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My partner and I recently flew to Costa Rica for just ~$85 per person plus 20,000 Southwest points. We had never been to Costa Rica, and figuring out the car rental situation was difficult.
Some websites said that car insurance was mandatory, yet others recommended Costa Rica’s own Adobe Car Rental agency because of built in (transparent?) car insurance fees. We were also nervous about the roads. How bad could they be?
Still, the freedom that came with a rental car was worth the time and money for us. In the end, we paid ~$300 for our 4X4 car rental for ~8 days.
I’ll show you how I booked my car rental in Costa Rica and give you tips to help you get the best deal!
The Ultimate Guide to Rental Cars in Costa Rica
1. Book Through a Reputable Company, and Choose a Cheap Rate
When searching for car rentals, I was surprised by the variability in the car rental prices. How could 1 car be ~$114 through Alamo, and a similar car be ~$600 through Budget? I was afraid that if I booked a cheap rental, even through a trusted company like Alamo, that I’d be hit with lots of hidden fees.
Still, I booked with Alamo Car Rental, and was looking forward to my ~$140 car rental rate. I was expecting to pay more though, because I knew $140 seemed reasonable for my ~8 day trip.
2. Use a Credit Card to Pay for SOME of the Car Rental Insurance
During my research, I found out that I’d have to pay mandatory car insurance on my car rental in Costa Rica. I wanted to reduce the cost as much as possible, so I contacted my credit card issuer and requested a proof of benefit letter. Because I have the Chase Sapphire Reserve, I called up Chase, and they transferred me to a 3rd party service who sent the letter to me.
We rented through Alamo Car Rental, and had no problems with me using my credit card benefit. Doing so saved me ~$130 in insurance fees.
When I checked in to Alamo in Costa Rica, the agent said that insurance was NOT mandatory. But I recommend bringing a letter showing what you’re insured just to be on the safe side. Just call your credit card issuer and they can create one for you, too!
3. You Still Have to Pay Liability Insurance.
Keep in mind that you will still have to pay for liability car rental insurance. I also had to pay for other fees including an environmental fee, license plate fee, and airport fee. You may or may not have to pay for an additional driver fee. Here’s the complete breakdown of the car rental charges in Costa Rica.
4. Skip Expensive Options Like GPS and Data Device
We used our phones as our navigation device. Our T-Mobile service wasn’t always the strongest (and sometimes it went out), but it mostly worked. Costa Rica uses Waze a lot, and we preferred Waze because it displayed the speed limits. Load up your route when you still have internet to be safe.
5. Know What to Expect When Driving in Costa Rica
Before I go on a trip to a foreign country, I always go to my bank and get a little bit of the local currency. I like being prepared in case I can’t find an ATM at my arrival airport.
We picked up our rental car at the Juan Santamaría International Airport (SJO) after we landed, and went straight to our hotel. The next day, we set out driving and came across several tolls to get out of San Jose, the capital city. I would bring at least 10,000 Costa Rica colones to be safe.
When we were driving from the airport to the hotel at night, we saw lots of drivers running red lights and not stopping at stop signs. We didn’t drive like many locals and obeyed the rules of the road. Sometimes you have to yield, and sometimes you have the right of way. The bridges are one small lane, so be careful.
Most of the roads we drove were in good condition, but the roads around Monteverde are unpaved. Because of this, we drove ~10 miles an hour. A 30 minute drive ended up taking ~1.5 hours because of this. We rented a 4-wheel drive, but were worried we’d blow out a tire.
Add ~1 to 2 hours for your road trips. This way, you won’t feel rushed and can enjoy the scenery and enjoy restaurants and sights along the way. Some roads require you to slow down because they’re unpaved.
We hardly drove in the dark, and for good reason. There can be a lot of potholes and rocky roads. At night, there may be more animals as well, and if you add rain to that, driving can become dangerous. Unless you’re a very experienced driver in Costa Rica, plan your trips to utilize daytime driving. The sun begins to set at around 5:00 to 5:30 pm most times of the year.
The prices for renting a car in Costa Rica can be very difficult to understand. I booked through a well-known company (Alamo) and paid for liability insurance, but my Chase Sapphire Reserve card saved me ~$130 in car insurance fees because of its primary insurance benefit.
Skip the GPS and data rentals. Bring enough money for tolls, and be careful driving. But most of all, enjoy!
What tips do you have to share for renting a car in Costa Rica?