Renting a Car
Renting a car is the best way to discover Costa Rica's secluded destinations and be the master of your own schedule. You can travel when you want, stop for multiple photo ops, and take any detour you desire. If you’re traveling with a family or several friends, a rental car will be cheaper than taxis or private transportation if you plan to travel off the beaten path.
For the solo traveler, or couples, a rental will be more expensive than public transportation or private shuttles when you factor in gasoline and insurance. Road conditions are variable, potholes are common, and the nation's drivers are more aggressive than you may be used to back home. Directions can be difficult to follow, and driving may take longer than hiring private transportation or taking a local flight. Note that Costa Ricans are always willing to lend a helping hand, and you'll find your way with a good map or GPS.
You must be 21 or older and have a current driver's license from your home country, which is valid in Costa Rica for the duration of your stay as a tourist. By law, you may not drive the car out of the country, even for a day trip. You also need a credit card with a limit sufficient to cover the mandatory deposit (usually $1,000-$1,500; refundable) for the rental contract. Most agencies accept Visa, American Express, Mastercard and Diners Club. The owner of the credit card must be present at the time of rental.
You are legally required to purchase basic liability insurance that covers damages to third parties. Your credit card will not cover this, so tack on a minimum of $10-$20 extra per day. Optional insurance includes the collision damage waiver (CDW) that reduces your liability on vehicle damage, as well as supplements for theft and vandalism. Many companies require you to purchase CDW (around $12/day), which may be covered by your credit card, as part of the basic insurance package.
Car rentals range from $20-$120 per day, depending on the model. Don't forget to account for insurance, which adds $12-$50 a day to the total cost. Regular unleaded gas currently runs about $5 per gallon, and some of the major highways have inexpensive tolls. Nearly all rental companies offer free unlimited mileage.
- Airport Pickup: There is a government-mandated 13% surcharge on all airport pickups for rentals. Therefore, most agencies offer free shuttles to offsite locations just minutes away, saving you the fee.
- Late arrivals: If you arrive in the late afternoon or early evening, consider holding your rental until the following day. Night driving can be stressful and many airport hotels provide complimentary pickup. Arrange for vehicle delivery the following morning, and you'll save a day's rental fee.
- Go 4x4: If you're traveling to Monteverde, the Osa Peninsula, or other remote locals, you may need 4WD. When in doubt, ask your travel agent or hotel operators if a 4x4 is necessary.
- GPS Rental: The most reliable GPS software for Costa Rica is Navsat/EzFind. Rentals are available for $10-$15 per day. If you own a Garmin brand GPS, you can purchase Navsat maps and bring it with you. Always take detailed maps for backup, as inclement weather may result in detours.
- Traffic Violations: Make sure to heed posted speed limits and wear your seat belt, as fines are steep. A simple parking ticket can cost $400 and your rental company may be required to pay the fine by charging your credit card.