Tips for driving in Costa Rica
Are you ready for an epic drive in Costa Rica? Rent a car is the best way to experience this beautiful country. But before you go, there are several things you should know.
So, you have been wanting to visit for many years, and finally plan your epic road trip and drive around Costa Rica! What do you think?
For such a small country, Costa Rica’s mountain roads are amazing, with winding dirt roads and occasional rivers crossing. So my first drive there was a great adventure. Since then, I have visited the country many times and always like to rent a car.
Rent a car and drive Costa Rica by yourself is the best way to experience this amazing country, because it really gives you freedom to stop at every waterfall, volcano, beach and national park along the way.
Here are some important tips I learned about driving Costa Rica, so you are ready to go on the road and explore the rich coast in a holiday you will never forget.
1. Should you drive in Costa Rica?
Out of line!
Hey, if you like those large group bus tours, book one. If you don’t have much time, this is also a good way to know Costa Rica.
No plan, no driving, just sit down and let others do all the work
But if you are like me, you prefer the adventure of independent travel.
There is no fixed schedule or timetable — drive in Costa Rica and stop calmly anywhere you find along the way.
If you are such a traveler, renting a car in Costa Rica is the most appropriate choice
Yes, Costa Rica also has a bus system, but it is really only suitable for moving from one big town to another, and the bus stop is often outside the town, so you have to take a taxi eventually. Not to mention that bus travel is only a slow way to travel around the country.
Please remember that some roads in Costa Rica may be very rugged and muddy, and some local drivers do not abide by their laws. However, through some practice, you will gain confidence in driving here!
Another advantage that we like to have a car is that we can put things in the trunk and stay in Costa Rica towns with small backpacks instead of dragging luggage everywhere.
2. Where to rent a car in Costa Rica
Driving in Costa Rica
Some common car rental companies in Costa Rica include Enterprise, Sixt, Hertz, a local company called Adobe Rent-a-Car, and so on.
But the best website for booking cars is Discover Cars. They search local and international car rental companies to help you find the best price. This is the easiest way to rent a car in Costa Rica.
We rented a car at San Jose Airport in Arajuela and started our road trip to Costa Rica from there.
San Jose Airport. It is planned to pick up the car about 60 minutes after your flight arrives. When leaving, try to arrive at the airport at least 3 and a half hours before the flight takes off. Because it may take 30 minutes to return your rental car and take the shuttle bus back to the airport.
Liberia Airport. It is planned to pick up the car about 30 minutes after your flight arrives. When leaving, try to arrive at the airport at least 2 and a half hours before the flight takes off. Similarly, there are regular buses.
3. Car rental insurance in Costa Rica
Some rumors about driving in Costa Rica are true. The roads in some areas are very rugged. Especially the path outside Costa Rica’s small town. Don’t worry, I will share some skills to deal with these problems below.
This is why I strongly recommend buying full insurance.
Generally, there is a basic collision damage exemption (CDW) for car rental in Costa Rica, but this is not completely insurance, and only covers the damage of the car with a value of 1000-3000 dollars.
This is the amount they keep on your credit card until you return the car completely. CDW also generally does not include damage to tyres, broken windscreens or chassis.
Although you can usually book a car with a good travel credit card that includes car rental insurance, you really have to read small words, because many people mistakenly believe that their card is guaranteed in Costa Rica.
If you encounter an accident while driving in Costa Rica and refuse full insurance, and you suddenly learn that your credit card does not actually include losses, you are doomed. I can’t tell you how many such travel horror stories I have heard
This is why I usually buy full insurance online. It’s cheaper than buying at the counter — and you don’t have to worry about accidents!
4. What is the cost of renting a car in Costa Rica?
The cost of renting a car in Costa Rica is about $25-40 per day, depending on the type of car you rent. Our four-door car costs about $25 a day. A four-wheel drive SUV will cost you $40-70 a day.
A four-wheel drive camper or a truck with a tent will cost more than $100 a day (but you can sleep in it!).
I suggest renting a car with a real trunk (no hatch) to hide your luggage from prying eyes. If the thief can’t see your things, it helps to prevent breaking into the door.
At present, the price of gasoline in Costa Rica is about $4.75 per gallon ($1.25 per liter). Diesel cars can usually save you some gas costs. The price of diesel is about $4.20 per gallon. This is much more expensive than gasoline in the United States!
Automatic and manual
The rent of the automatic car is more expensive than the manual car (but the manual car is more common in Costa Rica). You must indicate which type you want at the time of booking. If you have never driven a motor car, don’t start in Costa Rica! It is safer to buy a car with automatic transmission.
One-way car rental
In Costa Rica, one way car rental requires additional fees, which may vary from company to company. For example, if you want to get off in a city different from your starting place. But because this country is very small, you may not need to do so.
5. Age requirements for car rental
The minimum age for driving in Costa Rica is 21-25 years old, depending on the company that you book the car. If you are under 25, they may also charge extra fees (usually $10 per day).
6. Precautions when driving in Costa Rica
cross the river
Costa Rica’s driving laws are similar to those of other countries. However, local drivers do not always comply with these laws. For example, the driver may not turn on the turn signal, or may run the red light if he thinks he can escape the red light.
Costa Rica’s speed limit
Costa Rica’s speed limit is in kilometers per hour. The maximum speed of most highways is 120 km/h (about 74 mph). On second-class highway, the speed limit is usually 60 km/h (37 mph), while around towns and cities it is 40 km/h (25 mph).
If you happen to receive a speeding ticket, please notify your rental company immediately, because you must pay this fee when you hand in the car after the trip.
Road signs in Costa Rica
The road signs of Costa Rica should be self-evident, because they look similar to the road signs of the United States, only in Spanish. You can browse some common Costa Rica road signs here.
Costa Rica’s roads are paved and in good condition, but there are also many small roads in the country. Many dirt roads are not in good condition. Muddy, potholed, etc. If you plan to drive on unusual roads in Costa Rica, I strongly recommend that you rent a four-wheel drive SUV. Some bridges have only one lane and need one vehicle to wait for another vehicle to pass before continuing to drive.
cross the river
You can travel by road around Costa Rica without crossing the river, but there are also some roads to pass through the river. Especially in the rainy season, as well as in the Nicosia Peninsula, Drake Bay and Osa Peninsula. If you haven’t crossed the river before, please watch others go first
Put your car in 4X4 mode, walk slowly and pay attention to the route. Some rivers do not cross directly, but need you to drive up or down at the exit front. This may be due to hidden obstacles, depth, or just the best entry/exit point.
7. International driving license
No, driving in Costa Rica or renting a car there does not require an international driving license. Just bring your passport, credit card and your local driver’s license. So yes, you can drive in Costa Rica with an American driver’s license.
8. Additional suggestions on car rental and driving in Costa Rica
When driving in Costa Rica, lock the door and do not leave valuables in the car.
In Costa Rica, pedestrians have no real right of way. This means that if you politely stop on the road to let others cross the road, they will be confused, and the car behind you will not think of this – this may lead to accidents. This is similar in Mexico and other places in Central America.
Don’t book a car without reading the company’s comments. You will find that every company has many bad comments (people like to complain online), but try to select the company with the least bad comments.
You may not get the brand/model/type of car you ordered. If they give you a smaller car, or give you a manual car when you require automatic driving, you should be patient and ask for upgrading.
Thoroughly check your car, record a video with your smartphone and point out the damage before you leave. If they try to charge you for the existing damage, this is a backup. This is a common car rental scam in Costa Rica
Pay attention to whether your Costa Rican rental car uses regular gasoline or diesel, so you should add the correct fuel at the gas station.
Use Google Maps on your smartphone for navigation instead of renting a GPS device. Just use your own hands-free car holder and a good international mobile phone plan.
9. Accident and fault information
In an emergency, you can call Costa Rica’s emergency number, 911, just like in the United States. They also have an English line.
However, if your car just breaks down and no one is injured, it is better to call the emergency road assistance number on the car rental agreement of Costa Rica Car Rental Company.
Enjoy your road trip to Costa Rica!
It is absolutely the right choice for us to explore Costa Rica’s small villages, pristine beaches, jungle mountains and national parks by rented cars.
Self-driving road travel can make you take unusual roads and see what most people miss ★