How to Drive in Costa Rica: Everything You Need to Know

Costa Rica is a great place to take a road trip. Take advantage of this wonderful country’s natural splendor by renting a car! You need be aware of a few things before you set out, however.

After years of preparing, you’re finally making your way to Costa Rica for an epic road trip!

Since Costa Rica is a hilly country with narrow dirt roads and several river crossings, my first driving experience there was everything but routine. Since then, I’ve traveled to the country numerous times, preferring to rent a car rather than take public transportation.

Driving throughout Costa Rica on your own in a rental car is the ideal way to see the country, as it allows you complete control over when and where you stop.

If you’re planning a road trip along the Rich Coast of Costa Rica, consider these pointers I gleaned from my experience driving in the country.

Driving in Costa Rica is a question you should ask yourself.

If you’re a fan of large-group trips, by all means consider signing up for one. For those with limited time, it’s an acceptable method of seeing the country.

You don’t even have to plan or drive; someone else will do everything for you!

Independent travel is more your style, if you’re anything like me.

Driving throughout Costa Rica without a specific itinerary or timeline allows you to stop whenever you encounter anything interesting.

If you’re like that, renting a car in Costa Rica is the best option for you!

Public transportation in Costa Rica does exist, but it’s mainly for going from one big town to another and typically bus stops are located just outside of town, so you’ll also have to take a cab. Not to mention the fact that using a public bus is a more leisurely method of getting about the nation.

Costa Rican rural roads can be rugged and muddy and some local drivers don’t obey their own rules, so keep that in mind while planning your trip. However, with a little experience, you’ll be able to handle the roads here with ease!

Another perk of owning a car was that we were able to stow our belongings in the trunk, allowing us to visit Costa Rican villages without lugging around heavy luggage.

In Costa Rica, where can you rent a car?

In Costa Rica, Enterprise, Sixt, Hertz and a local company named Adobe Rent-a-Vehicle are some of the most popular car rental firms.

Discover Cars, on the other hand, is the ideal place to reserve a vehicle. In order to help you get the best deal possible, they search both local and international automobile rental providers for you. Renting a car in Costa Rica has never been easier than it is with this option.

For our Costa Rican road adventure, we rented a car from the San Jose Airport in Alajuela.

If you’re flying into San Jose International Airport, you should pick up your car around an hour after your plane lands. Arrive at the airport at least three and a half hours prior to your flight’s scheduled departure time. Because it can take up to 30 minutes to return your rental car and catch a shuttle back to the airport.

Picking up your rental car at Liberia Airport should take no more than 30 minutes after your plane lands. Arrive at the airport at least two and a half hours before your flight is scheduled to depart. Again, this is due to the space shuttle.

Coverage for Costa Rican car rental companies

A few of the myths regarding Costa Rica’s road conditions are genuine, and the roads can be dangerously bumpy in some spots. On Costa Rica’s rural byways and dirt paths, in particular. Don’t worry, I’ll give you some pointers on how to cope with them later on.

As a result, I strongly recommend that you purchase comprehensive insurance coverage.

A rudimentary Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) is typically included with Costa Rican rental automobiles, although this is not insurance and only covers the vehicle for up to $1000-3000 USD worth of damages.

You’ll be charged this much if you don’t return the automobile in its original condition. CDW normally does not cover damage to tires, shattered windshields, or the substructure.

Despite the fact that a decent travel credit card can save you money by including automobile rental insurance, many people incorrectly assume that their card covers them in Costa Rica.

In the event that you are involved in an accident while driving in Costa Rica, and your credit card doesn’t cover the damages, you are out of luck. You have no idea how often I’ve heard stories like this…

As a result, I prefer to pre-pay for full coverage online. It’s less expensive than buying it from a store, and you won’t have to worry about mishaps.

In Costa Rica, how much does it cost to rent a car?

It will cost you between $25 and $40 per day to rent a car in Costa Rica depending on the sort of vehicle you choose. Renting a four-door vehicle like ours for a week cost us approximately $25. Depending on the model, a four-wheel-drive SUV might run you $40-$70 per day.

If you want to sleep in a 4X4 campervan, or a truck with a tent attached, you’ll have to pay more than $100 a day.

It’s best to rent a car with a trunk, rather than a hatchback, so that you can keep your belongings out of sight. When burglars can’t see your belongings, it helps deter theft.

The Cost of Gas

In Costa Rica, a gallon of gas now costs $4.75 USD, or $1.25 per liter. Diesel fuel costs roughly $4.20 per gallon, and diesel cars can save you money on gas. Compared to gas in the United States, this is a lot more expensive!

Automated Versus Manual

It is more expensive (albeit manuals are more prevalent in Costa Rica) and necessary to specify the type of vehicle you prefer when making your reservation if you intend to hire an automatic. In Costa Rica, if you have never driven a manual automobile before, don’t do it! Get an automatic instead.

Rentals that are only available one way

Car rental companies in Costa Rica charge an additional fee for one-way rentals, which varies from company to business. For example, if you want to return the vehicle to a city other than the one from which it was picked up. However, due to the small size of the country, you won’t have to.

Renting a Car: Age Requirements

Depending on the car rental business, Costa Rican drivers must be 21 to 25 years old. If you’re under the age of 25, you may additionally have to pay an extra cost (often $10 per day).

A Checklist For Costa Rican Drivers

Similar to driving laws in any other country, Costa Rica’s traffic regulations are not unique. Local drivers, on the other hand, aren’t always on board. If they think they can get away with it, drivers may not use turn signals or run red lights.

Costa Rican Speed Limits and Regulations

In Costa Rica, speed limits are expressed in kilometers per hour (kph). Most highways have a top speed of 120 kph (about 74 miles per hour). Around towns and cities, the speed limit is normally 40 kilometers per hour (about 25 miles per hour) (25 miles per hour).

If you obtain a speeding ticket while renting a car, be sure to notify the firm soon once because you will be responsible for the fine when you return the car.

Costa Rican Road Signage

Costa Rican road signs resemble US traffic signs but are in Spanish, so they should be easy to understand. Here are a few examples of common Costa Rican traffic signage for your perusal.

The State of the Road

Although the country’s motorways are paved and well-maintained, back roads abound. Many of the dirt roads are in poor condition. Porous roads with potholes in them. A four-wheel-drive SUV is the best way to go around Costa Rica’s more remote areas. One car must wait for the other to cross several bridges before proceeding.

Crossings of Rivers

There are several back roads in Costa Rica that bridge rivers, although the majority of the country’s highways are free of water crossings. When it rains, especially in the Nicoya Peninsula, Drake Bay and Osa Peninsula locations. Watch someone else do it if you’ve never crossed a river before.

Don’t speed up, slow down, and be aware of where you’re going. Some rivers can only be crossed by driving up or down the stream before you can get out. In some cases, this is due to hidden obstructions, depth, or simply the most convenient entry/exit spots.

Driver’s License for Travel Abroad

To rent a car or drive in Costa Rica, you need not need an international driver’s license. Your passport, credit card and driver’s license from your native nation are all that is needed. It’s true that a driver’s license from the United States is acceptable in Costa Rica.

Additional Tips for Car Rental and Driving in Costa Rica

When driving in Costa Rica, always keep your doors locked and your valuables hidden.

There is no right of way for pedestrians in Costa Rica. To put it another way, it’s possible to cause an accident if you gently stop in the middle of a road to allow someone cross. In Mexico and Central America, this is also the case.

Never reserve a car rental without checking out customer reviews first. Everyone has something to say about a business, and it’s easy to vent about them online, so go for the one with the fewest negative reviews before making your decision.

You may not always obtain the make, model, or kind of automobile that you requested when you made your reservation. If they provide you a smaller car or a manual when you requested an automatic, don’t be afraid to ask for a better vehicle.

Before you leave, properly inspect your vehicle and capture a video on your smartphone highlighting any damage. If they try to charge you for damage that was already there, you’ll have this as a fallback. In Costa Rica, this is a common car rental fraud…

Make sure you know whether your Costa Rica car rental accepts regular or diesel fuel so that you can get the right kind of fuel when you go to the gas station.

Instead of renting a GPS device, use Google Maps on your smartphone. A solid international phone plan and a hands-free car mount are all you need.

Information about Accidents and Breakdowns

The Costa Rican Emergency Phone Number, which is 911, is the same as the emergency phone number in the United States. Their English-speaking line is also available.

On the other hand, if your Costa Rican car rental company’s emergency roadside assistance number is printed on the rental agreement, you may want to phone them instead.

You’ll have a wonderful time on your road trip across Costa Rica!

We decided to rent a car in Costa Rica to see the little villages, stunning beaches, jungle mountains, and national parks.

Everything is wet. Every step we take is met with a heavy, chilly mist that dampens our faces. In the midst of Costa Rica’s Monteverde Cloud Forest, this is what it’s like to go exploring.

The sky above us has long since vanished. The horizon has long since faded from view. As a thick, brilliant mist ebbs and flows, the woodland fades in and out around us.

The forest floor was littered with enormous roots that I couldn’t get my hands around, slithering like deep-sea cables over the earth.

This is the Sendero Del Rio route in Costa Rica’s Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, where we’re trekking through spooky half-light. Almost everything is wet and slippery because of the years of moss buildup.

Despite the sun rising higher in the sky, the mist remains thick. Reminding myself why is necessary. Our altitude is nearly 2 kilometers, and these aren’t fog, they’re clouds!

Since the turn of the century, Costa Rica’s Cordillera de Tilarán mountain range and the municipality of Santa Elena have been partying like there’s no tomorrow.

The richness of the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, a 10,500-hectare (26,000-acre) protected area established in 1972, is mind-boggling.

As a land bridge between two continents and a tropical climate, Costa Rica is known rich in animal and plant life — but Monteverde takes it to a whole new level.

While walking through the forest one can view thousands upon thousands of plant species (over 500 orchids alone), numerous birds, monkeys, and a wide variety if strange and wonderful-looking insects from all over the world.

Hours of Operation and Fees for Visitors

Daily from 7 am to 4 pm, the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biosphere Reserve is open. About 15 minutes from the nearby town of Santa Elena, Monteverde may be reached by car.

To enter the National Park at Monteverde, you must pay an entrance fee of $50 USD for adults and $12 USD for children (6 to 12 years old)

Monteverde’s Short History

Since the 1960s, biologists from all over the world have been fascinated by Monteverde’s amazing ecology, which displays unparalleled natural beauty and diversity (the name Monteverde means “green mountain” in Spanish).

After fleeing the United States in order to dodge the draft, a group of Quakers founded this organization.

In this peaceful, lush region, they could avoid the temptation to resort to violence for political ends, as the country had just disbanded its armed forces.

It was only scientists and bird-watchers who came to visit during the first decade.

It is now one of Costa Rica’s most famous tourist sites, attracting over 70,000 tourists each year. The only problem was that my buddy Abby and I arrived in Costa Rica just as the rainy season began, so there weren’t many other tourists there.

The plants and animals that call Monteverde home are very diverse. Nearly 1,200 kinds of amphibians and hundreds of birds are found in the area, as well as six different varieties of wildcats (including the jaguar and puma) and a variety of other animals.

It may be difficult to observe any of the larger creatures because of the dense forest and the fact that many of them are wary of humans (especially the big cats). We did, however, spot their footprints in the muck.

With concrete blocks or wood, many trails in Monteverde are elevated.

In order to accommodate the park’s growing popularity, as well as to keep visitors’ feet dry in such a rainy setting, these walkways were designed in this manner.

Natural Beauty at its Finest in Costa Rica

While exploring Monteverde’s trails, we took in the humid and increasingly threatened cloud forest environment for nearly three hours.

A total of six primary paths may be found in the Monteverde Biosphere Reserve. The shortest can be completed in as little as 10 minutes, while the longest may be up to a mile long.

Thirteen kilometers in length, that’s just 3% of the park’s surface area. Only scientists and researchers get access to the rest of the data.

One of the most memorable experiences was strolling across a 300-foot-tall canopy suspension bridge in the sky.

Despite the absence of mammal activity during our visit, the reserve’s plant and insect richness was astounding. To be in this section of Costa Rica is to be in a state of blissful relaxation. It’s a peaceful way to start the day.

A bluebird rushes past, and a bright scarlet mushroom peeks out of the branch-strewn green forest floor; these are just two examples of color splashes that can be found.

Monteverde, Costa Rica: Where to Go

Rent a vehicle

Discover Cars is the best place to reserve a vehicle. In order to help you get the best deal possible, they search both local and international automobile rental providers for you. Costa Ricans can easily rent a car using this method.


The cheapest way to get from San José, Costa Rica’s capital, to Monteverde is to take the $6 USD Transmonteverde bus.

For the Monteverde Costa Rica bus, the easiest way to get to the Villa Bonita bus station is by taxi from the Juan Santamaria Airport in Alajuela. If you don’t have one, you’ll have to walk into the city center.

There are numerous bus alternatives from Liberia if you’re traveling from the north (perhaps from the Nicaraguan border). There are only three bus stops needed to get from Liberia to Monteverde: from Canas to Tilaran and from Tilaran to Liberia.

Shuttle Service in Monteverde

Those without a car can take a shuttle bus from Banco Nacional in Santa Elena to Monteverde three times a day at 6:15, 7:20, and 1:45. For a one-way travel, it costs around $5 USD.

In Santa Elena, where to stay?

The closest town, Santa Elena, is around 6 kilometers from the cloud forest’s entrance, making it the most convenient spot to stay.

Information on Visiting Monteverde, Costa Rica

If you want to avoid the crowds and enjoy the cool morning fog/clouds, I recommend arriving at Monteverde at 7 a.m. to get the best views.

Monteverde has only one restroom at the entrance, so be sure to use it before you begin your trek!

Monteverde has a high level of rainfall and high humidity. It could be a good idea to pack a rain-resistant camera case. As well as a waterproof jacket for you!

If possible, bring a water bottle with a filtration system so that you can drink as much water as possible.

The trails in Monteverde are well-kept and excellent for hikers of all ages. It’s not a challenging hike.

If you want to see the entirety of the reserve, plan on walking for at least 3-4 hours.

More than 30 species of butterflies and spiders can be seen in the neighboring Monteverde Butterfly Garden.

We opted to hitchhike back down the hill because there were still a number of trucks parked in the parking area. I’ve hitchhiked in Mexico, Guatemala, and Nicaragua a few times.

On the other hand, this was going to be Abby’s first time hitchhiking. Ever. She appeared to be on the verge of tears, her face flushed with excitement and apprehension. For her, I was ecstatic! Experiencing new things is one of my favorite joys about traveling.

Hitchhiking has a poor reputation for a reason. People who are eager to warn about the hazards of it have no experience with it. If you ask someone who’s done it, they’ll have a very different perspective.

While driving on a rutted-out dirt road, we did our best to keep our heads and shoulders supported. Sweatshirts eventually become a necessity for us as well. At 11,000 feet, the back of a pickup truck is chilly.

This was more than compensated for by the breathtaking views on the way down the volcano. As we drove by fields and tiny towns, the clouds began to sweep in.

On the side of the road, locals had set up little fruit shops, and our truck stopped to buy some Queso Palmito, a Costa Rican cheese. I joined in on the fun and purchased a massive ball of it to munch on throughout the trip. Road cheese is the ideal hitchhiker delight because it’s soft, watery, and ice-cold.

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