Car Rental - Be Aware!
I have learned quite a bit about the car rental process for Costa Rica. I'm happy to share what I have learned and hope to pass on some good advice to you.
First of all, if you plan to do some driving (any type of road trip), it is important to rent a 4WD vehicle. Costa Rica's highway system is not completely in the best shape, there are many, many dirt roads and you need a vehicle to cope with the road conditions.
Secondly, you will pay a premium for car rental at the airport. There is an "airport fee/tax" added to your rental. It's best to rent from an agency outside the airport that doesn't charge you this extra fee. The agency I went with, Vamos, sent a car to pick us up at the airport and brought us to their office about 5 minutes away.
Thirdly, you are obligated to buy the third party insurance. There is no compromise on this.
Car rental can be expensive. I think I found a great deal on our car rental for seven days. They will give us a cooler to use for free. I could have opted for the free use of a cell phone, too, but I didn't need it because I had free international data roaming on my cell phone. They also have complimentary baby seat and roof rack. If you do not download a GPS map onto your cell phone, you should rent a GPS. Roads are not clearly marked in Costa Rica and GPS is extremely helpful. Our total cost comes to US$53.00 per day for an intermediate size 4WD vehicle! We had a good experience with our car rental and was amazed how steep some of the dirt roads were that we traveled on. Our car didn't have too much horsepower but it did handle the roads just fine. Here are some photos of the roads we took!Related to:
- Budget Travel
- Road Trip
Renting a car in Costa Rica (Guanacaste region)
We decided to rent a car for 2 days in Tamarindo village. The village has many car rental companies, we just walked up to the closest one, Budget. We read a lot of reviews and advices regarding renting car in Costa Rica and were not sure if it is safe. Here is our experience:
1. Budget: All we needed was driving license, passport (copy of it) and credit card
2. Had to fill in the usual forms
3. Paid the daily rental fee and the complete insurance package, plus fee for returning car at the Liberia airport
4. All this added up to 330 dollars per 2 days (from Friday afternoon till Sunday morning)
Note cheap but it was worth it, even though the car was slightly in worn shape but still perfectly drivable and new(ish).
Roads: Very narrow without extended sides, one lane this way, one that way. The houses in the villages open right on the road. We drove from beaches to beaches, from small fishing villages to bigger villages and towns. The rules are simple but logical:
1. watch out for pedestrians - people love to walk on the sides of the road or chat
2. watch out for bikes - people love to use bicycles, but no lights, no reflective vests, so especially in the night, be very careful to spot them on time
3. local drivers will pass you if you go slow, or stop on the road and chat with somebody they know, or unload or anything. And the roads are narrow, so be aware of this habit. In crossroads and junctions watch out for traffic and opportunities to go or to wait. It is kind of organised chaos but well adhered to. If you can adapt to it and follow the happenings on the road, you will be doing fine. It is an experience and adventure to drive in Costa Rica. I loved every bit of it.
4. Directional and other signs are there but many times small or insignificantly looking. You have to watch out for them very carefully, otherwise you can miss a turn easily. Usually there is s sign before the junction, then after with kilometers on it. GPS is a great thing to have, but we didn't ask for one. We used maps and the signs, great fun (until you are not in hurry)
5. Quality of the roads vary, there are sections with new asphalt, then suddenly you get dusty section, then asphalt again, etc. Because the roads are narrow and with varying quality, expect to drive for much longer time than usual. A 50 km distance can easily take few hours, especially in areas where there are houses and people. Some areas seems like an endless village with people constantly on the road, traffic and animals.
6. Watch out for animals on the road, cows, horses, monkeys, etc.
7. There are police check stops, checking for illegal workers and stolen vehicles. We were stopped once, they asked for my driving license and where we are heading. It took about half a minute and we went off.
8. Watch out for accidents. You will encounter some.
All in all, I loved driving there. Roads were not overloaded with signs and markings, no strict rules and more common sense. You have to be vigilant and observant, and able to adapt to local driving habits and conditions.Related to:
- Road Trip
Best Price on Air Fare
I booked our flight from LAX To San Jose through Avianca Airlines. They are part of the Star Alliance group (United Airlines). Round trip cost US$597.01 with fees and taxes (in 2014). We flew on an Airbus A321. Not the most comfortable plane but it was okay. Some of the planes have the movie screen built into the seat in front of you but some of the planes did not have that. We were allowed two free checked bags per person, unheard of these days on many airlines. They fed us a meal on the first leg and even the second connecting flight which was only 1 hour long.
Our connecting flight was in San Salvador in El Salvador. Not a problem on the way to Costa Rica but on the way home, we had to go thru additional security for our connecting flight. They have no scanners. So they. literally, go through your bags - purses and carry on, remove shoes and frisk your body. I had bought a bottle of perfume at the duty free shop in Costa Rica. It was still in the bag with receipt marked duty free. They made me open the perfume box and show them the perfume. This part was not pleasant and unnecessary since we had to go through security in Costa Rica and never left the San Salvador airport to go to our next gate.Related to:
- Budget Travel
Departure Tax For Both Citizens and Foreigners
I found this tidbit which I think is good to know upon leaving the country of Costa Rica:
You have to be in the airport 3 hours before of the departure time for every international flight.
It is forbidden to bring family and friends into the departure area.
In the main entrance door you have to show your passport as well as your flight ticket.
To leave the country you have to pay $29 of taxes (in 2014), no matter if you are resident or foreigner. You can pay this tax inside the airport terminal. You can also pay the tax before in one of the offices of Banco Nacional de Costa Rica which is a Public bank or Bancrédito counter located in the airport.. You could pay this tax in dollars or in colones. You need to take your passport with you when paying this tax, since the cashier will require to see it. You can do it about two weeks before you leave and in that way you can avoid the line of tax payers which may be quite long sometimes.
At the airline front desk, you must have: passport, airport taxes, the flight ticket and all baggage that you want to register.
Rent a 4-WD SUV
Our trip was a fly and drive vacation which we purchased through Gate 1 Travel, so we flew into San Jose, got on the shuttle, headed to the Adobe Airport Office, rented a Hyundai Tucson AWD/SUV and drove it to our destination(s). There are a few highways in Costa Rica, but most of the roads are divided (with traffic in each direction) and many of the places you will want to visit are reached by taking dirt roads. So get the SUV!!!
Also, most of the places you will want to visit in Costa Rica don't have a street address (as you are use to in North America, Europe, etc.), so I highly suggest that you rent a GPS with the your car/SUV rental. Believe me, you will definitely use it and it will be your best friend. Well worth the investment.Related to:
- Road Trip
- Diving and Snorkeling
Driving around San Jose and the rest of Costa Rica
This is only about the driving:
Don't forget about the toll roads especially all around and going in and out of San Jose. Not expensive as it's less than a US dollar, but if you are short on cash and only have a credit card or ATM card, it's a pain in the butt.
As well, even if pay to buy the extra insurance on a rental vehicle, and have it covered for loss or damage (provided that you credit car company does not cover such incidents) you will NOT get the tires insured for damage or flats. Seriously, there is no coverage that you can buy on the tires!
GPS is always extra (but necessary) and starts at $10/day.
There are pothole, and speed bumps that you won't see until you are on top of them, so drive carefully.
Have a calculator ready to figure out the cost of filling up your gas tank, because the attendants feel no way about keeping a $2-5USD tip without telling you. They simply keep the change.
Driving up the mountains to the central part of Costa Rica after dark can get you into twisty turns territory in complete darkness and thick fog. Not an experience you want to endure as a novice since it takes 3 or more hours from San Jose to Arenal after sunset.
San Jose does not have clear street signs, and is difficult to traverse even with a GPS. As well it has an interesting cast of characters at night if you know what I mean. If you are not there with an agenda, then you really have no business being in San Jose as a tourist after dark.
If you want to know what to expect on the resorts and hotels you'll be staying at, leave me a message. We just came back from Costa Rica on Sept 30th 2012.Related to:
- Road Trip
- Budget Travel
Bus from Airport to La Fortuna
If you are taking a "bus" from the airport to your hotel, you will probably be in a van. I would recommend getting picked up and dropped off at the airport because the roads are long, fairly dangerous, and are poorly marked. The drivers can also be very helpful, especially in pointing out landmarks and animals that you may miss on your own!
(Our driver took a detour to show us the energy producing wind turbines and stopped to point out toucans, monkeys, and a badger-type animal specific to the region!!)
**If you get motion sickness AT ALL, make sure to pack dramamine!!!Related to:
- Budget Travel
- Adventure Travel
- Jungle and Rain Forest
Getting to Downtown San Jose from Airport
Arriving at the new and modern Juan Santamaria Airport, we quickly cleared immigration and got the cherished stamp for Costa Rica in our passports. The airport is approximately 30 - 45 minutes from downtown San Jose, allowing for traffic. Originally we planned to take the free airport shuttle provided by the hotel we had booked for 2 nights in downtown San Jose. Although we would have to wait around the airport a couple of hours for that shuttle to arrive based on their pre-set schedule, we could have passed the time comfortably enough. However, we didn't do this.
Previous research on how to get to San Jose from the airport warned tourists not to take unauthorized, unlicensed taxis from the airport --- licensed taxis are bright orange/red. However, upon exiting the airport, we were swarmed by "taxi" drivers and tried to bypass them which was almost impossible. A man approached us wearing an official-looking shirt with the name of the airport authority on it. Against my better judgement we accepted his offer which was that he would call our hotel, get their approval for us to take his cab, and that the hotel would pay him. Yeah, right!! His taxi wasn't even bright orange!!
However, he was as good as his word---he took us directly to our hotel AND our hotel DID PAY the fare!! He also gave us a receipt, signed and stamped with his full name and contact information should we need it or perhaps to prove he was a licensed taxi driver --- we were never sure what it was for.
I wouldn't recommend taking this method of getting to your destination, but for us it turned out OK this time.
COST: Expect to pay $25 - $30 for two persons for a taxi to downtown San Jose hotels (2012 price). You may be able to negotiate a better price if business is slow for the driver. For solo travelers, it would be a good deal if you could share a taxi with another traveler to split the price the location is convenient.
Juan Santamaria International Airport
This airport is located about 20 km away from San Jose and it's the biggest one in Costa Rica. Several American and Canadian companies offer regular flights to San Jose - if you're flying in from Europe, direct flights are available from Madrid with Iberia. With only 17 gates it isn't exactly a huge airport so it's very easy to get around, but it can get pretty busy so you do need to show up a couple hours before your flight if you want to have enough time to pay your US$28 departure fee (cash or credit card, the counter is located next to the check-in area), check in, drop your luggage, and go through security. The terminal is nice and modern, there are several souvenir shops (the Britt shops offer free chocolate-covered fruit and nut samples!), a food court and a couple of restaurants, including one where you can order nice, healthy meals (something I usually look for before hopping on a plane), or eat one last casado before leaving the country :o)
Hiring a private driver to tour Costa Rica
Danny Jiminez - www.costaricadriver.com - This is the very first time I have written any review, and we have traveled many places. I wanted to make sure I wrote one about Danny, because we had an awesome vacation, and a lot of that was because of Danny. First of all, I would like to say that we enjoyed Danny very much. He has a gentle, humble personality, and that is very refreshing, coming from the United States. He is honest, friendly and has a great sense of humor. We were able to leave him in charge of our things in the van, while we explored the beautiful parks and sights in Costa Rica, and didn't have to worry about it. We could also sit back and enjoy the scenery on the many drives that we took with him. We hired Danny for the entire 9 days we were in Costa Rica, and paid a daily flat rate (well worth it, and he has competitive rates too.) He took us wherever we wanted to go, and it was like having our own private tour guide, catered to what we wanted to do. He really became part of the family, and it was hard saying goodbye!
I believe we were able to see much more of Costa Rica because he took care of the driving. Not only did he drive, he communicated quite a bit for us, (he speaks very good English), translating and setting up some guides for us for Monteverde, Cano Negros, and Arenal National Parks. He also took us to some local restaurants, off the tourist beaten path. He took away a lot of the stress and hassle part of travelling, leaving just enjoyment and relaxation for us. We saw a lot of wildlife!
There were 5 of us travelling with him, my husband, two teenagers, and my husband's elderly aunt. There was one hike that he took with us, and it was particularly challenging for our aunt, and he was right there, helping her along the steep, muddy trail.
Danny is the best! He will not disappoint you - very safe driver and always on time. I think he deserves 5+++ stars! I noticed only one poor review on him and in my opinion, it did not warrant that poor rating. From what I read, that review was not fair, as a lot of it had to do with circumstances beyond his control. I saw it and hired him anyway because I went with my gut feeling.
The roads are very bad in some parts of Costa Rica, and we had considered renting a car. Yes, it will cost a little more to hire a driver, but after seeing the road conditions there, especially going to Monteverde, there is a strong possibility that we would have gotten lost. There are no signs saying which way to go on a fork in the road - you just have to know! Also, the road could bang up a rental car pretty badly if you hit a pothole unexpectedly. Coming back from Monteverde especially, it was dark and foggy and the visibility was very bad. Danny knows the country and knows the roads. We don't.
So that is my review. Danny, if you read this - THANK YOU! We really enjoyed our time with you and hope to come back to Costa Rica again!Related to:
- Family Travel
- National/State Park
Paying Departure Tax with Credit Cards
To fly home from SJO in San Jose you have to pay a $26 departure tax.
The counter where you pay this indicates that they accept VISA, among other credit cards. However, they DO NOT actually swipe it as a regular credit card. Instead, they charge it as a CASH ADVANCE. They don't tell you this either, they just swipe it and give you the paper that indicates that you have "paid" so that you can get on your flight.
You will have to pay off your card immediately when you arrive back home in order to negate any finance charges that will begin to grow from the cash advance. I caught mine early and it only got up to $0.30 (30 cents) but if I hadn't paid attention it could have gotten a lot worse.
So try to pay the departure tax in cash (they accept both USD and Colones) if you can. If not, pay off your card as soon as you get home to avoid the finance charge from the cash advance that they will charge it as.
Dollar Rent A Car In Costa Rica
Whatever you do, do NOT rent from Dollar Rent A Car in Costa Rica. First, they rented out the car that I had reserved, then the car breaks down on the way to the airport. After I hitchhiked back to the rental office, they apologized and offered me a refund, of which I have not received, even after contacting the regional manager. I would advise anyone to rent a car anywhere other than Dollar Rent A Car.Related to:
- Road Trip
renting, or not
OK, I read these before, and to be honest, and yeah my opinion, I have no idea what they are all talking about. I rented a car for 10 days and I thought the roads were just fine. We drove from Bahia Drake in the south all the way to Guancaste with ZERO problems. Were the roads perfect, no, but more than fine, and we even went off road, and no, we did not have a 4x4 or SUV, but a small economy car. Been to many US cities where the roads are a lot worse.
We spent the first 4 days thinking that we would not need to rent a car. We could just hop on a bus or tsake a taxi. Buses, we waited 3 hours for a local bus to show up. In most countries like CR, local buses are at least on the hour if not the half hour to and from local towns. Not the case here. Also, again we thought, how much can taxis be, this isn't New York. One taxi wanted 50$, yeah, US$ to go 13 kilometers. And it wasn't like he wasn't getting it, he was. We weren't just gringo's, that was the going rate. We ended up renting a car though budget and our trip was 100% better from then on. We had freedom to come and go as we please, on our time and not have to worry about a private driver. As far as getting lost, well, that is on you, if you can't read a map or folow road signs, then yeah, you could get lost. But where is your sense of adventure! Drive the speed limit and be careful, get insurance and you'll be fine. I was surprised at how easy it was. I have driven in many foreign countries and this was one of the easiest. Before we left I read about how terrible the roads were. Never saw it. Were there holes and ruts in places, yeah, but like I said, Chicago, Minneapolis, San Fran, DC, Sooooo much worse!
Transportation between San Jose & the Arenal area
I decided to visit the Arenal volcano area and Tabacon Hot Springs area from the San Jose area.
THE TRAVEL SLUT TIP: Rather than booking transportation North to these areas, for the same price you can book a one-day bus tour to these resort areas and then make arrangements (at no additional costs) to have the bus leave you at the last stop and then pick you up a couple days later for your return to San Jose. I did this and I not only saved some money, but I received a commentary on Costa Rica history & culture, visited a farmer's market, gift store and had a nice lunch in addition to spending an afternoon at the hot springs.Related to:
- Adventure Travel
- National/State Park
- Budget Travel
Bus to the Caribbean Coast
We discovered when we were staying in Jac , that the tourist bus travels from San Jose to the Carribean Coast not from Jaco . So we had to travel back to San Jose first....good to know when you're figuring out your itinery.
The bus was great though....convenient and reliable. and $25.00 .You can book it from almost any hotelRelated to:
- Women's Travel
- Road Trip
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