Renting a car in Costa Rica can be a difficult decision. After all, driving in Costa Rica, if haven’t already heard by now, is different from driving in the U.S. or Europe.
The roads and road signs in Costa Rica can sometimes be in bad shape and sometimes makes it difficult to follow directions, so having a GPS is very important. Also Costa Rican drivers can also be less cautious than some foreign drivers are used to, and rural roads can be challenging.
So then, is it worth renting a car in Costa Rica? To help you make that decision, here are some tips and advice about renting a car and how to make your car rental experience in Costa Rica more enjoyable to see if its worth it for you.
4 Important Tips About Renting a Car In Costa Rica
Over the years I have traveled to Costa Rica, I have used and worked with several car rental agencies and I can tell you that they are not all the same. Some are great others not so much, however whatever car rental company you choose, keep these 4 points in mind before making the final decision on who to go with.
- Call Your Credit Card Company
- Use a GPS and Find out the Cost
- Rent a 4×4 not a sedan
- Pack your Patience during the rental process
The biggest problem when renting a Car in Costa Rica is that you can get a big surprise when you arrive to pick up your car. That nice rate you were quoted is for the car only! Read on to in order to get more details for tips and advice on how to avoid surprises.
1. Call Your Credit Card Company
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 BASIC 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.
However you can potentially save a significant amount of money and get extra coverage if you call your credit card company before you go to Costa Rica and tell them where you are going and what you are renting.
After they tell you what they will cover asked them to send you a copy of that. Then take that with you to Costa Rica. When you arrive a the counter tell the agent what your credit card company will cover so they can add that to the rental agreement.
2. Rent A 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 or you use Google Maps depending on your cell service, rather than pay for one from the rental shop.
You can buy them online at Amazon, however. most GPS devices you buy in the USA at least, 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 plain view in the 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.
3. What Type of Car to Rent
Depending on where you want to go in Costa Rica, you should give serious consideration to renting an SUV with four-wheel-drive.
Remote or more rugged areas in Costa Rica will definetly need this, as the roads can have large rocks and you may also need to cross streams.
Four-wheel-drives in Costa Rica are called cuatro por cuatro (four by fours) or vehículos con doble traccion (vehicles with double traction).
Small, compact vehicles are also available for travelers that do not plan to go to rural areas but for the price difference between the two, you will be much better off with a SUV
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 or mountains, you will probably find yourself on graveled roads where there are potholes and the occasional stream crossing.
Spending a little bit extra for an 4×4 with 4 wheel drive is well worth it.
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.
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 well worth it.
Requirements For Renting a Car in Costa Rica
Renting a car in Costa Rica is not quite as simple as back home and there are certain requirements that car rental companies require. These include bringing:
- A Valid drivers license AND a major credit card IN YOUR NAME!
- A Valid passport
- Visa, Amex, Master Card, Diners, and ST are accepted
- Minimum rental time is 24 hours
- No cash deposit accepted
- Rates usually include unlimited mileage
- Taxes are always included
If you plan to move around the country and experience the wild diversity of Caribbean, Pacific, and take in some Rainforest scenery, then you should rent a car. So with that in mind I am going to giving you my some tips for renting a car in Costa Rica plus some bonus notes to keep in mind.