We think that driving in Costa Rica is the best way for you to get around. Driving allows you the flexibility of seeing all the things you would like to see without having to depend on expensive tours. However, driving in Costa Rica is not for the inexperienced driver. In fact, it can be a bit of an adventure at times to get behind the wheel here. We created this guide to driving in Costa Rica to help you all feel more confident driving here.
Can I legally drive in Costa Rica?
If you have a valid drivers license in your home country you will be allowed to drive here in Costa Rica. You do not need an international drivers license. However, most rental car companies will not rent a car to you if you are under 23 years old or older than 75 years old.
Driving in Costa Rica Laws
Speeding, driving under the influence, and not wearing a seatbelt are the common infractions that seem to occur in Costa Rica. The fines for these can be high! For example, driving while on a cell phone will land you a $185 fine. Passing on a curve can land you a $540 fine.
Most of the driving rules are the same as the United States. Just be aware that people drive a bit crazy here. It is normal for people to switch lanes without putting on their blinker, run a red light if nobody is around etc. Be extra aware of your surrounding while driving.
We have never been pulled over here, but I have heard people claim that tourists are targeted by police more than locals. Don’t give them any reason to target you. Stick to the rules of the road.
If you use Waze to get around, police who are checking car speeds are usually marked on the app. Also, usually if a car is approaching you they will flash their lights at you to let you know that there is a police officer ahead.
What car should I rent in Costa Rica?
First off, we suggest renting your car with Adobe through us. We contacted Adobe because they are the absolute best rental car company in Costa Rica (in our opinion), to ask if they would be interested in giving us a discount for you all and they have given us a 10% discount and a second driver for free to pass on to you. It’s a seriously amazing deal. This discount only applies to if you book your car through our site. You can find out more here.
What car you should rent really depends on where you are driving to. If you are going to Monteverde, Nicoya Peninsula (Montezuma or Santa Teresa area), Nosara, San Gerardo de Dota, or the South Pacific part of the country you will likely need a car with 4 wheel drive. Many of these roads are unpaved and some are very steep.
Otherwise, you can save yourself some money and rent a vehicle without 4 wheel drive. If you aren’t sure about the roads where you are visiting, just leave us a comment below and we’ll let you know what we suggest for a car.
The scariest driving experience we have had thus far was driving to Monteverde at night and discovering that the car we had didn’t have fog lights. We were driving up steep hills with sheer drops and literally could not see more than ten feet in front of us. So, please don’t plan on driving to Monteverde at night.
Driving in Costa Rica safety
If you get in a car accident your first move should be to call your rental car company. If there is an injury obviously call 9-1-1 first and then call the company. If you rent with Adobe, they are super great and will send someone out to assist you and bring you another car when applicable.
When you pick up your rental car they will give you a thorough brochure with all the information and emergency numbers. One of the many reasons we love Adobe is because if you rent through our site they will give you a free cell phone to use for local calls. This means if you have an accident you have a phone to use to call for help.
Adobe actually has a great article on their website about what to do during an accident here.
How to get directions in Costa Rica
You have two options for directions in Costa Rica, and no, maps are not one of those options. Roads are constantly changing in Costa Rica. You need some type of GPS system to get around easily.
– Get Waze on your phone. If you will be using your cell phone while in Costa Rica, the free app Waze is the best way to get around. In fact, Waze saved our lives while trying to get home after Tropical Storm Nate.
– Rent a GPS. If you rent with Adobe, you can get a GPS unit for $9 a day. This adds up fast, so if possible, I’d lean towards using your phone for GPS.
We wrote a complete post with a breakdown of how to get directions in Costa Rica here.
Tips for driving in Costa Rica
– If you need a good radio station we suggest 104.7. It’s usually our favorite. For music, you can also use the Spotify app on your phone. Just don’t forget to bring your auxiliary cable to plug in so you can listen through the car speakers.
– Don’t forget that speeds on street signs are in kilometers per hour not miles per hour.
– Always drive on the defensive here. People aren’t usually nice about letting you merge or switch lanes. You’ve got to show your power (an SUV definitely helps with this).
– Expect motorcycles to constantly be zipping by you while ignoring all rules of the road
– Don’t ever leave anything of value in your car. It hasn’t happened to us, but petty theft is the most common crime here and car robberies are known to happen.
– Always be prepared for a backup. It is not uncommon to hit unexpected traffic which will make your journey may take a lot longer than you expect. I am always prepared for drives with plenty of water and snacks, just in case.
– If possible, please avoid driving in San Jose. People drive like crazy. If you need to get around, take an Uber instead of a taxi. They are always A LOT cheaper.
– There are tolls on some of the main highways near San Jose. It is best to pay in colones for the best rate, but they also accept dollars. You will get colones back as change.
– Driving in Costa Rica at night can be a little overwhelming. If possible, try to drive long distances only during daylight hours.
if you have any questions about driving in Costa Rica, don’t hesitate to ask in the comment section below. We are more than happy to help you out! Also, don’t forget to grab your rental car discount here.
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