Renting a car in Costa Rica enables tourists from all over the world to explore the countryside at their own pace, up close. Thousands of visitors have positive Costa Rica car rental experiences and renting a car in Costa Rica continues to be a popular option, and for good reason.
Even so, renting a car in Costa Rica requires careful planning, an understanding of local roads and rules, and a healthy dose of caution.
For the most part, Costa Rica is a safe country to visit, but local police and thieves often target rental cars, which are easily identifiable wherever you go. Roads can be hazardous, weather unpredictable, and breakdowns can lead to unpleasant experiences and colorful horror stories.
To make sure your experience renting a car in Costa Rica is positive, keep the following tips and considerations in mind when planning:
- Reserve your Costa Rica rental car early. When it comes to renting a car in Costa Rica, demand always exceeds supply, so the earlier you pin down your car rental the better. Most of the major rental agencies operate branches in Costa Rica, but don’t expect to land in San Jose and pick up a vehicle at the last minute.
- Make sure you are adequately insured. Call your insurance provider to see if your coverage extends to Costa Rica. Temporary rental car insurance is available, but it can cost $30 per day or more, and the deductibles are high—usually $750 or $1500.
- Drive very carefully. Even major paved roads can be full of potholes, and unpaved roads are common. Heavy rains can make some dirt roads nearly impassible, making four-wheel drive rentals an excellent option. Sadly, police seem to target rental cars, and some of them resent tourists. If you are stopped by police never pay them directly. Tickets can be paid by credit card for up to a year after you return home.
- Beware of common safety traps. If you do break down, be careful. Robbers have been known to stop, offer help, and then take everything. Another common pitfall is robbers who puncture rental car tires or otherwise tamper with the engine so they can follow you and rob you when you break down. Make sure you have reflecting triangles in the trunk so you can arrange them around the car to warn oncoming traffic in the event of an accident. If you have an accident, call the National Insurance Institute at 800-800-8000 and the transit police 222-9330. If all else fails, dial 911, and they will contact the appropriate agency.
- A little Spanish helps. You don’t have to learn Spanish to visit Costa Rica, but keep in mind when renting a car in Costa Rica that if you are involved in an accident you can’t count on hospital staff or local people to speak English. If you don’t know any Spanish, a pocket language guide is a good glove box addition.
None of these precautions and tips should scare anyone off of renting a car in Costa Rica. Thousands of people do it every year, and Costa Rica car rental is definitely one of the best ways to be immersed in local culture and scenery. Plan ahead, be careful, and you have an excellent chance of enjoying a trouble free vacation in one of the hottest destinations on the planet.