Car hire in Costa Rica
Hiring a car in Costa Rica
Costa Rica is a relatively small country in Central America, making it easy to explore with a hire car. Despite its diminutive size, however, it really packs a punch. Offering everything from cloud forests and volcanoes to stunning beaches on both its Pacific and Caribbean coasts, Costa Rica will not disappoint.
You’ll spend your time in this wonderful nation marvelling at its wildlife and enjoying all manner of adventure.
Most holidays start in the capital San Jose, which is handy, as this is where the roads lead to. From this central point, you can drive up to Guanacaste, across to Limon or down to the Osa Peninsula to see some incredible natural attractions.
What you need to know
The biggest selection of car hire companies and vehicles can be found at San Jose’s Juan Santamaria International Airport (SJC). Here, you will find no fewer than nine hire firms to choose from, with the majority rated excellent, very good and good by our customers.
If you prefer more direct access to some of Costa Rica’s natural attractions, you may fly into a regional airport. If this is the case, then hire cars can be arranged from Tamarindo Airport (TNO) or Liberia’s Daniel Oduber Quirós International Airport (LIR), which can both be found in Guanacaste. Check out our booking toolto find the best and most convenient deal for you.
Where to pick up your car
With so many hire car companies to choose from across the Costa Rican destinations, there are various different protocols when it comes to picking up your car. Several of the hire firms have desks inside the terminal building. Others will provide a free shuttle bus to take you to where you need to be. Alternatively, you may opt for a company that offers a meet and greet service, escorting you from arrivals to where your hire car is parked.
All of this information is provided prior to booking and can be accessed through the search tool, so you can select the option that is best for you.
“The pick-up was easy, it took 5 minutes from arriving at the desk to driving out the car, and the return took even less time.”
Where to go
You can drive to most places in Costa Rica within six hours of San Jose, but be sure to explore your immediate surroundings first. The city has plenty to offer in terms of museums and galleries, shopping – the best of which is found at the markets – and eating. If this is your first time in Costa Rica, be prepared to eat a lot of rice and beans.
The best value meal throughout the country tends to be casado, which features a portion of rice, beans, plantains, various salads, tortillas and your choice of meat or fish. Wash it all down with a fresh fruit milkshake, known as a batido. There are loads of places in San Jose to eat this hearty dish, but the best advice is to follow where the locals go and arrive hungry.
Driving in Costa Rica
It is not the distances you need to overcome in Costa Rica, but the roads, as they can vary significantly in quality. This means leaving a little extra time for each journey just in case you have to go more slowly on account of the road surfaces.
You should drive on the right-hand side of the road in Costa Rica and pass on the left. One of the first things you may notice is an anti-congestion system in San Jose that only allows certain licence plates to use the city’s roads at particular times, so bear that in mind.
Travelling at more than 75 mph or 12 mph over the speed limit can result in a fine or even a jail term. Highway police and speed cameras help to enforce these rules. Using a mobile phone while driving is also illegal.
Being located in Central America, Costa Rica has land borders with both Nicaragua and Panama, which offer some wonderful places to visit. Just over the border to the north is San Juan del Sur, a wonderful coastal town, but also the gateway to the Isle of Ometepe on Lake Nicaragua. Here, you will find two active volcanoes and stunning scenery. Taking Route One from San Jose, you can get to San Juan del Sur in less than five hours but there may be places you wish to stop along the way.
To soak up the real Caribbean lifestyle head south into Panama to find the Bocas del Toro archipelago. This is a great extension if you are already exploring the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica. The driving time from Limon to Bocas del Toro Province, from where you can get the ferry to the islands, is just over two hours along Route 36. Bear in mind that crossing the border may take a little extra time.
Top attractions to visit in Costa Rica
Costa Rica is an absolute paradise and you’ll find plenty of things to marvel at as you drive around the country. There are a few places you’ll want to make sure you include in your itinerary, however.
Easily the most beautiful building in San Jose, the National Theatre dates back to 1897 and is instantly recognisable with its neoclassical façade, complete with ornate columns. Before heading into the marble lobby and the stunning auditorium beyond, take note of the statues of Beethoven and Calderon de la Barca, the famous Spanish dramatist.
Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve
Do not leave Costa Rica without paying a visit to Monteverde. This stunning cloud forest habitat is home to a wide selection of flora and fauna, including the mystical quetzal bird, with its distinctive iridescent features and long tail. There are plenty of routes through the cloud forest to explore or you can zipline through the canopy for the ultimate thrill.
The active Arenal Volcano is a fantastic place to visit and the area surrounding it, including the town of La Fortuna, offers plenty to see and do. You can trek or horse ride up to the volcano, listen to its grumblings in the middle of the night or head to La Fortuna waterfall for a great expedition with a stunning natural phenomenon at the end.