Car rentals in Costa Rica

Car rentals in Costa Rica –
Freedom to explore

Check into car rentals in Costa Rica if you’re like me and like getting around on your own without relying on buses, taxis, and shuttles.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not big on getting around by taxi. I’m always worried that I’ll have a problem catching a taxi BACK. And I don’t like not knowing how much it’s going to cost me until I get there. And will the taxicab driver have the correct change? Probably not.

Buses? Eh…it’s likely you’re not going to get away from them if you take any guided tours. But it’s not my first choice of seeing Costa Rica! They serve their purpose but I prefer to be on them for as short of a time as possible.

Those are some deep potholes!

I wouldn’t want to be riding a bus from Arenal to Monteverde, that’s for sure. Those are some bumpy roads. And we didn’t want to spend our Costa Rica vacation crammed into a hot tin can.

We went with Thrifty Car Rental Costa Rica out of San José. To avoid the 12% airport delivery fee, we had the car delivered to our hotel the morning after we arrived. At the end of our stay, we dropped it off at the agency across from the San José Airport and caught the free shuttle to the airport.

Freedom to explore

If you’re going to travel to Costa Rica for some adventure, or if you’ll be hopping around various destinations, it pays to look into car rentals in Costa Rica.

Sure, you can fly domestically. But I’d wager renting a car is far more economical. And way more convenient. The country is not that big that flying from point to point is necessary.

Driving in Costa Rica is a lot of fun!

On our honeymoon, we liked setting our own timetable. We liked not having to rush around to catch a bus or figure out how we were going to hail a taxi. Arranging for transportation can be a pain in the rear so we took that out of the equation as soon as we landed by booking a car ahead of time.

Driving for pleasure

I love to drive and I like to drive a stick. That’s good because most car rentals in Costa Rica have manual transmissions.

A manual or standard transmission is useful on the rough, inclined, and downhill terrain you’re going to encounter when driving in Costa Rica. You’ll need to keep it high gear heading down steep hills so you don’t burn out your brakes. And going uphill, you’ll want to keep the revs up while in a lower gear. (Higher revs = more horsepower to get you up the hill.)

Unfortunately, the missus was unable to drive a stick. Even still, I don’t feel like I missed much of the scenery as much of the driving we did was on dirt roads where I had to take things slow.

If you insist, you can book a car with an automatic tranny, often for marginal or no extra cost.

Four-wheelin’ fun

If you’re driving in Costa Rica on your own, you’ll be hitting unpaved roads. Large pebbles, small (and big) rocks, tree limbs, and potholes make the additional clearance of a 4×4 most welcome.

Heading uphill in the rain you’ll be glad you’re driving a 4×4. Mud can get slick.

What you need

For car rentals in Costa Rica, you need to be 21 or older, have a valid driver’s license, a passport, and a credit card in your name.

You’re in good hands

You’ll need insurance and you’ll have to purchase at least some of it from the only Costa Rican insurance company – the government.

The INS (Instituto Nacional de Seguros) requires that you purchase Supplemental Liability Insurance (SLI). This will cover damages to everything but you and your car. You are still responsible for damage to the rental car.

Optionally, you can purchase Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) insurance. This covers damages above and beyond your deductible but does not cover car theft or tire damage.

An additional option is zero liability insurance which can be purchased through the rental agency for yet another additional fee. This covers 100% of damages and loss due to car theft. Tire damage is also covered.

For CDW and zero liability insurance, it’s possible that your home auto insurance policy or credit card coverage may qualify. Check with the agency before you rent.

With car rentals in Costa Rica, be aware that pricing can be confusing based on the type of insurance included or not included. Always ask for the breakdown.

What you can expect to pay

First off, any reputable car rental agency will offer unlimited mileage. We liked not having to worry about getting “dinged” for extra miles.

On a per-day basis, expect to spend around $50 USD per day ($300 weekly) on a small 4×4 SUV. Larger SUVs (more passengers) will run a little bit more. If you don’t plan to dirt-road it much, a small sedan will run around $30 per day (or $190 weekly).

The standard, required liability insurance will run about $15 per day. Sometimes the liability insurance and CDW insurance are lumped together so make sure you clarify this before you book.

A la carte, CDW insurance ranges from $10-20 per day. If you’d like to opt for “zero liability” insurance, it can range from an extra $10 to $30 per day. Remember to check with your credit card to see if you can get covered that way.

Rates will be more expensive during the high season – as much as 15-25% more. Booking a full week can save you around 15% versus the per-day rate.

If you’re interested in renting a GPS, that will run you about $10/day.

Gas prices in Costa Rica are going to be on par with the US and less expensive than the EU.