Tips for driving in Costa Rica
Costa Rica Driving Guide

Ready for an epic road trip driving in Costa Rica? Renting a car is the best way to experience this beautiful country. But there are a few things you should know before you go.

So you’ve wanted to visit for years, and are finally planning your own epic road trip to drive around Costa Rica!

For such a small country, Costa Rica is surprisingly mountainous with dirt roads and the occasional river crossing, so my first time driving there was quite an adventure! Since then, I have visited the country many times, always choosing to rent a car.

Rent a car and drive yourself to Costa Rica This is the best way to experience this stunning country, as it gives you the freedom to stop at every waterfall, volcano, beach and national park along the way.

Here are some important tips I’ve learned about driving Costa Rica, so you’re ready to hit the road and explore. Rich Coast On vacation you will never forget.

Hi, I’m Matthew Karsten

I have been traveling the world for 10+ years as a professional photographer and writer. I hope you enjoy my Costa Rica driving tips! If you find it useful, I will earn a small commission for using my affiliate links, at no additional cost to you. Thank you!

Driving in Costa Rica Guide (2024)

1. Should you drive in Costa Rica?

Go off the beaten path!

Hey, if you love those big group bus tours, by all means, go book one. This is a perfect way to see Costa Rica if you don’t have a lot of time.

No planning, no driving, just sit back and let others do all the work!

But if you’re like me, you love the adventure of independent travel.

No set schedule or timetable — drive around Costa Rica with the freedom to stop wherever you feel cool along the way.

If you are this type of traveler, renting a car in Costa Rica is the way to go!

Yes, Costa Rica also has a public bus system, but it’s really only good for getting from one big city to another, and often the bus stops are located just outside the city, so you end up taking a bus stop. Taxi Not to mention traveling by public bus is a slow way to get around the country.

Just keep in mind that there may be some back roads in Costa Rica too much Rough and muddy, and some local drivers don’t obey their own laws. With a little practice though, you’ll gain the confidence to drive here!

Another nice thing about having a car was the ability to store things in the trunk, stopping in Costa Rican towns instead of lugging stuff around with small travel backpacks.

2. Where to rent your 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 many others.

But the best site to book your car Find a car. They search both local and international car rental companies to help you find the best possible price. This is the easiest way to rent a car in Costa Rica.

We rented our car from the San Jose airport in Alajuela and started our Costa Rican road trip from there.

San Jose Airport: Plan to pick up your car approximately 60 minutes after your flight arrives. When departing, try to be at the airport at least 3 1/2 hours before your flight departs. Because it can take up to 30 minutes to return your rental car and catch the shuttle back to the airport.

Liberia Airport: Plan to pick up your car about 30 minutes after your flight arrives. When departing, try to be at the airport at least 2 1/2 hours before your flight departs. Again, because of the shuttle.

Rent a car in Costa Rica

Search both domestic and international car rental companies to help you find a good deal.

3. Car rental insurance in Costa Rica

Some of the rumors about driving in Costa Rica are true, and the roads are very rough in some areas. Especially the back roads outside of small towns in Costa Rica. Don’t worry, I’ll share some tips for dealing with them below.

That is why I recommend getting full insurance coverage.

Generally, rental cars in Costa Rica come with the basics Collision damage waiver (CDW), but this is not exactly insurance, and only covers the car for damages ranging from $1000-3000 USD.

This is the amount they hold on your credit card until you return the car in one part. CDWs typically do not include tires, cracked windshields, or undercarriage damage.

While you can often save money by booking your car with a good travel credit card that includes car rental insurance, you really must read the fine print, because Many people mistakenly assume that their card covers them in Costa Rica.

If you get into a driving accident in Costa Rica, are denied full coverage, and you suddenly learn that your credit card doesn’t actually cover the damage — you’re screwed. I can’t tell you how many travel horror stories I’ve heard like this…

That’s why I usually pre-book full coverage online. It’s cheaper than over the counter — and then you won’t have to worry about accidents at all!

4. How much does it cost to rent a car in Costa Rica?

Renting a car in Costa Rica will cost you around $25-$40 USD per day, depending on the type of car you get. Our 4-door sedan was about $25 a day. A four-wheel drive SUV will cost you around $40-$70 USD per day.

A 4X4 campervan, or truck with a tent attached, will cost over $100 USD per day (although you can sleep in it too!).

I recommend renting a car with a real trunk (no hatchback) to hide your luggage from prying eyes. It helps prevent break-ins if thieves can’t see your stuff.

Gas prices

currently, gas costs Diesel cars often save you some money on gas at around $4.75 USD per gallon ($1.25 per liter) in Costa Rica, and diesel fuel costs around $4.20 per gallon. That’s a lot more expensive than gas in the United States!

Automatic vs Manual

Automatic cars are more expensive to rent than manual cars (but manuals are more common in Costa Rica), and you must specify which type you want when booking. If you’ve never driven a manual car before, don’t start in Costa Rica! It is safer to get automatic.

One-way fares

There is an additional fee for one-way car rentals in Costa Rica, which may vary by company. For example, if you want to leave the car in a different city than where you started from. But because the country is so small, you probably won’t need to do this.

5. Age requirements for renting a car

The minimum age for driving in Costa Rica is between 21-25 years old, depending on the company you book the car with. They may also charge an additional fee (usually $10 per day) if you are under 25.

6. Things to remember when driving in Costa Rica

River crossing

Driving laws in Costa Rica are the same as any other country’s driving laws. However local drivers do not always follow them. For example, drivers may not use a turn signal or run a red light if they think they can get away with it.

Speed ​​limits in Costa Rica

Speed ​​limits in Costa Rica are quoted in kilometers per hour. The maximum speed on most highways is 120 km/h (about 74 mph). On secondary roads, the limit is usually 60km/h (37 mph) and around towns and cities it is 40km/h (25 mph).

If you receive a speeding ticket, please notify your car rental company immediately, as you will have to pay for it when you drop the car off at the end of your trip.

Road signs in Costa Rica

Road signs in Costa Rica should be pretty self-explanatory, as they look similar to US road signs, only in Spanish. You can browse some common Costa Rican road signs here.

Road conditions

Costa Rica’s highways are paved and in good condition, although the country is also covered in back roads. There are many dirt roads and many are not in good shape. Mud, potholes etc. If you plan to drive off the beaten path in Costa Rica, I recommend renting a four-wheel drive SUV. Some bridges are single lane only, with one car having to wait for another car to cross before proceeding.

River crossing

You can road trip around Costa Rica without ever crossing a river, but there are also some back roads that go through rivers. Especially during the wet/rainy season and in Nicoya Peninsula, Drake Bay and Osa Peninsula areas. If you have never crossed a river before, please watch someone else go first!

Put your vehicle in 4X4 mode, slow down and pay attention to the route. Some rivers are not directly crossed, but you need to drive upstream or downstream before exiting. This could be due to hidden obstacles, depth or simply optimal entry/exit points.

7. International Driver’s License

No, you do not need an international driver’s license to drive in Costa Rica or to rent a car there. Just bring your passport, credit card and your driving license from your home country. So yes, you can drive in Costa Rica with a US driver’s license.

8. Additional tips for renting a car and driving in Costa Rica

  • Lock your doors when driving in Costa Rica and never leave valuables visible in your car.
  • Pedestrians don’t really have a right of way in Costa Rica. This means that if you politely stop in the road for someone to cross, they will be confused, and the car behind you won’t expect it — which could cause an accident! This is similar in Mexico and other parts of Central America.
  • Don’t book a car without reading company reviews. You’ll find plenty of bad reviews for every company (people love to complain online), but try to pick one with the fewest bad reviews.
  • You may not always receive the make/model/type of car you booked. If they give you a small car or a manual when you ask for an automatic, push and ask for an upgrade.
  • Inspect your car thoroughly and record a video on your smartphone showing the damage before you leave. This is a backup in case they try to charge you for damage that was already there. This one Common car rental scam In Costa Rica….
  • Pay attention to whether your Costa Rica rental car takes regular gas or diesel fuel, so you fill up with the correct type at gas stations.
  • Use Google Maps on your smartphone for directions instead of renting a GPS device. empty Use your own hands-free car mount And a good international cell phone plan.

9. Accident and breakdown information

In an emergency, you can dial the Costa Rican emergency phone number which is 911, as in the United States. They also have an English speaking line.

However, if your car simply breaks down, and no one is injured, it is better to call your Costa Rican car rental company’s own emergency roadside assistance number located on the rental agreement.

Enjoy your Costa Rica road trip!

Exploring the small villages, pristine beaches, jungle mountains and national parks of Costa Rica in a rental car was definitely the right choice for us.

Self-drive road trips let you get off the beaten track to see things most people miss! ★

Rent a car in Costa Rica

Search both domestic and international car rental companies to help you find a good deal.

Read more Costa Rica travel tips

I hope you enjoyed my guide to driving in Costa Rica! Hope you found it useful. Here are a few more wanderlust-inspiring articles I recommend you read next:

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