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Renting a car and getting around in Costa Rica

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Renting a car and getting around in Costa Rica

There are many good posts about renting a car on Tripadvisor but many are not entirely accurate or simply incomplete. Here is what I could recommend and provide:

1) Renting a car in CR is not like renting a car in N. America or Europe. Keep in mind, you are in a foreign country and we need to respect that.

2) Are you going to drink? RED color taxi could get you around anywhere in SJ for $2-$4. Excursion tours usually provide readonable transportation, so you could have a good time, drunk or not.

3) Taking public transportation such as buses will require you to speak some Spanish and know where you are heading.

4) Most Costa Rican taxi drivers speak English! Don't need to use orange taxis at the airport. They charge more for the same service.

5) Price of rental cars vary hugely at first look. In the end, they are usually about the same. However, most big car rental companies have hidden charges and have histories of playing "bate and switch": they would offer you a size of car but then become not available at checked in unless you ate willing to pay more. You would end up either spending more money or waste a lot of time despite you have a "guarantee" reservation. Worse is when they don't honor the on-line booking price because it's a "computer error". And complains will not get you anywhere with car rental companies.

6) Some car rental companies are worse than others: (noticeable bad reviews from other Tripadvisor members are Payless and U-Save). Be careful with your choice before giving your credit card number out. Cancellation policy may include a small processing fee)

7) Wild-rider and Vamos are excellent as pointed out by many Tripadvisor members. I concur!!

8) Parking is not easy in SJ, most are paid parkings. Good luck to find your car if it's towed.

9) Potholes are everywhere in SJ! Their sewage is over-ground, so there are DEEP trenches on both sides of roads and watch out for turns. Your back wheel may end up in the ditch/trench/sewage drain. Highway roads are good. Mountain roads could be rough for cars.

10) Don't speed, tickets are extremely expensive ($600 for 20km over) and the police are everywhere on the highway. Most area have speed limit between 40-60KM (not Miles).

11) Radar detector is illegal in Costa Rica. Not sure what the penalties are if caught...

12) Mandatory insurance or 3rd party liability or LW insurance is required by Costa Rica law. It's not LDW/CDW (which I will provide more details next). There is NO exception and most car rental companies are not up front with it. For example, Avis, Hertz or Budget don't even have it as an option at their Internet booking. Vamos and Wild-rider include the mandatory insurance in their quote. It's usually $15-$25 a day. Remember, it is different than CDW/LDW! If it's not in your quote, you still need to pay for it before you pick up your vehicle.

13) CDW/LDW is the optional insurance. The renter could use their credit card coverage but MUST bring a proof of coverage from your credit card company. i.e. an agreement from the under-writer or a letter from your credit card company. They won't take your words for it. Some credit companies do not provide coverage outside of North America.

14) If you are using your credit card car insurance coverage, they will put a $1200 to $5000 on hold on your credit card (all car rental companies do that: good or bad). It's their "policy!" Make sure you have a high credit limit to cover this. It's not an extra cost but it's a high limit hold!! Many travelers end up not being able to rent a car because of low credit card limit or under budget. There's no negotiation.

15) If you choose to purchase their CDW/LDW, they will still put a $750 to $1500 on hold on your credit card. The reason? Tire damage and vandalism are not coverages even if you have full CDW/LDW coverage. Again, make sure you have a high credit card limit.

16) There are un-expected speed bumps near houses even in the middle of highways. Watch for signs.

17) Road signs are ok. You will need a navigator to help you, especially at night. It's quite easy to get around Costa Rica.

18) Most bridges are a single lane, watch for signs to indicate "right of way". It's not first come, first go!!

19) Get an updated Costa Rica GPS map or a paper map. You will not be able to punch in exact addresses in Costa Rica most of the time. i.e. a place is across the street from a church and near a gas station. How are you suppose to punch it into the GPS? Instead, use landmarks or simply drive into a town by following direction from your GPS or a paper map. Then, punch in the landmark near your destination. Get an un-locked phone, it will really help with finding directions. Most Costa Ricans speak decent English.

20) Newer highways require tolls and use them!

21) Roads between towns (except for highways) are narrowed and hard to drive. You need be able to stay in your own lane, especially if a huge truck is coming from the opposite direction. There is little shouldering room available (if any).

22) Get a 4x4 if you are planning to go up mountains because a car is simply not good for muddy and/or rocky conditions.

23) Many cars/SUV are manual drives (stick-shift). Confirm your reservation with an automatic if you have never driven a stick-shifted car before or not a good stick-shift driver. There are MANY hills and windy hills. Imagine San Francisco!! I am not exaggerating because I used to live there and drove a stick-shift.

24) Get a car/SUV with adequate horsepower because of the hills or you will have someone on your tails or trying to pass you all the time. Don't cheap out!

25) Remember to bring towels if you plan to visit beaches or play water sports. Otherwise, you will have to deal with wet seats if you don't have changed if clothes!

26) Lock your car and put away your stuffs (such as GPS or cell phone or even their chargers) at all time!!

27) Don't pay for someone to "watch" your car. They don't!!

28) Close your windows even on hot days because of thieving issues and animals will go in your car if they see food! Seriously.

In my opinion, it's a lot of fun to drive around Costa Rica and it makes sense most of the time. Public transportation is good within San Jose. But if you really want to "explorer" Costa Rica in "your own pace", renting a car is a GREAT option.

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Manuel Antonio...
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1. Re: Renting a car and getting around in Costa Rica

Thanks for sharing.

Costa Rica
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2. Re: Renting a car and getting around in Costa Rica

I don't agree with some of the things on this list -- and some of them are just plain wrong.

For instance, while I do agree that you should slow down and obey the traffic laws, the fines quoted for speeding are all wrong. These fines were put in place and struck down by the Costa Rican Supreme Court and now there's a new set of fines.

There are not potholes everywhere. Period. Just ludicrous. Yesterday, I traveled from Tenorio Volcano to Liberia - a distance of about 80 km and 1.5 hours - never saw ONE pothole.

Official airport taxis are allowed to charge more -- however -- they are very honest and professional. If you want to get a red taxi from the airport, you will need to walk up to the main street and flag one down. There are a lot of pirate taxis in that area and it can get very confusing. For an arriving visitor, it's much easier just to use the airport taxi and pay a couple of dollars more for the convenience.

Most taxi drivers DO NOT speak English. Period. They will understand enough English to get you where you are going -- mostly -- but if you expect to carry on a conversation, no.

You do NOT need to speak Spanish to ride the public bus. You just need patience and an understanding of where you are going. Some routes are easier than others - more direct. I've NEVER had to speak Spanish on a bus. I get on, give the driver my money, sit down and then get off at my destination.

Bring towels? There are a gazillion towels for sale in Costa Rica. Why would you clutter up your luggage with bringing towels?

All in all, some good advice but sounds like it was written by someone who lives in the San Jose area where things are different from the rest of the country.

Slovenia
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3. Re: Renting a car and getting around in Costa Rica

Thanks to OP and to Hattie for all the informations provided. It is never too much info or too many times posted about renting a car and driving in Costa Rica.

Only remark I have is on the part of first sentence of the OP: "but many are not entirely accurate or simply incomplete." Exactly the same informations have been posted over and over again by regular "repliers".

San Jose, Costa Rica
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4. Re: Renting a car and getting around in Costa Rica

Thank you...nice post...but agreee with others...in some issues...like...pot holes...our roads are better than ever...you do not need a 4x4 to drive around...just a nice good condition vehicle...of course if you are planning some off road driving that is another thing...renting a car here is like renting a car anywhere...just common sense...

Just buckle up and enjoy the ride in PARADISE!j

roadadvisor

Miami, Florida
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5. Re: Renting a car and getting around in Costa Rica

Thank you dotcomsurfr for sharing very informative. I agree with you many pot holes especially in the main cities San Jose, Heredia, Cartigo, Alajula. I also found many un-expected speed bumps in many areas.

San Jose, Costa Rica
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6. Re: Renting a car and getting around in Costa Rica

With all my respect...I drive for living here in my country and honestly ....about 100% of the people that I drive with they tell me thatt our roads are in great shape...and I agree...around San Jose...Heredia Cartago ...Alajuela...Guanacaste...Limon...all over... our main roas are in grate shape or under repairs or construction..I drive in a daily basis...my last drive last night to Monteverde...and in a few minutes to Los Sueños by road 27 which by the way is in a lot better shape than some roads around South beach..etc..

We have many un-expected speed bumps.... nice so people slow down by schools zones...hospitals..etc...

roadadvisor

Costa Rica
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7. Re: Renting a car and getting around in Costa Rica

Oh yes -- speed bumps! They can be a big surprise......

From my experience, you can find speed bumps when a busy highway goes through small towns or passes by an elementary school. Sometimes a hospital. Usually there are signs, but sometimes not.

As I pointed out: just like anywhere else, spending time in and around the cities is different from spending time in the countryside.

Chandler, Arizona
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8. Re: Renting a car and getting around in Costa Rica

What do the signs say that indicate right of way at bridges? The way I'm understanding this is one approach is designated a have the right of way over the other approach, is this correct?

Thanks Dave

Canada
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9. Re: Renting a car and getting around in Costa Rica

"Ceda el Paso" (Yield) If you see this sign let every car going opposite to your direction go over the bridge before you do.

Costa Rica
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10. Re: Renting a car and getting around in Costa Rica

The "Ceda el paso" sign will have the same shape and colors as a "Yield" sign.