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Rental car driving on a dirt road surrounded by lush greenery near a boutique hotel in Uvita, Costa Rica, with two people walking ahead. Ideal for a wellness retreat in Uvita, Costa Rica.

Everything you NEED to know about renting a car in Costa Rica in 2024

Everything you NEED to know about renting a car in Costa Rica in 2024

If you’re considering renting a car in Costa Rica for your vacation, here is everything you need to know. In this guide, we break down Costa Rican car rental insurance, the best car rental agencies, car rental costs, and much more to ensure you have a smooth and stress-free, no-surprise car rental process for your upcoming trip.

If you’re ready to book your car, check out our trusted and preferred Costa Rica car rental company with extra benefits just for you like a free second driver.


Renting a Car in Costa Rica Guide

As the owners of Vayu Retreat Villas, we have extensive experience with the car rental process in Costa Rica, both from a foreigner’s perspective and a local’s insight. With over 10 years of combined experience in the tourism industry, our team is well-equipped to provide you with all the information you need.

A couple enjoying a sunset drive through the Costa Rican countryside, highlighting the freedom and adventure of renting a car in Costa Rica while staying at a boutique hotel in Uvita, Costa Rica.
Rent a car or hitch a ride?

What to Expect

In this comprehensive guide, we will cover:

  • Why You Should Rent a Car in Costa Rica
  • Requirements for Renting a Car
  • Cost Breakdown
  • The Car Rental Process in Costa Rica
  • Insurance and Liabilities
  • Choosing the Right Car for Your Needs
  • Additional Important Considerations

 

By the end of this guide, you’ll have all the information needed for a seamless car rental experience during your stay in Costa Rica (without surprises) ensuring your vacation is as smooth and enjoyable as possible.

Staying at our boutique hotel near Uvita, Costa Rica, you’ll have easy access to all the car rental services and can enjoy exploring the area at your own pace. Plus, our secluded retreat offers a perfect starting point for your adventures.

With that.. Buckle up & let us dive in …


A man with his back facing the camera with his arms up in air at a waterhole

 

 

First – you might be asking …
What Side of the Road Does Costa Rica Drive On?

In Costa Rica, driving is on the right-hand side of the road, the same as in the USA and Canada.

 

Now – the most important question…

Should You Rent a Car in Costa Rica?

In our opinion, yes! However, not sure if you should, are you leaning toward renting a car but still not convinced? Here are some compelling reasons why renting a car for your trip to Costa Rica will be the best option for you.

Flexibility and Freedom

Renting a car in Costa Rica offers unparalleled flexibility and freedom. You can explore at your own pace, without being tied to anyone else’s schedule. This means you can maximize your vacation time and minimize the hassle of figuring out transportation logistics.

Discover Hidden Gems

With a rental car, you have the freedom to go off the beaten path and discover hidden gems that are not accessible by public transport. This allows you to stay at unique lodgings, such as boutique hotels, and visit less touristy spots that showcase the true beauty of the country.

Personalized Itinerary

Having a rental car means you can tailor your itinerary to your preferences. Choose exactly what you want to do and see, leave when you want, and explore Costa Rica at your own pace (which you sometimes can’t put a price on). Whether it’s a visit to a secluded beach, a hike through a national park, or just a day spent at our wellness-inspired retreat in Uvita, Costa Rica, the options are limitless.

By renting a car, you ensure a more adventurous and personalized trip, allowing you to make the most of your Costa Rican vacation.

Related: Check out our Experiences Guide to help you plan your time here in the Southern Zone

 

A solitary figure on a serene beach in Costa Rica at sunset close to Vayu Retreat Villas in Uvita
Visiting beaches at your own pace
Extended Stays and Local Experience

Many people visit Costa Rica for extended periods, whether to explore a potential retirement destination, live abroad in a new environment, or enjoy life in a tropical Central American country. To truly make the most of your long-term stay, renting a car is essential. You can rent one for your entire stay or just for specific trips, giving you the freedom to explore the country beyond the typical tourist spots.

RELATED: Discovering the Soul of Costa Rica: Why you NEED to add Costa Rica to your Bucket List!


Cost-Effective Travel and Freedom

Costa Rica car rental prices are comparable to private shuttles and domestic flights. For instance, a private shuttle from San Jose to Vayu costs around $250 USD one way, and domestic flights range from $80-250 USD per person one way.

A classic 10-day itinerary might include San Jose, La Fortuna, Monteverde, Uvita (and Vayu Retreat Villas), and back to San Jose. With private shuttles, the approximate cost is around $900 USD*. In comparison, renting a 2WD compact SUV costs around $800 USD*, and it’s even cheaper if you have your own car rental insurance (more on that later). Plus you are at your own leisure – which to us is something to consider!

*These are approximate car rental costs, as rates change depending on the time of year, level of insurance, extras, etc. All prices are in USD unless otherwise noted.

Without a rental car, you’ll need to rely on taxis, Ubers (which, in a lot of places don’t exist) or book tours with transportation included, which are additional costs to consider. Renting a car provides a more economical and convenient way to explore Costa Rica.

Convinced? Check out our car rental discount to compare prices and get quotes.

Breathtaking view of Whale's Tail beach in Costa Rica, a must-visit spot.
Whales Tail sandbar, Uvita

Requirements for Renting a Car in Costa Rica

Driving in Costa Rica as a Foreigner

To drive in Costa Rica as a foreigner, you need the following:

  • Your original passport
  • A valid tourist visa stamp (now valid for 180 days)
  • A valid original driver’s license from your home country
  • A physical credit card with the cardholder present and enough funds for payment and the security deposit* (see more below)

For those wondering, “Can you drive in Costa Rica with a US/Canadian/Euro driver’s license?” The answer is yes. An international driver’s license is not required for Americans, Canadians, and most other nationalities. However, if your driver’s license is not in Roman (Latin) script, you will need an international driver’s license. For example, if your license is entirely in Arabic, Farsi, Hebrew, or Mandarin without any English translation, you will need an international driving permit or license.

“An International Driver’s License states that your home license is legal and valid in your country. This is not an authorization to drive, it only indicates that the license from your country is legitimate. You still need your license.”

Additionally, you cannot use a temporary paper copy or a photocopy of your driver’s license in Costa Rica. Car rental companies require the original valid driver’s license. Even if you have rented with the same company before, you need to bring your original driver’s license and original passport every time. Importantly, your driver’s license cannot be expired or set to expire during the duration of your rental.

*In most cases A MasterCard, VISA, or American Express card is accepted. The credit card must have the cardholder’s name printed on it and it must be the same person who picked up the vehicle. Many places do not accept debit cards, cash or virtual credit cards.

Driving at sunset, capturing the essence of freedom and adventure for guests renting a car at Vayu Retreat Villas, one of the best Costa Rica jungle resorts.

Minimum Age

To rent a car in Costa Rica, the minimum age requirement varies between 21 and 25 years. At Vayu Retreat Villas, we recommend Adobe Rent a Car, which has a minimum age requirement of 23. As for Alamo, Budget, Enterprise, Hertz – Minimum age 21 (between ages 21-24, an additional fee applies). *NOTE: Adobe Rent a Car does not permit drivers under 23, regardless of willingness to pay extra.

Regarding the maximum age, there is generally no upper limit for renting a car in Costa Rica. Adobe Rent a Car does not impose a maximum age limit, and senior drivers are not required to pay additional fees.

*Tip: Another key condition with most car rental agencies in Costa Rica is that the driver must have held a valid driving license for at least two years.


Relaxing with a map in a rental car, enjoying the coastal views of Costa Rica, ideal for guests at the best Costa Rica resorts like Vayu Retreat Villas who rent cars for flexible travel
Enjoy your travels at your leisure

Airport Pick Up and Return

Can You Pick Up Your Car Rental at the Airport in Costa Rica?

Yes and no. San José and Liberia International Airports are too small for car rental companies to operate inside, so all rental offices are located around a 5 to 10-minute drive from the airport. Rental companies typically offer transportation to their office to collect the car.

A few companies offer cars inside the airport, but this is rare and usually reserved for those who pay an extra fee or for VIP clients. Some rental car companies have counters at international airports, but they will still transport you to their off-site office to sign the rental agreement and collect the car.

Adobe Rent-a-Car Airport Shuttle

At Vayu Retreat Villas, we recommend Adobe Rent a Car, they offer a complimentary meet-and-greet shuttle for their clients. An Adobe agent will meet you outside the airport terminal exit, bring you to the shuttle, and take you to their office to complete the rental agreement and collect the car. This service is also available for returns: clients return the car to the airport office, and Adobe shuttles them back to the airport for free.

For those with flights at odd hours at San José International Airport, you can arrange to leave the car in the parking lot with the keys in the glove box for an extra fee. Be sure to arrange this in advance with your rental agency.

Car Rental Costs

Renting a car in Costa Rica, as mentioned, offers excellent value and flexibility for your travels, but what does it cost? The cost depends on various factors, including the type of vehicle, the insurance coverage you choose, and the time of year. All of which we will explore further in the next paragraphs.

Although rental prices have increased recently, they remain competitive and offer good value compared to other transportation options. It’s important to note that prices can vary between low and high tourism seasons, with lower rates typically available in October compared to March.

Historically, renting a mid-size SUV for a week in October was about $400 USD, while in February, it could cost around $800 USD. Currently, during the high season, a mid-size 4WD SUV can range from $1,000 to $1,400 for a week. These prices can vary based on availability, insurance options, extras, taxes, and fees, but overall, renting a car is a cost-effective option compared to taxis and private shuttles.

Most Expensive Time to Rent a Car in Costa Rica

The high season, from mid-December to the end of April, is the most popular time to visit Costa Rica, leading to higher car rental prices. Peak times such as Christmas, New Year’s, and Easter week tend to have the highest rates. To secure the best deal during high season, we recommend booking your car rental three to four months in advance. Early booking ensures availability and locks in favourable rates.

*Tip: Visiting over the December Holidays? Try to book ASAP as spaces are booking up already.


Cheapest Time to Rent a Car in Costa Rica

For budget-conscious travellers, the low season months of May, September, and October are ideal for renting a car. These months see fewer tourists, resulting in more affordable rental rates. October, in particular, often offers the lowest prices of the year.

 

Related: Or Comprehensive Guide to Visiting Nauyaca Waterfall


Gas Prices

Gas prices in Costa Rica can fluctuate frequently, but the good news is that gas prices are consistent across all stations in the country. The exchange rate in Costa Rica also changes almost daily, which can affect the overall cost.

Currently, the cost of gas in Costa Rica is around 728 CRC per litre, which is approximately $4.24 USD per gallon for regular gas. Supergas costs around 752 CRC per litre, or about $4.39 USD per gallon. Diesel is priced at approximately 555 CRC per litre, translating to around $3.23 USD per gallon.

On average, for a one-week trip driving around 500 kilometres (310 miles), you might spend about $100 USD on gas for a mid-size SUV.

Refer to this site for weekly updates on the current gas prices

Close-up of a hand pumping gas into a rental car in Costa Rica, highlighting the convenience of renting a car during your stay at a boutique hotel in Uvita

Additional Costs

When renting a car in Costa Rica, there are a few additional costs to consider:

  1. Highway Tolls: When driving out of San Jose, you’ll encounter several highway toll booths, with charges ranging from 100 to 1500 CRC (about $0.20 to $2 USD).
  2. Car Wash Fees: If your rental car becomes extremely dirty (e.g., with stains, vomit, animal hair, mud, or garbage), you might need to take it to a car wash ($10-$20) before returning it. If not, the rental agency may charge you a cleaning fee of around $113 USD. *At Vayu Retreat Villas, we offer car washing services for guests who find their car exterior extremely dirty.
  3. No Smoking: Smoking inside rented vehicles is prohibited, and doing so can result in a fine of approximately $113 USD.
  4. One-Way Fees: Picking up and returning the car at different locations, or locations without a rental office, can incur extra fees ranging from $25 to $300 USD, depending on the locations.
  5. Extras: Additional items like GPS, WiFi, and SIM cards come at an extra cost. However, picking up a SIM card ensures you always have access when needed.

 


How to Save Money on Car Rentals in Costa Rica

  1. Travel During Low Season: The cheapest time to travel is during low season months like May, September, and October.
  2. Evaluate Your Car Needs: Check your itinerary (and hotel locations) to determine if you really need a 4×4 or 4WD vehicle. Opting for a sedan or 4×2 instead of an SUV can save a significant amount of money. At Vayu Retreat Villas, we are privileged to be in a location where a 4WD or 4×4 is not required.
  3. Consider a Manual Transmission: If you’re comfortable driving a manual transmission, renting a manual car can save you a few dollars each day compared to an automatic. (More on that below)
  4. Use Credit Card Insurance: Utilize your credit card’s car rental insurance to save on additional insurance costs. Be sure to verify that your credit card offers this coverage and have the necessary documents ready. Note that many cards do not cover “off-roading,” which includes unpaved roads, so ensure you have this coverage clearly defined.
  5. Pick Up and Drop Off at the Same Location: To avoid extra fees, pick up and drop off your car at the same rental location.

 


Jeep driving on a dirt road surrounded by lush greenery near a boutique hotel in Uvita, Costa Rica, with two people walking ahead. Ideal for a wellness retreat in Uvita, Costa Rica

The Process of Renting a Car in Costa Rica

Deciding Which Company to Rent With: Best Costa Rica Car Rental Companies

When it comes to renting a car in Costa Rica, choosing the right company is crucial. At Vayu Retreat Villas, we recommend Adobe Rent a Car for several reasons. They are a proudly 100% Costa Rican company with the largest fleet in the country, offering transparent, all-inclusive pricing, and they are genuinely the best at what they do!

While there are many international companies like Alamo, Enterprise, Hertz, Sixt, Thrifty, Economy Car Rental, and Budget operating in Costa Rica, there are also several reputable local companies such as Poas and Vamos. We have found through our research that Adobe is the best there is in Costa Rica.

For more details on the best car rental options in Costa Rica, we will be adding a guide soon to offer suggestions to help make the process easier.

Important Considerations

When comparing car rental companies, it’s not just about finding the lowest price. Here are some factors to consider to ensure a smooth experience:

  • Model and Year of the Rental Car: Newer models offer better fuel efficiency and modern features.
  • Quality of Customer Service: Responsive and friendly customer service can save you a lot of hassle.
  • Amount of the Security Deposit: This can vary significantly between companies, so it’s important to compare.
  • Insurance Options: Make sure you understand what is covered and any additional options available.

 

A girl enjoying a ride in a car in the passenger seat
What to Know About International Companies (Hertz etc)

You may have heard or read from other tourists that car rentals in Costa Rica can be tricky. This perception often stems from the way some international companies present their taxes, fees, insurance, and deposits. These companies might not always be fully transparent about the additional costs involved.

If you choose to book with an international company, it’s essential to contact their Costa Rican office directly to clarify all fees and insurance details. This way, you can avoid any surprises and ensure a clear understanding of your rental agreement. (More on insurance in a moment.)

Number of Offices

An important aspect to consider when choosing a car rental company is the number of locations they have. Some companies may only operate from the two international airports and that’s it. This can be inconvenient if you encounter car issues while staying in places like Uvita, where a 4WD vehicle is often essential (but not always necessary). If the nearest office is in San José, a 3.5-hour drive away, dealing with car troubles could consume a significant portion of your vacation time. Furthermore, smaller agencies might not offer 24/7 emergency assistance, which can be problematic if issues arise outside of business hours.

In contrast, Adobe Rent a Car boasts over 10 offices throughout Costa Rica, including Uvita. This extensive network means that if you experience any problems, there’s likely an office close by to provide quick assistance, minimizing any disruption to your travel plans.

A picturesque mountain road in Costa Rica, ideal for exploring while renting a car, especially when staying at Vayu Retreat Villas

Third-Party Booking Sites and How to Avoid Hidden Fees When Renting a Car in Costa Rica

Why your Quote is So Cheap!

Booking a car through third-party sites like Expedia, Kayak, Car-rentals, airline websites, or Orbitz can seem very appealing at first due to the low prices they advertise. However, these websites often only display the base rental price, omitting additional costs such as mandatory insurance (more below), deposits, taxes, and fees. This can make the initial quote look incredibly cheap, sometimes as low as $10 USD or $5 USD per day.

Beware! Adding up to as much as $25 per day, this mandatory insurance can increase the overall price of your rental car by hundreds of dollars. When you arrive in the country and suddenly find out that your quote did not have this, you have two choices: waste your precious time trying to find another rental car agency or pay the extra money and drive away with a bad start to your vacation.

 

Fine print from a car rental agreement highlighting insurance requirements, crucial information for renting a car in Costa Rica.
Read the fine print
How to Avoid Hidden Fees

At Vayu Retreat Villas, we don’t want this to be your experience. This is why we recommend booking directly from the local office—Adobe, Budget, etc.—to get the full price, including all additional charges. Do not rely on the 3rd party online quote, reach out to the Costa Rican branch of the rental company to clarify all costs.

For instance, if you see a rental deal on Expedia that works with Alamo, contact Alamo Costa Rica directly rather than checking the Alamo international website. This approach ensures you get an accurate and comprehensive quote, avoiding any unpleasant surprises.

This is why we encourage our guests to book directly with Adobe – they are transparent and it’s one-stop, you don’t have to figure out all the ins and outs of their pricing.


Insurance policy document with a magnifying glass and cash

What to Look for on Your Rental Car Quote

When reviewing your rental car quote for Costa Rica, it’s important to ensure the following three items are included. The first two are fixed and required charges, while the third can be waived if you meet certain requirements. If any of these charges are missing from your quote, be sure to read the fine print, as they will likely be added when you arrive.

  1. Car Base Price – This is the daily rate for the car itself, excluding any insurance or add-ons. It can range from as low as $1 per day to over $75 per day. This base price is always included in the quote, so you don’t need to worry about this one.
  2. Liability Insurance – This mandatory third-party liability insurance is required in Costa Rica. It covers damage you may cause to third parties and their property. The coverage is limited and usually comes with a deductible, so check the specifics with the rental company.
  3. Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) or Loss Damage Waiver (LDW) – This is not actual insurance but a waiver of financial responsibility for damage to or theft of the rental car. It covers damage to the rental vehicle in the event of an accident or theft. There are coverage restrictions, often excluding vandalism and towing charges, or water damage from careless driving and it usually comes with a deductible.

 

Optional Insurance

Similar to renting cars in your home country, there are higher coverage options available for rental cars in Costa Rica. These premium insurance plans generally eliminate deductibles for third-party liability and CDW/LDW, and may increase coverage limits significantly.

Deciding whether to purchase this additional coverage is a personal choice. Many people opt for the extra protection for peace of mind, while others prefer to go without it. The cost for this insurance ranges from about $13-$21 per day. Depending on the rental agency, it may be called Extended Protection, Super Protection, Deductible Protection, Limited Loss Waiver, or something similar.

For more info on Rental Insurance in Costa Rica look to the official website (ACAR)

Adobe Rent-a-Car Insurance Breakdown & What to Expect

Liability Insurance:

This is the mandatory insurance for all car rentals in Costa Rica. Adobe’s third-party liability insurance costs between $13-25 USD per day. It covers up to $20,000 USD in third-party damages with a 20% deductible and up to $100,000 USD for third parties not in the vehicle with no deductible. This mandatory insurance cannot be waived or replaced by credit card insurance, as no credit card policies cover this specific requirement in Costa Rica. (Usually ~19$/day)

Car Protection Insurance:

This optional coverage protects against damage to the rental vehicle and financial losses from theft. If your credit card offers rental car insurance, you can opt out of this coverage. Many credit card companies provide this benefit worldwide. For instance, some cards offer rental car insurance, allowing you to decline the Car Protection insurance. However, it’s important to check with your credit card provider to confirm if this coverage applies, especially since some cards have recently changed their benefits. For example, Visa has reduced its coverage on some of its cards. (Usually ~6$/day)

Extended Protection Insurance:

This additional optional insurance is optional and enhances the basic Liability coverage. It includes zero deductible, coverage for windows and vandalism, 24/7 roadside assistance, and tow truck services. It also covers 100% of third-party damages up to $4 million USD. You can add this insurance when you sign the rental agreement if you decide you need it. (Usually ~10$/day)

Tip:

If you have additional insurance coverage with your credit card or any other 3rd party insurance bring a copy of the policy with you! The mandatory liability insurance you CANNOT opt out of.

 

Need more clarification? Check out this post from Adobe about their insurance

 


Security Deposits for Car Rentals in Costa Rica

When renting a car in Costa Rica, it’s important to understand the deposit requirements, which can vary significantly depending on the type of insurance you select. The deposit is essentially the amount the rental company will hold on your credit card for the duration of your rental.

For instance, if you opt for only the mandatory insurance, your deposit might be around $3,000. Conversely, if you choose the full range of available insurance, your deposit could be as low as $300. If you decide to waive some insurances and stick with only the mandatory one, your deposit might escalate to $5,000 or even higher.

The Adobe vehicle security deposit is $1,000. It’s crucial to ensure that the credit card you use has a sufficient limit to cover both the deposit and the rental payment. Some rental companies allow you to use one credit card for the deposit and another for the payment if your card’s limit isn’t high enough for both. However, make sure both cards are of the same brand, such as VISA, AMEX, or Mastercard. Mixing brands, like using a VISA and a Mastercard, is not permitted. Note that in Costa Rica, rental deposits and payments cannot be made in cash, and the credit card holder must be present to sign the necessary paperwork.

Additionally, Adobe accepts debit cards if clients sign a waiver form. However, deposits made with a debit card can take up to 45 days to be returned to your bank account, compared to 24-72 hours for credit cards. Clients must sign a form acknowledging these conditions when using a debit card. Also, if your card functions as both a debit and credit card, it will be treated as a debit card.

Understanding these deposit policies can help ensure a smooth car rental experience in Costa Rica. Make sure to check the specific requirements of your rental company to avoid any surprises.

Read more about Adobe policies

A woman crossing a suspension bridge in Costa Rica's lush jungle, showcasing the adventurous side of a stay at Vayu Retreat Villas

What Kind of Car Should You Rent in Costa Rica?

Choosing the right car rental in Costa Rica depends on your itinerary and the size of your group. Rental car companies offer a wide range of vehicles to suit various budgets and needs. Here are some common categories of cars available for rent:

Full-Size 7-Seater SUVs
  • Examples: Mitsubishi Montero Sport, Toyota Prado, Ford Explorer, Chevrolet Trailblazer.
Mid-Size 5-Seater SUVs
  • Examples: Toyota Rav4, Nissan Rogue, Kia Sportage, Toyota Rush, Ford Explorer, SsangYong Korando, Hyundai Tucson Superior.
Compact SUVs
  • Examples: Hyundai Venue, Hyundai Creta, Mitsubishi ASX, Geely GX3.
Sedans/Compact Sedans
  • Examples:Hyundai Accent Blue, Hyundai Ioniq, Toyota Yaris, Hyundai i10, Hyundai Grand i10, Hyundai Atos. These cars are suitable for travelling to all major cities, but not to advised to get to rural areas
Vans (8/9 – 12 Seaters)
  • Examples: Hyundai H1, Hyundai Staria.

 

Check out the Fleet at Adobe

Please note that Jeeps, convertibles and electric vehicles are not readily available for rent in Costa Rica. While there are 4×4 cars and trucks, the Jeep brand (for rent) specifically is uncommon.

A parked SUV on a roadside in Costa Rica, surrounded by palm trees, highlighting the convenience of renting a car in Costa Rica for exploring tropical areas

Car and Engine Size

In Costa Rica, cars typically have smaller engine sizes compared to those in America and Canada. A standard sedan usually has a 1.6 L, 4-cylinder engine, while SUVs range from 1.6 to 2 L, 4-cylinder engines. Full-size SUVs with diesel engines range from 2.4 L to 3 L.

Larger engines like V6 or V8 are uncommon and considered premium, making them more expensive to rent. If your group has a lot of luggage or if your accommodation is in the mountains, you might need a bigger car to handle the terrain and weight.

Automatic vs Manual Transmission

When renting a car in Costa Rica, ensure you choose an automatic if you’re not comfortable driving a manual transmission. Rental companies typically label cars as “AT” for automatic transmission and “MT” for manual transmission. Although manual cars are slightly cheaper, the difference in cost is minimal these days. Most rental fleets now consist primarily of automatic cars.

Driving a manual transmission in Costa Rica requires confidence and proficiency due to the country’s challenging road conditions, including steep hills, curves, potholes, and unpaved roads, especially in rural areas. If you’re not confident driving a manual in these conditions, it’s worth paying a bit more for an automatic to avoid the added stress.

*Special Tip: For travellers from countries where driving is on the left side of the road (e.g., England, Ireland, Japan, Bahamas, New Zealand, Australia, Malaysia), we highly recommend choosing an automatic to avoid the complexity of changing gears with the opposite hand while driving on the right side.


Rental Car Condition

If you find exceptionally cheap rental rates, check the age and condition of the cars. Companies with very low prices often use older vehicles (5 years or more), which can be problematic on Costa Rica’s rough roads. Older cars are more likely to have issues.

Adobe Rent a Car refreshes its fleet every 2 years or once cars reach 100,000 kilometres (about 62,000 miles). In contrast, some agencies with cheaper rates may offer cars that are 5 to 10+ years old with 300,000 kilometres (about 185,000 miles) or more. The condition of an older rental car can differ significantly from a newer one, especially given Costa Rica’s often challenging driving conditions.


A white SUV parked on a dirt road, exemplifying the type of vehicles available when renting a car in Costa Rica

Is a 4×4 Necessary in Costa Rica?

While a 4WD vehicle is essential in some areas, high-ground clearance is more critical for many places, especially during the dry season. During the rainy season, a 4WD becomes necessary for rural, mountainous regions with unpaved roads, as these roads can develop large potholes and become very muddy. However – here at Vayu Retreat Villas – a 4×4 is not needed to access our location. The road is paved almost the entire way, often a 4×2 is sufficient. The Hyundai Creta or Venue 2WD or even the economy Geely GX3 will be sufficient for most of your basic needs here in Costa Rica, however, if you plan to go off-roading high in the mountains you might need a proper 4×4 to avoid an uncomfortable situation – but in most cases a 4×2 is enough.

Understanding the type of car you need will help ensure a smooth and enjoyable travel experience. Whether you’re staying at our boutique hotel in Uvita, Costa Rica, or exploring the beautiful landscapes of the Osa Peninsula, renting the right car will enhance your adventure.


Popular Routes

Guanacaste to Arenal

A 4×4 vehicle is not necessary for this route. You can view this Google Map to see the route

Monteverde

A high-clearance car is highly recommended due to the rough roads in Monteverde. During the rainy season, a 4WD or 4×4 vehicle is advisable, especially if you plan to stay outside the town center.

Puerto Viejo

A 4×4 is not necessary for Puerto Viejo. The roads to and around Puerto Viejo are paved and in good condition. Check the route from San Jose

Uvita

A high-clearance vehicle is recommended, and a 4WD is necessary for many hotels in the Costa Ballena area (Dominical, Uvita, Ojochal).

However, as mentioned to get to Vayu Retreat Villas a 4WD or 4×4 is not necessary, and more roads are being paved off the main highway.

Check out our Map from SJO Adobe Office to Vayu

Be on the lookout for more articles about driving in Costa Rica soon


Other Important Things to Know About Costa Rica Car Rentals

  1. Paying Tickets: If you receive a traffic ticket, pay it when you drop off the car. Failing to do so can result in a prohibition from exiting the country.
  2. Child Seats: Child seats are required for children under 12 years old. Rental agencies usually provide seats for children aged 1-12, but not for infants. If you have a baby under one year old, you will need to bring your own infant seat.
  3. Cross-Border Travel: Rental vehicles cannot be driven across the Costa Rican border to Nicaragua or Panama.
  4. Rental Points: Car rental points might not be valid in Costa Rica, so check with your rental company.
  5. Keep Documents Safe: Always keep the car contract and registration documents with you. Losing them can result in a fine.
  6. Carry Original Documents: You must have your original passport and driver’s license with you while driving—copies or photos are not acceptable.
  7. Payment Policies: The credit card used for payment must belong to the person present at the rental office.
  8. Incident Reporting: If you are involved in an incident, report it to the authorities and the car rental company immediately to avoid complications with insurance claims.
  9. Insurance Exclusions: Damage from driving through rivers or any body of water, and driving under the influence, is not covered by any type of insurance.
  10. Vehicle Inspection: Participate in the vehicle inspection before and after rental. Please take pictures of any existing damage before taking the car and report it to the rental company.
  11. Seat Belt Law: It is mandatory to wear seat belts in both the front and back seats in Costa Rica.
  12. Flat Tires: Flat tires are not covered by insurance. You will need to change the tire yourself and then visit the rental office to replace the spare. All rental cars come equipped with the necessary tools.
  13. Follow Traffic Laws: Safety is very important in Costa Rica; avoid passing a vehicle when there is a solid line present and use precautions around roadside construction. The fines for infractions are steep.

Read more about car rentals in Costa Rica on Reddit

Conclusion

Renting a car in Costa Rica can be complex, but knowing what to look for can help you navigate the process smoothly. It’s crucial to choose a reputable company with a strong track record. Always double-check your quote, read the fine print, and ensure you understand all the charges and procedures before you arrive.

If you need a quote or are considering switching companies, we highly recommend Adobe Rent a Car. We have used them personally and have had excellent experiences, as have many of our guests, friends, and family. Adobe Rent a Car is transparent about its charges and offers excellent customer service to address any questions you might have.

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