Car renting and driving in Costa Rica gives you access to the entire country and the freedom of piloting your own vehicle allows you to pause and watch a sloth climbing on a tree on the side of the road, an old horse or ox-cart or the possibility of trating yourself with some of the delicious goodies that you can always find in any typical Costa Rican road… and simply stay around, for as long as you like.
But, of course, before taking the decision of driving around this country, visitors should know and comprehend that driving conditions will be different from home. The rules of the game might be very different and is important to aknowledge them:
1. Road signals and road conditions might be very different from what you are used to, and because of the topography of the country, driving distances, in time, take much longer. There are steep mountains all around Costa Rica and some of the roads might be very narrow, and yes, every now and then you simply encounter, in front of you, that one tractor carrying sugar cane to the mill… And passing it in this narrow roads is absolutely impossible… So, put your favorite playlist on, and enjoy the views (Which are usually stunning) and dress up with patience!
Remember this when you plan your day, and don’t let the night catch you on the road.
2. Costa Rican drivers and their habits are quite different also. (I used to say when I was a tour guide, that we don’t have an army because we have driving). You will find drivers trying to pass that tractor in the middle of a narrow foggy road, pass on curves, and take speed limit, school signs and so on merely as suggestions. Still, driving is a great way to see the country but drive defensively and you should be fine.
Be careful with the bikers. In many areas in Costa Rica there are no areas for bikers, or sidewalks, and pedestrians and bikers are in the road without any fluorescent or not even visible clothes.
3. Learning the tico language on the road is quite an important task: When a car driving on the other lane flashes the lights is either that there is a traffic cop ahead or it simply can be a way of advising you that there isomething and that you should simply slow down. A pile of leaves and branches are a usual replacement of the triangles or emergency cones.
4. If you get stopped by the police. Whatever it goes, show your license and car papers and if you are given the ticket, take it and hand it over to the rental company. If you are asked for money our advise is not to fall into the temptation… Ignore it… It could easily be a trap.
5. Forget about fording rivers, in the rainy flash floods are more usual that you may think and a simple creek may be deeper than it looks. Plus…Usual car insurances don’t cover beaches or rivers. If there is no way to pass, please call us to find an alternative route.
6. Always return the gas with as much gas as you receive it. The gasoline fees of car rentals are usually very high.
7. If you don’t have an excellent direction sense and you Waze application is working fine… Get a GPS for your car. For a low price you may avoid a lot of trouble. In Costa Rica directions are sort of hard to learn (We only use parameters and not street numbers or names) A usual Costa Rican direction might be: “100 meters south from the church, right next to a big mango tree”… Yes, better get a GPS.
8. Ask us all the questions you want about the insurance, what are you getting and what are you not getting.
9. If you are leaving the car alone, leave it at a parking lot or similar. If you are doing it on the side of the road… don’t lose sight of it.
10. In the case of a breakdown or an accident, call Camino Travel emergency phone inmediately. And the numbers given to you at the moment of the car rental (911 and insurance company numbers), stay where you are and don’t make any “deals” with any other driver. You car is a rental… and it is insured. Never mind how small the bump is, the insurance covers it.
If you have any doubts about what the transit cop is telling you, call Camino Travel Emergency line and have us talk to the officer.
11. In Costa Rica, most companies use the “regular days” system. This means that if you rent a car for one week starting on Tuesday at 9 a.m., you’ll have to return it to the same place the following Tuesday before 9 a.m. If you don’t return it by that time, you run the risk of being charged a late fee, although many companies will give you a few hours of cushion. (Strongly recommended though, to give us a call to advise you on this).
12. Use your common sense: Do NOT pick up any hitchackers, do not stop at people with an emergency on the road. If you want to help, give a call to 911 and the police will come.
Written by Olga Sáenz for Camino Travel