Car rent in Costa Rica

mountain-roads-in-costa-rica

Why is it worth renting a car in Costa Rica? How to rent a car in Costa Rica? What does driving in this country look like? All you need to know about car rent in Costa Rica.


Since some time I really appreciate the possibility of renting a car in the country I am heading to. Even though it is much more expensive compared to public transport. The cost might be a little too high for a lone traveler, but in some countries it is a great and convenient way to move around. I especially mean countries outside of Europe, where public transport is not functioning in the best way.

car-rental-in-costa-rica
Costa Rica 2023

Obviously, I would recommend car renting only to those who are not afraid of driving outside of the borders of their own country. Even though the car handling and general traffic regulations are not so different between each and single country, what would be a challenge in some of them include driving culture and style, and also the quality of the roads.

Fortunately, drivers in Costa Rica are driving (mostly) according to the regulations. There happen to be road hogs, but in general I felt quite comfortable driving in this country.

What you need to pay special attention to while driving in Costa Rica

roads-in-costa-rica
Costa Rica 2023
  • Speed – do not count on the fact that short route sections can be driven through fast. Even though the most attended roads are in a good shape, it often happens that those are one-laned, and it will not be possible to be in a high speed mode.
  • Roads under construction – Costa Rica is constantly developing, and the best example of it are constructions of the new road networks. During my trip, I was often stuck in traffic for a dozen minutes, because there was construction on a given road section. It is most definitely annoying, but you have to keep in mind that after the work is done, the drive will be much more pleasant and faster.
  • Landslides – you need to keep in mind that the roads of Costa Rica are often surrounded by high slopes, which tend to slide down. During heavy rains, they can slide on the road. I have seen many news stories in Costa Rican media that apart from soil and rocks, trees would fall on the road as well, blocking the entire traffic for a few hours.
  • One-lane roads – most of the Costa Rican roads have one lane only, in many places there is no possibility of overtaking as the road leads through bends, narrow sections and very dangerous places.
  • Mountains – due to the fact that Costa Rica is a country with many mountains, most of the roads lead through mountain ranges, which are often narrow and full of serpentines.
  • State of the roads – the main arteries of the country are well-kept and in a rather good shape. If you pick a lesser tourist attended places or those laying in mountains, you have to keep in mind that the roads will be in a not so good shape. Those roads are often full of holes and lack of asphalt in some places.
  • Rain – during heavy rains the roads become very slippery and in some places deep puddles can appear. Near the end of my journey it started to rain, and it was so heavy at the time that the windshield wipers did not really help me to see through the glass. Remember to adjust the speed to the driving conditions.
  • The roads are flooded with water – especially during the rainy season, many smaller local roads are over flooded. Some places cannot even be reached by a 4×4 car, because the water level is too high. A situation like that happened during my trip to Corcovado National Park. I wanted to drive to a house rented by me – it is possible during the dry season, but out of the question during the rainy one.

If you want to choose less tourist oriented places, make sure to check out the state of the roads to a given place. The government of Costa Rica publishes information about flooded roads, which is why it is worth visiting their website to see the latest news. Also, you can call, 2588-4040, where you can ask about state of roads.

TravelOverSky.com advises

Road state in Costa Rica

roads-in-costa-rica
Costa Rica 2023

The main roads in Costa Rica are rather well-kept, however many of those are located in a mountain area, which is why you need to pay close attention to one-lane roads, serpentines and narrow roadsides (or the lack of them). The road itself is dimly lit during nights and wild animals might appear out of nowhere, which is why you need to be extra careful.

During my trip, I happened to drive at night a few times – I personally believe that those are not so pleasant journeys. It is absolutely better to drive during the day when there is better visibility.

In less popular places, you need to be prepared for unpaved roads, which are perfect for off-road.

I could not get to one of the accommodations by car. Even though I had a 4×4 car, the water level was so high that the bridge got flooded. I managed to resolve this issue thanks to a private boat, but it was quite a big inconvenience to me (financially as well).

What documents are required to rent a car in Costa Rica?

car-rental-in-costa-rica
Costa Rica 2023

To rent a car in Costa Rica you need to have:

  • valid passport
  • valid visa
  • valid driver’s license written in the Latin alphabet (otherwise you might need an international driver’s license)
  • credit card

What type of car to rent?

My experience and many opinions I have seen while planning this trip shows that the best recommendation would be a 4×4 car. In Costa Rica, most of the roads lead through mountains, which is why a four-wheel drive is essential for your comfort. Additionally, I noticed that most of the country, Costa Ricans included, prefer 4×4 cars – those can be spotted in much bigger quantities.

What does the car renting procedure in Costa Rica look like?

road-to-corcovado
Corcovado – Costa Rica 2023

Car renting in Costa Rica is not any different compared to any other countries I have already been to. The best way is to book the car ahead online (which would be much cheaper for sure), finish the procedures on the spot and take the car.

I rented my Costa Rican car from the Alamo company. Alamo does not have its office and cars at the airport. There will be a bus waiting at the airport which will take you to the office without any fees. When you return the car, the situation is analogous. A big advantage to me was the fact that Alamo is open 24/7, thanks to which you can pick and return the car at any time during the day and night.

ATTENTION: if you want to save some cost when renting a car:

During my preparation for this journey, I discovered that the price of car rent is dependent on the location from which you book a car. The initial price I found on a website while having a Dominican IP was lower for about 100-200 USD from the price on the Polish IP. If you want to save several hundred zlotys, you can check the price from different locations.

Toll roads

peajes-en-costa-rica
Costa Rica 2023

Some of the roads in Costa Rica need to be paid for. These are mainly those located in the country capital region – San Jose. The fee varies from 300 to 1000 colones.

What is important is that you do not have colones on you, you can pay using American dollars. It certainly will not be profitable, but if you have no other option, it is the only way.

Prices of highway gates I passed through on my way:

  • Atenas – Orotina gate: 1040 colones
  • Pozón – Caldera gate: 790 colones
  • Siquiares: 610 colones
  • Pozón – Costanera Sur: 240 colones

The highway gates cannot be paid for using credit cards, so make sure to check if there are any gates on your way and have a few thousand colones prepared for fees.

— TravelOverSky.com advises

Police control

road-to-corcovado
Bahia Drake – Costa Rica 2023
mountain-roads-in-costa-rica
Costa Rica 2023

Before heading out to Costa Rica, I learned that there are many police controls on the roads here, and it often happens that the police expect (from tourists especially) ‘tips’. To be honest, while being in Costa Rica, I was not halted by the police once. I have seen some controls a few times, mainly in the country’s capital region. Despite this, I did my best to drive in a legal manner and to not exceed the speed limit.


A few times I encountered a situation where I stumbled upon a giant iguana basking on a road, or some other animal that had decided to run on the road out of nowhere. Thanks to the fact that I was not speeding, I was prepared to stop and drive around it. Remember that Costa Rica is really full of animals 😉

— TravelOverSky.com advises

***

More information, recommendations and trivia about Costa Rica can be found in the Costa Rica tab.


I love sharing my travels, experiences, thoughts and self-tested advices. A travel blog is also a bit of work that I do drinking coffee.

If you want to buy me a coffee, I’d be very pleased!

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