Tips for Driving Pura Vida

By far one of my favorite things to do when I travel is drive. I know, not everyone wants to leave the madness of their own day-to-day rush hour commutes just to sit in a car on vacation.  However, I must tell you it can be inspiring to see what a place really looks like and it can save you a lot of money on your vacations.

Stacey and I had quite the adventure on the roads less traveled in Costa Rica. We decided that we had a lot of destinations in the country and we needed to find a way to get there that wasn’t on a tour bus.

Rent a Car in Costa Rica

To Drive or Not?

We had no intentions of driving when we first began to plan this trip.  But we wanted to see multiple regions of Costa Rica and not be tied to just one resort. We used our best travel practices by pricing flights into multiple different cities in order to find the best possible deal.

We could fly into Liberia airport in northern Costa Rica on the Pacific side for more money.  But we still have to rent a car to get to the places on our itinerary.  The flights were cheaper flying to the capital city San Jose, but that meant paying more for transport to different regions which was not in our budget.  Being traveling teachers on a budget, that meant choosing the cheaper flight and a rent a car.   We had no idea we had a whole other mess of other decisions to make.

What Car to Rent?

4-wheel drive or 2-wheel drive, manual or automatic?  These decisions are easy normally.  But then you find out that if the country's president hasn’t been somewhere or doesn’t plan on going there the road will not be paved!  Okay so check yes for 4-wheel drive. It was a difference of $300 for automatic, well then I guess a manual it is, good things I had one growing up. Cheaper the better is the norm for rental cars, but not for the situations that are uniquely Costa Rican.  

Renting a car in Costa Rica

Where do you plan on going? What will your needs be? While we don’t normally splurge on things like 4 wheel drive, extra tires or insurance, we did here. 

 Look at what  where you want to explore and that should dictate the type of car you will need.   The major rental companies have branches in Costa Rica, research those and see what they have to offer.


This is important-take note!  Not all credit cards cover car rental in Costa Rica, which means you must use their versions of insurance to cover things like an ant infestation (not kidding) or if a storm blows through and drops a tree branch on to the car. Which is something that has happened to people we know!

Call both your credit card company and the rental car company to find out what is covered in Costa Rica. Read the fine print and check if insurance is included in the price. This was a costly mistake like a $400 extra costly mistake.  We wish we had known about the insurance before we landed or at least had done a little more due diligence, our mistake.  I (we) don’t normally recommend the extra insurance packages since our credit cards have rental car coverage.  But in this situation and country they didn’t.  And there are a lot of unknowns when you are driving in the rainforest, budget and get the extra insurance.

The Drive

We ended up with a four-wheel drive pseudo SUV, a green Suzuki Jimmy,  this was not flashy but it got the job done. For someone who is used to specific directions like turn right on Main street or maybe take a left on 4th Street.  Directions here are a little less specific. Turn right at the supermercado and then left at the gasolinera. Uh, which one?

Renting a Car in Costa Rica

Here is how we learned the intricacies of Costa Rican directions. For our first night we had a hotel booked in San Jose.  The directions were so generic telling us to turn at certain restaurants and statues, we drove around aimlessly for hours until we found a Holiday Inn. Luckily they had a room available, and so we sacrificed the reservation to the hotel gods. Didn’t know at the time that these are pretty typical directions.  By the way, we never found out where our hotel was!

Our first destination was Playas del Coco in Guantacaste. The directions we printed from the website said "after the blue tire nailed to the tree make a left and then go around the airport".  So when you are driving, take some maps, print out everything you can and know that the Ticos are incredibly friendly and will  help you find your way. Language Barriers can be tough when finding your way through a new city, read more about our struggle during our first night in Costa Rica.

Renting a Car in Costa Rica

Enjoy the Ride

The drive down the Pan-American highway made me find an appreciation for Costa Rica and their Pura Vida lifestyle.  Coffee being harvest outside my car window and even people selling coconuts on the corner.  These are things I couldn't have experienced if we had stayed inside just resort and hadn’t had the driving adventure.

So relax and look for tires and the waterfalls and let the drive present you with surprises both good and bad but in no doubt completely worth it. Pura Vida!

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Renting a Car in Costa Rica