Car Rental in Tamarindo, Costa Rica: Warnings and Best Deals

Are you considering renting a car in Tamarindo, Costa Rica?

Tamarindo is a popular Pacific coast beach town located in the Guanacaste Province. Often, renting a car is the best way to get around in Costa Rica and Tamarindo is no exception to that. 

As a couple who lives in Costa Rica, we visit Tamarindo at least a few times a year. We have also had family and friends rent a car from Tamarindo on multiple occasions. So, we are very experienced in the rental car process and what you can expect from the roads around Tamarindo.  

We created this post to help you decide if renting a car is right for you, help you select the best car, let you know what to look out for with car rentals, and more. 

Let’s get to it!

Should You Rent a Car in Tamarindo?

The short answer is that maybe you should rent a car. 

It really depends on what you would like to do once in Tamarindo. See, the downtown area is very walkable. You don’t need a car if you are staying downtown and plan to just enjoy the Tamarindo beach, go surfing, check out the downtown souvenir shops, and eat at one of the many delicious restaurants.

Also, this is such a tourism hub that it is always possible to book day tours with transportation included. These day tours can be pricey though. 

However, one of the things we love about Tamarindo is that there are a lot of really amazing beaches both north and south of the town. All beaches in Costa Rica have free public access by law. So, with a rental car, you can explore a lot more at your own pace. 

Another option is to just rent a car for a few days if you don’t think you will need it for the entire time you are in Tamarindo. That way you can get out and explore on your own, but don’t have the higher price tag of renting a car for your whole trip. 

Car Rental Companies in Tamarindo

There are several different local and international Tamarindo car rental companies. These include Sixt, Alamo, Economy, Europcar, Enterprise, National, and our favorite Costa Rica rental car company Adobe

Most of these companies have offices in the downtown area of Tamarindo. However, Adobe’s office is located on the main road between Tamarindo and Playa Flamingo. 

Here is the exact location on Google Maps

Adobe is happy to deliver your rental car to you for free within 12 miles of their office.  

Adobe Rent a Car is our favorite Costa Rica rental car company. We work exclusively with them to bring you a 10% discount plus several other great perks such as free extra drivers and discounted GPS units.

Get Your Discounted Car Rental from Adobe

The Costa Rica Car Rental Discount

As I mentioned, we work exclusively with our favorite Costa Rica car rental service called Adobe Rent a Car. We have a great discount to pass on to you. This discount includes:

  • 10% discount for Costa Rica Vibes readers
  • Free additional drivers
  • 0% deductible on Liability Protection Insurance
  • Discounted GPS unit

​Adobe has the largest fleet of vehicles in Costa Rica. They have a wide variety of cars for you to choose from. They are also an all-around excellent company with amazing customer service. We also like that Adobe offers free cancellation at any time. 

You can find out all the details and book your discounted price with Adobe here

The Best Type of Car for Tamarindo

road in tamarindo

For the Tamarindo area, we suggest renting an SUV with decent clearance. For the downtown area and for the main roads surrounding Tamarindo you can easily get by with a sedan.

However, if you would like to explore some other places such as Playa Avellanas just south of Tamarindo, an SUV is best.

This is because the roads are unpaved. However, they are relatively flat and packed down, so you really do not need a 4×4. 

You most likely will not need a 4-wheel drive vehicle unless you are staying on a remote road outside of the downtown area. If this is the case, we suggest messaging your hotel to ask about the road condition before booking a vehicle.

Also, you will have the choice between a vehicle with manuel transmission and automatic transmission. Typically it is a bit more affordable to rent a manuel vehicle in Costa Rica.  

What You Should Know Before Renting a Car in Costa Rica

Renting a car in Costa Rica is a bit complicated. Here is what you need to know. 

Requirements to Rent a Car

To rent a car in Costa Rica you need to meet a few main conditions:

– Meet the minimum age requirement. This ranges by company from 18 to 25. If you rent with Adobe through us you will need to be at least 23 years old. 

– Have a valid original driver’s license. You do not need an international driving permit. Your regular license is fine. It needs to be the official license. Not a photocopy or temporary license.

– Have been driving for at least 2 years. You can not be a brand-new driver and rent a car.

The Rental Car Process

First you need to decide which car rental company to book through. 

Please do not book through a third party travel websites like Expedia!

These sites often do not disclose the taxes, extra fess, and mandatory rental car insurance. Instead, you might think your rental price will be something ridiculously low like $5 a day.

When you go to pick up your rental car you will be charged several hundred dollars more for all additional fees. You can read all about our negative experience with this here.

We suggest booking through us if you plan to rent with Adobe for the best deal. 

If you plan to rent through another company, book directly on their website and make sure all fees are included. 

Mandatory Rental Car Insurance

In Costa Rica there are three types of car rental insurance. These are Liability Protection Insurance, Car Protection Insurance, and Total Protection Insurance. 

Liability insurance is required by Costa Rican law. Every person who rents a car in Costa Rica will need to purchase this insurance.

Car Protection is also required by law. However, it is possible to avoid paying this if you have a letter from your credit card company with proof of coverage for car protection in Costa Rica. 

Total Protection is an additional comprehensive insurance. This extra insurance is not required by law, but is helpful to have. 

You can get more details in our complete guide to renting a car in Costa Rica

Car Rental Deposit

Keep in mind, that you will need to pay a deposit for your rental car at the rental agency. This is often between $1,000 and $2,000 US dollars depending on the rental car company.

It is usually possible to pay this with either a debit or credit card.

We suggest paying with a valid credit card because it is just a hold on your account. When you return the vehicle without issue you will automatically be refunded the deposit.

If you book with a debit card it can take several days for the refund to be processed.

Most companies accept all major credit cards. 

Note: Check your credit card limit beforehand to make sure that you can put down $1,000 without maxing out your card.  

Paying for Your Rental Car

You can pay for your rental car with credit or debit cards.

If you opt to rent with Adobe, you do not need to pay until you arrive and pick up your rental vehicle. Also, all prices from Adobe are quoted and paid in United States dollars. 

Picking Up Your Car

If you are picking up a rental car in Taamrindo, you can go straight to the rental car office to get your vehicle.

If you would like to pick up your car with Adobe, here is a Google Maps link to their office

As I mentioned before, if you rent with Adobe, they will deliver your car to you for free within 12 miles of their office. 

#1 Costa Rica car rental
Car Rental in Tamarindo, Costa Rica: Warnings and Best Deals

Adobe Rent-a-Car

  • 10% discount for Costa Rica Vibes readers
  • Free second driver
  • 0% deductible on Liability Protection Insurance
  • Excellent customer service
  • New fleet of well-maintained vehicles

Saving Money on Car Rentals

We get it, Costa Rica car rentals are not cheap. To save money there are a few things you can do.

– Travel at off-peak times. During the rainy season, the average price of car rentals goes way down.

– Book a smaller vehicle, if you can. Sedans are always more affordable than SUV’s. If you won’t be doing too much driving besides in the downtown area, this will save you money. 

Getting Gas in Tamarindo

The nearest gas station is on the main road outside of Tamarindo (Route 152). The gas station is called JSM. Here is the location on Google Maps.

Keep in mind all gas stations here are full-service. So stay in your car and an employee will fill your car up with gas for you.

Most car rental agencies have a fuel policy in which your rental car should come with a full tank of gas. You will then need to return it with a full tank as well. 

If you rent from the Adobe office near Tamarindo, the nearest gas station is Bomba Huacas. Here is the location on Google Maps

If you make your car very dirty it is a good idea to have it cleaned before returning it. Sometimes car rental companies will have an additional charge for deep cleaning if the vehicle is not returned in good condition. Our favorite car wash near Tamarindo is Speedy Car Wash

Check out the guide to Costa Rica gas stations for more info.

Getting From Liberia Airport to Tamarindo

car rental liberia airport

If you are flying into the Liberia International Airport it will take about 1.5 hours to drive to Tamarindo.

If you plan on having a car for your whole trip, we suggest renting a car at the Liberia Airport and making the drive yourself. This will be a lot more affordable than taking a shuttle and renting a car once you arrive in Tamarindo.

The drive is on main roads the entire way. It is a relatively easy route and most experienced drivers should have no problem with it.

However, if you prefer not to make the drive yourself, we suggest booking an official Costa Rican taxi to Tamarindo. You can then rent a car once you arrive or have your taxi driver drop you off at the rental car office.

You can get a taxi price quote from our favorite local taxi drivers here.

Getting from the San Jose International Airport to Tamarindo

adobe shuttle sjo

The drive from the San José International Airport to Tamarindo is definitely more of an adventure than the drive from Liberia! 

This road trip typically takes about 4 to 5 hours depending on traffic. 

The first two hours of the drive are on a main toll highway. If you are a somewhat experienced driver you should have no trouble with this.

The tolls do not accept credit cards. They will take US dollars or colones.

You will then drive on a main road that can feel like it take foreverrrr. A lot of big trucks drive this road and it is often hard to find a place to pass them.

Eventually, you will turn off on a smaller main road called Paso de Tampisque.

If you need to stop for a quick meal or bathroom, there is a small plaza with a Subway, Papa Johns, and Taco Bell located just before you make a left-hand turn on to Paso de Tampisque.

Other than that, there are not many quick food options along the way.

However, there are several gas stations if you need a bathroom break. Most of the gas station bathrooms are actually fairly decent.

From the turn on Paso de Tampisque, it is usually smooth sailing until you reach downtown Tamarindo.

Just not that police tend to hang out in the first few miles of your turn onto Paso de Tampisque controlling speeding.

In other words, this drive is doable. We’ve done it many many times. However, after a long flight, driving for five hours might be the last thing you want to do.

Renting a Golf Cart in Tamarindo

If you only need a mode of transportation to get around the Tamarindo area, consider renting a golf cart instead. This is always fun! And, with the all-terrain tires, you can easily get around.

I would suggest this if you are staying a little bit out of the downtown area and just want a vehicle to get to grocery stores, trips to the beach etc.

For example, when Thomas and I got married we rented a villa in Playa Langosta next to Tamarindo with a large group of family and friends. We were there for several nights.

We had rental cars, but looking back, golf carts would have been awesome!

We stayed at our villa most of the time anyway except for driving to restaurants and to different surfing beaches. A golf cart would have suited that particular travel style completely fine. 

You can rent a golf cart for one day or multiple days. 

The golf carts have:

  • 100 Ft. Extension Cable to charge anywhere
  • Anti-Theft GPS System 
  • Lift Kit and All-Terrain tires for the rough back roads 
  • Long Range Optional Rain Cover for Rainy Season 
  • Deep Cycle Battery – 20 Kilometer range

Check Rates and Rent Your Golf Cart in Tamarindo

Things to Do With a Rental Car from Tamarindo

There are tons of fun things to see and explore from Tamarindo when you have the flexibility of a rental car. These include….

Check out Nearby Towns

Tamarindo is surrounded by other unique beaches and beach towns that we definitely suggest exploring. This section of the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica is so beautiful! 

If you have a rental car, we suggest heading north to Playa Grande, Playa Flamingo, Playa Potrero, and Las Catalinas.

Playa Flamingo is often considered one of the best beaches in Costa Rica due to its bright turquoise waters and fine white sand. 

Or, you can head south and check out Playa Langosta and Playa Avellanas

All of these beaches are within an hour drive of Tamarindo.

Go to Playa Ostional and See Sea Turtles

Ostional is a beach that is known as an olive ridley turtle nesting site. Sea turtles typically come here about once a month in large groups to lay their eggs.

The best time to experience this is typically between September and late November. The picture above is from a time we were there in mid-November, and as you can see the beach is just absolutely filled with turtles. 

For more info, check out our guide to Ostional

Spend the Day at a Resort

Have you ever heard of Resort Pass? If not, it is a website that allows you to book day passes to luxury resorts. 

JW Marriott is a luxury resort located just south of Tamarindo.

With Resort Pass you can book a full day here that includes; use of the luxurious outdoor pool, hot tub access, pool and beach lounge chairs (first come, first serve), poolside service with food and drinks available for purchase, and $35 food and beverage credit per adult and $15 credit per child for Azul grill and Azul pool bar. 

⤷ Check Availability and Book Your Resort Pass

Take a Day Trip to Diamonte

Diamonte is an adventure park located about an hour north of Tamarindo. This is a great spot for families who want to do a lot of activities in one place.

With an all-day access pass, you will get to: 

– Participate in five dual ziplines, hanging bridges, Tarzan swing, and nature trails 

– Go stand-up paddle boarding, kayaking, snorkeling, and relaxing in hammocks 

– Explore the animal sanctuary, butterfly garden, and botanical garden 

– Enjoy an included Buffet lunch, coffee, and fruit drinks included 

One of the best parts is that this is self-guided so you can do everything at your own pace

⤷ Check Availability and Book Your Ticket to Diamonte

Book your discounted car rental with Adobe here

Other Things to Know About Car Rentals in Tamarindo

  • Never leave belongings in your vehicle. 
  • If you rent with Adobe you can always pick up your car in one spot and return in a different location. They have several car rental locations throughout the country.
  • The speed limit in Costa Rica is listed in kilometers per hour NOT miles per hour
  • If you get in an accident, the emergency number here is 9-1-1. 
  • If you would like a long-term rental with Adobe, let us know. We can get you a discount if you need a car for over a month. 
  • If you have the option, opt to fly into Liberia Airport instead of San Jose when visiting Tamarindo. 

If visiting Tamarindo, definitely check out our full guide to the area for the best hotels, restaurants, activities, and more!

Conclusion: Car Rental in Tamarindo

In conclusion, having a rental car from your vacation in Tamarindo will make it a lot easier to get around. It will also allow you to explore more off-the-beaten-path things.

If you have any questions about Tamarindo car rentals, don’t hesitate to leave them in the comment section below. We are always happy to help you out!

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Costa Rica Travel Details: What You Need to Know

๐Ÿš— Should I rent a car in Costa Rica?

Having a rental car will give you the most flexibility when traveling in Costa Rica. This will also allow you to take fun day trips on your own.

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We find that Viator tends to have the most comprehensive selection of activities with secure booking and good cancellation policies.

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Of course! I suggest joining our Facebook group for specific questions and head to our Start Here Page to get started planning.

โœˆ๏ธ What is the best way to book a flight?

Usually, we have the best luck finding great prices with Skyscanner. Check for flights to both San Jose Airport (SJO) and Liberia Airport (LIR).

๐Ÿ›๏ธ What is the best way to book my Costa Rica hotels?

We highly suggest Booking.com for hotel bookings and typically use VRBO for Costa Rica vacation rentals.

๐Ÿ—ฃ๏ธWhat is the main language in Costa Rica?

The main language in Costa Rica is Spanish. Most people working in tourism speak at least some English.

๐Ÿ’ฐ What is the currency in Costa Rica?

The currency used in Costa Rica is the Costa Rican colรณn (CRC). However, the US dollar is widely accepted in most tourist areas

๐Ÿ“ž What is the best way to stay connected?

An eSIM from Airalo is the easiest way to get 4G data while traveling in Costa Rica.

๐ŸŒด Is Costa Rica safe?

Generally, Costa Rica is considered safe for tourists. However, like any travel destination, it’s best to use caution and be aware of your surroundings.

๐Ÿ›‚ Do you need a passport to go to Costa Rica?

Yes, Costa Rica is its own country. You will need a passport to visit.