Choosing the best car rental agency in Costa Rica

Hertz Costa Rica Rent a Car and Dollar Rent a Car are located next to each other on Paseo Colon, San Jose. The building in the background is the Edificio Colon, a landmark often used for giving directions.
Hertz Costa Rica Rent a Car and Dollar Rent a Car are located next to each other on Paseo Colon, San Jose. The building in the background is the Edificio Colon, a landmark often used for giving directions.

With all the incredible things to see and do in Costa Rica, one is probably wondering what is the best option for getting around in Costa Rica. With a rental car one can travel more spontaneous and leave the itinerary more flexible, one does not have to care about the bus schedule.

If you’re the type of tourist who likes to leave the main road to check out lonesome beaches or a remote volcano, renting a car is probably your best transportation option.

The German Motorcycle & Car Rental agency Wild Rider is only a few meters away from Toyota Rent a Car on Paseo Colon, San Jose.
The German Motorcycle & Car Rental agency Wild Rider is only a few meters away from Toyota Rent a Car on Paseo Colon, San Jose.

Renting a car has many advantages over classical forms of transport like a bus. The only aspect that needs to be given a lot of thought is picking the right rental car company. Renting a car in Costa Rica can be a fun and challenging experience. Aside from ensuring that you get a good rate, you should also check if the car you are renting is in technical good shape.

The Alamo office on Paseo Colon, San Jose.
The Alamo office on Paseo Colon, San Jose.

In the wet season the rates for rental cars are much lower than in dry season. Between Christmas and New Years Eve and during Easter week is the most expensive time to hire a car. It is highly recommendable to have a car reserved for those dates.

Many roads in Costa Rica are still unpaved and in bad conditions. So vehicles suffer a lot more than in countries with a perfect road network. So rental cars might not look as shiny and new as you are used to. Because of the bad roads it is extra important that your rental car is in good condition when you receive it.

In some regions of Costa Rica there are several rivers without bridges to cross

The Vamos Rent-A-Car office close to Juan Santamaria International Airport.
The Vamos Rent-A-Car close to Juan Santamaria International Airport.

Don't assume that it's safe to cross a river just because there is a a road on the other side!

Walk through the river, that’s the only way to estimate the depth of the water. Or wait that another car drives through the river. In the rainy season there are several rivers that are usually too deep to cross with a car.

Don't plan to drive long distances at night. Most of the streets are not well lit and you might hit a pothole.

Having a flat tire when driving is always a problem, but at night it is even worse. Avoid having to change a tire on the side of a dark road, with cars buzzing by inches away.

Checklist when you pick up your rental car:

  • Do you have a copy of the rental contract?
  • Does the final rate (incl. all taxes (possibly 13% airport tax)) correspond with the initial quote?
  • Is there a surcharge in case the rental car will be returned dirty?
  • Is the gas tank full and does the car has to be returned full as well?
  • Do you have the telephone number of your car rental agency, transit police and insurance?

Check if the rental company provides you with 24 hour roadside assistance, in the event of your car breaking down. Usually the client is responsible for changing flat tires and getting flat tires repaired. Make sure to have an intact spare tire at all times.

Before you make a reservation you should always as for the final rate with all taxes and hidden costs! The rate you see advertised sometimes becomes so inflated with airport surcharges, additional driver fees, insurance, license plate fees and drop-off charges that you end up paying more than at a competing agency that had all those costs already included in their rate. When you travel to Costa Rica take a printed copy of the offer with the final rate with you.

Once you pick up your vehicle the car rental agent will inspect the car with you and mark on a form any damage that the vehicle already has. So take some time to make sure that your ride is ready to take you to whatever place in Costa Rica. You don't have to be an auto mechanic to check that your car complies the basic technical requirements. Just check all of your vehicle's fluid levels: coolant, engine oil, transmission fluid, power steering fluid, brake fluid, power steering fluid, and windshield washer fluid. Aside from that, you should also check if the car you are renting has good tires.

Vehicle checklist for your rental car:

  • Take a note of scratches and defects in paint work
  • Look for fender benders and dings
  • Check tire tread depth
  • Check light and indicators
  • Check windshield for rock ships
  • Test breaks and break lights
  • Check windscreen wiper blades and washer jets
  • Look if there is a spare tire, triangular safety reflectors and a jack
  • Test the air conditioning system
  • Did you get the documents of the car (RITEVE, Marchamo), check that the documents are from your rental vehicle
Credit cards and car rental insurance: What’s covered and what’s mandatory

The cost of car rental insurance sometimes is higher than the actual rental rate, always ask for the final rate!

A common question about car rental insurance is: I have a credit card which includes auto insurance coverage. Do I still have to pay the mandatory insurance for the rental car?

CDW (Collision Damage Waiver), THEFT and VAI (Vandalism) can often be waived with credit cards, some have exclusions against Latin American car rentals.

In case of damages to the vehicle, the total cost of repair will be charged to the credit card. You will be responsible for opening a claim with your bank and request refund from your credit card company. It is very likely that you will have to present receipts and a police report, incase you were involved in an accident

Important telephone numbers while on the road in Costa Rica:

Tourist police: 2258 1008 or 2258 1022
Insurance (INS): 800 800 8000
Transit Police: 800 87267486 (800 TRANSITO)
Police (Emergencies): 911
Collect call: 1110 + number
And the number of you car rental agency in Costa Rica!

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