Complete guide to how to rent a car, why to rent a car, which agencies to use, and what you need to bring if traveling with kids.
I’ll just start by saying- if you want the best rental car for your family in Costa Rica, just rent from Adobe Rental car. Here’s a form for a 10% discount:
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Table of contents
Why Rent A Car in Costa Rica?
This is the question that I most often get when families are looking for transportation in Costa Rica. Why not take a shuttle? Why not take a public bus? Why not hire a driver?
My answer is threefold. First, renting a car is the cheapest option for families unless you are taking a public bus (more on that in a minute). We recently were looking for transportation to and from Planet Hollywood. We priced everything out and it would cost us $250 to drive one hour each way, and we were stuck at the resort if anything happened or we wanted to explore.
Our rental car for the week was just $387, and we had way more flexibility. So flexibility is the name of the game if you want to explore a lot with your family for not much more money.
Second, if you are taking a shuttle, it’s similar. You can find shuttles to many of the most popular tourist destinations, but once you get there you are on your own for transportation. An example is heading to the La Fortuna/Arenal area. A shuttle will drop you off in the main town, but all of the hot springs, zip lines, hanging bridges, etc are between 20-30 minutes outside of town, so you’ll have to find another type of transportation to get to your activities.
A public bus is very very slow. It’s dirt cheap, but with kids, it is long, hot and you still only get to the center of town before needing additional transportation. Plus, you’ll make countless stops on the way there, doubling or tripling your time as compared to a car.
Finally, hiring a driver is a great way to go in Costa Rica. You may even get a driver with a private tour guide which is awesome. However, this is definitely the most expensive option and not tenable for everyone.
Related post: Driving In Costa Rica – Complete Guide
What Type Of Car Should I Rent?
So the next question I always get is what type of car should I rent for a family? This really depends on where you are going.
Many years ago, people would complain about the roads in Costa Rica being full of potholes or very muddy during the rainy season. I will give Costa Rica some credit here- the roads have gotten much better in the last 20 years.
To that end, if you are a family going between any of the popular tourist spots (think Monteverde, La Fortuna, San Jose, Jaco, Manuel Antonio, Dominical, anywhere in the Central Valley, Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, Cahuita, Tortuguero, Tamarindo, Playa del Coco, etc) you are fine with a sedan.
These roads are heavily trafficked and a 2 or 4-door sedan is a great option. It’s economical, great with gas mileage, and you can get an upgrade to a manual transmission for a negligible price.
On the other hand, if you are looking to go to off-the-beaten-path beaches (think Playa Junquillal), across rivers (driving to the Osa Penninsula)- especially in the rainy season- you’ll want a 4×4 car. So it depends on what you want to do.
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Do I Need A Car Seat or GPS?
The short answer is yes and no. For a car seat and booster, most rental companies will include these or add them to the rental for a small fee. (When you use our Adobe discount code then you’ll not need to pay for the car seats).
Related post: 7 Days in Costa Rica – With Kids!
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However, I always always always take our own car seats and boosters. There are several reasons for this:
- The baby seats in Costa Rica are only three-point harnesses, so they aren’t as safe as the five-point we are used to here in the US
- The climate in Costa Rica is so hot and humid that you get the plastic to crack and wear down. The rental car companies don’t change out the seats as often as they should, so it’s just less safe
- There aren’t generally expiration dates on the car seats and boosters in Costa Rica, so you really don’t know how old they are
I highly suggest taking your own gear in this case.
As for the GPS- I have a full post on how to use your cell phone in Costa Rica with a few GPS hacks that I recommend using.
If you just want to not worry about where you are going and if you have to switch your cell phone over, etc, then I would get a GPS. They range from $12-20 a day.
Related post: Should I Take a Stroller to Costa Rica?
Comparing Rental Agencies
Many people ask me why I recommend Adobe Rental car when it appears to be so much more expensive than other car rental companies that show up in Google searches. It’s a valid question, and it gets into the question of Costa Rican car insurance.
There are two types of mandatory insurance in Costa Rica, and your credit card insurance from the US is not accepted for these.
The mandatory insurances by Costa Rican law are Car Protection (about $17/day) and Liability Insurance (about $14/day). This adds up really fast when quoting rental car prices.
Most people who book cars in Costa Rica assume their credit card will cover all the insurance they need when in Costa Rica, and that’s just not true because the laws are different.
Big rental agencies like Budget and Dollar take advantage of this situation by quoting the car rental prices sans insurance, so they look really cheap compared to Adobe Rent-a-Car. When you arrive, however, they hit you with the fees (which are almost $30/day) and you are left with no option but to pay.
Adobe, though, quotes you the exact price you will pay when you arrive, and their prices are less than the competition. This is because they are a Costa Rican-owned company and know the laws and policies inside and out, so they don’t play the insurance game with their customers.
Related post: Costa Rica Packing List (For Families)
Car Rental Age/Driver’s License
You have to be between 21-25 to rent a car in Costa Rica, depending on the company. For Adobe Rental Car, the minimum age is 23 years old. This age limit includes the second driver.
You must have a valid driver’s license and passport to rent a car in Costa Rica. If you are in a wreck or pulled over for some reason, you will be asked to show both forms of ID. You do not need an international driver’s license in Costa Rica.
Your best bet is to use a credit card to rent your car in Costa Rica. This is because companies will put a hold on your card for a certain amount of money to ensure you will return the car.
If you want to pay cash or use debit cards, you will have to pay a pretty big sum (up to $3,000) up front. You won’t get the money back until you turn the car back in. This can be nerve-wracking to pay in cash before taking a car out.
Related post: Costa Rica Currency
Why Choose Adobe Rental Car
Adobe is a Costa Rican-owned company with strict policies on sanitizing your car, keeping cars well maintained and great customer service.
You also get all kinds of perks when you rent with Adobe through Pura Vida Moms. They include:
- One additional free driver
- Free baby and booster seats (see above for my recommendation on these)
- For long term rentals, only 24 days per month are charged so there are several free days
- Free roadside assistance
- $10/day GPS service
- Free pick up and dropoff from Liberia or San Jose Airport to the rental location
- Free car delivery and pickup at nearby hotels (only between 8:30 am and 4:30 pm)
So make sure to book today through Pura Vida Moms for an additional discount!
If you would like to talk to me about a customized itinerary or specific Costa Rica travel advice for your family, (zero sales- just advice!) check out my “Ask Christa” page for more information on custom Costa Rica trip planning geared towards families.