Video Guide: What It’s Actually Like to Drive in Costa Rica

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Video Guide:  What It’s Actually Like to Drive in Costa Rica

EmilyVideo Guide:  What It’s Actually Like to Drive 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 we were nervous about driving on the roads.  How bad could they be?

We put together a video compilation of driving in Costa Rica.  Overall, it was worth it to rent a car and drive ourselves around!

If you plan on going to Costa Rica and renting a car, check out our Real Life Guide to Booking a Rental Car in Costa Rica.  We had a great time enjoying our freedom!

What It’s Really Like to Drive 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 Alamo Rental Cars 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.

You’ll Need Cash to Pay for Tolls

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.

Outside of the city, we drove across many 1-lane bridges.  Go slow and pay attention to which direction has the right of way.

One Lane Bridges Like This Are Common in Costa Rica

Most of the roads we drove were in good condition, but the roads around  the popular tourist destination, 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.

We Spent ~1.5 Hours Driving on a Road Like This in Costa Rica

Add ~1 to 2 hours for your road trips.  This way, you won’t feel rushed and can enjoy the scenery, restaurants, and sights along the way.

Costa Rica Has a Lot of Stops Where You Can Pull Over to Enjoy the Scenery

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.

Avoid Driving at Night in Costa Rica

Have you driven in Costa Rica?  What tips do you have to share?

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We drove around a fair bit of Costa Rica. LIR > Arenal > Manuel Antonio > Tamarindo > LIR as well as many side roads. A standard 2 wheel drive served us well but there was one time I wished we had 4 wheel due to a detour off the main road that was challenging to navigate although all was good after taking time and paying close attention to the “road”. We did not go to Monteverde and were aware of the unpaved roads. Note that even in Tamarindo the roads are unpaved.

I saw no evidence of any law that requires the purchase of CDW. Can’t remember which credit card I used to rent but it did include. Never asked for proof of CDW coverage and never pressured to buy. We rented from Dollar/Budget?Alamo (can’t remember which one) at LIR. No games, no “damage” found on return, no cleaning fee.

Author

It’s nice to know your experience with a 2 wheel drive. I might consider that if we visit Costa Rica in the dry season. I think we could have gotten by with a 2 wheel drive in the rainy season, but the unpaved roads were pretty bumpy!

The main routes in Costa Rica are good quality – to European standards, but it is worth getting a 4×4 as many of the smaller roads are not surfaced and can be a challenge in a standard car. You can save a lot of money by having a CDW Excess policy (and proof), otherwise you are forced by law to buy the local policy which is expensive as there is only one provider.
I used Vamos Rent a Car, which is a Costa Rican company, and received very good service.
I had no problems with the police, and did not see any evidence of corruption.

Author

Thanks, Roger, for sharing your experience! When did you go? I was told I didn’t need to buy insurance, but I did just to be safe.

Vamos have a very detailed information webpage on insurance – https://vamosrentacar.com/car-rental-insurance-explained/

I went in Spring 2017. I had another look at the Vamos website, and they do provide an explanation. Renting a Toyota RAV 4 for a week costs $205, with additional compulsory state insurance of $83 on top – However you have to have proof of your own CDW insurance policy in writing to get this rate. If not you are required to purchase CDW which is $147 for a week.

Author

Perhaps things have changed since spring 2017. On the Budget website, it states “The SLI [insurance] is not mandatory, but in case of rejection the tenant will be responsible overall for damage caused to third parts (people, vehicles and property).” https://www.budget.co.cr/faq/

Driving in CR is horrible idea. Apparently, you didnt fully research this. I highly recommend everyone not to do this. Cops are very corrupt and many will demand pay when they pull you over. Just because it didnt happen to you doesnt mean it doesn’t happen.