Lonely Planet Writer

Bored of the gym? Head to Costa Rica for the world’s toughest mountain biking race

Looking for some fitness and adventure inspiration? Head on down to Costa Rica this week to watch one of the world’s toughest physical competitions, the famed Ruta de los Conquistadores race.

A mountain biker crosses a bridge over a stream with a majestic alpine mountain range in the background.
A mountain biker crosses a bridge over a stream with a majestic alpine mountain range in the background. Image by Ilan Shacham/Getty Images

Widely considered the toughest mountain biking race in the world, La Ruta spans the entire width of Costa Rica, crossing five mountain ranges and climbing a total of 29,000 feet.

The race got its name by taking a page from the region’s history: Spanish conquistadores, led by Juan de Cavallón, took 20 years to complete this same route across the country. Not only does the terrain pose a challenge for participants, but so does the weather; the cyclists will pass through damp rainforests, freezing altitudes and toasty coastal areas. The route itself spans 138 miles, starting in the Pacific coast town of Jacó and ending on the Atlantic coast in Playa Bonita, Limón, and was designed by race founder Román Urbina, who determines a new path every year.

La Ruta is broken into three days of racing. The first day will take riders from Jacó to the Universidad Técnica Nacional near San José and has historically been considered the day on which the race is ‘won’. The second day’s race stretches from the university to Guarco, Cartago, and is where participants will encounter steep climbs and fluctuating temperatures. The third day features an option that allows participants to raft down the Pacuare River starting at Tres Equis in Turrialba, with the biking portion beginning in Siquirres and ending in Playa Bonita, Limón.

This year, 400 riders have signed up to compete in the legendary race, each vying for the top prize of $2000; prizes will be awarded to the winner of both the male and female divisions. The second place prize is $700 and third place finishers will receive $500. To learn more about the race, visit its website.