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Car Rental Costa Rica

'Car rental Costa Rica' is a page I created to provide you info and tips for having a trouble free rental experience. With a little extra information you can avoid some of the more common hassles of car rental in Costa Rica.

Driving is a great way of seeing this beautiful country. At the size of Vermont and New Hampshire put together, it is very much accessible by car, and there aren't many places more than six hours drive from the capital, San Jose.

Heck, you can be surfing in Jaco in an hour and a half, and within three hours you could be heading out fishing for Marlin in Quepos, while the turquoise waters of the Caribbean in charming Puerto Viejo are just three hours in the opposite direction. So a rental car in Costa Rica is the best way of taking advantage of your Costa Rica vacation.
What follows is a lot of information, and though it may be intimidating, don't worry. Thousands of people each year rent cars without problem. This page is merely to help you enjoy your Costa Rica rental car without any unpleasant surprises.
Car rental in Costa Rica allows you the freedom to stop when you want to -- a chance to snap some photos of traditional oxen drawn carts -- and having your own rental car lets you stay as long as you want.

Just remember to be conscientious of Costa Rican drivers when you're on the road, many of whom seem to be on crazy pills when they get behind the wheel of a car. Moreover, roads are often narrow with frequent blind turns frequent and few road signs. You never know when a vaquero or cowboy might be riding his horse right on the road around the bend. Only pass another car when you are absolutely sure it is clear on the other side. Car accidents in Costa Rica are epidemic and it pays to be cautious while enjoying Costa Rica in your rental car.

My biggest recommendation is to make sure your Costa Rica car rental is a 4x4!

This is not just to look cool on your Costa Rica adventure vacation; there is actually a purpose. Costa Rica is not known for having great roads, and all it takes is one tropical rain to really bring that point home. I've seen potholes that could double as town swimming pools. And getting your Toyota Corolla rental stuck in the mud could waste an entire day of your precious Costa Rica vacation.

Renting a 4x4 really increases your options as to where you can go. Monteverde, everything south of Golfito, the southern Nicoya peninsula, and the Osa peninsula require such a vehicle at all times of the year. Just be cautious driving the smaller 4WD cars because they can be top-heavy and dangerous if not driven carefully over very bumpy terrain.

Car Rental Costa Rica key points:

  • Minimum age for renters is 21 years old, 25 for some companies
  • Need a valid driver's license and credit card
  • Your rental car in Costa Rica will likely be a manual transmission; automatics cost more
  • Splurge on a 4x4 unless you really can't afford it
  • Discounts often offered when reservations are made before arrive
  • Reserve your Costa Rica car rental as far in advance as possible, especially in dry season and during holidays, especially around Christmas
  • Double check that your auto-insurance at home covers you abroad, or that your credit-card truly provides coverage on your rental car in Costa Rica
  • Ask about discounts in low season from May to October
  • Note any and all dings and scrapes, as you may be liable -- don't forget the radio, antennae, and the rims
  • Check tire pressure, oil, water etc. before leaving the agency, as rental car maintenance can be spotty
Insurance Information  ( Car rental Costa Rica top )

You'll find that insurance is an obligatory charge for your rental car in Costa Rica. This CDW or Collision Damage Waiver may or may not be included in the price of the car, so it is important to ask. If you are reserving from abroad and are told the CDW is included or that your existing policy at home or that the policy that comes with your credit card will cover you, it is essential that you get this in writing. Rental agencies aren't always reliable in the information they give you, so better to be on the safe side. It's not fun to arrive and find out there are additional daily charges for something you thought was included in the bill -- especially when it can run you an extra 10 to 30 dollars a day.
Also, inquire as to whether the insurance covers both theft and collision. Insurance does not cover car's contents or personal possessions, nor does it cover the deductible or excess (unless you are not at fault), which ranges between 500-1000 dollars (up to 1500 dollars for young drivers or 4WD vehicles). This deductible is generally for collisions with other vehicles, while collisions with non-vehicles like a boulder or tree often call for a higher deductible. The deductible can sometimes be waived with a daily fee of around 10 dollars. Another thing to note is that if you rental car in Costa Rica a vehicle intended for off-road use on an unpaved road, you are almost never covered by insurance -- so check with the rental agency.
Now if you rent a 4WD vehicle, it doesn't mean you have free reign to try driving through any obstacle in your way. This is especially true while trying to cross a river. You will be liable if you flood the engine. Rivers and creeks can be treacherous, often there is a trench, so it if you must cross, do so slowly. Going slow also assures you don't create a wave that washes into your engine compartment and drowns your air filter. It's good to follow established tire tracks or better yet, wait to follow a local. Every year there are reports of a rental car in Costa Rica getting swept down a river because the driver misjudged the depth, so try to err on the side of caution.

Driving Rules and General Information Regarding Car Rental in Costa Rica ( Car rental Costa Rica top )
A current foreign driver's license is required to drive in Costa Rica and is valid for the first three months you are in country. You must also be at least 18 years old and have proof of entry to the country to keep track of those three months, so always bring along your passport while driving as well as vehicle registration papers.
Highway speed limits range between 60-90kph and they are radar enforced, so it's a good idea to avoid speeding. Besides, cops seem to be particularly fond of ticketing people in rental cars so don't give them a reason. If pulled over you will probably receive a ticket for around 30 dollars or less, but you should not give the police any money. Tickets not paid before your departure can be charged to your credit card for up to a year after you leave. Also, seatbelts are obligatory.
Some driving rules to consider are: don't enter an intersection unless you are able to exit, don't make a right turn during a red light unless a white arrow is present, no passing may be done on the right hand side, and cars going uphill have the right of way. As I mentioned before, Costa Rica has some crazy drivers, so be wary and it doesn't hurt to leave your lights on during the day.
Gas stations can be sparse, so it's best to fill up whenever you have a chance, especially if you're venturing off into some of the more remote regions in your Costa Rica rental car. Always be conscious of the state of your tires too, and make sure that your rental has a jack and a functional spare, as blowouts are not uncommon on Costa Rica's notorious roads.
Also, don't leave any valuables in your vehicle. Thieves often target rental cars in Costa Rica, especially when they are parked in out of the way places. Try to park your rental car under a light or close to where you are staying or where there might be night security just to be on the safe side.

Breakdowns, Accidents and Car Assistance( Car rental Costa Rica top ) 

Emergency medical and vehicle services are quite limited outside of the capital. Larger towns like Liberia, Puntarenas, Quepos, Palmar, and Golfito all have such services, but the outside of these towns service is sparse and can often leave you waiting quite a while. Also, there's no assurance you will encounter English-speaking service providers in these areas. Just remember to stay with your rental car if you break down in a remote area, because it's much easier to be found that way.
If you can't move your broken down car off the road, it's important to put down reflective triangles to warn oncoming cars starting 100ft/30m from your vehicle. You can improvise with piles of leaves or sticks if you don't have reflective triangles. While most Ticos are friendly and some even willing to stop and help, always keep your guard up, as there have been robberies. One reported trick unscrupulous Tico criminals use is to puncture rental car tires in parking lots or busy intersections, only to stop and offer assistance and then rob their victims.
In the event you're involved in an accident you should get in touch with the National Insurance Institute (INS) at 800/800-8000 and the Transit Police at 222-9330 or 222-9245. The transit police will send over a unit if one is in the vicinity and create an official transit police report, which is extremely helpful with any insurance claim, otherwise try to get some witness statements. Dialing 800/012-3456 or 911 is another option to report the accident and they should help you connect to the proper agency. Just as a forewarning, experience with Costa Rican police is very much hit or miss. Sometimes they are helpful and other times they are everything but helpful. Do your best to keep calm and remain polite. Again, not many of these personnel speak English. And finally, if you are waiting for a police unit to arrive it is better to leave your rental car to better facilitate the officer's report. If you feel uncomfortable though, move the rental car to the next public, well-lit area and phone the police from that location.

Final Note on Car Rental in Costa Rica ( Car rental Costa Rica top )

Driving through Costa Rica in a rental car is an amazing way to see the country. Don't be scared off by all the info I've provided, it's merely to prepare you for any contingencies. I loved driving around the countryside and saw some amazing things and met some amazing people along the way. I've even shared the road with horses, cows, oxen, iguanas, anteaters, and monkeys. And in my opinion, that's not the kind of traffic you complain about ;-). (Car rental Costa Rica top)

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