I have often been told by my clients- We want to see as much as Costa Rica as possible, but not spend all the time in the car.
So what are the condition of the roads? Costa Rica is a mountainous country so to get most anywhere you have to drive over, thru, or around a mountain. So the going is slow. The roads are curvy and not very wide…..although now a days the roads in C Rica are better…still we encounter potholes (due to heavy rainy seasons). So a distance may look like a short distance on a map, but the travel time can be quite longer. Roads tend to get crowded, esp on week-ends and holidays.
Don’t drive at night if you can avoid it. Visibility, esp. during the rainy season is not always good.
Fill your fuel tank in the cities as rural areas don’t have as many service stations.
If you are going outside the central valley of San Jose area, a car that is higher up off the ground is definitely better. (although you do not need especially a four wheel drive) Most car rental agencies have a good selection of SUV type vehicle. With air conditioning which you do need.
You need to specify if you want automatic or straight shift.
Road signs definitely have improved, but sometimes we still need just to stop the car and ask directions. Costa Ricans are more than nice about helping out. You don’t even need to speak Spanish. Just be able to say what your destination is.
Should I rent a car or purchase a tour where I am provided transportation? Many people are renting cars now in Costa Rica. With the road system somewhat improved and road signs also better, it easier in that respect to drive yourself. But- the draw backs are: Costa Rican drivers follow a different set of rules than we do. Aggressive behavior- passing on curves, going thru red lights, driving on the curb of the road. Costa Ricans seem to be such nice people but the male population when behind a wheel seem to change to creatures from another planet.
Also auto rentals are not cheap. Around $50 a day for a small 4×4 which seats really comfortably 2 persons with your luggage in the back seat. And there is an insurance deductible which you have to put on your credit card of around $900. You get this back (they tear up the credit card voucher) if you don’t have an accident where your cost is $900. (insurance deductible) Be sure you go over in detail with your car rental agency as to what exactly does the insurance cover that you are buying.
Gasoline is around $3.50 per gallon for regular. Additionally: The insurance will not cover if you have an accident by crossing a river (in the water) , driving while drinking alcohol,
or whatever else they categorize as “reckless -neglectful driving.
Carry you passport and drivers license with you while driving.
Make sure the spare tire is locked.
Don’t leave valuables visible inside your locked car when you are not in it. It’s common to have windows bashed to get whats inside.