Car Rentals in La Fortuna, Costa Rica: What You Need to Know

Are you considering renting a car while traveling in La Fortuna, Costa Rica? This jungle town is home to several rental car companies, but there are a few things you should know before securing your booking.

We created this post to give you info on your car rental company options, help you decide if you even should rent a car, inform you of some possible car rental scams, fill you in on the best cars to rent, and give you some awesome activities you can do with your rental car. 

Ready? Let’s get to all things car rental in La Fortuna!

La Fortuna Car Rental at a Glance

  • We suggest booking your rental car with Adobe Rent-a-Car. They are an amazing local company. Book here to save 10% plus get other great perks.
  • Adobe will even deliver your vehicle directly to your hotel in La Fortuna for a small fee. Just select Ciudad Quesada as your pick-up point and enter your hotel info.
  • You most likely don’t need a 4 wheel drive vehicle, but we suggest at least an SUV with decent clearance.
  • You should be fine driving here if you are a somewhat experienced driver.

Should You Rent a Car in La Fortuna?

We think that having a rental car is often the best way to travel. It will give you the most flexibility in exploring La Fortuna and the surrounding areas. 

However, there are some exceptions to that. 

People Who Should Rent a Car in La Fortuna

  • Travelers who want the freedom to explore off-the-beaten-path locations.
  • Larger groups or families: Renting a car will likely be more affordable than a shuttle and booking day tours. Plus, it gives you the flexibility to stop whenever needed.
  • Photography Enthusiasts: If you are like my husband and tend to slam on the breaks to take pictures of pretty birds, you might want a rental car. 
  • Travelers with Specific Itineraries: If you have created a specific itinerary that includes multiple destinations or activities, a car will be so helpful.
  • Visitors Staying Outside the Town Center: If your hotel is located outside the La Fortuna town center a car will be helpful to get to restaurants, stores, and activities.

People Who Should Not Rent a Car

  • If you are uncomfortable with driving in unfamiliar conditions, it is probably better to depend on shared or private shuttles to get to La Fortuna. Once you are in town you can book day tours with transportation, take a taxi, and walk in the downtown area.
  • If you are a solo traveler it might be more cost-effective to use different transportation options. 
  • If you are staying in a jungle resort with most amenities and activities available on-site you may not need a car. 

​​Car Rental Companies in La Fortuna

There are several car rental companies in La Fortuna.

The main ones are; La Fortuna Car Rental, Mapache, Alamo, National, Enterprise, Trebol, Avis, and our personal favorite Adobe.

We suggest renting your vehicle through Adobe Rent-a-Car because:

  • They are a local company that prides themselves on excellent customer service
  • They don’t have any hidden fees and are completely upfront with their costs
  • We have rented with them several times and have always had a great experience
  • They offer free cancellation at any time
  • Your car rental will include unlimited mileage for tons of exploration
  • They will deliver your car to directly at your hotel in La Fortuna for about $5 to $10.

We have rented cars from Adobe several times and always had a great experience.

So, we approached them to ask if they would be interested in working with us because we think so highly of them. 

They have been generous enough to pass on a great discount to all Costa Rica Vibes readers. 

The Adobe Car Rental Discount

This discount includes:

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

….and several other perks.

Note: If you would like to rent a car from La Fortuna, select Ciudad Quesada as your rental office. Then, input your hotel in La Fortuna. Adobe will deliver (and pick-up) your car in downtown La Fortuna for about $5 each way. This service is available every day except on Sundays

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

The Best Type of Car for La Fortuna

It is not always necessary to rent a 4×4 for La Fortuna, but I suggest at least renting a vehicle with decent clearance such as an SUV.

Most of the roads in this area are paved, but they are very hilly and curvy. You will be much more comfortable in something that is stable and has good clearance.

You might want a vehicle with 4 wheel drive if:

  • You are staying at a remote hotel or vacation rental. It is always a good idea to message the hotel to ask what the road condition is if it is unclear. 
  • You would like to drive through the Arenal Volcano National Park. The roads within the park (between the volcano and Lake Arenal) are unpaved. This usually isn’t a problem for an SUV, but, if there have recently been heavy rains it can get very muddy and your vehicle might get stuck.
  • You are going somewhere else after that is more remote and has dirt roads. 

Also, you will have the choice between a vehicle with manual transmission and automatic transmission.

Typically it is a bit more affordable to rent a manual vehicle rather than automatic cars in Costa Rica.

How to Get from San José International Airport to La Fortuna

​First things first, you need to actually get to La Fortuna. There are two international airports in Costa Rica. San Jose International Airport is located in the central part of the country.

There are a few different ways to get from the San Jose International Airport to La Fortuna. 

These are:

  • Drive with Rental Car: The drive isn’t overly complicated and is on main roads the entire way. You should be fine if you feel somewhat comfortable with your driving abilities. We detail the drive below this.
  • Private Transfer: If you are a family or group you might opt to take a private transfer to La Fortuna. You can then pick up a rental car/ have it delivered to your hotel once you arrive in town. Get a private transfer quote here.
  • Shared Shuttle: This is a good option if you are a solo traveler or couple. Bookaway is the best site we have found to easily find shuttle services to La Fortuna.

Find out more about the process of renting a car from the San Jose International Airport here.

The Drive

The drive from San Jose International Airport to La Fortuna will take about 3:30 hours depending on the traffic. 

  • Leave San Jose International Airport and head northwest on the main airport road, following signs for Route 1 (also known as the Inter-American Highway or Pan-American Highway).
  • You will then merge onto Route 1, heading northwest towards San Ramon. Note: There are tolls on this first stretch. They do not accept credit cards but cash in dollars or colones is accepted. This road can be a bit hectic, especially during rush hour. 
  • Take the exit onto Route 156, following the signs for La Fortuna and Arenal. You will then drive on the main road through downtown San Ramon. This can also be a bit chaotic. 
  • After San Ramon, you will get on Route 702. Things calm down and you can enjoy beautiful views as you make your way along well-maintained (but sometimes curvy) roads to La Fortuna.

Just be aware that sometimes you might get stuck behind a slow truck and passing can be difficult. 

Even though these routes seem easy, it is best to use a GPS app because sometimes it is hard to tell where the road actually goes while you’re driving. 

You can download offline Google Maps if you won’t have a network connection.

We find that the free app Waze typically works best in Costa Rica. 

How to Get From Liberia Airport to La Fortuna

Your drive from Liberia International Airport will start on the nicest highway in Costa Rica called Route 1. 

Be careful on this highway because it is easy to want to speed here. It is just set up very weirdly and you’ll randomly come to spots where there are crosswalks (yes…. crosswalks on a highway).

After 22 miles you will come to the town of Canas.

In Canas, you will turn left onto a smaller (but well-maintained) road called Route 142. You will stay on this to continue into the mountains, around Lake Arenal, and to La Fortuna.

For me, the road around Lake Arenal is where I get the worst motion sickness in all of Costa Rica. I always arrive at La Fortuna like a zombie and need to sleep it off. But, I’m prone to bad motion sickness.

We have done this route with other people and they have had no issues. So, it might just be a me problem.  

Things to Do with a Rental Car in La Fortuna

There are so many fun things you can do in the surrounding areas when you have the flexibility of a rental car.

Some of our favorite things are….

Take a Day Trip to Rio Celeste

rio celeste waterfall in Costa Rica

Rio Celeste is a bright blue river with a waterfall that almost looks fake because it is so blue. This is located in Tenorio National Park and is about an hour drive from La Fortuna.

You can always book a day tour here with transportation, but it will be a lot cheaper to just drive yourself.

Visit the Hot Springs

la fortuna hot spring

There are several amazing hot spring parks in La Fortuna for all budgets and interests. I think this is a must-do activity in this area.

The easiest way to get to these hot springs is by driving yourself. They all have large parking lots for guests to use.

Go to the La Fortuna Waterfall

The La Fortuna waterfall is another must-do activity in town. This is an impressive jungle waterfall that you can sometimes even swim under depending on the current water levels.

This is located near the downtown area and we often see people walking to it from their hotel. It appears close on a map, but from the downtown area, it’s actually 3.5 miles.

Plus, once you get to the waterfall you need to hike down over 200 steps and then back up them again.

So, save yourself the long walk and drive here instead. Then you only need to struggle through the stairs. 

There is a large free parking lot for visitors to use.

Go Hiking at the Arenal Volcano National Park

arenal volcano view sunny day

It is not possible to hike all the way to the Arenal Volcano National Park crater, but there are a few nice hikes around the volcano that offer good views of both the volcano and Lake Arenal.

For more info on your hiking options, we created an Arenal Volcano National Park Guide

Visit the Butterfly Sanctuary

butterfly garden

If you have a car with you, head about 30 minutes from La Fortuna to El Castillo. Here you can visit the Butterfly Conservatory.

This place is one of those hidden gems that most people don’t venture into, but I really like it here.

It is run by volunteers (who, in our experience, are always great) that will show you around and tell you a bit about each butterfly and reptile.

After looking at all the butterflies on the grounds you can take a nice little walk through their property. 

At the end of the hike, you will be rewarded with a great view of Arenal Volcano.

Go Caving at Venada Caves

About 45 minutes from downtown La Fortuna there is a place called Venado Caves.

The caves are really tight at some points (as in you’ll be slithering to get through certain spots) and if you don’t do well with tight spaces this is not an activity for you. 

I thought I would freak out, but once the adrenaline kicked in I was good to go.

Check out our guide to 30 Things to Do in La Fortuna for more info

Getting Gas in La Fortuna

There is a gas station in the downtown area aptly called “Gas Station La Fortuna.”

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

Gas prices are regulated by the government. So, the price will be the same no matter which gas station you go to. 

You can find out more with our guide to gas stations in Costa Rica

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 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. 

There are several car washes in downtown La Fortuna. Look for the word “lavacar.” That means car wash. 

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. 

As I mentioned above, Adobe no longer has an office in downtown La Fortuna. However, they have an office in nearby Ciudad Quesada and will be happy to deliver your car (and pick it up again) to your La Fortuna area hotel for a small fee (typically about $5).

Just select “Ciudad Quesada” as your pick-up location. In your reservation select “Specify Location” for pick up spot. You can then enter your hotel info.

Car Rentals in La Fortuna, Costa Rica: What You Need to Know

If you would like to pick up your car with Adobe at the Ciudad Queada Office , here is a Google Maps link

Check Availability and Rent Your Car with Adobe Plus Save 10%

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 (if you rent with Adobe). 

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. 

Check Availability and Save 10% with Your Adobe Car Rental

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. During the high season the prices go up A LOT!
  • You could always opt to rent a car for only a few days of your trip rather than for the whole vacation. 

Other Things to Know About La Fortuna Car Rentals

  • Never leave belongings in your vehicle unattended. La Fortuna is safe, but petty theft is known to happen. 
  • Be wary of rental deals that seem too good to be true (like $6 a day prices). These are not accurate. You will then be charged with a lot of other fees upon picking up your vehicle. Find out more in our guide to common rental car scams.
  • If you are coming from the United Kingdom, Australia, etc. people drive on the opposite side of the road in Costa Rica. The roads and driver seat are set up the same as in the United States, Canada, mainland Europe etc.  
  • 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 posted speed limits 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. 

Conclusion: Car Rental La Fortuna

In conclusion, having a rental car is the best transportation option in La Fortuna if you plan to visit a lot of off-the-beaten-path activities or want the flexibility of exploring on your own.

If you have any questions about renting a car in La Fortuna don’t hesitate to leave them in the comment section below. we are always happy to help you plan.

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