Setting off for a road trip in Costa Rica in your rented car, you will enter a world full of wonders. Sunlight filters through the rainforest canopy, and for a glorious moment, you feel like a real adventurer in your rugged Jeep. In your own vehicle you can explore off-the-beaten paths and enjoy the freedom to improvise and make on-the-spot changes to your plans or itineraries. However, as reality and expectations sometimes don’t meet, you may find a road trip in Costa Rica more challenging than expected. Here are three examples:
1. Driving in Costa Rica is always a challenge.
You will find yourself asking “what?” most of the times when you run into a road sign. Even for Spanish speakers, roads signs in Costa Rica can look like a puzzle. For example, check this picture:
Congratulations on preparing yourself for the first challenge! But soon you will find roads signs don’t much help when you get onto backcountry roads. Many roads throughout Costa Rica are poorly paved, often rough, narrow and windy. Sharing the narrow paths with huge trucks and trailers on a rainy day with low visibility is more common than you think. There are few, if any, street lights and what signs you find may be confusing. Even driving in the capital, San Jose, is not a pleasant experience. During peak traffic hours you will be pounding your steering wheel, wishing you had left your car on the road and walked to your destination.
2. There are a lot of hidden fees for car rentals in Costa Rica.
Vehicle insurance is mandatory and be up to 80% of the rental cost. The tricky thing is that most clients are not aware of this fee in advance and only realize it when they are signing the agreement. If you rent your car at the airport, there will be a 10% - 13% Airport Convenience Fee. You can avoid this fee by picking up your car in town, but who wants the hassle of taking a taxi and schlepping your baggage from the airport to the city. Maps or GPS cost $10-20 (highly suggested and probably the only comfort among all the rental extras. Gasoline is more expensive than many states in the U.S., ranging from $4-6 per gallon. The windy and mountainous roads are not good for mileage.
3. Safety can be a concern.
Hospitality is a hallmark of Costa Rica, but you must always be cautious. If you do not want to return to a broken windshield or missing bags, never leave the car out of sight with important and valuable objects in plain sight. This is probably one of the most important points, as lately these types of break-ins have become more common in touristic areas. Flat tires are not uncommon, considering the road conditions. It may take a while for the rental agency to send help so you may end up changing the tire yourself. Don't let anyone on the road assist you if you are having mechanical problems - there are cases in the past which tourists were robbed while receiving help with their vehicles.
Driving your own car definitely gives you more freedom to explore Costa Rica. However, once you are in the driver's seat, stepping on the gas and heading out of town, you may come to regret your decision. Having a private driver or shuttle bus, letting a local do the driving, while you relaxing and take in the views is always a better option in Costa Rica.