Renting a car in Costa Rica is not quite as simple as back home and unfortunately, Costa Rica doesn’t have a lot of easy public transportation. There are, of course, public buses you can take out to beach towns, but navigating their schedules is not for the faint of heart, and the ride will be very long and boring.
You could also hire private drivers if you are going to stay in the same beach town for your whole trip. But if you plan to move around the country and experience the wild diversity of Caribbean, Pacific, and Rainforest scenery, then you should rent a car. So with that in mind I am going to giving you top 4 tips for renting a car in Costa Rica.
Tip 1: Get ready to be shocked on insurance costs
When you rent a car in the States, they always try to up sell you on insurance plans which the savvy traveler will decline. In Costa Rica though, you don’t have that option. It doesn’t matter if your credit card company or your insurance company will cover rental cars … in Costa Rica it is the law and mandatory that you buy insurance from the rental car dealer.
If this sounds like a scam so that they can charge you crazy prices on rental car insurance, it is. But it’s not a scam that you can opt out of, and the extra insurance you have to pay will not be advertised on most online booking sites that you use prior to your trip.
As an example, I recently rented a small SUV for 3 weeks for about $800. The mandatory insurance for that size vehicle is generally $16/day, which means I am paying about $336 additional. It’s pricey, but you just have to deal with it, you have no other choice. As you drive around the notoriously bad roads in Costa Rica you can at least not worry about accidents as much.
Tip 2: Pay for the GPS or Bring Your Own
As if insurance costs were not enough, the car rental company may offer you a GPS device. Pay it. It’s the best device you will bring with you or have on your trip. Streets in Costa Rica are poorly marked, most don’t have street names and there are no building numbers to find your way around. Your best bet for finding your destination is to use the “Points of Interest” feature on the GPS device and typing in the name of the hotel.
If you are planning to spend more than 2 weeks driving around Costa Rica, or you travel there regularly, you should bring your own GPS device rather than pay for one from the rental shop. You can buy them online at Amazon, I own a Garmin. Most GPS devices you buy in the US won’t come with Costa Rica maps though, you will also have to buy and download a Costa Rica map with up to date Points of Interest.
One last thing about GPS: don’t leave it in your car. Unplug it and hide it under the seat or bring it into your hotel at night. Car break-ins are common in Costa Rica and you don’t want to make your rental car a target.
Tip 3: Rent an SUV
Did I mention that the roads in Costa Rica are awful? It won’t hurt if I mention it one more time – they are terrible and the drivers are not much better. In San Jose you will spend half your time in hair-raising merges through traffic circles surrounded by motorcycles and scooters with a death wish.
This is one of the nicer mountain roads in Costa Rica. Most don’t have this much room to pass and are a lot bumpier.As soon as you go off the main highway to the beach, you’re going to find a lot of barely graveled roads, potholes everywhere, and the occasional stream crossing. Many smaller hotels along the coast are actually up on the mountainsides.
The view is awesome, but the cost of admission is a narrow bumpy road that you’ll be nervous about driving on during a rainstorm. That goes double for many of the roads around the mountainous central region of the country near Arenal volcano and Monteverde Cloud Forest.
Spending a little bit extra for an SUV with 4 wheel drive is well worth it.
Tip 4: Pack your patience
As I mentioned, the roads in Costa Rica are bad. Traffic is completely unpredictable. If your hotel tells you that they are “only 2 hours from San Jose”, you should assume it’s actually a 4 hour drive. Even in the rural areas you never know when you will get stuck behind a farming vehicle or just a terrified tourist trying to navigate the mountain climb.
You’re in Costa Rica, you’re on vacation, and everything around is beautiful. Sure, that beach you’re trying to get to is calling your name, but repeat “Pura Vida” to yourself again and just be patient with whatever the road puts in your way. You’ll enjoy the experience much more if you’re prepared to be patient.
Still want to rent a car?
If this all sounds too complicated and you’re considering never leaving that single beach side resort, think again. Sure, renting a car in Costa Rica is a pain and can be expensive. But the mobility it brings and the stories you’ll have to share are worth.
Important Things To Know Before You Rent Your Costa Rica Vehicle
To rent a car in Costa Rica you must be at least 21 years old, have a valid passport and driver’s license, and a major credit card. You can sometime rent a car at 18, bull you must leave a double deposit. Some agencies charge more for people under 25 and won’t rent to people oven 75. Valid foreign driver’s licenses are good in Costa Rica for three months.
Car rental agencies will provide transport from the airport to their nearby offices. Avoid having a car wait for you at the airport – there is of ten a 12 percent surcharge for that. Better yet, take a taxi to your hotel and car rental company to have the car delivered to your hotel. Don’t hassle with trying to navigate unfamiliar streets when you first arrive.
Advice and Notes on Renting a Car in Costa Rica
- You must treat the car as if it were yours, since the obligatory insurance does not cover all types of damages.
- Do not leave the car unattended with belongings inside, not even for one second. The insurance does not cover missing accessories like the radio, tools, rims, tires, either or damages whose cost is less than the deductible amount.
- Never park on the street, use secure car parking facilities.
- You are responsible for traffic law violations.
- If you live abroad you must carry your passport or a copy of the same, where your photo and last entry date to Costa Rica appear. Also remember to carry your valid drivers license.
- The value of the car windows and windshield is high and you are responsible for any damage to the same, regardless of whose fault it is.
- All car rentals consist of 24 hours per day, any extra time after the time agreed upon by you to drop off the car, will be charged by the additional hour.
- Before you set off, check out the car yourself very carefully and make sure the car is in the stated condition and make sure to note and and all scratches , dents etc BEFORE you leave
- If you decide to keep your car for a few more days, do not forget to call our offices at least two days in advance in order to obtain your authorization.
- Always use your seat belt; seat belts save lives.
- The minimum speed in Costa Rica is 40 KPH, and maximum 100 KPH. The speed limit in the streets and secondary road is 60 KPH. The maximum speed may vary in certain areas and it must (but always is) be painted on the road surface.
- Cars on the beach are strictly forbidden by law; therefore, this insurance shall not apply in these cases.
- The Instituto Nacional de Seguros and your car rental agency shall not be responsible for towing expenses in any of the above mentioned cases.
- The traffic infractions should NOT BE PAID to the traffic authority members, only at the car rental agency office or at the closest State Bank. Submit a copy of your voucher to the car company when you return your car.
- If you are involved in an accident, please do not move the car, notify us immediately for the corresponding accident report, and then wait until the authorities (Traffic and the Instituto Nacional de Seguros) arrive.
- If you have a mechanical breakdown and someone offers to help, watch your belongings very carefully.
- Car Rental Rates are subject to change without notice.
- Must be over 21
- Valid drivers license AND a major credit card IN YOUR NAME!
- Valid passport.
- Visa, Amex, Master Card, Diners, and ST accepted.
- Minimum rental is 24 hours.
- No cash deposit accepted.
- Rates include unlimited mileage.
- Taxes are included.