Driving a car in Costa Rica, or any foreign country for that matter can be pretty frightening. When I traveled to Costa Rica I was fully prepared to take the bus and shuttles but then decided against it because ultimately I wanted the flexibility of a rental car. I rented with Economy and had a great experience with them.
On my 10-day trip, I drove from San Jose to Uvita and Dominical and then all the way up the mountains in Monteverde. I also drove to La Fortuna and entirely around Lake Arenal one day. I have driven in quite a few countries (Ireland, Europe Roadtrip, USA Roadtrip) and I can confidently say Costa Rica was one of the easiest places to drive in.
If you do rent a car you may also want to read...
Top tips for renting a car in Costa Rica
First off, when it comes to renting a car I definitely suggest paying the extra for a 4x4 with 4 wheel drive. I’ll be honest, I didn’t because I was being cheap (surprise surprise) and I kicked myself multiple times.
If you are traveling during rainy season (May to November) you absolutely need a 4x4. Washouts and landslides are common. In dry season you can navigate many more places with a standard car.
BIGGEST TIP: You must have personal liability insurance in Costa Rica. Most car rental companies don't quote the price online and then you are surprised with a huge expense as you pick up your car. I had to pay $300 extra when I picked up my car. (It is $30 a day.) There is no getting around it. Know about this expense before you decide to rent a car in Costa Rica.
If you damage your car due to crossing a river, most car insurance agreements are void. If you are driving during rainy season be extra careful. I didn’t encounter any of this during dry season.
Book online beforehand – especially in the high season. Renting a car is quite common and it is also common for car rentals to be completely booked if you arrive reservation-less.
To rent a car you only need a valid drivers license from your home country there is no requirement in Costa Rica for an international drivers license.
If you are arriving into San Jose airport immediately after the customs line you will see booths for all rental agencies. Economy provides shuttles from the airport to their lot. I assume most companies do but cannot say for sure.
Driving in Costa Rica
- Have your passport on you at all times just in case you get pulled over.
- My car had a USB outlet to charge phone and also play music. It was a lifesaver since some routes can take a VERY long time.
- Navigating Costa Rica was pretty easy if you have the Waze app. Don’t go off of google maps it can sometimes be very wrong.
- Be careful driving in an unfamiliar area at night. Luckily, violent crime is low but unfortunately, petty crime is high. Plus you may not have much light at night.
Sharing the road
- Motorcyclists and scooters are common on main roads. If they can’t reach high speeds they are very good about pulling to the side to let you pass. Be patient and pass when it is safe.
- Pedestrians and bicyclists are also everywhere, be extra cautious especially at night.
- Don't leave your car in parking lots without paying the attendant. 500 colones is sufficient.
- Be careful if your tire is flat. Don’t stop on the side of the road and don't accept random help. Try to get to a gas station to change it. This is a common scam in Costa Rica: someone will slash your tire while you are inside a restaurant or store they will follow you out of town and when you realize you have a flat they will offer to help. Then instead of help, they rob you.
- If you get in an accident immediately call 911 and your rental agency. DO NOT MOVE YOUR CAR.
- The gas stations have attendants to fill you up. They will ask regular or super and if you want it completely full. I tipped 500 colones per fill up (please comment below is this is not appropriate amount)
All in all renting a car in Costa Rica turned out to be a great decision for me. I loved the freedom of a rental car and spent a lot of time in it exploring Costa Rica.
If you plan on renting I HIGHLY SUGGEST reading my post on driving in Costa Rica, which will break down safety and general rules of the road a bit more in depth. If you have any other questions do not hesitate to ask in the comments or by email. (firstname.lastname@example.org)