Don’t Make These 8 Driving Mistakes in Costa Rica

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Don’t Make These 8 Driving Mistakes in Costa Rica

EmilyDon’t Make These 8 Driving Mistakes in Costa RicaMillion Mile Secrets Team

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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, other websites recommended Costa Rica’s own Adobe Rent a Car agency because of built in insurances 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.

Driving In Costa Rica Took Us to Many Beautiful Sights

Don’t Make These 8 Driving Mistakes in Costa Rica

1.   Make Sure You Have Enough Money For Tolls

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 Rican colones to be safe.

There Are Lots of Tolls Around San Jose, So Have Some Extra Cash on You

2.   Don’t Rent a GPS

We used our phones as our navigation device.  Our T-Mobile service wasn’t always the strongest, but it worked.  The country 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.

Our Phones Worked Fine; Don’t Waste Money on a GPS

3.   Use a Credit Card That Includes CDW Insurance When Paying for your Car Rental

My credit card saved me ~$130 in car rental insurance fees.  We rented through Alamo, and had no problems with me using my credit card benefit.  I brought a letter like the one pictured below, but I’m not sure if I needed it.  I recommend bringing one just to be on the safe side.  Here’s our list of the best credit cards for car rentals.  Just call your credit card issuer and they can create a letter verifying your car insurance coverage, too!

My Credit Card Saved Me ~$130 in Car Rental Insurance Fees

4.   Don’t Be Surprised If People Run Red Lights

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.  So look out!

5.   Pay Attention When Crossing Bridges

Sometimes you have to yield, and sometimes you have the right of way.  The bridges are one small lane, so be careful.  “Ceda” means yield in Spanish.

There Are a Lot of One Lane Bridges in Costa Rica

6.   Avoid Driving in the Dark

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 sets between 5 and 6 pm most of the year.

Driving At Night Can Be Dangerous

7.   Expect Some Roads Will Not Be Paved

Most of the roads we drove were in good condition, but the roads around Monteverde were 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.

Roads Like This Are Common Around Monteverde

8. Plan Your Trips to Take Longer Than Your GPS Tells You

Add ~1-2 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.

Bottom Line

Driving in Costa Rica wasn’t difficult, and we would do it again.  Make sure you have enough money for tolls.  Don’t rent a GPS.  Use a credit card that includes CDW insurance when paying for your car rental.  Don’t be surprised if people run red lights.  Pay attention when crossing bridges.  Avoid driving in the dark.  Expect some roads to not be paved.  And plan your trips to take longer than your GPS tells you.

What tips do you have to share?

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Call your rental company and sort-out all of the insurance requirements before you go. These are private businesses that can implement whatever policies they want in Costa Rica. If you call ahead, they will tell you.

DO get Colones before going, but if you are in the North of the Country or on Guanacaste, there are not tolls (Liberia Airport).

Take cash to pay your exit fee!!!!

Not driving at night seems silly advice to me. I’ve been to CR at least 10 times and driven at night just about every night I was there. Turn on your headlights, use caution, don’t drink and drive. You won’t have problems.

So signing the collision damage waiver because of the car insurance is all fine and well, but they still made us pay for Additional liability insurance in Costa Rica. We had our car prepaid through the Chase Sapphire reserve portal and it did not include liability insurance. While at the rental agency, we called Chase and they agreed with Avis that we needed to Shell out $19/day for that ALI. Not an insignificant amount when there for 13 days…

The insurance provided by CSR and all the other insurance is a collision damage waiver – not liability coverage. The rental car companies sometimes quote rates to include liability but the cheap rates do not. Make sure to compare apples to apples. You always need to have liability coverage. We’ve been to Costa Rica 10 times and really like Enterprise Car Rental at SJO. They will bring a car to your hotel and drop you back at your hotel the last night so you don’t have to waste time at the airport the morning of your departure and you can sometimes save a day or two of car rental expenses..


I agree! I was expecting to pay more than my ~$140 rental price for ~10 days though, which took the bite out a little bit. And I’m glad I could at least save a little more with my credit card. We will be publishing the Ultimate Guide to Car Rentals in Costa Rica, so stay tuned. We’d love to hear your comments!

Having lived in Costa Rica for 5 years, we definitely recommend Wild Rider for car rental from San Jose. They have great service and cars. We used them several times while living there.


Thanks for the tip! Keep them coming as a Costa Rica residential expert. 🙂

did you request that insurance letter with Chase say via your CSR card?


Yes, it was through the Chase Sapphire Reserve (CSR).