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Renting a car In Costa Rica (buying a car is different… will post on that later)

Renting a car In Costa Rica (buying a car is different… will post on that later)
Breakfast at VVB&B

Breakfast at VVB&B

Road to nowhere at VVB&B

Road to nowhere at VVB&B

VVB&B The calm before the storm...

VVB&B The calm before the storm…

VVB&B Sunsets... daily

VVB&B Sunsets… daily

There are as many car rental agencies in Costa Rica as Disney World, if not more.  Who to use?  Do I rent at all?  SUV vs. Car? Insurance?  Of course my opinions on each of these is my own, anything can happen… but let’s try and break it down in real people’s language.

You need all the insurance

Your credit card won’t cover the insurance

YOU need and SUV

But I paid for it all back home!

WRONG! If you have heard these things or searched on the internet for the best deal and gotten a “final” price at checkout  – its just not so.  I think someone here is trying to make changes to fix the problem, but just like the paving of the roads, that could take years…  Insurance is NOT included in the final rental price, whether you pay now or reserve the car for later.



First, renting an SUV is a good idea.  But if you can’t afford it, don’t worry – a car will get you just about anywhere touristy, but slower, sometimes MUCH slower.  Now I said touristy…UNLESS – you are mountain climbing in the rainy season, then cars are not advisable.  ASK your hotel, and tell them where you are coming from, if you need an SUV.  Even at our little B&B, we tell people this  – cars get up here all the time, most Costa Ricans DO NOT own an SUV.  But for those of us who are used to one, it is advisable.  Remember, a main road does not mean a paved one.  We do airport shuttling and taxis cost $6 to town.  Lots of places are about the same – Do the math and maybe you only want to rent a car for part of your trip, or a car for a week and an SUV for the rest – work with your rental car agency.


I do not like the option they now have at some agencies that says if you pay for the entire rental now you could save in the long run.   Why offer this if they aren’t the ones coming out on top?  Unless you speak unbelieveably good Spanish, and can negotiate terms upon arrival – and I refer to the insurance policies I will explain below, its not worth the little extra you THInk you could save by paying up front.


DO NOT sign a waiver for the underside of your vehicle.  There is a new IDEA as I like to call it, among some agencies, that offers a “Highways Only” option.  Just like it sounds – if you are ONLY going to drive your car on the highway, you can opt for a lower rental price, as long as you Sign A Waiver that states you will be PERSONALLY LIABLE for any underside damage to the car.  SO I guess ALL the highways in Costa Rica have NO potholes, cracks, or other damage – are completely free of any debris, and if there is an accident, nothing will EVER happen to the underside of the vehicle?  Hmmm.  a little risky don’t you think?  I mean, unless you are planning on going from SJO to Rosti Pollo, the casino, and back to SJO, I think this is a HUGE rental NO-NO.  And considering there are no actual rental agencies at the airport, they all shuttle you to back areas behind the airport and around, this is a double whammy no-no.  Remember that show? Whammy?  Where you wacked the thing on the head? I digress, or do I?… Now, its completely up to you, but if you want to get whacked on the head, go for it.  We had one guest at our B&B who took this option.  They asked us if an SUV was needed, and again, I said no, but recommended – I HAD NO IDEA THIS HIGHWAY ONLY OPTION EVEN EXISTED!!!.  I guess it is under the assumption that car rental rates are high because of the road problems?  And perhaps, I am not a researcher on that.  BUT, whoever thought to make it an option was a little insane since there really is NO such thing here in Costa Rica.  Or maybe they were smart – this sounds like pure profit to me.  So…. these guests come up our road, a gravel road, and a rock hits the underside of their car.  instead of enjoying their stay, they are worried about it the whole 24 hours, barely got through breakfast and left sleep deprived for the airport, to end their trip.  Worth it?  I don’t think so…  and its completely OPPOSITE of every other experience people have had here at our B&B… the experience we want everyone to have who visits Costa Rica… wellness, relaxation and adventure.

What is correct:

INSURANCE – 3 kinds

1 – Liability by the INS… NOT optional 

Mandatory SLI, TPL, SLC or API

NOT covered by your titanium platinum, amex costco you name it credit card.  Mandated by the government, it will range between $10-$20USD/DAY DEPENDING ON THE TYPE OF CAR.  And I promise you it is NOT listed in your Alamo, Hertz, you name it, “FINAL PRICE” at the end of check-out on the internet.  You will need to pay it when you get your car here in CR.

Its a liability insurance but DOES NOT cover your rental car. Just damages to other cars, other people, other property.  Honestly, I don’t even know if it covers you or passengers in your rental car.  I will need to check on that and will update, IF i can find out.

2-Optional CDW or LDW… optional

In case of an accident AND ONLY an accident (vandalism, theft, negligence, road damage is NOT covered), you can take out this insurance for a cost/day up to a certain deductible amount.  Your cc or regular car insurance from home may cover some of this, but again, check with them first FOR Costa Rica specifically.  Get it in writing to show the Car rental agency what your cc/car insurance covers.

You asked about scams?  Notice I said OPTIONAL… twice?! Here it is: many companies won’t rent to you if you don’t purchase CDW.  Its not a law, and somehow they get away with it because people just don’t know.  Sometimes they link #1 and #2 insurance together, like a package.  I think this started out as a way to help, to show how much it cost together if you opt for it, but ended up being just sold that way.  IF you end up with a company like this, chances are 4 other rental agencies are in the same mini-mall.  Go to one of them to see if you can get a better deal, and the right insurance.  Again, remember that PAY FOR It all now option? For the little you THINK you are saving by paying before you arrive, this is a way they can get it all back once you are actually here.

3-Optional -ZERO liability.

Now, in my book… is there really such a thing? Not unless you pay for every insurance under the sun, get a print out from every credit card car rental insurance policy, home insurance, car insurance, you name it, and still then – I doubt a rental agency could not find SOME way to get you to pay for something.  And riddle me this, do you NEED all that insurance?  If you know you are a shit driver, or are planning on drinking your way through Costa Rica from beach to beach, do yourself and all of us a favor and don’t rent a freaking car.  Some a-hole took out a family’s father and main source of income last year when he drunkenly plowed into the highway worker doing a night shift right by SJO – and then just drove off.  The tourist returned the rental car the next day and got arrested.  Be responsible when you are here.

Car Rental companies make lots of money off insurance.  They are high geared in Sales mode to get you to pay for the extras.  Because it costs them near nothing since, as I said, people are SO confused, they usually get stuck paying for everything anyway IF something happens, which it hardly ever does.

Now listen, thats not to say car insurance is not worth it.  If you don’t have car insurance back home, don’t have a cc to cover any damages, and/or you just want the extra insurance, get it!  That part is not a scam – its insurance, that’s why it exists – it is there to cover you if anything happens.  But if you can get it, without paying for it, or if you just don’t want it, you should’t have to pay for it.  That’s my take, anyway.

The way this tico/gringa couple does it!  (that’s us, by the way)

Get the INS mandatory
Get one credit car to cover some of the #2
#3 is more a pipe dream anyway so we skip it, then have a good time.


Don’t want one?  You don’t need one! find hotels that have shuttles to/from the airport, take the bus – your hotels are a great resource – USE THEM!  Find out how to get to them without a car – and take the busses! they are gorgeous busses for the most part, even local ones, by private companies but with all the same rate – $10 RT got me and my girlfriends from San Ramon to La Fortuna for a much needed overnight from the kids at Eco Termales ($30pp hot springs with NO KIDS!!!!) Even Quepos to Manuel Antonio is just 50 cents! Just to give an idea of prices and towns you may be looking at to stay.

Interbus is also a great option, though only for touristy places.  Our B&B in San Ramon requires our own shuttle service, taxis and local busses.  If you stay in off the grid places, where you stay will probably have the same thing.

Taxis are usually about $5-$10 from hotels to town.., since most hotels are NEAR a town.  Again, ask your hotel!

You can also hire an actual driver- at one point I priced it at $110/day for a nice driver/taxi with his own SUV.  But that was for a 9 day trip down to Corcovado and back, so for less time, it may be more. Granted thats more than most daily Car rentals, but without all the insurance hassles, gas included, and no driving for ANYone! Well, except the driver of course.  But its a budget call – and an option for some who really want to get to out of the way places without getting lost or taking the bus for hours on a tight schedule.

I hope some of this has helped!  If you have any q’s or responses…. let us know!  And since you read this all the way to the end, a little tip: we like Rodrigo at Poas rent a car.  One way rentals allowed….