Costa Rica Driving Advice and Car Hire Info
Driving In Costa Rica
Costa Rica drives on the right hand side of the road. You can drive in Costa Rica using the driving licence of most countries.Most major roads have speed limits of 100-120 kmh while secondary roads are 60 km per hour and urban areas 40kmh..
Around 25% of the nation’s 35,000km of roads are paved. There is a good network of modern highways radiating from San Jose and 19 national primary roads, some of which are toll roads.Two main roads in Costa Rica form part of the Pan-American highway – Route 1 runs North from San Jose to the Nicaraguan border and is a well maintained paved, multi-lane highway; and Route 2 which runs South to the border with Panama.
In the rainy season (May to November) some roads will flood and others may be prone to landslides. The following are often affected after heavy rain -Route 2 between San Jose and San Isidro de El General; Route 32 between San Jose and Limon/the Caribbean coast; and Route 27 connecting San Jose to Puntarenas and Jaco.
San Jose is pretty laid back and not overly complex for driving. The city introduced a ‘Pico y Placa’ (peak & license plate) restriction in 2010, which restricted certain private vehicles entering the city centre on certain days. Most rental company cars are exempt but the rental company has to apply for the exemption so if you’re using a smaller local company, check with them that they have this.
In my experience, most of the rental cars available in Costa Rica will be 4×4- at the lower end this will be a Suzuki Jimny or similar. You really do need a 4X4 if driving away from towns, and away from the main Interamericana highway, not necessarily as the roads are bad, in my opinion they’re generally OK out of the rainy season, but because you may have to drive through a number of rivers, along beaches and sand tracks etc. This is especially true on the Nicoya Peninsula when heading down the coast from Tamarindo , through Samara and to Montezuma. (Samara to San Jose via the Amistad Bridge is on a good paved road though it can become slippery after heavy rain.) Driving through rivers can be a nervous experience if you haven’t driven through water before. The fear factor will be multiplied in the rainy season. Theres an active ‘cottage industry’ of villagers, generally old ladies and kids, who sit by the riverbank and point out the safest passage through the water. You have to trust them, which can be a leap of faith too far- on a number of occasions I got out and waded across to test the depth. Locals seem to trust them implicitly though and I never saw them get a route wrong! In the rainy season you would certainly be advised to consult locals before crossing any river as they’ll normally know if and where its safe to cross.
Generally I found the standard of roads in Costa Rica to be Okay, though I was driving a 4X4. However, I found the standard of driving from locals wasn’t great. They weren’t overly aggressiv e- on the contrary they were so laid back they sometimes presented a hazard as they often don’t seem to concentrate on the road. Another potential hazard to be aware of is that the police have radar speed guns and will lie in wait near popular speeding locations. (The Interamericana between Nicaragua and Liberia is a favourite). Speed limits range from 40Kmh to 60Kmh away from highways so check signs and if there aren’t any, adopt the general rule that if you’re the fastest car on the road, you’re asking for a ticket. In general, I found Costa Rica to be an excellent country for self driving, even the capital San Jose wasn’t overly taxing, but you will probably need a 4X4 to see its main attractions.
Although I try and keep the information in the site updated as much as possible, in a rapidly moving world, situations can change daily. Therefore please use the site as an approximate guide, and in conjunction with other resources in order to form your view on driving conditions, roads, safety etc.
Costa Rica Car Rental –
Sixt, Hertz, Alamo, Europcar, National,Avis, Budget, Thrifty,Dollar and National Car Rental all rent vehicles in Costa Rica.Also usually features on Car rental broker sites and Web discount sites such as LastMinute.com.
We currently have no local car rental partners in Costa Rica. If you are a local car rental company who would like to feature on DriverAbroad.com please check details on our Partnering page or contact us on ADriverAbroad@Outlook.com
Costa Rica Self Driving Rules-
I couldn’t find any evidence that the big companies will allow the car to be taken outside CR. In my own experience, I struggled to find a company who would allow a car to be taken to Nicaragua. If you plan to travel to Nicaragua, you could do a one way rental to the City of Liberia near the border and get one of the regular buses North. If you will be returning to CR, one of the mid range hotels in Liberia will probably allow you to leave the car there whilst you hop over the border.