Driving in San José City
If you are able to pick up your car out of town or at your Hotel, which is possible with several Hotels and Car Rental companies listed here, try to avoid driving in San José, unless you are used to narrow streets, complicated one-way systems, heavy traffic and thefts from cars. If you still have to drive through town, while driving, keep your windows half way up and the doors locked especially when luggage is visible. Don't hang your gold watch out the window.
Driving outside of San José
If you drive out of San José the situation will change. You will find from very good double-lane highways to dirt roads that go through rivers. If you want to see pictures about driving in Costa Rica, click here. Remember that the insurance doesn't cover damages caused by crossing rivers and unlike Panama, some companies in Costa Rica don't cover damage on tires and rims. Most roads in Costa Rica are single-lane, without shoulders, have potholes of all sizes, and are winding. Please drive defensively and always expect a cow, horse, oxcart, slow moving truck, a cyclist or a broken down vehicle around the bend. Certain roads have the reputation of being particularly dangerous. The stretch from San José to San Isidro El General and the road to Limón are two of them.
Roads with a whitish asphalt and other hazards
A few roads still have a whitish asphalt surface, for instance from Nicoya to Sámara. This surface gets very slippery on rainy days. The road to Guápiles goes through the Braulio Carrillo National Park and is famous for landslides and heavy fog. We generally recommend driving early in the day and never at night. I had my first accident at night. I was blinded by oncoming high-beams and the first time I saw the loaded watermelon-truck, at walking speed and without lights, was when I hit it.
Half of the cars will blind you with their poorly adjusted headlights. That has probably less to do with bad technical inspections, but rather is caused by the many pot-holes. In addition, you'll find bicycles without lights or reflectors, as well as cows, horses, and pedestrians walking or sitting in the street. So please don't drive at night. If the night should catch you (darkness here falls very quickly at about 6 PM), drive slowly and stop if necessary if you are blinded or the the fog is too thick.
Driving outside Costa Rica
At the moment no Car Rental Companies carries the special insurance that allows you to leave Costa Rica to Panama or Nicaragua in the same car. Please use the Rental Companies we have listed here. In Nicaragua and Panama we work with some additional companies that are not listed here. Please ask for rates.
If you are involved in an accident
Should you get involved in an accident, call 911 and never move the car until the police get there. Injured people should not be taken from the scene until the Red Cross Ambulance arrives. Make notes or sketches of what happened and don't make statements to unauthorized people.
Speed limits in Costa Rica
If no other speed limit is posted, there is a 100km/h speed limit on primary roads and a 60km/h speed limit on secondary roads. Traffic police use radar and limits are enforced with speeding tickets. Expect to run into speed controls anywhere, and especially during the day. Between Santa Cruz and Nicoya you have to drive 75km/h on a perfect road with wide curves but you will probably run into 2 speed controls.
Few wear seatbelts and many are on the phone. But not wearing a seatbelt or talking to the phone can also get you a ticket. If you get a ticket you have to pay the fine at a bank. Instructions are on the ticket. If you are renting a car, the car rental company most likely will do that for you. The police has no right to confiscate the car unless there was a serious accident, the driver was drunk or was driving without a valid drivers license.
Book well ahead of time!
Try to book your rental car well ahead of time, especially for high season. Because of our good relations and high volume with the car rental companies, we are able to get the best rates for you. (The same applies for booking a hotel). Avoid booking a car at the airport because there they have to charge you an extra 13% airport tax.
Where will you receive the car?
Use the service of some of the hotels that offer free transportation from the airport and have the Costa Rica rent a car company pick you up at the hotel and take you to their office or have them drop off the car at your hotel. That depends on the policy of the Rent a Car Company and your hotel, this can vary. If you are a group of more than 5 - 6 persons, think about a Mini-Bus Rental. Some Costa Rica car rental companies will bring the car anywhere you want. Depending on the distance, this service may have a cost.
The minimum age to rent-a-car in Costa Rica usually is 21. Some companies rent certain cars only to drivers over 25. If you don't have a mayor Credit Card you can also make a cash deposit of $ 1000.00 to $1500.00.
Inspect the car you rent!
When you rent a car, first there is an inspection performed about dents and scratches on the car. Please participate with this inspection, look for dents on the roof, missing gas caps, radio, antenna, cigarette lighters and hubcaps. If the car breaks down, don't get it fixed. The Car Rental Company will get to you in a short while with another car. They will fix it or bring you another car. Don't leave luggage in the car and always park in a secure place or have somebody watch the car while you are gone.
Recommended Car Rental Companies
Slease use one of the following companies. They have years of experience and give you the best services in Costa Rica:
Toyota Rent a Cars, Adobe Rent a Car, Easy Car, Mapache Rent a Cars, Europcar Car Rental, Explorer Car Rental, Tricolor Car Rental, Hertz Rent-a-Car, Economy Rent a Cars, Budget Rent a Car,Poas Rent a Cars, and Thrifty Rent a Car. They all rent All-terrain vehicles, 4x4 and compact cars as well.
The best way to see Costa Rica
Despite all the above warnings, to see Costa Rica with a rented car is by far the best solution. During our last inspection tour we rented a Galloper Turbo Diesel and drove on the worst roads, crossed dozens of Rivers and in 4 weeks drove over 5000 kilometres between Peñas Blancas and Paso Canoas. Most of the time we were driving at night with no problems. Certain rivers cannot be crossed in October like the one below in Nosara. For the river before Pavones Beach there was a small cable-pulled ferry. If you go to Monteverde, please rent a 4x4 or you might not get there.
Explore the Wonders of Nature with a 4x4!
A rented car in Costa Rica is especially indispensable if you are interested in nature and remote areas. Some of the most incredible places we visited during our tours can only be accessed by small one-engine planes or with a 4x4 like for instance the beautiful beach at Cahuita National Park, Playa Nosara, Monteverde, or the incredible Nature Paradise at Tiskita Jungle Lodge in Pavones.