costa rica car rental to monteverde
Costa Rica Travel Tips

Renting a Car in Costa Rica: What Not To Do

Last updated on August 10th, 2022

Renting a car in Costa Rica is highly recommended to experience all that Costa Rica offers, from popular to off-the-beaten-track locations. 

Our rental car disaster in Costa Rica should warn you of what not to do on your trip to Costa Rica.

Here are some things that you shouldn’t do to avoid our driving nightmare:

But first, here is our story:

It was the last day in Costa Rica after driving all over both Costa Rica and Nicaragua. We had driven over 1000 km over the past week, walked across the international border twice, and were on our way to San Jose from Monteverde to finish our trip and fly home.

I enjoyed our time in Central America and didn’t want to leave, but it was time to go home. I started reminiscing about the amazing memories we had made on this trip, and how thankful we were to have experienced them.

It wasn’t the best decision to be driving through the mountains at night, but we had already driven a week through various road conditions during both day and night. 

How bad could it be? Our economy rental car could handle anything, right?

We were sure it could make it safely. We ventured out in the dark, rainy night to reach San Jose anyways.

Driving along the winding dirt roads that lead down the mountains to in the dark of night, avoiding pothole after pothole, it was not looking good.

Sleepy me was trying to stay awake in the passenger seat to be our GPS, while Patrick was still wide awake focusing on the road conditions.

It is recommended to have a 4×4 when driving to and from Monteverde, but we knew with caution, we could make it in our little economy rental car. We could do this.

It wasn’t ideal to be driving at night, nor in the rain, however, there isn’t much around once you leave Monteverde until you reach the San Jose area and we already had accommodations waiting for us to check-in. 

We didn’t want to delay our arrival and miss our flight in the morning. So we kept pushing through.

Slow and steady, we headed down the mountains. Turn after turn, we were getting closer to reaching our destination.

All was going well until suddenly it happened…

The car struck a pothole. A giant pothole in the middle of this narrow road. How could we not have hit it?!

Everything is going to be okay, right? It’s just a pothole after all. We’ve hit plenty of them before back home in Canada. 

Well, it turns out, this one was a bit different.

The front of the car went down into the pothole, then it felt like, in slow-motion, the car came back up and smashed down again.

Our car stopped. Patrick exited the car to go check out what happened, and that is when we saw it…

The front bumper of the car had fallen off! Completely detached from the vehicle. 

All while being in the middle of nowhere. There was nothing around us, and our headlights were the only light around. 

I couldn’t believe that a pothole had such power! What do we do now?

After we freaked out about the bumper falling off the car, Patrick picked up the bumper. He folded it to fit within the backseat, and we continued on with our drive.

I was still in disbelief that a pothole could cause that type of damage, especially at such a slow and cautious speed!

We continued to the nearest gas station where we could contact the police to report the incident and headed back to San Jose to return the rental car. 

But it wasn’t over yet.


Tips to Avoid A Rental Car Disaster in Costa Rica

  • Avoid driving on mountainous roads in a vehicle that isn’t a 4×4
  • Avoid driving through the mountains at night
  • Definitely avoid hitting potholes 
  • Most importantly, always purchase collision damage insurance for when you will be driving on rural roads 

Even though my car rental did not end well, I recommend renting a car in Costa Rica to explore. I would rent another car if I can return to Costa Rica again sometime. 


Should I Rent a Car in Costa Rica?

Renting a car in Costa Rica is a great idea. Even though Costa Rica may look small on a map, it takes quite a bit of time to travel in-between places.


Renting a car gives you the flexibility of forming your own schedule and designing your own itinerary, which personally I love. 


You don’t have to stick to tour schedules or only go where public transportation goes.


While there is nothing wrong with doing tours, they just don’t always provide the freedom you may be looking for. 


This is especially true when you have such a short time frame to see and do as much as you can in a beautiful country like Costa Rica.


Why Not To Rent a Car in Costa Rica

If you aren’t comfortable driving in an unfamiliar country, or are on a super tight budget, renting a car is probably not the best idea. 


Choose to take public transportation and tours to help you get around safely and still explore many areas of Costa Rica. 


Make sure you can drive safely, otherwise, please don’t risk it.


car rental costa rica

What Do I Need To Rent A Car?

  • Age 25 or older, otherwise there may be an extra fee, depending on the rental company
  • A driver’s license from your home country
  • Your passport
  • Need a credit card to hold a deposit and pay for the rental

Tip: Pick up your car outside the airport area if possible, to avoid paying extra (airport taxes). I picked up mine just outside of San Jose.


Tip: Always inspect your rental car when you first pick it up. It may be tempting to jump into the car and go, but please don’t miss this. 


Take photos and note any damage with the rental company so they won’t try to make you responsible for damage you didn’t cause. This has happened to me, try not to let this happen to you.


Rental Car Insurance

Tip: Always check with your credit card to see if you have insurance for rental cars in other countries. If you do, make sure you follow the restrictions.


For example, since my trip to Costa Rica, I’ve acquired a BMO credit card with insurance that covers rental insurance. 


For my credit card insurance to be valid, I must reject collision damage insurance. 


This saves money on your rental if you have any kind of coverage through your credit card.


Road Conditions in Costa Rica

Road Conditions driving to Tamarindo

Major roads are paved, including highways. 


Rural roads are not paved, including the road to Monteverde. 


Be aware of potholes on the dirt roads, as some can be quite large. Please drive with caution.


Road Conditions driving to Manuel Antonio

Renting a Car in Costa Rica – Quick Summary

  • Recommend renting a car for the freedom to plan your own schedule
  • Rent a 4×4 when driving outside of main cities, outside San Jose and Liberia
  • Pick up your rental car away from the airport when possible – it tends to be cheaper
  • Always inspect your rental car upon pickup – note any damages with the company
  • Check your credit card insurance for rental car coverage – to save money
  • Buy collision damage insurance when travelling on non-paved roads or rural areas
  • When possible, avoid potholes and driving through the mountains in the dark

Hope this information helped you with renting a car in Costa Rica.

Happy travelling!


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If you enjoyed my rental car story or rented a car on your visit to Costa Rica, I’d love to hear about your experience.

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