10 important tips (plus mistakes to avoid)

March 12, 2023 By:

Driving in Costa Rica
Tips for driving in Costa Rica
Costa Rica Driving Guide

Are you ready for a thrilling ride in Costa Rica? Renting a car is the best way to get around this beautiful city. But there are a few things you should know before you go.

So you’ve been wanting to visit for years, and are finally planning your own adventure tour around Costa Rica!

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

Renting a car and driving Costa Rica on your own is the best way to experience this beautiful country, as it gives you the freedom to stop at every waterfall, volcano, river, and national park along the way.

Here are some important tips I learned about driving in Costa Rica, so you’re ready to hit the road and explore. The ocean is rich and a holiday you will never forget.

Costa Rica Driving Guide (2023)

1. Should you drive in Costa Rica?

Renting a car in Costa Rica
Get off the beaten path!

Hey, if you love big bus rides, by all means, book one. It’s a great way to see Costa Rica if you don’t have a lot of time.

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

And if you’re like me, you choose your own journey.

There is no set schedule or timeline – drive around Costa Rica with the freedom to stop at any cool spot you find along the way.

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

Yes, there is a public bus system in Costa Rica, but it’s only convenient to get from one major city to another, and often the bus station is just outside the city, so you’ll end up having to carry a car. taxi. Not to mention that traveling by public bus is the only slow way to get around the city.

Just keep in mind that some of the ways back to Costa Rica can be very much hard & muddy, and some local drivers don’t follow their own rules. With some practice though, you will gain the confidence to drive here!

Another great thing about owning a car is the ability to store things in the trunk, stopping in Costa Rican towns with backpacks instead of carrying luggage everywhere.

2. Where to rent your car in Costa Rica

Driving Tips for Costa Rica
Driving in Costa Rica

Some common car rental companies in Costa Rica include Enterprise, Sixt, Hertz, the local Adobe Rent-a-Car, and many others.

But the best site for keeping your car is Identify the vehicle. 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 from there we started our trip to Costa Rica.

San Jose Airport: Plan to pick up your car approximately 60 minutes after your flight arrives. When leaving, try to be at the airport at least 3 1/2 hours before your flight departs. Because returning your rental car and catching a ride back to the airport can take up to 30 minutes.

Liberia Airport: Plan to pick up your car approximately 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 car.

Car rental

Buy a car in Costa Rica

Search both local and international car rental companies to help you find the best deal.

3. Car rental insurance in Costa Rica

Some of the rumors about driving in Costa Rica are true, and the roads are rough in some places. Especially the back roads behind small towns in Costa Rica. Don’t worry, I will share some tips for doing them below.

This is why I recommend getting full coverage.

Usually, rental cars in Costa Rica come with basic Collision Damage Waiver (CDW), but this is not specific coverage, and covers the vehicle for up to $1000-3000 USD worth of damage.

This is the amount they hold on your credit card until you return the car in one piece. CDW does not cover tires, blown windshield, or vehicle damage.

Although you can save money keeping your car with a good travel credit card that includes rental car insurance, you must read carefully, because Many people think that their card has them covered in Costa Rica.

If you get into a damaged car in Costa Rica, refuse full coverage, and suddenly find out that your credit card doesn’t cover the damage – you’re screwed. I can’t tell you how many travel horror stories I’ve heard like this one…

That’s why I deliver complete insurance online. It’s cheaper than over the counter – and 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. A four-door sedan is about $25 a day. A four wheel drive SUV will cost you around $40-$70 USD per day.

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

I recommend renting a car with an actual trunk (no hatchbacks) to hide your luggage proudly. It helps prevent break-ins if thieves can’t find your stuff.

Gas prices

Now, paid gas about $4.75 USD per gallon ($1.25 per liter) in Costa Rica. A diesel car will save you money on gas, diesel fuel costs about $4.20 per gallon. It’s more expensive than gas in the United States!

Automatic vs manual

Automatic cars are cheaper to rent than manual cars (but manuals are more common in Costa Rica), and you have to specify which type you want when booking. If you’ve never driven a self-guided car before, start in Costa Rica! It’s better to get automatic.

One way rental

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

5. Age requirement for renting a car

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

6. Things to remember when driving in Costa Rica

Crossing the river in Costa Rica
Road across the river

Driving laws in Costa Rica are similar to driving laws in any country. However, local drivers don’t 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 ​​limit in Costa Rica

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

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

Road signs in Costa Rica

The road signs in Costa Rica deserve their own beauty, as they are similar to US road signs, only in Spanish. You can explore some Costa Rica road signs Here.

Traffic conditions

Costa Rica’s highways are paved and safe, however the country is also covered in back roads. Lots of dirt roads, and many not in good shape. Wool, hollow, etc. If you plan to drive off the beaten path in Costa Rica, I recommend renting a four-wheel drive SUV. Some bridges are one-way only, requiring one vehicle to wait for another to pass before proceeding.

Road across the river

You can travel around Costa Rica without crossing the river, but there are also backcountry trails that cross the river. Especially during the monsoon/rainy season, and in the Nicoya Peninsula, Drake Bay and Osa Peninsula areas. If you haven’t crossed the river before, please watch someone else go first!

Put your car in 4X4 mode, go slowly, and pay attention to the road. Some rivers are not fordable, but require you to wade upstream or downstream before leaving. This can be due to hidden obstacles, depth, or simply the best entry/exit point.

7. International Driving Permit

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

8. More tips for renting a car & driving in Costa Rica

  • Lock your doors when driving in Costa Rica, and don’t leave valuables visible in your car.
  • Pedestrians do not have good roads in Costa Rica. Which means that if you politely stop on the road for someone to pass, they will be confused, and the car behind you won’t expect it – which can cause an accident! The same is true in Mexico and other parts of Central America.
  • Do not return a vehicle without a factory inspection. You will find many negative reviews for any company (people love to complain online), but try to choose the one with the fewest negative reviews.
  • You may not always get the type of car you reserved. If they give you a smaller car, or a manual when you ask for an automatic, get excited and ask for an upgrade.
  • Inspect your vehicle thoroughly and record a video on your phone showing the damage before you leave. This is a backup if they try to charge you for damages that are already there. This is a ordinary car rental scam in Costa Rica…
  • Pay attention if Costa Rica rental cars always take gas or diesel, so you fill up the right kind at the gas station.
  • Use Google Maps on your phone for directions instead of renting a GPS device. Only use your own hands-free car mount and good international phone plans.

9. Emergency & Failure Information

In an emergency, you can call Costa Rica’s emergency phone number which is 911, as in the United States. They also have English speaking lines.

However, if your car breaks down quickly, and no one is injured, it is best to call the Costa Rica car rental company’s emergency road assistance number that is included in the rental agreement.

Enjoy your Costa Rica adventure!

Touring the small towns, beautiful beaches, forested mountains, and national parks of Costa Rica in a rental car is definitely the right choice for us.

A self-drive road trip allows you to get off the beaten path to see things that most people miss! ★

Car rental

Buy a car in Costa Rica

Search both local and international car rental companies to help you find the best deal.


I hope you enjoyed my guide to driving in Costa Rica! I hope you find it useful. Here are a few inspiring stories that I recommend you read next:

Do you have any questions about driving through Costa Rica? What about other suggestions? Follow the discussion on Facebook, Instagramor Twitter get rid of it!