Is It Safe to Rent a Car in Costa Rica? – A Guide for 2024

is it safe to drive in costa rica

One thing I tell everyone who reads my blog is that if you really want to enjoy Costa Rica, you MUST rent a car.  But before you jump into the driver’s seat, let’s address the elephant in the room: “Is it safe to rent a car in Costa Rica?” Buckle up, and I’ll walk you through my 27 years of driving in Costa Rica, so you can enjoy your Costa Rican adventure with confidence and peace of mind.

Tips on Safe Driving in Rental Cars in Costa Rica

  • Be aware of road conditions, local driving habits and safety risks when renting a car in Costa Rica.
  • Choose the right rental company based on reputation and reviews to get the best deal with transparent pricing policies that include insurance.
  • Follow speed limits, use navigation apps & exercise caution for safe night driving, but also consider potential drawbacks before deciding if renting is right for you!

Safety Concerns When Renting a Car in Costa Rica

driving in Costa Rica

While renting a car in Costa Rica is generally a safe proposition, one must remain cognizant of certain safety aspects for a hassle-free journey.

The following subsections will cover road conditions, local driving habits, and potential risks like theft or vandalism.

Road Conditions

Costa Rican roads are notorious for being challenging, thanks to potholes, dirt roads, and extreme weather conditions. This is especially true during the rainy season, when mudslides and flooding can occur. To navigate these roads with ease, a standard rental vehicle will suffice for most city-to-city trips. However, if you plan to venture off the beaten path, be prepared for a bumpy ride and consider a 4×4 vehicle.

It’s vital to proceed with caution and maintain alertness when traversing waterlogged roads. This will help you avoid potential hazards and keep your rental car in good shape. Remember, with the right approach and a suitable vehicle, you can safely explore Costa Rica’s incredible landscapes.

Local Driving Habits

While Costa Ricans drive on the right side of the road and generally follow the same traffic rules as in the US, their driving habits might take some getting used to. Local drivers can be quite aggressive and may not always adhere to traffic rules.

To stay safe on Costa Rican roads, here are some tips:

  • Practice defensive driving and remain vigilant
  • Make sure to have a valid driver’s license
  • Verify whether your credit card insurance covers car rentals in Costa Rica
  • Adapt to local driving customs for a hassle-free and enjoyable road trip

Theft and Vandalism

One must be mindful of potential risks like theft and vandalism while renting a car in Costa Rica. These risks could include the theft of the rental car itself or damage caused by vandalism. To minimize these risks, park your vehicle in secure, well-lit areas and avoid leaving valuables in plain sight.

Moreover, ensure you have rental car insurance that covers incidents like theft and vandalism. This will protect you from financial losses and provide peace of mind during your Costa Rican adventure.

Choosing the Right Rental Car Company

costa rica license plate

Choosing a well-regarded rental car company can significantly enhance your experience in Costa Rica. A trustworthy company will not only provide reliable vehicles but also offer transparent pricing and quality customer service, making Costa Rica car rentals a breeze.

The subsequent sections will guide you on selecting the right rental car company by considering factors like reputation, reviews, and pricing.

Reputation and Reviews

When choosing a rental car company in Costa Rica, don’t just go for the cheapest option. Instead, research the company’s reputation and read reviews from fellow travelers. Doing so will give you an idea of the car’s condition and the quality of customer service provided by the company.

One highly recommended rental car provider in Costa Rica is Vamos Rent-a-Car. Here are some reasons why they are a great choice:

  • They have a 98% satisfaction rate among customers.
  • They are a reputable company with positive reviews.
  • Choosing them increases the likelihood of having a smooth and enjoyable car rental experience in Costa Rica.

Transparency in Pricing

Hidden fees and extra charges can be a nasty surprise when renting a car. To avoid such surprises, look for companies with transparent pricing policies that include mandatory insurance in their quotes. is an excellent platform for comparing rental car prices, as it includes insurance in the final cost.

Before booking a rental car, carefully read the rental agreement’s fine print, and double-check with the company for any additional fees. This will ensure you’re aware of the final price and avoid any unexpected costs during your Costa Rican adventure.

Necessary Documentation and Insurance

drivers license

Renting a car in Costa Rica necessitates having the appropriate documentation, such as an international driver’s license, and insurance.

The upcoming sections will elaborate on the required documents and insurance prerequisites for a seamless rental experience.

Driver’s License and Passport

To rent a car in Costa Rica, you’ll need to present a valid driver’s license from your home country, your passport, and a credit card. Most car rental companies in Costa Rica require a holding deposit of between $1,000 and $3,000 on your credit card.

Also, bear in mind that some companies may require you to be at least 25 years old to rent a car. However, others may allow drivers as young as 21, with the addition of a young driver’s fee. Make sure to verify these requirements with your chosen rental car company.

Mandatory Insurance

When renting a car in Costa Rica, you’ll need to have Third Party Liability (TPL) insurance and Collision and Damage Waiver (CDW) insurance. These insurance types are mandatory and protect you from financial losses in case of accidents or damage to the rental vehicle.

While mandatory insurance is essential, consider additional coverage options, such as car rental insurance, for added peace of mind. Car rental insurance covers any damage to the rental car, including partial theft, and could save you from hefty fines if the car gets damaged during your trip.

Tips for Safe Driving in Costa Rica

costa rica

Although driving in Costa Rica might be challenging, by following certain guidelines, you can ensure a safe and pleasurable road trip.

The subsequent sections will provide tips on navigation, adhering to speed limits, and handling nighttime driving and wildlife encounters.

Navigation Apps and Offline Maps

In unfamiliar territory, navigation apps like Waze can be a lifesaver, providing real-time traffic updates and routing suggestions tailored to Costa Rican roads. Additionally, download offline maps of the areas you plan to visit, as some regions may have limited internet coverage.

With these navigation tools at hand, you’ll be well-equipped to explore Costa Rica’s breathtaking landscapes and hidden gems without getting lost.

Speed Limits and Traffic Laws

Adhering to speed limits and traffic laws is crucial for safe driving in Costa Rica. Highways typically have a speed limit of 80 km/h, while city streets have a limit of 50 km/h. Following these limits will not only help you avoid fines and penalties but also reduce the risk of accidents.

Remember to be mindful of other drivers and pedestrians, use your turn signals when switching lanes or turning, and always stop at red lights and pedestrian crossings. By respecting speed limits and traffic laws, you ensure a safe and smooth journey for yourself and others on the road.

Night Driving and Wildlife


Driving at night in Costa Rica can be challenging due to limited visibility, unpredictable road conditions, and wildlife crossing the roads. As a general rule, it’s best to avoid driving long distances at night, especially on rural roads.

If you must drive at night, here are some tips to stay safe and avoid collisions with wildlife:

  • Stay alert and watch out for wildlife crossing the roads.
  • Animals like sloths, monkeys, and tapirs are frequently seen near national parks and remote areas, so exercise caution in these areas.
  • Keep your eyes peeled for any unexpected road companions.

Benefits of Renting a Car in Costa Rica

Renting a car in Costa Rica offers numerous benefits that can greatly enhance your travel experience. First and foremost, having a rental car provides flexibility and the freedom to explore the country at your own pace. This allows you to discover off-the-beaten-path destinations and hidden gems that would be difficult to reach using public transportation.

Moreover, renting a car can be more affordable than taking direct shuttles between popular destinations. For longer trips, renting a car may even be cheaper than taking local buses. This means you can save money while enjoying the convenience and comfort of your own vehicle.

Lastly, renting a car allows you to:

  • Immerse yourself in the local culture
  • Gain a deeper understanding of Costa Rica’s unique landscapes and ecosystems
  • Experience the authentic charm of Costa Rica, from the bustling streets of San Jose to the serene beauty of Puerto Viejo

Potential Drawbacks of Renting a Car

Despite its advantages, renting a car in Costa Rica comes with certain potential setbacks to consider. First, additional costs such as taxes, fees, and insurance can add up, making the overall rental experience more expensive than initially anticipated. Be sure to factor in these additional costs when budgeting for your trip.

Another potential drawback is navigating Costa Rica’s challenging roads and dealing with local driving habits. As mentioned earlier, roads can be rough, and local drivers may be aggressive. Being prepared for these challenges and adopting a defensive driving approach can ensure a safe and delightful journey.

Lastly, dealing with rental car companies and insurance policies can be a cumbersome process. Before starting your journey, it’s important to thoroughly research rental car companies, choose a reputable one, and comprehend the insurance requirements.

Need More Information?  Read my FULL Discover Cars Review.

Alternatives to Renting a Car

If renting a car in Costa Rica doesn’t appeal to you, there are alternative transportation options to consider. Public transportation, such as buses, is a reliable and inexpensive way to travel between major cities and tourist destinations. However, this option may not offer the same level of flexibility and convenience as a rental car.

Private shuttles are another option, providing more comfort and freedom than public transport, but they can be more expensive. These shuttles can be booked through hotels and tour operators and are a popular choice for travelers seeking a balance between convenience and cost.

Lastly, organized tours offer a hassle-free way to explore Costa Rica’s attractions but may lack flexibility and could be pricier than other options. These tours typically include transportation, accommodation, and guided activities, making them ideal for travelers who prefer a structured itinerary.


In conclusion, renting a car in Costa Rica can be a safe and enjoyable experience if you take the necessary precautions, choose a reputable rental car company, and follow local driving customs. While there are potential drawbacks and alternative transportation options to consider, renting a car provides unparalleled flexibility, convenience, and the opportunity to discover Costa Rica’s hidden treasures. So, go ahead and hit the open road – your Costa Rican adventure awaits!

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it safe to have a rental car in Costa Rica?

Renting a car in Costa Rica is generally considered safe, as long as you drive cautiously and scout out your route ahead of time. However, roads are not always clearly marked and you should be aware of the aggressive driving of the locals.

Can you rent a car in Costa Rica as a US citizen?

Yes, you can rent a car in Costa Rica as a US citizen. You will need to bring your original driver’s license and passport with you when renting.

Do you need a car to get around Costa Rica?

You don’t need a car to get around Costa Rica – there are plenty of other options like shuttles, flights, and public transportation.

What insurance is required when renting a car in Costa Rica?

When renting a car in Costa Rica, it’s mandatory to have Third Party Liability (TPL) and Collision and Damage Waiver (CDW) insurance.

What navigation app is best for driving in Costa Rica?

Waze is the go-to navigation app for driving in Costa Rica, making navigating around the country a breeze.

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