About Costa Rica (CR)
The Central American country of Costa Rica (CR), along with its southern neighbor, Panama, is located on the land bridge that joins (or separates) the North and South American continents. With dual coastlines on both the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean, Costa Rica is known for glittering white sand beaches, as well as an abundance of national parks and wildlife reserves. Over the course of several decades, Costa Rica has established itself as one of the top nature travel destinations — now commonly called ecotourism. Despite a miniscule land mass footprint, roughly 5 percent of the planet’s biodiversity is found in Costa Rica. Fauna and flora enthusiasts flock to Costa Rica, and birdwatching is one of the most popular activities on the island. Although a beacon of environmental conservation and sustainability, Costa Rica is also popular with travelers on the adventure circuit, offering a number of wilderness treks among the most challenging in the world. If that wasn’t enough reason to visit Costa Rica, they’ve got active volcanoes, too.
Getting around Costa Rica will most likely involve a journey originating in the capital city of San Juan, which establishes something of a trend. There’s driving in the urban core of the capital, and then there’s driving everywhere else. For the most part, major roads lead to the vicinity of a top destination or attraction, but few routes offer a simple, direct course of travel — access to beach resorts on the west coast being the exception. For example, the highway leading to one of Costa Rica’s most unique destinations, Parque National Tortuguero (Tortoise National Park), ends 10 km from the American Mediterranean coast, and the park is only reachable by boat or helicopter. Generally speaking, major roads are in good condition, but all other routes are textbook Latin American, i.e. wildly variable but typically on the rugged side of the spectrum. The Pan American Highway is the primary thoroughfare across the country, running roughly in a north-south orientation.
Choosing your car
Cheap car rentals in Costa Rica are provided by the most reliable names in car hire: National, Enterprise, Dollar, Hertz, Sixt, and Alamo. Choose from minicars, compact sedans and economy 3-door hatchbacks, intermediate and standard fullsize sedans, estate wagons, and 7-12 seaters. However, SUVs are the most popular car rentals in Costa Rica to hire.
Tips and advice
Driving at night in Costa Rica is highly inadvisable.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Costa Rica is the “greenest” country in the Americas, and also the most expensive in all of Latin America.
Experienced travelers with experience in dealing with Costa Rica car rentals advise all future renters to perform a thorough inspection of the vehicle prior to taking possession, and documenting all existing damage. There seems to be a pattern of unscrupulous rental agencies sticking customers with bills for damage they didn’t cause. You might not expect that from the big name vendors like Avis, but better safe than sorry.
Third-party liability insurance is required to rent a car in Costa Rica.
Costa Rica has an above-average rate of traffic accidents, most of which take place in San Jose and other bigger cities. Collisions aren’t unthinkable in other areas, but single vehicle accidents and damage from road conditions are much more common in rural areas.
The majority of destinations and attractions are located within 0-300 km driving distance of San Jose Juan Santamaria International Airport, but drive times typically max out around 70 km/h in ideal conditions.