Renting a Car in Costa Rica
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Some people choose to forego renting a car in Costa Rica. They do this, I think, for a lot of reasons. They may be concerned about driving in Costa Rica. They may wish to save money. Maybe they have health issues, and some people feel they 'lose' vacation time by driving. Some hire private guides or tour companies to take them everywhere or sometimes even hire charter planes to fly them to wherever.
I understand these reasons, and despite my cautions in driving in Costa Rica, it is the only way I know of, (other than walking which I always try to avoid), to see the real Costa Rica.
Driving does take a bit more time, but to me, the advantages of being able to pull over and take some pictures, check out a magnificent mountain, a three hundred year old church or a stunning beach, simply far outweigh nearly all the reasons given above for not renting.
Costa Rica is an astonishing place. Why you could spend an entire vacation just visiting and photographing the churches of Costa Rica! There are incredible mountains, secluded beaches, beautiful architecture... this list goes on and on. Don't miss it! Two weeks at a beach is a LOT of fun, but if that is all you do, you really miss the Real Costa Rica.
OK... I have talked you into a car rental. Now what? Here are some of my suggestions that I give to all those I know who plan to visit here and rent a car.
Car rental tips
- Order your reservations online! There is often a big difference in rates, and you can save a lot of money by visiting several web sites and comparing. Alternatively, use a good travel agent who will get you the best rate. Below is a (short) list of car rental agencies that have offices near the San Jose airport. Some names are not there... BIG names! They have been left off for a reason. There are some really GOOD car rental companies here. There are also some lousy ones. Remember that these are locally owned so just because one sports a well known name does NOT mean that you are dealing with that same "big name".
- Never insist that you be able to pick up your car at the airport! Rentals picked up at the airport have a HUGE surcharge (12%) added to the cost. Nearly all rental car companies have free shuttle service to their locations which are normally less than a five minute drive from the airport.
- Rent when you need the car! Many flights come in fairly late in the day. Consider overnighting at one of the nearby hotels and picking up the car in the morning. You'll save a whole days rental which can be $30 -$70. Do you really need that car for the first night?
- Watch using your credit card! Be especially careful if you A. don't have a large credit limit or B. don't have a large remaining credit availability. All car rental companies pre-charge your card for the security deposit. This deposit varies, but is always pretty big. I cannot tell you how many people I know of who found their credit cards useless because all the credit limit was taken up with their security deposit.
- Be careful with insurance. Travelers, especially from the USA, are used to slapping down their Gold cards and waiving the insurance deductible. This may not be a great idea here, as if you are in an accident, your card can be charged for the anticipated repairs. Sure, your insurance may reimburse you, or maybe not. Check with your auto insurance company BEFORE you leave to find out just what they will cover. One of the new insurance offerings is "tire insurance". I kid you not. Now maybe there is a good reason to shell out $6.00 to $9.00 per day for this, but someone is going to have to convince me that is a good deal! Down here, tire repair is dirt cheap, alomst always less then $2.00 to repair a flat. I have paid $.80. Repair locations are everywhere.
- The car inspection. All companies will do an inspection with you before you take delivery of the car. Take an active part in this! Make sure every single nick, scratch, dent, or other damage is marked clearly on the sheet you will be signing. Check the roof! I believe most car rental companies truly are honest on this and sre simply trying to protect themselves, but failure to do this is simply not worth the risk and will avoid unpleasantness when the car is returned.
- SCAM ALERT! There are some groups of people who have been perpetrating a little scam using rental cars as the targets. It works this way: One of the baddies puts a small hole in one of your tires or loosens the valve stem. This creates a slow leak. You get in and drive away to begin your trip. Maybe 45 minutes to an hour later, you get a flat. You are upset, nervous, out of your environment, and perhaps a bit perplexed and angry. Miraculously, some friendly folks stop their car to assist you. They don't look like baddies. Many have women in the car. They are not your friends and they are not there to help. While helping you change the tire (maybe) they are also helping themselves to whatever they can find in your car or trunk. While I don't believe I have heard of anyone being physically harmed, I know several folks who lost cash, cameras, passports, laptops, return airline tickets or other valuables to these jokers. It is not a great way to begin your visit to paradise. The Costa Rica police are actively on this and this crime is now far less prevalent, but still exists, so use caution.
- Speeding tickets The roads have improved greatly over the past ten years and with better roads comes the need for speed. First, don't do it. Read my section on driving here. There are a lot of good reasons to kick back and enjoy the drive. However, as many of you will cheerfully ignore this caveat and put your foot down, here is some info. All rental cars are marked and are easily identifiable. As you are cruising the highways (pistas), up goes the speed and pretty quick, there is a gentleman in uniform waving you over. For many years, the police targeted rental cars. Recently though, this practice is AGAIN becoming common.
As to what happens next is a fun debate for folks who live here. (Yes, we get tickets too!). The option is to accept the ticket or slip the officer a bit of cash to make it go away. A bit of background. Police here are horribly underpaid for the work they do and the risks they take. Sadly, many still use this as a second income. Some advise to take the officer's name, etc and report him or her. Others say, (discreetly) to offer a few thousand colones and move on. Me? I wait until they tell me what they are going to do, then I make the decision. Not long ago, while returning from Puerto Limon, I was stopped (rightfully) for going about 25 K//hour over the limit. A very nice gentleman asked for my license and registration which I provided. He told me I was speeding and was going to take my license. That was not a happy moment. After a bit of friendly banter (Ticos are almost ALWAYS faultlessly polite), I gave him 5,000 colones (about ten bucks) and went back to San Jose (more slowly!). Should I have done that? Probably not, but I justified it for obvious reasons.
Sadly though, things seem to be getting worse. Several of my customers have recently complained about getting hit up for $70.00 or MORE for the bribe! Further, some policemen are not friendly at all and actually threaten the tourists!
So now you know how this works... drive the limit! Oh, one other thing. Costa Rica will not now issue a ticket for any speeding violation less than 90 Km/hour (about 60 mph). This makes sense (unless you are doing 60 in downtown San Jose), so if your sin was less then 90, let them talk. You'll get chastised and warned and be back on your vacation. The problem HERE is that you cannot really argue this point.
If you do decide not to pay off the officer, which is probably what you should do, tickets can be paid when you return the car to the rental location. Then, you have not contributed to the corruption and you have paid for your sinning.
Car rental companies in Costa Rica
READ THIS CAREFULLY!
Let's talk about car rental companies in Costa Rica. Most are decent honest people who try to serve you well. Sadly, there are other companies that give bad service, fail to maintain their cars, treat people poorly if there is a conflict, or maybe just charge too much for their cars or insurance.
In my businesses, I have to deal personally with nearly every car rental company there is in Costa Rica. I also hear from my customers
at the end of their vacations just who gave good service and who did not. I hear the coomplaints first hand.
Below is a list of companies I feel confident will give you good service.
I cannot guarantee that of course, but as I do not hear horro stories about those on the list, I feel comfortable telling my readers! But I can make sure the "problem companies" are NOT on
None of these companies has paid me to be on this list.
Therefore, if a car rental company does NOT appear below,
there is a high probably that that is NOT due to an error.
There were and are concrete reasons they are not listed here, especially if they are large international companies. Those are just franchise operations, and they set policy.
LOOK FIRST to see if YOUR car rental company is on this list! If it is
not, consider a change! If you do not see it here, there IS a reason.
Each of these has offices within 10 minutes of the airports and offer shuttle
If you own or operate a car rental company in Costa Rica and do not see your name here, you may contact us. If you get no reply, then you probably already know why you are not listed.
Take a look at the Things Your Travel Agent Forgot to Tell You.