even though I’m more of an “it’s more about the journey than the destination” type of person, this was over the top.
I struggle more in these situations as I’m accustomed to well-built highway systems, and just can’t believe how the roads here have not kept pace with the amount of cars that are on the road. That is my first stage of “road grief”. The second stage is when I start scolding myself for getting in this position in the first place. I seriously considered turning around and going home and had it not been for the more accustomed Costa Ricans I’m sure I would have.
Fast forward a year and I was not making the same mistake twice. In a perfect world I’d just vacation on a different week, however our travel is limited due to school and jobs so I had to really plan for our trip. First off, never travel the entire week. We made plans to travel Saturday (gulp) and return on Wednesday to avoid the even larger crush of traffic Thursday to Sunday. Three months before, I secured our accommodations and a month before I bought ferry tickets. Thankfully, the ferry system sells some tickets online so you can arrive knowing you have a spot reserved. However, getting there on time is key. The earliest ferry departed at 5:30am and we were on the road by 2:30am.
There was very little traffic and my plan was going perfectly, so perfect I almost wanted to kick myself for not waiting till 3am to get a little extra rest. The only shock was pulling up to the ferry and seeing a massive line of cars. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one with this idea. Cars with their roofs packed with luggage, tents, canoes, bicycles etc. I think I even saw some people tailgating. The one big difference between me and them though was that I already had my spot reserved. These people were waiting in line in hopes that there would be enough space for them to get on the ferry. If not, they’d have to wait till 9am for the next one.
My heart briefly skipped a beat seeing the line, however we were able to drive to the front and were one of the first ones on the ferry. I was traveling with my 2 dogs and therefore I was able to stay in the vehicle with them. At 5:30am the weather was comfortable and refreshing and I had the best 1.5hr nap, windows down, fresh sea breeze, and the light waves lulled me right to sleep. It was actually the heat that awoke me from my slumber as the inferno starts almost as soon as sunrise is complete.
From there everything was bearable. Roads from the ferry to our destination were still horribly inept to handle Holy week traffic. There was a bridge that collapsed over a dry creek bed and their solution was to close the bridge and just have everyone off-road through the creek bed.
We were at our destination by 9am and pretty much zonked out all morning. That was the plan though. I’d much rather crash poolside in a hammock than be stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic fully conscious.
I was proud of myself for this careful calculation and outcome. Every time a friend would message about the traffic they were in or the news would report on the miles long traffic jams, I’d just take a deep breath and try to sink deeper into the recliner or sofa, so glad to be able to enjoy a peak vacation period without all the traffic. We didn’t leave our destination till we returned home. All we did those days was pool, beach, food, nap, repeat. That’s all I’m willing to put myself up to for Holy week vacations.
Most years, Holy week and spring break weeks aren’t the same, but traveler beware if they ever coincide. That’ll be the year I charter a helicopter from my backyard.