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Costa Rica is one of the hottest destinations for tourists nowadays and driving is one of the best ways to freely explore the diverse and scenic country. Some people prepay tours that include transportation, but it is quite common to see tourists renting a car. There are some things you should be knowledgeable about before you do so.
All the major rental car companies are present in Costa Rica, most have offices in both international airports (San Jose and Liberia) or very close by with free shuttles. It is possible to find branches in different cities or in the main tourist destinations as well.
In San Jose make your way just outside the terminal, on the arrivals level and you will see shuttles coming and going at regular intervals. It is customary for pick up just across the driveway in front of the parking structure where there are some benches and palm trees. It can be seen as below:
The price of the rental itself is normally affordable, but it is good to keep in mind that most of the online quotes do not include insurance (even the basic and mandatory ones) so one may expect to pay as much as or even more than the price of the rental itself. The best thing is to call ahead and confirm what is included and what is not.
Many travelers are used to declining insurance abroad because their credit card gives them coverage. However in Costa Rica there is a third party insurance charge which is mandatory and will not be covered by the card. It is a very vague fee which honestly can range in price from as low as a $15 charge, to whatever the agency wants to come up with. Sometimes the prices change based on low or high season, but it is done to locals as well.
The best solution for this is once you’ve made the reservation is to call, get the name of the person you are speaking with and ask for the final price with the minimum insurance. It is the best way to avoid a suprise and to have some leverage at the pick up as to getting the ideal price for this mandatory fee.
Gas is more expensive than in the USA but not as bad as in Europe. Most roads are free of tolls but there are some that are not, so it is good to carry colones (local currency) to pay these ones. Costa Rica is normally safe, but do not leave all your stuff in the car, and actually always try to park in a secure place, especially in the main cities. Roads are in better condition now than years ago, but in comparison with the USA or Europe these look small, narrow and some times challenging, so be aware of that.
One of the things to keep in mind is that addresses in Costa Rica are very challenging, they still use an interesting system not with numbers or names of streets, but with geographical points as references. For example the address of a hotel can be something like: 200 meters North from the Church and 150 meters South of the Pharmacy. GPS systems do not recognize these kind of addresses and this issue is normally the main factor that makes driving difficult for those who aren’t locals. Costa Ricans are always eager to help and many people have some understanding of English. Still the best way to go around is to use a GPS by introducing coordinates for the destination and not the traditional local address, so maybe it is a good idea to plan ahead and ask such coordinates from the hotel or look around on the internet for such information. Using the name of the resort or place in the GPS search also works sometimes.
Driving in Costa Rica is a fun experience and allows the visitor to see a lot of the country, just plan ahead and be ready for the adventure.