Driving in Costa Rica: What to Know Before You Go

Driving in Costa Rica can be intimidating for a first- or even second- or third-time visitor. When we traveled to Costa Rica as tourists, we most often took the bus or shuttles. It took us several trips to gain the courage to finally get behind the wheel. But once we did, we never went back. Having a car in Costa Rica gives you the freedom to stop and go as you please, opening up a world of possibilities. And with a little knowledge and experience, you’ll lose the nerves and be ready to take on the open road for yourself.

We’ve driven all across the country over the last five years from the Caribbean coast to northwestern-most Guanacaste, the central mountains to the southern Pacific, and everywhere in between. Here are our tops tips for driving in Costa Rica.

 

Tips on Driving in Costa Rica | Two Weeks in Costa Rica

 

General Information

In Costa Rica, all you need is a valid driver’s license from your home country to operate a vehicle. Also be sure to have your passport or a copy handy in case you get pulled over. There is no requirement for an international driver’s license. In general, the rules of the road are probably similar to what you’re used to back home. Lanes are marked with double solid lines when passing is not allowed and hatched lines when passing is permitted. Speed limits (in kilometers) are posted with signs, though usually not as frequently as what we were used to in the US. Seatbelts are required. Children under the age of 12, subject to certain height and weight limits, are supposed to be restrained in car seats or booster seats.

Although these are technically the requirements, enforcement is another issue. The rules are bent everywhere you go. As an example, it’s very common in rural areas to see entire families on motorcycles with kids as young as two riding sandwiched between mom and dad.

Road Conditions

Roads vary from well paved two-lane highways to pothole-ridden dirt roads with treacherous river crossings. Most of the roads in and around the capital of San Jose are nice and smooth, but once you get out of the city, conditions can change a lot. Costa Rica’s topography is extremely diverse, with everything from lofty mountains and low visibility cloud forest to flat plains and farm fields. While many areas are accessible without four-wheel drive, many are not. Be sure to research in advance if 4×4 and higher clearance are necessary to access the specific places you’ll be visiting.

We have two posts on road conditions that will help you decide what type of car to rent. Road Conditions of Specific Routes in Costa Rica gives up-to-date info on the conditions of popular routes. And if you’re visiting Monteverde, you’ll want to read our Driving to Monteverde post, which covers the two major routes and has video clips showing what the dirt roads are actually like.

For more information about renting a car in Costa Rica and how you can save 10-25%, be sure to check out our Rental Car Discount page.

 

Tips on Driving in Costa Rica | Two Weeks in Costa Rica
Typical rough road in a rural area of Costa Rica

 

Signage

You’ll find during your visit that signs throughout the country are generally lacking. Most roads are not marked with street signs at all. In San Jose, sometimes major streets are marked with signs or on the walls of buildings, but more often, not at all. In rural areas and beach towns, signs are also somewhat of a novelty. While you might see signs letting you know how far away a certain town is, it is very rare that a road or highway will be marked with the route number. Exits along highways are also notorious for being poorly marked or having very small signs right at the turnoff. For these reasons, we recommend that people using our Rental Car Discount add a Wifi stick or GPS to their rental or use some type of map program on their phone. The Waze App is popular because it takes traffic and construction into account. Having a hard copy map is also not a bad idea just in case GPS sends you in the wrong direction. This waterproof map is one of the most popular and accurate. 

Rainy Season – Washouts and Landslides

If you’re traveling in the rainy season (May to November), something to watch out for is washouts and landslides. Some roads are more prone to these events than others and it’s always good to ask your hotel about current conditions before setting out. Roads to be extra cautions on are 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.

 

Tips on Driving in Costa Rica | Two Weeks in Costa Rica
A big landslide on Route 2 between San Jose and San Isidro de El General

 

Pedestrians and Bicyclists

A lot of locals don’t have cars and get around mostly by foot or on bike. You’ll see men coming from work donning machetes and families with children in tow in the breakdown lane of busy roads. Always be on the lookout for people in the road, especially at night, as they aren’t usually wearing reflectors.

Another thing to keep in mind is that pedestrians do not have the right of way. So in urban areas, people trying to cross the street won’t expect you to stop for them. If you do stop, just be careful not to get rear-ended

Motorcycles and Dirt Bikes

Motorcycles and dirt bikes are other popular ways to get around. Some motorcycles don’t reach the same speeds as cars. On highways, these guys will often pull way over to the right when a car comes behind to let them pass. If this happens to you, just go ahead and pass when it’s safe.

In San Jose, where there’s a lot of traffic, also be aware of motorcycles and scooters weaving in and out of lanes and in the breakdown lane. Sometimes they get so close to your car that they almost run into you.

 

Tips on Driving in Costa Rica | Two Weeks in Costa Rica
Motorcycles weaving in between traffic in downtown San Jose

 

Potholes

Costa Ricans have some unique ways to convey that something is awry in the road. For example, potholes are often marked with whatever is lying around. A palm frond or a big stick with a potato chip bag as a reflector sticking out of a hole does the job of letting you know that there’s a pothole ahead.

Creative Use of Hazards

Locals often put on their hazard lights to let the car behind them know of a problem up ahead. This can be especially useful if you’re coming fast around a corner and traffic is stopped because of an accident or construction. To signal oncoming traffic of a problem, the standard flashing of the headlights is also common practice.

Tractor Trailers

Costa Rica is in a major shipping route from Panama to North America and also has major ports on each coast so tractor trailers frequent many of its roads. Something to be aware of when following a tractor trailer is that they will often use their left turn signal to let you know when it’s safe to pass. What they consider safe and what you do might be different, though, so pass with caution.

Passing

One of the biggest things to be aware of when driving in Costa Rica is unsafe passing. We have seen too many overturned tractor trailers and had many close calls ourselves not to emphasize this point. The fact is, a lot of people pass without much regard to oncoming traffic. While it seems callous, it’s the way of the road here. You will see people passing uphill, on curves, and in other places where it is not possible to see if an oncoming car is approaching. There isn’t a lot you can do to control other people’s driving, but remain alert and cautious. We always try to leave enough space between us and the car in front of us so that we can avoid an accident and also go the speed limit so that we have time to react.

 

Tips on Driving in Costa Rica | Two Weeks in Costa Rica
Passing up a hill – not a great idea

 

Driving at Night

Until you’re comfortable driving in Costa Rica, avoid driving at night, especially for long distances. Street lighting is used a lot less frequently than what you’re probably used to. Couple that with narrow, curvy roads with no guardrails, and it can be downright scary to drive after dark. When we bought our first car in Costa Rica, we had to drive it back along a curvy mountain road that recently had been paved. It was pouring rain and they hadn’t painted the lines yet (common) so all we had to keep us out of the ditch were a few reflectors visible in between bolts of lightning. Not painting the lines may sound like a temporary problem but sometimes it takes road crews months or even years to get around to it.

[box] Nervous about driving? Leave it up to someone else by taking a shuttle. Shared or private shuttles are a great option. We would be happy to help you book either type. We work with Interbus and other reliable companies for shared shuttles. Visit our Costa Rica Discounts page for more information. For private shuttles, visit our Private Shuttle Transfers Booking page.[/box]

One-Lane Bridges

To save on costs, a lot of bridges in Costa Rica are only one lane wide. This means that you have to take turns with oncoming traffic to pass. The general rule is whoever gets there first has the right of way. Instead of cars rotating one at a time, the whole group of cars coming from one direction cross at the same time, while the cars on the other side wait. Once all the cars have gone through, the other side can go. These bridges sometimes come up fast so be on the lookout for Puente Adelante (Bridge Ahead) signs.

River Crossings

Some rural areas of the country have roads that require river crossings. Depending on the time of year, it can be a small stream passable with a regular sedan or a gushing river not recommended with even a large truck or SUV. The first thing to keep in mind is that river crossings void most rental car agreements so your insurance won’t cover any damage. If you do decide to cross a river, always be sure to wade through first on foot to check the depth. It’s also a good idea to watch another car do it first to see the path they take. If the river is tidal, check the tide charts before setting out to time your crossing right. Often, there’s an alternate route that avoids river crossings altogether, so if it looks at all dubious, ask a local if there’s safe passage another way.

 

Tips on Driving in Costa Rica | Two Weeks in Costa Rica
Crossing a small river near Nosara

 

Checkpoints

Along major routes, you may see police checkpoints set up, often near international borders. They may stop every car or one every certain number. Usually, they only want to know where you’re going and sometimes will want to see your passport. Don’t be alarmed; these checkpoints are routine. Just cooperate and you’ll be on your way in no time.

Accidents

If you get in an accident, call 911 and your rental car company. Also be sure not to move your car. The police and an insurance agent will come to assess the accident and damage, and the rental car company will come to help and give you a replacement car.

Gas Stations

Gas stations are located throughout the country but are sometimes spaced out. Be sure to fill up in advance when driving a long distance if you’re not sure where the next station is. Keep in mind that all the gas stations in Costa Rica have the same government-regulated prices so there’s no need to shop around. Gas stations are full-serve and the people working are almost always helpful. If you need your oil or washer fluid topped off or some air for your tires, just ask. Gas stations take cash or credit cards.

Protecting Your Valuables

Rental cars are targets in Costa Rica because many of the models are the same. It’s easy, though, to keep your valuables safe by following a few simple steps. The first is to never leave anything in sight inside the car—even things with seemingly no value. This goes for at the beach, the grocery store parking lot, or anywhere else. Thieves are sometimes watching from afar and will strike even in the time it takes to go from your car to bring back the shopping cart. Always lock your doors and bring your valuables with you; otherwise, leave someone in the car to keep watch.

 

Parking in Costa Rica
Can you spot the non-rental car?

 

Note that a lot of restaurants, national parks, and other tourist attractions have attendants to watch your car. Sometimes they are paid by the business, but usually they are just self-appointed watchmen and this is their primary job. They watch your car in exchange for a small tip (a dollar or two depending on how long you’re there). We’ve always had great luck with these guys, both in terms of security and in getting the inside scoop. As an example, the parking attendant at Carara National Park once told us about some tent-making bats hiding under a leaf that we had walked right by.

 *     *     *

Driving in Costa Rica is definitely an adventure but as long as you’re cautious and remember these tips, you shouldn’t have any problems.

Have you ever driven in Costa Rica? What did you think?

Post Updated: April 25, 2018

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355 Comments

  1. Very informative post, for the past 3 months I have been driving around Costa Rica, specifically the southern Pacific coast and have experienced much of what you have written about. We hardly ever drive at night because there is not a center divider or lights to mark the road so it is very hard to see. Additionally, we have seen a few accidents and near accidents from vehicles passing each other. We have picked up the habit of passing, but we always make sure to do it in a safe location, not around a blind curve or hill!

    1. It sounds like we may live in the same area of Costa Rica, Shannon. We’ve been waiting for the recently paved highway to get lines painted for months. Initially, it was supposed to be done after Semana Santa but still nothing. Makes it seriously treacherous driving at night in the rain. Driving is an adventure for sure!

      1. Hi Jenn and Matt
        We are planning to stay in the Uvita area in mid-March 2019 for a week or so then were thinking of going up to Nosara (about 6 hours away) to visit friends who will be there. Would you recommend renting a car (2 adults, 3 kids – would be a SUV) and driving from SJO airport to Uvita then Uvita to Nosara and back to the airport to return home? I’ve driven in Amalfi Coast (Italy) and throughout Hawaii which both have windy roads and crazy traffic but have never been to Costa Rica before. From your description of the highways/roads (#34, #1, #18 and #150), it seems that they are all paved and decent for driving. Would appreciate your honest perspective on this plan vs taking a shuttle/hiring a driver from the airport to Uvita (and renting a car locally in Uvita) and a shuttle from Uvita to Nosara (and renting a car locally in Nosara) and then a final shuttle to SJO to return home – since shuttles will increase the cost of transportation. Thank you in advance for the courtesy of your input.

        1. Hi Rob, With a family of 5, a rental car is definitely the most economical. You should be fine driving to those destinations based on what you’ve told us. All the roads are paved and in good condition except the last part around Nosara, which is rough dirt. With a higher clearance 4×4, it is totally fine, though, in March when it’s drier. Local roads around Uvita can be mountainous and dirt so having 4×4 is good there as well. But, no, we don’t think you necessarily need to go with shuttles.

          1. Thoughts on driving a rental between the two airports? Are the roads ok? I have never been to Costco Rica. Would love some advice.

          2. Hi Jen, The roads between San Jose and Liberia are all major paved roads so fine to drive. You may hit some traffic because they are popular routes so be sure to allow a little extra time than what Google says. You can read our Road Conditions post for more specifics on the individual roads.

        2. Hi guys. 4 of us will be traveling to costa rica leaving LA on May 18 for 8 days. We’ve heard horror stories about driving in the country. We rented an SUV for the trip. We arrive in San Jose at 7am. Our drive will take us to La Fortuna for 3 days then on to Tamarindo for 4 days then back to San Jose. How will this drive be in late May? How is driving in San Jose? About how long should we expect the drive to be between cities? Thanks so much!

          1. Hi Jeff, Most people who drive in Costa Rica leave feeling like it wasn’t as bad as they expected. All the roads you will take are well traveled and fine to drive during day time hours. May is still early in the rainy season so no worries there. You can read our Road Conditions post for specific details about each road. It’ll be about 3 hours from San Jose to La Fortuna and then 4 hours from La Fortuna to Tamarindo. Definitely get a GPS or use a maps app so that you don’t get lost getting out of San Jose.

      2. Hello, I was wondering if you have any tips for us, we are traveling with a 3 years old from San Jose to Santa teresa via airplane and then should have a rental car to go around, interested in visiting Nosara and some rainforests as well but not sure about roads on this itinerary and if its safe to stop often for our little one etc.
        Also is it safe for 2 women and a toddler to drive long stretches between cities?

        1. Hi Yasmine, You should plan your route, then read our Road Conditions of Specific Routes post to learn about the exact road conditions for your itinerary. Plan to go around the Nicoya Peninsula via Route 21 to get from Santa Teresa to Nosara and don’t go the coastal route on the western side of the peninsula, which is very remote and has river crossings. Yes, it is safe to stop, just be sure to stay on main roads and don’t take the coastal route we mentioned above. There have been some incidents of crime along the stretch north of Santa Teresa.

    2. I was wondering about about route 927. Because of your awesome website, we’re going to Rio Celeste for the first time. Our next location is La Fortuna and I wanted to go down route 6 and on 927 to 147 to allow going by Lake Arenal. We’ve never gone this route before and am not sure what the road conditions would be like. We do have a large 4×4 and are used to driving on the awful roads in rural Nicoya Peninsula, so as long as it’s possible without major construction, I think we can do it.

      1. Hi Kourtney, Yes, you can take Route 927 to get from Rio Celeste to the lake and on to La Fortuna. This is the scenic route. We’ve never done it before, but one of the hotels we recommend in Bijagua suggests this route so we think it is good. Here’s a link to their website where they give the directions for La Fortuna to Bijagua – you can just use them in reverse for what to expect.

    3. We are arriving on 2-21-19 and headed to the Oslo peninsula. We are renting a rav 4. The current plan is to stay in Quepos the first night then head down the coast to Puerto Jimenez. Is that the best route? We are first time visitors.

      1. Hi Joyce, Quepos to Puerto Jimenez isn’t a bad drive. It’s all flat highway until the turnoff for the Osa Peninsula. That road is curvier but still nicely paved. You will be fine in a Rav 4. Enjoy your trip!

  2. +Great summary! I think you’ve covered it well. I might add that in the central valley, especially during rainy season, fog can be a big problem, especially at night. I advise folks to avoid driving at night unless they know where they are going and are used to driving here.

    1. Good advice, Will. Fog can definitely make driving tricky, especially around the Central Valley, San Gerardo de Dota/Cerro de la Muerte, Turrialba, Monteverde, and Poas Volcano area.

      1. Hello! I am considering driving for our week long vacation. I can handle aggressive driving but, It makes me a bit nervous because we have seen Central American and South American driving. It can be interesting when it comes to rules of the road. However, what worries me the most is finding where we are going. How accurate are the GPS directions? So, can I get your list of drivers please and your thoughts on driving from Liberia to San Jose, in the case we rent a car. Thank You! Monica

        1. Hi Monica, What we recommend is planning your route in advance using our Road Conditions post and Google Maps, and then using GPS or online maps to make sure you’re on the right road. GPS and Google Maps are sometimes not great alone because they will take you the shortest route by distance, but it may take a lot longer due to rough terrain/mountains. We don’t have a list of drivers (I’m not sure where that came from in this thread) but we do work with both shared and private shuttle companies. If you decide to take shuttles instead of driving, just send us an email to bookings(at)twoweeksincostarica(dot)com with the transfers you need and we will get back to you with quotes.

  3. Great advice on driving in Costa Rica, especially about the insurance void for driving through rivers. Our Association is working to improve the image of car rental agencies in Costa Rica so we are always happy to see useful information that benefits our customers.

  4. Thank you Jenn and Matt. We are planning a trip to Costa Rica next year, and your blog has been incredibly helpful !! I am a little apprehensive about driving, especially given we don’t speak even basic Spanish. How do you rent a car with a driver?

      1. Hi there Jen and Matt, id love to hear about the companies that offer private driver as well as your trustworthy contact, can you please email these details to me too?
        We are looking to come to costa rica next march and drive for a few weeks.
        Many thanks

          1. Great blog! My clan (2 adults, 6 yr old, 8 yr old) are arriving in Liberia at 1:30 pm and heading to La Fortuna for three nights and then Tamarindo for four. We are debating between a private shuttle and a rental car. How is the route btwn Liberia and La Fortuna? What are your thoughts around timing…will we have enough time to arrive in daylight? How is the route btwn La Fortuna and Tamarindo?

          2. Hi Carrie, It would be nice to have a car, especially for La Fortuna, which is more spread out. The drive from Liberia Airport there isn’t too bad. The first half is easy along well paved roads/highways. The last part goes around Lake Arenal and is quite curvy but nicely paved. It’s fine if you’re not driving in the dark, which you should be able to do as long as you don’t have any major delays. Plan on around 1.5 hrs to get through the airport and pick up the rental (offsite but not far from airport). Then it’s about a 2.5 hr drive, landing you in Fortuna around 5:30/sunset. It’s a lot to do in one day with kids but it is possible. We also sent you an email earlier tonight re: your request for info on a private shuttle in case you decide to do that.

          3. Hi Jenn and Matt,

            Could you please also send me the list of companies who offer private drivers as well as your trustworthy contact?

            Thanks,
            Grace

          4. Hi Jen and Matt, we’d also like to hear about shuttles or companies that offer private driver as well as your trustworthy contact. Could you please send us the info?
            We are coming to Costa Rica at the end of November, going to Playa Hermosa near Jaco and are pretty nervous about the drive there.
            Thanks! And love your blog. It’s so helpful!

          5. Hi Matt and Jenn,

            My partner and I are traveling to Costa Rica towards the end of September. We were planning on hiring a car and driving from Liberia to la Fortuna for a couple of days and then we aren’t too sure where to go. My question is regarding which hire car company we should use. My Spanish is intermediate and I am willing to ‘risk’ driving as I dont want to rely on shuttles etc. Could you advise on a rental company that’s easy to get to and drop off from Liberia airport?

            Also, would you advise buying a sim card with data so that we could have a GPS or do the rental companies usually have a GPS option. Thank-you.

          6. Hi Heidi, We recommend Adobe Rent a Car. They have an office in Liberia and will pick you up at the airport when you arrive and take you to their office to pick up the car a mile or so down the road (none of the companies have cars right at the airport). Adobe is a good company with reliable cars that are never more than three years old. We have been working with them for a few years now and they are very professional and forthright. We also get a discount through them. You can learn more about them and our discount on our Rental Car page.

            The rental companies do have GPS but they also have a Wifi stick option, which a lot of people prefer. You can use that to connect your phones and use online maps apps and also to check your email and do whatever on the internet.

          7. HI, I am coming to Costa Rica with a small dog, and would love to have information on private drivers as well. Thank you!

      2. Hi Jenn & Matt, I’m so glad I found your site! I’m planning our family vacation to Costa Rica and could really use some help. It will be my husband, 3 children (ages 17, 14, and 13), my mother (very active) and myself. We’ve already booked our flight from Dallas to San Jose in June. We’d like to visit the South Pacific region but can’t decide where to stay. We’d like to do a 2-3 bedroom rental close to a town. Are you familiar with any? Also, do you know a car service that can get all 6 of us to the Manuel Antonio area and a driver that could drive us around the area? Thank you!!!

        1. Hi Vicky, There are a lot of choices for a 2-3 bedroom vacation rental in that area. Maybe look at Uvita and try to find a place not too far off the main road (many rentals there are high up in the mountains). Uvita has a main town area on the highway with grocery stores, banks, etc. It also has a lot of vacation rentals.

          If you still need help getting from San Jose to Manuel Antonio, let us know. A private shuttle will make the most sense since you have 6 people. We know of a very good shuttle company and would be happy to help with the booking if you would like. They also offer private driver services. Just reply to this thread if you’re interested. Hope your family has a great trip!

          1. Thanks for the info! Yes, I am very interested in a shuttle company or private driver service from San Jose airport to Manuel Antonio.

      3. Seven of us – four teens and three adults will be there Christmas week. We fly into Liberia on 12/25 and are staying at the Rio Celeste Hideaway. I’m really frightened to rent a car — something I was going to do in he beginning. I’m very interested in knowing more about the private driver. Thank you so much.

      4. Hi Jenn & Matt,
        I’m also interested in any info about private drivers, rental cars, etc.. My wife & I are thinking of flying into San Jose in late April/early May & spend a couple weeks. Would be staying in Puntarenas mostly, as a home base to relax and to travel to the sights (beaches, rain/cloud forest, etc,.) and maybe a couple nights in San Jose. Any pertinent info to help us facilitate that, especially but not limited to transportation would be welcomed & appreciated. 🙂

        1. Hi Dennis, We can’t send you a response without your email address, so if you see this, please reply with a new comment and provide your email and we would be happy to help. We don’t use emails for any other purpose other than responding to your comment.

      5. Hi Jennand Matt,

        You site is very helpful. Thank you for all your time and effort. My family and I will be traveling to San Jose and flying to Puerto Jimenez via Sansa Air on Dec 15. We plan to stay for week. We are staying in an off-grid home near Cabo Matapalo, south of Puerto Jimenez (near the point of Osa Penninsula). The home owner recommends renting a car, but I am very concerned about the driving culture (passing and fast driving) and about having our rental broken into if we go out for tours. There are several mentions about private drivers, is this an option for us even though we aren’t staying in a tourist area and will be in a VRBO home? I was planning at least a few excursions while we in CR: I’d like to go out to Drake’s Bay and do a snorkeling tour to Cano island, likely take an ECO tour through the rainforest and visit one of the cholocate plantations nearby. Lastly (and unfortunately) our flight out on 12/23 leaves very early – it’s the first flight out of puerto Jimenez to SJO at around 6:50am so I’m concerned about getting transportation that early in the am. I’d love to have any recommendations from you for our stay. Thanks in advance

        1. Hi Becky and David, If you’re only renting a car to get around locally, the driving will be relatively easy. Where you are going is very remote and it’s actually difficult to drive fast there because of poor road conditions. You may want to find out about river crossings if you haven’t already. It is turning to dry season but we have still been getting a fair amount of rain. We can see why the homeowner recommends a car – since it’s so remote, you would be more isolated without one. As for breakins, those are usually not a problem if you don’t leave anything in the car, which is what we always recommend. That way there is nothing for anyone to take.

          Private drivers are probably hard to come by there, but tour operators may be able to help with transportation when you book something. Getting a taxi to Puerto Jimenez for your departure flight should not be an issue, though. There are plenty of taxis in Puerto Jimenez and you won’t have a hard time finding someone to take you early. Just arrange it in advance. Your VRBO owner should have some contacts. Hope you have a great trip and try not to worry. That is a beautiful and extremely tranquil part of the country!

      6. Thank you Jen and Matt for the information. We are planning a trip this spring. Our package included the rental car but after reading your article I am bit hesitant to drive. Is there any place where we can also ask for driver too with the car and how much they charge for that.

        1. Hi Sri, If you would rather not drive, the easiest is to take a shuttle between destinations. Then you could rent a car locally to get around once you arrive in a town if you wanted to. We work with reputable shuttle companies, both shared or private. Send us an email at bookings(at)twoweeksincostarica(dot)com if you would help making the arrangements. Shared shuttles range from $45-75 per person per leg, and private shuttles, which would be for only your group, are a little more expensive, ranging from around $100-400 total for most destinations (up to 5 people).

      7. Hi Jen and Matt,
        My friend and I are coming to Costa Rica for the first time in March around the 19th to the 28th and were wondering if you could also share with us the private driver contact information of someone trustworthy and potential fees if possible. We are flying into Liberia and want to visit a number of different places such as Ostional National Park, Monteverde, Jaco and Marino Ballena Park. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

        1. Hi Marjana, Most people use drivers (private shuttles) to get between destinations, as having someone with you for the whole trip is very expensive. We would be happy to help you arrange some of these shuttles. Just email us at bookings(at)twoweeksincostarica(dot)com with the exact shuttles you would like to book (to and from which hotels/towns, dates, and times), and we will get back to you with pricing for the companies that we recommend. Thanks!

        1. Hi Dorothy, we have a new page all about Private Shuttles Transfers that you can check out. It has pricing for some of the most common connections and a contact form for us to gather the necessary info to make the booking. If you don’t see the exact route you need, we can get back to you through that page with a quote and take it from there.

      8. Hello Jenn,

        I have driven around the whole of the Caribbean for many decades now and my daughter and I will be visiting Costa Rica for the first time on the 29th of May. I am contemplating renting a 4×4 and driving accross to the Caribbean coast from the Samara area. It will just be the two of us unless you can recommend a good driver or even an escort that knows the whole area and is willing to join us on our journeys. I much prefer exploring the country on my own instead of with organized tour groups. Is there anyone you can recommend? Anne

        1. Hi Anne, The drive from Samara to the Caribbean coast isn’t too bad but it is very long (around 8 hours or more depending on traffic). So we would recommend breaking it up with an overnight somewhere along the way. A private shuttle is another option and we know of several reliable companies, however, it would be quite expensive for this trip because of the distance ($400+). If you’d like help arranging a shuttle, please contact us through our Private Shuttles page.

      9. Hi Jenn and Matt,

        Can you please email me your references for companies that offer private drivers. Land in Cosa Rica, San Jose this coming month of June. I’m also thinking about renting a vehicle. What is your advice? I will be driving from airport in the evening to JW Marriott?

        1. Hi James,
          If you are arriving in San Jose at night, we highly recommend taking a shuttle to the JW Marriott. We don’t recommend driving long distances after dark. Here’s a link to our Shuttle Booking page (LINK) with more information and pricing. If you want to rent a car (one can be nice to have to explore off the resort), then you could stay overnight near the airport and pick up the car the next morning. Here’s a link to our recommendations for airport hotels near SJO (LINK). Hope that helps!

  5. I can’t tell you how helpful your blog has been! My husband and I wish we could leave everything and move to Costa Rica and live the Pura Vida forever! We will be there for 2 weeks this month starting in Tamarindo and driving down to the Southern zone and staying in Manual Antonio and Dominical. Our last stop is Monteverde! We’ve never been and hope we can survive the drive! Eeeeek! So scary! I’m really excited, this trip is the beginning of the possibility of us moving there within the next year. You and Matt’s journey has confirmed it for us. Thank you for all of your helpful information… We have planned our trip around all of it. It would be great to meet you guys! Such an inspiration!

    Evee & Justin

    1. Hi Evee and Justin, That’s awesome that you’re thinking of moving to CR! This will be a fun trip for you because you can start to picture what life would be like if you moved. Great itinerary. Don’t worry too much about the drive to Monteverde. It really isn’t that bad, especially during the dry season. Just make sure to get 4×4 and something with higher clearance for the bumps. Enjoy the Dominical area- it’s our favorite area in CR. Have a great trip and let us know if you do move so that we can meet up!

  6. Dear Jenn and Matt,

    just wanted to say a quick thanks for this hugely informative post! I am planning an itinerary for my boss who will have a week or so of free time after lecturing in San Jose. I was thinking he might consider renting a 4×4 for a bit more flexibility. That way he can do some trips to places like Arenal National park. Also I found a hotel in Catarata Uvita which looks beautiful so he might want to drive there for a few days. Will make sure he reads your guide to driving in Costa Rica first.
    Pura Vida!

  7. I love your website and accurate travel tips. We just visited Costa Rica for the first time and are over 60 – so – we were torn about the car rental/road condition aspect of traveling. I wish someone would tone down and clarify all the road condition hype. Here’s what we found – the roads to the main attractions (La Fortuna, Manuel Antonio) are excellent paved roads – we found zero potholes. From San Ramon to La Fortuna the road was foggy as predicted and windy but looked like it had just been paved.

    From San Ramon to Manual Antonio, the road was also paved and in excellent condition with more traffic. We rented a manual transmission, got an upgrade and waived the CDW part of the insurance and had zero issues with Tricolor. Total was $312 for 8 days.

    1. Hi Elizabeth, You’re right that a lot of the main roads between popular destinations are paved and in good condition so you can easily get by with a regular sedan. This isn’t the case for everywhere in the country, though. A few examples that come to mind are the main roads going to Monteverde, Nosara, and most of the Southern Nicoya Peninsula (Mal Pais/Santa Teresa, Montezuma). Another thing to keep in mind is that once you get off the main roads anywhere, they often turn to dirt. This is true in many places, including La Fortuna. Like we said in this post, it’s best to research where you’re going specifically. We usually include info on road conditions in our destination-specific posts, if road conditions are an issue.

      Nice find on the rental car. CDW is not mandatory in Costa Rica, only the loss damage waiver is required, so that was a good way to save some money if you didn’t need the extra insurance. Glad you had a good experience with Tricolor, we haven’t heard of them. You have to be careful with some of the smaller companies- a lot of them don’t have a great reputation due to an old/unreliable fleet of cars, unnecessary charges, or poor customer service. Glad to hear that wasn’t your experience!

  8. Hi!
    I have question regarding renting a car in Costa Rica.
    I have a Canadian G2 license, is that ok to drive and rent a car there?
    Thanks!

    1. Hi Emily, We’re not sure if you can rent a car with a Canadian G2 license. Many of the rental car companies have specific requirements for how long you’ve had a driver’s license and also age requirements if you’re younger than 21. For example, the company that we work with Adobe, requires you to be at least 23 years old and to have had a license for at least 2 years. Sometimes you can pay extra if you’re younger than the minimum age. We’re not sure if they all have minimum requirements for how long you’ve had a license. It’s best to check with each company.

  9. Your website has been very helpful! I am traveling to Costa Rica for the first time the first week of May. I’m flying in to Liberia and renting a car to drive to Nosara. I will be traveling alone, and after reading this post, am a little nervous about driving in May by myself. I like the idea of driving so that I can go at my own pace (not to mention how cheap the rental was), however, I want to make it there and back safely 🙂 Would you recommend I find another way to get to Nosara?
    Thanks!

    1. Hi Meg, We’ve done the drive from Liberia to Nosara several times and it isn’t that bad. There are a couple of different ways to get there, but just in case it’s rainy in May, we would recommend going the way through Nicoya instead of the coastal route to avoid river crossings and muddy roads. This is the Route 21 to 150 way. It’s all paved until you get off 150, then turns to dirt that is usually rough unless it has been graded recently. Best to have 4 wheel drive and GPS/map function on your phone so that you don’t get lost. Safe travels!

    2. We are doing the same thing but are driving from San Jose to Nosara. Five hour drive for us! I’m nervous after reading all the pages about the driving conditions in CR! We leave for vacation tomorrow…

    3. First of all, your website has been very helpful! I am planning to visit Costa Rica for the first time the first week of March. I’m flying in to San Jose and planning to rent a car to drive to Uvita, Puntarenas. As many people have mentioned here, it appears to be a bit nerve-wracking to drive in a non-familiar area, and a totally different country as it is. I will be traveling alone, and after reading this post, I am a little nervous about driving by myself. I believe renting a car will be cost-effective, and I could also just stop around and do some sightseeing in route to my final destination. I’d appreciate if you could advise me, based on your experience, what would be the best route to take from San Jose to Uvita, Puntarenas?
      Thank you so much!

      1. Hi Glenda, We do this drive all the time. You will take Highway 27 to 34 – all well paved roads. The terrain is mostly flat except for getting out of the mountains near San Jose. There is usually some traffic as you are leaving the city and then some slowdowns when you pass through major towns. Very easy drive though, just don’t do it after dark because the road gets dark and hard to see. We would caution you about making stops en route with your bags in the car. It’s better to keep an eye on your car when you stop so that no one breaks in and steals your stuff (this is one of the most common crimes in Costa Rica). Other than that, allow plenty of time for the trip and you will be fine. The drive is around four hours.

  10. Thx for all the great info!! We’re thinking of CR with our 9-year old son for 10 days in early June. Trying for rainy due to fewer crowds, lower rates, fewer FF miles, etc. Are we crazy to choose rainy season, will it curtail much of our travel? Our first trip, flying into SJO, want to hit main highlights of Monteverde, Arenal, and then to beach- Papagayo because have free hotel nights at Hyatt. Does this seem possible in 10 days and since it’s early rainy season, will we have passable roads in sedan vs. 4X4? Lastly, is there any good reef snorkeling you would recommend given above locations?

    1. Hi Cindy, You are not crazy for traveling during rainy season; rainy season, especially the early months, is our favorite time of year here. Early June usually isn’t too rainy either. Just be flexible with planning your excursions that are weather-dependent (e.g., Arenal Volcano, which gets clouded over when it’s rainy) and you will be fine. If you want more info, we have a Weather post on what it’s like at different times of year in different regions: https://www.twoweeksincostarica.com/weather-costa-rica/. Those 3 destinations in 10 days is totally doable. Just remember that it is a fairly far drive from Papagayo to SJO so be sure to leave plenty of time to get back to the airport. Definitely get 4×4 for Monteverde’s rough dirt roads, especially for rainy season. As for good snorkeling, there are some good sites up by the Papagayo like the Catalina and Bat Islands so be sure to arrange a tour from there. Have a great trip!

  11. Hi Jenn and Matt,
    Your site is very informative! My gf and I will be staying in Jaco for 5 days at the end of May and we are debating whether to rent a car or take a shuttle from SJO. How are the main roads between those two places? She is from Mexico and has images of crazy drivers, checkpoints/robberies by cartels, etc, and is thinking that Costa Rica may be similar, so I’m having a difficult time convincing her about renting a car.

    Thanks!

    1. Hi Patrick, Tell your girlfriend not to worry. The road between San Jose and Jaco is a smooth paved highway and it’s only about an hour and a half. Costa Rica doesn’t have a problem with cartels and robberies don’t happen often. When break ins do occur, they’re usually not aggressive and typically happen because someone left their stuff in a car unattended. Drivers can be crazy like we said in this post, but they’re not any worse than in other places in the world. We just published a post with tips on staying safe in a rental car that might make her feel better too. Here’s the link.

  12. Hi. We are flying into SJO in January 2017 and driving to Arenal area for 3 nights. From there to Tamarindo and Playa Hermosa for 5 nights. From there we will fly out of Liberia. Do you see a need to rent a 4×4?

    1. Hi Scott, For those destinations in January, you won’t need 4×4 unless you are planning on doing some exploring on back roads. All of the roads to those destinations are smooth and well paved. The one thing to check is the location of your hotel in Arenal. A few of the lodges there are located on rough dirt roads where you would want 4×4 with higher clearance.

  13. Hi! It’s been a year since I was expatriated by my company from Mexico to Costa Rica. Now instead of running the rat race I’m running the rat race in paradise! (just kidding).
    The experience of living here has been mostly positive, with many things to be thankful and so far only two things to complain: the price of everything and the sufficiency of the roads.

    On the second point, I have seen that roads vary a lot in quality, and while many of them are well paved and with clear signaling, my main issue is that there are not enough of them. I get frustrated of having to pass from trucks to slow drivers all the time, and of taking 1 hour to drive 32 km or 3 hours to drive 100.

    Here are my takes on what I’ve been able to drive here, between best and worst roads.

    Best roads:
    Highways 1 (from the Airport to Sabana), 2 (all the way from Curri to Cartago) and 27 (from Sabana to Ciudad Colón), all from two to three lanes each way, but very short in their extension before they are dwarfed to paltry 1 way roads.

    Highway 1 from Cañas to Liberia: two lanes each way and paved in concrete, it looks and feels like a US Interstate. Driving at a cruise speed of 100 kph for the run is my expectation of driving and this is the only stretch of road in the country where you can do so.

    Generally all major roads within the Guanacaste section of Nicoya Peninsula: they are 1 lane, but deserted and straight enough to pass comfortably and keep a good cruising speed.

    Highway 34 from Jacó to Uvita: though there is a lot of traffic (lots of buses) and at some spots like Parrita you slow down inevitably, highway is straight enough to let you pass at ease. Much easier to pass after Quepos.

    Roads that exasperate me:
    Highway 27 from Ciudad Colón to Orotina and Highway 34 from Orotina to Jacó: my first encounter with costa rican 1 way roads. The ‘passing lane’ that opens for 300 meters before closing again in Hwy 27 makes the system collapse when there is traffic. I’ve been in that highway from three to four hours on sundays and long weekends

    Highway 1 from Puntarenas to Cañas: this is the interamericana highway, so it is expected that there will be a lot of cargo traffic. This section has a lot of swings and the pavement is terrible. There are very little chances that you’ll be able to pass someone. The worst part of driving to Guanacaste or Monteverde from San José.

    Roads to avoid at all costs:
    Highway 2 from Cartago to Pérez-Zeledón. Once returning from Dominical I thought it would be a good idea to go to San José avoiding the wide turn of highway 34 and 27. Big mistake. 3 hours, heavy rainfall and a car breaking down twice convinced me that this should be in one of those lists of ‘the most dangerous roads of the world’. They don’t call it El Cerro de la Muerte for nothing!

    Highway 32: I’ve never driven through it, only been in a tour bus to and from the Pacuare, but after being awed and frightened by the sheer wilderness of Braulio Carrillo NP and dozing off with no avail, I think I will need to muster a lot of strength to drive to the caribbean. Besides, all those banana trailers do not look to be driving fast.

    Which have been your favorite and less favorite roads?

    1. Hi Joaquin, Wow, that’s quite a breakdown and pretty much sums up our thoughts. We couldn’t believe how modern the new section of Highway 1 from Liberia to Canas feels when we drove it a few weeks ago. Definitely a lot like the US. The highway from PZ to Cartago is tough. Going 34 back to San Jose is definitely easier if you’re coming from the coast since 2 is so windy, mountainous and often clouded in, but it is a really beautiful drive if you have the time. We’ve done Highway 32 to the Caribbean several times and it is usually pretty clogged with truck traffic (lots of air braking) and hard to pass because of turns and hills. If you’re prepared to not go too fast, it’s not that bad though, just not recommended for driving at night. The Southern Nicoya is still pretty rugged. We went back to Montezuma recently for a road trip and it looked like they might have been paving one of the rough, steep sections, but who knows. As you know, changes like that usually happen slow in Costa Rica. There has been talk of paving the road all the way to Monteverde for years. Thanks for checking out our site. Maybe we’ll cross paths at some point!

  14. Hi there – thanks for all the great tips! However, I am super nervous from the time of year and driving. We are flying into Liberia and staying our first 3 days by Arenol Volcano and the other 6 days in Tamarindo. There will be 7 of us traveling (2 families). Do you recommend us renting a car? We seriously have no other plans than some hiking and sight seeing. I really nervous after reading all these comments. We are also traveling from June 22-July 2. What do you recommend? Is it a good idea to rent a car(s) or go the shuttle/driver route?

    1. Hi Rochelle, Either would be fine but driving the route from Liberia to Arenal to Tamarindo really isn’t that bad if you decided to rent a car. The roads are all nicely paved and well traveled and should be fine even in June/July with the rainy season. The road around Lake Arenal to get to Tamarindo is a bit curvy but fine if you drive it during the day. We usually recommend a car if you have the choice for the freedom it gives you. Arenal, especially, is more spread out so it’s good to have a car to get to restaurants, etc. A driver is a good option too if you’re not comfortable but it will probably be more expensive.

  15. Jenn and Matt,
    You both are providing a great public service to us that are apprehensive about driving in CR. We have a trip planned this year July 8th through the 15th and are flying into Liberia and are staying in the Playa Flamingo area.

    From what I have read in your responses it seems like the roads to this area are paved and fairly easy to drive. It looks like highway 911 or highway 155 would be the proper routes to take. Is this correct and would you suggest one over the other?

    Is driving the coast line or to the cloud forests near San Jose’ that bad?

    Again you both are awesome to help us all out and thank you!

    Garry

    1. Hi Garry, Yes, the roads around Liberia and Flamingo are in good shape, nicely paved unless you get really off the beaten path. One exception, which ironically you found, is Route 911 aka the Monkey Trail. 911 is fine through Potrero, but after that it’s a rough dirt road and we’ve heard that it quite treacherous. Highway 155 is the way to go. The coast north of Flamingo is good for a while so fine to drive and for a good way south too (going north, it turned to dirt at Sugar Beach last time we were there). If you’re talking about the Monteverde cloud forest, the roads there are rough dirt (some worse than others depending on which way you go), but fine as long as you have 4×4. Route 606 off Highway 1 is the best route.

  16. We will be traveling from SJ to Perez Zeledon on July 21st in the morning. Our options are to rent a car ourselves or hire a driver, which I don’t mind. Is this any safer though?

    1. Hi Phillip, The road from San Jose to Perez is in very good condition (nicely paved) and well traveled. But it is also very mountainous and curvy and can get really clouded in so some people are nervous to drive it. As long as you have enough time though, drive only during the daytime, and are up for some adventure, we say go for it. It is a really beautiful ride with awesome views of the lush mountains and isn’t that bad as long as you go slow. One thing to keep in mind is that it’s easy to get lost going from San Jose over to Cartago, so make sure to get a GPS or use a maps app like WaZe. If you decide to go for it, make sure to check out our rental car discount. We also get a discount on the daily rates for GPS.

  17. Hello,
    We’re flying into San Jose on September 20th and driving to Uvita. We plan to use the Adobe Rental Car discount you provide on your site. When making the reservation, the site asks “how would you like to pick up your car?” Where exactly is the Adobe office located in relation to the San Jose Airport and what’s the best way to pick up the rental?

    1. Hi Jackie, Adobe’s San Jose airport office is a few miles from the airport (none of the rental companies have an office right at SJO). If you select airport pickup, you give them your flight details and an Adobe rep will be waiting for you outside baggage claim. You then go in their shuttle van for the 5 minute drive to their office and pick up your car there. If your flight gets in late and you’re staying overnight near the airport, they can also drop off the car at your hotel the next day as long as it isn’t too far away. This is a free service if you book through our website. Let us know if you have any more questions.

  18. Hi Jen & Matt,

    We are spending 3 weeks in Costa Rica with the family (kids aged 9 & 11) starting 22 July 2016. We have hired a 4 x 4 and plan to drive from San Jose airport to Poas then onto Montezuma then Samara, then Monte Verde, then Manuel Antonio before returning to San Jose (dropping off downtown – eek!). I think we can manage this itinerary without any major issues but do you have any tips as to which roads between these points are best avoided or are they all half reasonable (by Costa Rican standards)? Many thanks in advance and congratulations on all your great work.

    1. Hi Fraser, These are all well-travelled routes so the roads aren’t too bad. A few parts will be rough dirt and mountainous, though, so you will be glad to have 4×4. Here are the roads to watch out for:

      Poas to Montezuma: Be sure to take the ferry from Puntarenas to Paquera to save time. Once you get onto the Nicoya Peninsula, the roads will be a mixture of paved and dirt. They will be a little rough since it is rainy season, but totally doable. Just don’t drive them at night because it tends to rain then, visibility isn’t great, and there are no guard rails. It is a pretty long drive from Poas so either leave really early or stay the night somewhere on the way.

      Montezuma to Samara: Similar to above. Some dirt roads until you get off the Nicoya Peninsula and then it’s nice and paved.

      Samara to Monteverde: Paved highway until road to Monteverde. There are a few different roads to Monteverde off Highway 1. Take Route 606. It is in the best condition and it only takes about an hour from the main road.

      Drive to downtown San Jose: It is very easy to get lost in downtown. Use GPS or a maps app. Waze works great in Costa Rica.

      Have a great trip!

  19. I just came back from Costa Rica and been driving there for the whole vacation. Very useful advices here, I’d like to add one though.
    We arrived in San Jose on a Sunday and we were planning to drive to Quepos in the same day. We did that, but not without a lot of troubles… As GPS we relies on google maps who was routing us through highway 27. Unfortunately that highway is closed on Sundays (not sure if just some Sundays or all of them) on the San Jose – Orotina driving direction (I think they use all highway lanes for the other driving direction as everyone returns to San Jose after the weekend).
    So we had to take side roads (1, 3, 757) until the link with road 34. Quite annoying especially with google maps trying to get us back on 27 🙂
    So plan accordingly..

    1. Hi Cosmin, That’s too bad that you had to deal with that. It isn’t a normal thing. They do it on the Sunday after a big holiday weekend like Christmas, New Years, or Easter and also after school vacation (first 2 weeks of July) to alleviate some of the traffic going back to San Jose from the beach. All lanes of Route 27 going westbound are closed until you get to Orotina and opened up for east/northbound traffic. We have had this happen to us too coming from the airport and know that the old highway route through Atenas isn’t much fun. Best thing to do if you’re traveling on a holiday weekend is to head back to San Jose the Saturday before and do an overnight in the city. SJ actually has a lot of decent attractions (see How to Spend 1 or 2 Days in San Jose). Thanks for the reminder about this; it will definitely will be useful to people visiting over the holidays.

  20. Hello,
    Your life is my dream:)
    Is it possible to drive to the pacuare River for rafting and stay at Rios Tropicales for one night, then leave in the morning the next day? I’ve called Rios Tropicales but am told the overnight stay is for two days of rafting. The reason we would like to stay the night is to avoid the long drive back to Arenal. We would also like to explore the grounds and simply relax. Any advice would be greatly appreciated! Thanks !

    1. Hi Doris, It seems from what Rios Tropicales said and their website that they limit overnight stays at their ecolodge to those rafting 2 or more nights. If you really want to stay at the ecolodge, you would have to add on a day of rafting. If it’s just about avoiding driving back to Arenal, though, you could take advantage of their free transport back to San Jose and arrange an overnight there, then drive back to Arenal the next day. Another idea is to raft the Pacuare with another company out of Turrialba and stay at an ecolodge in that area. A couple of nice ones with good views are Guayabo Lodge and B&B La Cascada. Hope that helps!

  21. Jenn and Matt,
    Your posts are so helpful while I have been planning my honeymoon to Costa Rica, thank you for that! My Fiancee and I are planning on driving from Quepos to La Pavona to get to Tortuguero at the end of August, any advice you can offer? We are so excited to visit!

    1. Hi Mollie, We have detailed directions covering San Jose to La Pavona in our post Getting to Tortuguero. The Quepos to San Jose part isn’t bad, just be careful not to get lost in downtown San Jose. Getting to the highway that goes to the Caribbean side (Route 32) is a little confusing, but if you are using GPS or an app on your phone like WaZe, you will be fine. If you need a place to eat on the way, we’ve stopped several times at a local restaurant right off Highway 32 called Ponderosa. Nothing fancy but good Costa Rican food. Congrats on your marriage! Hope you have an amazing honeymoon.

  22. Hi Jenn and Matt,
    We will be in Manuel Antonio next February. Our flight out of San Jose leaves at noon on a Saturday. We are trying to decide if we should spend our last night in MA and head to the airport Saturday morning (leaving around 6am)…or, stay at a hotel near the airport our last night? I would hate to think we are wasting our last full day driving to a hotel, but I’m also a bit nervous about the morning commute from MA to San Jose. Please, what would you do? Thanks!

    1. Hi Vanessa, That’s a tough call but if you don’t mind leaving early in the morning, you should be fine to go same day. Normally that drive takes 2.5 hrs so even if there’s traffic, you should still have enough time. Since it’s a Saturday, traffic should be less anyway. Definitely leave by 6 though or even a little before so you have time to return your rental car. You never know when you’ll get slowed down by construction or an accident. We always seem to get stuck behind slow trucks on that drive.

  23. Hi Jenn and Matt,
    Thank you for providing all of this info and advice! If you’re able to answer the following questions, would be much appreciated! I am contemplating renting a car to go from Liberia Airport to the Santa Teresa / Malpais area on September 3 — is Route 21 paved and ok to drive all the way down? Or do you recommend any other route? I speak Spanish but am traveling solo, so want to make sure it’s not too crazy of a drive since I’ll be alone. Do you know if there is generally flooding or anything on that route that I should watch out for?

    Thanks!

    1. Hi Katelyn, See our tips to Fraser on July 18, above, for his trip from Poas to Montezuma (you’ll travel on many of the same roads to get to Mal Pais). Also take a look at our Road Trip to Mal Pais post where we give driving directions from Liberia airport. There’s also lots of good info in the comments from other people asking about road conditions. Basically it’s a decent drive along a mix of paved and dirt roads. In September, it could be pretty rainy, making conditions worse than normal, but you should be fine with 4×4. Just make sure you leave early enough so you’re not driving at night (it’s very remote with long stretches of no houses or businesses and there are no street lights). Signage is pretty good but if you’re traveling alone, definitely get GPS or use a maps app in case you miss a sign; sometimes they are small. Hope that gives you an idea of what to expect. Be sure to check out our Rental Car Discount as you’re shopping around for a car. We also get a discount on GPS.

  24. Hey Jenn and Matt, Thank you so much for this awesome article lots of good points! We were thinking about booking a trip from the US flying into San Jose and either renting a car and driving out to the eastern coast to Cahuita National park area, staying for about 4 days. I looked through google maps and seen its majority non city driving. Im very nervous about the idea of renting a car and following a GPS in a land we’ve never been and hear many scary stories about. Is there anything you can suggest to us any information and tips would be great?!

    1. Hi Theresa, We totally hear you; it can be scary driving somewhere you don’t know much about. If it makes you feel better, most people who drive here say it wasn’t nearly as bad as what they expected based on what they read online. For conditions specifically where you’re thinking of going, the drive from San Jose to Cahuita is along well traveled, paved roads. Getting out of San Jose is a little tricky but fine if you have GPS. You’ll probably hit traffic, but like you said, most of the trip is non city driving so you’ll be on the highway heading to the coast in no time. Highway 32 to the Caribbean winds through the mountain and often has truck traffic but it’s not too bad. Just avoid driving it at night because it can get foggy. Once you get to Limon, it’s very easy, and local driving around Cahuita is a breeze. People’s biggest problems with driving here often have to do with issues with the rental car company – huge holds on their credit card, hidden fees, unwarranted damage charges, etc. Be sure to go through a reputable company and you won’t have these issues. We like Adobe Rent a Car. You can check out our Rental Car Discount page if you’re interested in learning more about them.

      As for other concerns, Costa Rica is a very safe country so you should feel comfortable driving. The one thing to be aware of is theft from vehicles as we mention above. This is an easy one though, just don’t leave anything in your car for someone to take.

      Hope that makes you feel a little better!

      1. Thank you for the response! Reading all the warnings of what locals can do to tourist made me overwhelming nervous. Thanks for putting those fears at ease. We’re definitely going to continue our research and thanks for the suggestion on the rental company good to know and look out for! Thanks again wish us luck if we attempt it.
        – Theresa and Don

  25. Hi Jenn and Matt… we are planning a trip to Hotel Cariblue at the end of October. google maps gives us 2 options of driving there, 32 to 36, or 10 to 32 to 36. 32 sounds like blast, are weekends busier than weekdays and is it a pretty good road? I’ve seen nothing about 10 or 36, how are they? We’re still up in the air about the dates. We’ve been to the Pacific side, time to go to the Caribbean now.

    1. Hi Barry, 32 to 36 is the most common route (10 is the old highway and is slower). I don’t think traveling on the weekend vs the weekday will make much of a difference. 32 is a big trucking route and those guys tend to be on the road all the time. We’re actually working on a post now about road conditions in Costa Rica that I think will cover all those routes. Why don’t you check back on our website mid next week or you can subscribe to our blog (click here) to get it sent to your email. If you still have a question after that, send it our way.

  26. Hi Jenn and Matt. My husband and I will be traveling to Costa Rica the first two weeks of October we already have a rental car booked but are still very nervous. We will be driving from San Jose airport to Arenal volcano then from there to playa De panama and back to San Jose for the flight home. Do you know much about these roads and if its doable for first time Costa Rica drivers or would setting up a driver be more sensible? Thank you for all your great advice for new CR travelers!!

    1. Hi Jenna, Those are all well traveled roads that are definitely doable for first-timers. The one thing to watch out for since you’re traveling during the rainy season is landslides depending on which way you go to Arenal (702 is a common route and a good road but it sometimes has washouts in small sections if there is heavy rain). From there to Playa Panama is good roads with some windy sections around Lake Arenal, but it’s all paved. We’re actually working on a post now about conditions on the different roads in Costa Rica that will help you a lot. Maybe check back on our website mid next week or you can subscribe to our blog (click here) to get it sent to your email.

      I don’t think we’ll cover the secondary road to Playa Panama in that post (Route 254, which is what you take from Route 21), but that road is paved and in very good shape too. Just make sure to allow plenty of time to get between destinations in case you get caught in a rainstorm, avoid driving after dark, and use a GPS or maps apps like Waze or Google because signage isn’t always great. A hard copy map is a good idea too! This one covers pretty much the whole country. Try not to worry – driving is the best way to see the country and it will be a fun adventure!

  27. Hi Jenn and Matt,

    Our flight arrives at 8:45 pm at SJO in January. We will stay in Alajuela overnight and head to Ojachal the next day. Would it be better to take shuttle to the hotel on the first night and pick up rental car the next day? What are the driving conditions around SJO at night? We are also driving to Sierpi and wondering if we could leave rental car parked for 5 nights while we are in Drake Bay. Thank you very much. Your website has been very helpful and has motivated us to visit Costa Rica.

    Lucy

    1. Hi Lucy, Some of the rental car companies will deliver your car to your hotel so doing that the morning after you arrive will probably be the easiest. That way you don’t have to drive at night or pay for the car the first night when you don’t really need it. The company we work with, Adobe Rent a Car, offers free delivery to hotels near the airport. If you haven’t booked a car yet, you can learn more about Adobe and our discount through them here.

      Yes, you can leave your car parked in a guarded lot in Sierpe while you’re in Drake – we have done it before without any problems. Our Drake Bay post has more info about the parking situation there, cost, etc. (scroll to the Boat Taxi section). Also, we just wanted to mention in case you end up deciding to fly from Drake back to San Jose after, you could also arrange to drop off the car in Sierpe before you go to Drake. There are no rental offices there, but Adobe and a couple of the other companies will come pick up the car for a small fee. Just something to think about since it’s a bit of a drive back to San Jose. Have a good trip!

      1. Great!! I did read about the Drake Bay posts and I wanted to make sure the parking situation is the same. We will be driving to San Gerardo de Dota after Drake Bay to break up the drive. I have looked into Adobe for car rental and will reserve this week. Thank you again !!!
        Best regards to you and your family.

        Lucy

  28. Hi! Your blog has been very helpful in planning. We are renting a car the last week in June. I have read on trip adviser that people have had problems with police requesting bribes when pulled over. Have you ever had this experience?
    Thank you!!

    1. Hi Leanne, We have only had good experiences with the police since we’ve been here (for more than three years). We have gotten stopped at routine road blocks and sent on our way after a quick look at our passports/stamps. That’s not to say that corrupt police aren’t here, there are probably some, but I don’t think it’s as common as it may seem to be online. No one else we know that lives here has ever said this has happened to them either. Just don’t speed and follow the traffic laws and you will be fine. If you do get pulled over and asked to pay a fine on the spot, just politely ask the officer to write you a ticket. Seriously, though, this is unlikely to happen so try not to worry about it.

      1. Hi. We were driving to Tamarindo when in CR a couple of years ago. Encountered a check point (well, just a single cop car with one cop) and were told that because I didn’t have my passport (only my valid driver’s license) we would have to abandon our rental vehicle there on the side of the road and come back with the passport. We were miles from anywhere and low on water. I thought he was looking for a bribe, but he repeatedly refused to allow us to ‘pay a fine on the spot’ as I put it to him. Eventually he relented and took $100 usd without issuing a ticket or a receipt.

        I did not know that I needed to carry my passport while in the car. Seems ripe for lost or stolen passports when driving to the beach.

        We are very hesitant to return. This was really scary. Our rental car company said they had never heard of needing a passport while in a rental car. Other websites say that only your driver’s license is required. But you mention that you show your passport at ‘checkpoints’. Is it required? Did we encounter a real cop? Was this a scam?

        Any thoughts would be helpful as I love Costa Rica and want to come back but my partner is very hesitant.

        1. Hi Paul, What a terrible story. Sorry you had to experience that. I have no idea if that was a real cop. I’ve never heard of anyone impersonating a cop here but anything is possible.

          Our understanding is that you need to carry your passport at all times, including when driving, to show proof that you’re legally in the country. These checkpoints you encounter on the road are often more for checking that people’s papers are in order and for crime prevention (intercepting drugs/stolen goods) than for driving offenses like speeding. You don’t need to carry your actual passport though. The US Embassy recommends keeping your passport in a secure place and carrying a copy with you. Be sure to copy the photo page and the page with the stamp you received from immigration at the airport when you entered the country.

          I really do think what you experienced was an anomaly. We drive long distances quite frequently and have gone through many checkpoints without any trouble. Just be sure to have your passport copies and you and your partner should be fine if you do decide to give Costa Rica another try.

  29. We were in Costa Rica last summer and drove from the southern East Coast to the southern West Coast. One issue that I did not see in your post was that you can’t trust GPS directions outside of the main populated areas. At one point, our Google maps led us on a series of progressively worse and worse roads until finally we rounded a corner and saw nothing but jungle and an overgrown road that probably hadn’t been driven on in years. We ended up backtracking which added an extra 2 hours to our trip.

    1. Hi Jeff, We’ve found that Google Maps usually does a fairly good job, but like you said, it sometimes will try to take you a shorter route that is actually longer because of road conditions. What we usually recommend is researching your route ahead of time so you know what roads to take then using GPS to make sure you’re on the right one when you get here. We also recommend taking a hard copy map with you (this one is good) in case you get really lost. We recently wrote a post about the conditions on different roads in Costa Rica in case anyone is interested. Here’s the link.

  30. Hi thanks for the great post, we found it very useful. We have a trip to CR in February and we get into San Jose late in the afternoon so we are going to overnight somewhere before making the drive to Monteverde (don’t want to drive at dark). Would you suggest any town in particular to overnight in so we can make the drive north in the morning?

    Thank you!

    1. Hi Sean, We recently addressed this in another post, which you might be interested in as well since it’s about the drive you’ll be doing. Check out our Driving to Monteverde post and the comment from Mavis on Sept. 11. That gives some options for places in a scenic location outside San Jose. You could also stay near the airport and wait to pick up the car the next morning; there are some nice places with views not too far from the airport as well. Our SJO Hotels post has some good recommendations.

      1. Jenn and Matt,
        our trip is coming up this week! very excited about it. We chose to stay at a nice B&B in San Ramon before we head to Monteverde.
        On our way in we are thinking of hitting Sarchi for a quick visit and maybe the Doka coffee plantation – weather and mood dependent.
        Will post back once we return. Thanks again for your awesome site.

  31. Hi there , my family and I will be in Costa Rica at the end of November. Our plane arrives in San Jose at 12:50pm on a Wednesday and we are planning to pick up our rental and head to Monteverde right away. Several people have said this is not a good plan. However, we have a specific itinerary set and if we don’t head straight to Monteverde then we will have to skip it, and we really don’t want to do that! Do you think it is possible/safe to drive to Monteverde that day? We have a 4WD vehicle already booked. Thank you!

    1. Hi Madison, We wouldn’t recommend trying to make it to Monteverde the day you arrive either, sorry to say. It will take around 1.5 hrs to get through customs and immigration at the airport and pick up the rental car (all the companies have offices a few miles from the airport). Then it’s about 3 hrs to Monteverde, with traffic around San Jose. November will still be rainy season so it’s likely to be raining late afternoon, which could slow you down. And the worst part of the drive is that last 30 minutes or so on Route 606. This road is rough dirt but also narrow in parts with steep drop offs and no guardrails. It’s fine during the day but not recommended at night. It gets dark here around 5:45 so you would be cutting it close especially if you have any delays. You can get an idea of what the road is like by watching the video of Route 606 in our Driving to Monteverde post.

  32. Hi Jenn and Matt,
    We’ll be in Costa Rica from 12/20 to 12/27. We’re flying into Liberia. We have no idea where to stay, how to plan our trip. Our sons are 19 and 21, and we’re looking for a mix of relaxation and adventure. Maybe every other day we’ll do something more adventurous. We’re on a budget, but want to do it right. We have our airfares, and still looking for a nice condo, and things to do. We are looking for a nice place to stay but not too sleepy. Your recommendations are welcome!

    1. Hi Dorothy, Normally we would say we can help you figure everything out through our itinerary service but we’re already working on a couple itineraries now and I don’t think we’d get to yours in time. Here are some thoughts to get you going. First, keep in mind that it will be busy at all the beaches, especially towards the end of your trip because of the holidays. Some places will be much more crowded than normal so if you want something quieter, stay outside town. Since you’re flying into Liberia, La Fortuna/Arenal and the Monteverde cloud forest are doable and good for adventure activities. Maybe pick one of those towns and then a beach location in Guanacaste so that you have a good mix of being busy but still relaxing. Our Destinations Summary Guide could help you pick a beach area. Hope that helps get you started!

  33. Hello Jenn and Matt and thank you for such wealth of info on your site. Very helpful. Do you have any experience driving from La Fortuna to San Gerardo de Dota? We will have a Garmin GPS with Latin American maps loaded on it but have heard of some bad roads between San Jose and San Gerardo. We will be driving there on the 23rd of Nov. Any suggestions are greatly appreciated.

    1. Hi Edyta, Yes, the road from Cartago near San Jose over the mountain to San Gerardo (Route 2) is steep, narrow, and gets fogged in. It is a long drive from La Fortuna – you will have to come back through San Jose to connect to Route 2, and a lot of times there’s traffic so be sure to leave plenty early. The mountain gets fogged in in the afternoon usually, which can make visibility really poor. You also don’t want to drive this at night, and since it’ll still be rainy season it could be rainy too. The road itself is in good shape, though, so as long as you leave early and go slow, you should be fine.

      We also recommend mapping out your route in advance since GPS doesn’t always take you the right way in Costa Rica. We recommended Route 702 to San Ramon to Route 1 to Route 2. We have a post about what the different roads are like that might help you too. Here’s the link.

  34. Thank you very much Matt and Jenn. I appreciate the info, especially the link to the road descriptions. If you ever need help planning a trip to Poland or Italy, please e-mail me, I will be happy to assist. 🙂

  35. Hi Matt and Jenn. Your blog has so much information, and I love the detailed responses to each comment. Was wondering if you could help me as well. My boyfriend and I will be traveling to Costa Rica, flying into Liberia from Dec.10-15. We will be staying at Las Catalinas and we decided to use Tamarindo Shuttle service. I believe I have done quite a bit on research on Catalinas and the area, but would like to know if you have any knowledge of this beach town, the surrounding area, and how roads are to get there? I recently received an email from Las Catalinas stating that Route 21 and some secondary roads from the airport are under repair and there will be delays of up to 1 hour. Any information would be greatly appreciated. Thanks

    1. Hi Nicole, We haven’t been back to that area of the country for a few months so aren’t exactly sure about the nature of the construction. But in general the area around LIR airport is usually busy since it’s the major route connecting the beaches of Guanacaste to the city of Liberia and other popular destinations like Monteverde and La Fortuna. Make sure you have good directions from Las Catalinas as you don’t want to take the section of Route 911 that cuts across to the coast from Sardinal. This is the way Google Maps says to go but it is actually a really rough dirt road that you want to avoid. It’s better to take Route 21 to 155 to 180 up the coast towards Brasilito. Last time we drove this it was all nice pavement as far as Potrero. Not sure what has changed, it could just be repaving, but I’d ask Las Catalinas for more info.

      1. Thanks Jenn and Matt for your response and great information! I’m so excited about our trip, and your site is very helpful!

  36. Hi Jenn and Matt,

    My partner and I are planning to spend two weeks in Costa Rica at the beginning of January. We are excited but I’m very anxious/nervous about driving to/from our destinations. I found this post to be helpful but I’m still a bit apprehensive. We fly into Liberia and head to Tamarindo. From Tamarindo, we are headed to Monteverde and from there to Jaco and back to Liberia. We are planning to rent a 4×4 just to be safe. Is there anything that we should consider on our drives to these locations? We’re also a bit wary about renting a car as we’ve read some not so great reviews about rental companies. Do you have any recommendations when renting a vehicle in Costa Rica? Would you suggest getting full insurance coverage? Any insight would be greatly appreciated. Thank you kindly!!

    1. Hi Rachel, You will be traveling on major routes. All are paved except for part of the drive to Monteverde. Just be sure to plan your routes in advance so that you don’t get lost and allow plenty of time so that you’re not driving in the dark. You can read our post on road conditions of specific routes in Costa Rica for more detail on each leg of your trip. And we would recommend our Driving to Monteverde post so that you know the best roads to take and can see videos of what the dirt portion of that drive is like (it is totally fine with a 4×4 most times of the year and will be fine in January since that is dry season).

      You do have to be careful about selecting a rental car company in Costa Rica because some have an old fleet with unreliable cars, bad customer service, hidden fees, high credit card deposits, etc. We work with Adobe Rent a Car and recommend them because their cars are never more than three years old and their model is to have all fees upfront in the quote so that there are no surprises when you get here. We also get a discount through them- there is more info on the rental car page of our website. Full coverage is a matter of comfort. You could see what your credit card covers as a supplement but sometimes they exclude “off-roading,” which may include dirt roads. Some people traveling here get only the required basic liability, but others want the assurance that if anything goes wrong, they are covered. It’s really a matter of personal preference. Try not to worry about driving too much though. Most people say it wasn’t nearly as bad as what they expected!

  37. Great blog posts! Just wondering what the deal is with parking. I have read lots of warnings about break-ins and wondering how to best protect ourselves. If there is a parking attendant there, do you pay them on arrival or departure? How do I know who it is? What is the parking situation in San Jose? Are there parking garages, etc? And are they safe? Thanks!!

    1. Hi Jan, Breakins happen if you leave things in sight in the car. If you don’t leave anything inside, you shouldn’t have any problems. If you need to stop to eat, use the bathroom, etc. between destinations, try to pick places where you can keep an eye on the car and bring your valuables with you in a small bag (passport, cash, electronics, etc.). We have also brought our bags inside if we didn’t have very much. Costa Rica is a safe place but petty theft happens if you give people the opportunity.

      The parking guys often have a reflective vest on but even if they don’t, it is usually pretty obvious who they are. A few hundred colones as a tip will do when you’re leaving unless they have a specific amount (this is less common but we have seen it at some beaches).

      San José does have lots and garages, and we have used them before without incident. There is usually an attendant to watch over the lot, but again, don’t leave much in the car just in case. Your hotel will be able to hold your bags for you if you have plans before check in. Hope you have a great trip!

  38. Hi Jenn and Matt!
    It’s been said a few times, but your site has been particularly helpful to us first-timers to Costa Rica. Our itinerary is pretty busy at the end of January: Fly in to San Jose, the following day, head to Monteverde (2 nights), La Fortuna (2 nights), Manuel Antonio (4 nights), Puerto Viejo (3 nights), then back to San Jose and fly out the next day.
    We’re going to be renting a 4×4 for the trip and drive between all the places. How far is the drive from MA to Puerto Viejo? I see it as more of a travel day. We’ll be there the first week of February.
    Also, are all the rental cars manual or automatic transmission? I’m not well versed in manual, so automatic would be best.
    Thanks!
    Dustin

    1. Hi Dustin, We have done the drive from Manuel Antonio to Puerto Viejo and it took us about six hours so, yes, count on about a full day of travel. It could take less, depending on traffic in San Jose and on Route 32 to the Caribbean, which has heavy truck traffic. There are a decent number of places to stop though when you need a break.

      Both manuals and automatics are available for most, but not all models of 4x4s. One of the most popular mid-size SUVs, the Hyundai Tucson, comes in automatic. Be sure to check out our discount as you’re shopping around for a car. Here’s the link to our rental car page with more info. Hope you have a great visit!

  39. Hi Jenn and Matt,

    I will be traveling with 4 others to Costa Rica in two weeks. We arrive on December 10th. We decided to go with a car rental, but I’ve been checking on the weather lately and it doesn’t look so good. I’m a little concerned because we had included a lot of driving in our vacation. We’ll be moving every 2/3 days in different parts of Costa Rica (La Fortuna, Monteverde, Manuel Antonio, Playa Chiquita/Puerto Viejo). I was just wondering if you have any more safety advice or if you think the weather will get a little sunnier within the next two weeks.

    1. Hi Karla, We are experiencing a low front right now, which is causing a lot of rain. The forecast for two weeks out though likely isn’t accurate so don’t rely on that. You can read our Weather post for why. The season is changing now from rainy to dry so I would expect much drier weather by mid-December. You’re traveling on all major routes, which is good. If the weather is still iffy, be sure to allow plenty of time to get between destinations and don’t drive in the dark. If it has been raining a lot, you could also ask your hotels how the roads are getting there before you leave or check for advisories on the government tránsito website.

      1. Hi again,

        Your weather post was really helpful! About driving in the dark…we arrive to SJO Airport at 4 and get our rental car at 5pm. We were planning to drive to La Fortuna that same night (around 5:15-5:30 and getting there around 8pm). Would you suggest to stay at a hostel for the night and drive the next morning instead? Again, thank you so much for all your help! (:

        1. Yes, definitely. That’s not a good drive at night. It often gets fogged in. We have some options for places to stay near the airport in our SJO Hotels post (some good ideas in the comments too). Not sure who you are renting through, but some of the companies, including the one we get a discount through (more info here), will drop off the car at your hotel for free so you could have them do that the next morning. That will save some costs on the rental.

  40. Hello both,

    Thank you very much for your posts, they are really helpful!
    We are planning a 9.5 days trip in December. We arrive at SJO on the 21rst at 11:40am and leave on the 30th at 11pm. We would really like to do both the Volcano, Bahia drake with a night in the Corcovado park to see the animals at sunrise.
    Do you think the following planning is possible?
    – on 21rst afternoon drive to La Fortuna
    – spend 2 full days in the Arenal area
    – on the 24th drive to San Antonio and stay there 2 days
    – on the 27th drive to Sierpe and leave the car
    – spend 2.5 days in Bahia drake/corcovado
    – take the plane back to SJO on 30th afternoon
    Would it be too much driving? Would it be enough time in Bahia Drake?
    We would like to have time to hike, snorkel, enjoy hot-springs etc. If we cannot drive at night, can we drive early in the morning?

    Also, we looked at your rental car page and the discount is great.
    How can we tell them we would like them to drop off the car at Sierpe? it offers only Uvita as the closest location
    Do we need a 4×4 for this itinerary, I don’t think we will have time to go off the beaten track…

    Thank you so much for your help!

    1. Hi Typhenn and Alex, That will be a fast paced trip but totally doable. The route makes sense in terms of getting you to Drake Bay for your last stop. Three nights in Arenal and Manuel Antonio (I think you mean?) will help break up the driving. It would be nice to have another night in Drake, especially if you want to overnight at the park, but what you have allocated will work, it will just be busy with figuring out when to fit a snorkel tour to Cano and going to the park since both tours leave in the morning. If you wanted one more night in Drake, you could cut a night from Manuel Antonio so you are there for only two nights.

      Yes, early morning driving is fine. Just watch out for animals.

      Adobe comes from its Uvita office to do drop offs in Sierpe so just pick that from the drop down and add a note saying you would like them to pick up the car in Sierpe. You should be able to add a note on the last page where they give you the quote. Then just confirm the Sierpe pickup when you call them with your credit card number. You shouldn’t need a 4×4 for those destinations if you stick to the main roads. Have a great trip!

      1. Thank you so much for your quick answer! It is so helpful to have insider advises.
        Yes I meant Manuel Antonio. 🙂
        One last question if you don’t mind. Is it possible to organize an overnight tour in the corcovado park from bahia drake? All information about overnight tours i find seems to start from puerto jimenez…
        Also, i think spots are limited and we need to book in advance. Would you recommand a website or particular organization for this?
        Thank you so much!

        Typhenn

        1. Sorry for the delayed response, we have been getting a lot of comments lately. Yes, it is possible to organize trips, including overnights, to Corcovado from Drake Bay. We know of a couple of good guides there and can check availability for your travel dates if you would like. Last time we visited Sirena with one of those guides, we saw more wildlife in only a few hours than we have ever seen in one day in Costa Rica! You do need to book in advance and tickets can be requested starting 30 days out. If you’re interested, just reply to this message and we will email you more info.

          1. Thank you for your answer! We just booked a tour this morning through Martina’s place (pura vida). I hope it will be good!

  41. Hi

    I am traveling in January 2017 with a few friends, 6 of us to be exact. I am petrified to drive at night and this is what they wish todo. It seems we are landing in Liberia and then headed to the hotel 45 min to an hour away. Reading you summary has me now again reconsidering because I complained to them up until yesterday when I bought my flight. My question, since I may skip riding in the dark with them, is it safe to travel by my lonesome in a cab? I may switch my flight to arrive during the day. Thanks much

    1. Hi Anna, We don’t recommend driving long distances in the dark but the area around Liberia airport isn’t that bad if you have to do it. The roads to the beach are in good condition and well traveled. As long as you plan your route in advance, have GPS to cross-reference and drive cautiously, you and your friends should be okay. If you do decide to take a cab, this is fine to do on your own. Get an official airport taxi or it would probably be cheaper to arrange a shuttle in advance.

  42. I just spent almost 3 weeks driving around Costa Rica and yes, there are lots of mind blowing potholes, narrow lanes, no shoulders and a lot of big trucks and buses! The most amazing thing to me was the number of times I got passed by a big truck or van in a school zone! I was trying desperately to pay attention to speed zones but sometimes they changed so often and over such short distances that it was hard to keep up. No one else seemed to pay attention to speed zones but I had heard that speeding tickets were hugely expensive and that sometimes tourist were targeted. I went through a couple of land slides being cleared on the road between Ciudad Quesada and Zarcero. The very worst part of the trip was the last hour and a half trying to reach the San Jose airport and return my rental car! Chaos!! So having said all that negative stuff, you may be surprised to hear that I actually found that driving was not that difficult and I would do it again in a minute – you adjust to the style and are always aware that you had to keep your eyes on the road at all times and be prepared to slow down and leave space for those drivers who passed when it didn’t seem like a good idea. I also pulled over whenever possible to let any traffic behind me go by so that I never felt pushed to travel faster than my comfort zone allowed. I was on my own, and still felt that without my rental car, I could not have had the freedom to go where and when I wanted and I would definitely recommend a rental car to anyone travelling to Costa Rica to get the most out of your trip. Just be aware and alert!

  43. We are looking are driving from San Jose to Puntarenas Province, Chacarita, Costa Rica. Looks like about a 1 hour drive. I’ve been looking at Google Maps and it seems that we would be traveling on a major highways. Is that true? If so are the roads in good condition?

    Or would you recommend taking a private VIP shuttle service?

    1. Hi Bill, Yes, that is an easy drive along paved highway and road. There will likely be some traffic around San Jose and the city of Caldera when you get to the coast but it isn’t a bad drive at all. Plan on 1-1.5 hrs with traffic.

  44. This is all super helpful!

    I have had many friends and co-workers recommend your site and can definitely see why. We are travelling to CR next week and I am so excited.

    We fly into Liberia around 3:30pm and were planning to drive to Samara (our first stop) right away. Is this a bad idea? I’m sure it gets dark there early this time of year and I was wondering how safe the drive would be in current conditions?

    1. Hi Meredith, It’s a little over two hours from LIR to Samara so if you don’t have any delays and pick up the car right away, you shouldn’t have to drive in the dark for too long. It gets dark in Costa Rica around 5:30/5:45 year-round. The roads you’ll travel on are all major routes, paved and well marked. The last stretch on Route 150 isn’t well lit but it’s not a horrible drive. Just be sure to have your route mapped out in advance, the portion of Route 150 through downtown Nicoya is a little confusing. And if your flight gets delayed or something, just plan on spending the night near the airport and heading out the next morning. The Hilton Garden Inn is right across from the airport and close to rental car agencies. Hope your timing works out and you have a great trip!

  45. Hi, Jenn and Matt:

    My fiancée and I are headed to the Hacienda Alta Gracia resort near Santa Teresa de Cajón, Perez-Zeledon next Tuesday, December 27. We just discovered your website and are finding it really helpful with last-minute preparations.

    Adobe Rental looks like a great outfit, but to avoid a longer drive from San José we will take a SANSA flight to the regional airport in San Isidro del General where our agency (Brunca) will meet us with our rental. It doesn’t look like Adobe has any locations nearby. From San Isidro, we’ll drive 40 minutes on Route 2 to the resort.

    Does that sound like a smart way to get there or are we overlooking something important?

    1. Hi Matt, It looks like we’re too late in responding-the holidays slowed us down-but for anyone else interested in this thread, what Matt did makes sense if you want to reduce your drive time and don’t mind paying for a small plane flight. Also, Adobe, the company we recommend, doesn’t have an office in San Isidro but they are planning to open one soon. Until then, they are delivering cars up to San Isidro from their Uvita office for a fee. I believe it is $40.

  46. I reserved a car at adobe through your website. I got a confirmation of reservation but was surprised that I was not asked for a credit card number????

    1. Hi Tracy, There should be instructions at the very bottom of the reservation email that you received that tell you how to provide the credit card number. You can either call the toll free number or email them. Once you do, the reservation gets confirmed.

  47. Hi,
    My husband and I are going to Costa Rica on January 8. Our flight gets in at 2:00pm (SJO) and we are renting a car to drive to Quepos. I know driving at night is not recommended in Costa Rica but was thinking that between customs, car pick up and travel time this would get us there around 6:00 (it should just be dark). Is this reasonable or am I missing something? Is there anything travel wise on this route that we should be aware of? Great website!
    Thanks
    Jen

    1. Hi Jen, That is a reasonable plan for that particular drive. Hopefully you will be out of the airport and in your rental by 3:30 and then can make the approximately 2.5 hr drive to Quepos. Traffic shouldn’t be bad leaving the city since it will be a Sunday. You might encounter some slowdowns around Herradura, Jaco, and Parrita, but that drive is usually no more than three hours so if you’re in the dark, it shouldn’t be for long. It’s not a bad drive either, especially the last portion, which is relatively flat and straight. You can read our Road Conditions post for more specifics on Routes 27 and 34. Hope you have a great visit to Quepos!

    2. UPDATE: Hi again Jen, I just wanted to let you know of some recent news that may affect your travel plans. On big holidays, they close part of Route 27 south in the afternoon to allow all lanes to go north. This is done to alleviate traffic coming back from the beach. Usually they only do this the Sunday after New Years, but we read an article today saying that they are doing it every Sunday this January. If that’s the case, then you will have to go on the old highway (Route 3) through Atenas, Aguacate, and Orotina, which is much slower. It might be worth it to just stay overnight near the airport and leave Monday morning for less headache. Here is a link to a post with suggestions for airport hotels if you decide to do that.

      1. Hi,
        Thank you so much for the heads up! We have a tour booked for the next morning so we are thinking of taking 3 and heading as far as Jaco. Is that about a two hour trip? Then we only have about an 1 1/2 half hours the next day to Quepos.

        Jen

      2. Hi there,
        I was considering getting a rental car for our trip between the airport/hotel/San Jose/Puntarenas but got a little concerned about the Route 27 “caution” posted on this “driving in costa rica” page. I noticed that there weren’t any cautions posted on the “road conditions” page. I would be driving the rental car alone to and from the airport and got a little concerned about the scams from rental places letting air out of the tires and then people coming to help and stealing all of your stuff… I might be reading too much online! But, for my second trip to Costa Rica, it seems like navigating public transit might be just as tricky as driving in San Jose. Can you speak more to the Route 27 potential issues and any additional thoughts you have for car/public transit across the country? Thanks again for all your help. Your site has been very helpful!

        1. Hi Michelle, This scam is common all around the world and we have heard of it happening in Costa Rica but not frequently. I really would not worry too much about it. If you are aware of it, that’s great, you know what to look for. If you do get a flat tire, ignore people who want to help and just call the rental company and they will come. In all honesty, most people who would come help you in Costa Rica would not have ulterior motives and would just want to help. That has been our experience for the past 4 years living here. It’s still good to be cautious, though, especially if you are traveling by yourself. It’s also a good idea to go through a reputable rental car company, and one that has offices all around the country in case of emergency. We recommend and work with Adobe.

          Route 27 is a fairly standard highway and the route from the airport to Puntarenas is well traveled so I think it would be fine for you to drive it.

  48. You blog has been incredibly helpful! In similar vain to some previous posts, I am planning a trip for the beginning of May. Our flight gets into SJO at 12:50pm and we were hoping to drive to La Fortuna the same day. Is this possible/safe or should we wait until the next morning?

    Your road conditions post was also super helpful! We are planning to go to Tenorio National Park and I was wondering how the roads are on Route 6 from Bijagua to where it meets Route 1 just north of Canas?

    Thank you so much for your advice!

    1. Hi Victoria, As long as you don’t have any major delays, that should be fine. It usually takes about 1.5 hrs to get through the airport and pick up the rental car (you do have to take a shuttle because none of the companies have cars there, but it has always been fast for us, at least through Adobe). The drive to La Fortuna is 2.5-3 hrs so you should get there around 5 or 5:30. If your flight get delayed or baggage or immigration take an extra long time (sometimes this happens), you might have to rethink it but you can plan on going same day for now.

      That part of Route 6 is a well paved highway. We think the road was affected by Hurricane Otto, but I’m sure it is cleaned up by now. Have a great trip!

  49. Hi Matt and Jenn,
    Thanks for the great information on driving in CR. We’ve been there a few times but never braved the driving. We’ll be moving there in a few months to help friends with their B&B and will be there mid-week for exploring. We have a car reserved through Adobe and will overnight in Alajuela before heading out to Guapiles. Are there any special considerations we should be considering for that drive?
    After a couple of days in near Guapiles we will head down to Puerto Viejo de Talamanca For a couple of days. Any thoughts suggestions on route and food along thw way?
    When we return to Alajuela from Guapiles, is there any better time of day to avoid traffic once we get closer to San Jose?
    I’m reading through many of your blog posts to see what other helpful hints I can find.

    Thanks in advance!

    1. Hi John, Sorry it has taken us a while to respond, we didn’t get a notification of your comment for some reason. You should take a look at our post on Road Conditions of Specific Routes, which covers all the roads you will need to drive on. Not sure if there is a good time to avoid truck traffic on Route 32 to the Caribbean. As far as we know, it is fairly constant with trucks going back and forth from the port of Limon. We don’t drive it regularly, though, so maybe ask your friends?

      The drive from Guapiles to Puerto Viejo isn’t bad, there’s only one way to go. Not sure of any places to stop for lunch
      as there isn’t much along the way except for Limon, which we don’t recommend stopping in. Cahuita is a really cute town with some good choices but it’s only 15 or so minutes from Puerto Viejo.

  50. Hi Jenn!
    So glad I came across your blog! My husband, our two kids (3.5 years and 11 months) and I are leaving for Costa Rica in a few days and we couldn’t be more excited!
    We have rented a car but I’m second-guessing it because of some of the “horror warnings” I’ve heard. We’re flying into San Jose, picking up the car the next morning, and driving to La Fortuna. We’re there for a few days, then we head to Manual Antonio for four days, then drive back to San Jose. Do you think we’ll be OK with renting or should we do the private driver thing?
    Appreciate any advice you have to give! And thank you for your blog – it’s incredibly helpful!
    Kathy

    1. Hi Kathy, I hope we are responding to you in time. You should be fine driving. Those are all major, well-traveled routes. The big things to watch out for when renting a car are to pick a reputable company (here’s a link to who we recommend), drive only during the day, and not leave anything in the car when it is parked to avoid theft. Other than that, the roads for those routes are well paved and not terribly difficult to drive. You can read more about the specific conditions in our Road Conditions post and we have more safety tips for renting a car here.

  51. Hi there.
    We are going to Costa Rica in April and we are taking a shuttle most places. We were thinking of renting a car and driving from Playa Hermosa Guanacaste to Tamarindo. How is the drive? We are a bit nervous to rent a and drive being its our first time but would like to stop at a few different beaches. Is this a easy drive or a bit confusing?

    1. Hi Gail and Trevor, That is not a bad drive at all. It’s all paved roads that are well traveled. You will take Route 159 to 151 to 21 to 155 to the road to Tamarindo Beach. Most of these are described in our Road Conditions post if you would like more detail. Make sure you don’t take Route 911 (the Monkey Road) instead because it is rough dirt and much slower. Have fun- beach hopping in this area of the country is great!

  52. Hi Jenn and Matt,
    We are part-timers in CR as we have a house in Esterillos Oeste where we come from Philadelphia in the winter. We’ve been coming to CR for about 10 years and just wanted to add a couple other things about driving and car rental here. It was an unpleasant surprise to us that we had to use the rental agency’s insurance even though we had international car insurance through our credit card. Added quite a bit to the cost and it’s our understanding that this is required.
    Also, we’ve never driven anywhere over 2 hours that we didn’t run into an accident that almost doubled our drive time. So would want to also add that things usually take longer than it looks on a map and be prepared with water, snacks, etc., especially with little ones.

  53. We are traveling in Costa Rica for a week in mid-February and have two small children (3 and 4 years old). We are thinking of lugging our regular car seats down but wondering if you have any advice about renting them from the car rental agency. We currently have a reservation with Avis, but I’m just seeing the referral you offer. Do you know if they provide decent car seats – and can they be relied upon to provide them? Or is it better to bring our own? Thanks!

    1. Hi Ann, A lot of people use the ones the rental companies have. They are fine but might not be the brands/styles you are used to. When we have rented here, we have just used our own. I have been meaning to go in person to see exactly what kinds the company we work with has, but from what they have told us (and what we have seen from a distance), they do have convertible seats and boosters (as well as infant bucket seats for anyone else reading this), and can be relied on to have them. Just be sure to request them when you make your reservation.

      All that said, as a car seat freak myself, I would recommend bringing your own if you are at all concerned with what they will have. It is the last thing you want to be stressing about when you have just gotten off a plane with two little kids!

  54. Hi

    We are considering a two week trip at from around 20th July with two children.

    Is this a bad idea given its the rainy season? Are there places we should avoid? For example where it might just be too wet and flooded?

    Also do you think we’d be better to hire a car, hire a driver or just do the whole thing on an organised tour?many thank

    1. Hi Ali, July usually isn’t too rainy. It rains some but mostly in the afternoon and evening and seldom for several hours in a row. You can read our Weather post and also Why You Should Visit Costa Rica in the Rainy Season for more info about what to expect.

      If you’re comfortable driving, we always recommend a rental car because it gives you the most freedom to explore. Many destinations are more spread out so having a car is nice. It’s also often more economical for a family of four or more. Shuttles are another option if you prefer not to drive and then you will want to organize tours that include transportation.

  55. I just have a question, if our plane arrives at 3 PM in San Jose, should we avoid driving to la Fortuna that same day? Thanks!

    1. Hi Jorden, The short answer is yes because we don’t recommend driving this route at night. The road from San Ramon is curvy, mountainous, and tends to get fogged in. Scroll up to our response to Victoria M. on January 7, 2017 for more explanation. Thanks!

  56. Very insightful information! I will be flying in to San Jose next week and I plan to get a rental car. I will be staying in La Fortuna for 4 days, then Jaco beach for 2. Taking head to all of the warnings, how should I proceed with this plan if my flight arrives at 3pm? Will I be able to gather my belongings and rent a car and make it to La Fortuna before dark??

  57. I just returned from my first trip to Costa Rica and am already trying to figure out when I can get back! What an absolutely amazing country!! I can’t thank y’all enough for all of the information you provide in this blog. Almost everything my friends asked while there I would refer to your blog knowing there was something I had read about whatever or wherever it was. Y’all are so very informative! We did rent a car on this trip and I was very hesitant never having been there and almost everyone I talked to about it here would say it’s crazy driving there we’d be just as crazy to rent a car. However, I felt your blog gave me enough information about road conditions, routes to take (esp. Monteverde) that I figured we should try it anyways (I mean we did go there for an adventure) and I’m SOOOOO very glad we did rent a car! It was so nice to have the freedom to do whatever we wanted whenever we wanted but the roads were way better than anticipated! I know we didn’t go everywhere so I’m sure there are many differences than we experienced but at least where we went the roads were in way better condition than the roads here in South Carolina (except for Monteverde but we already knew that)! Anyways, I will continue to read your blog religiously and now officially be completely jealous of your life there! Pura vida!

    1. Hi Kristin, Thanks so much for the kind words. Glad to hear that driving wasn’t as bad as you thought it would be and, especially, that you loved CR! Be careful, you sound like how we used to before we moved here 🙂 Thanks so much for sharing your experience. It always helps for people to hear it from someone else. Hope you get back soon. Pura vida!

      1. Haha! My friends & co-workers are already well aware that I am ready to drop it all to move to La Fortuna & work at Gecko Gourmet & play with all the dogs at the Costa Rica Dog Shelter. 🙂 Oh, and the people at Adobe by the airport in San Jose couldn’t have been nicer! Great recommendation!

  58. Great Write Up !!! The wife and I are planning our second trip to CR in OCT. the first time we did the bus and cab thing which was fine. This time we are going to rent a car to get out a little more on our own. We are going from San Jose to Cahuita, we did the interbus last time, this time we are up for the driving challenge. We do not have any particular itinerary this time we are just going to wing it. Just wanted to say great information here and we look forward to putting this information to use.

  59. Hi Jenn & Matt, Love your blog! We are thinking of renting a car and driving from San Jose to Manuel Antonio during the day early July, staying there for 4 days and then driving from there to Salinas Bay (north of Liberia) for another 3 days before heading to the Liberia airport. Before kids, my husband and/or I have traveled (and driven in some) in southern Africa, Mexico, Italy, Spain, Nepal, and New Zealand. We also are proficient in Spanish. It is our first time to Costa Rica however and want to make sure that renting a car is a good idea for first-timers driving to and from these locations during the rainy season. 😉 Thank you for any advice or suggestions! We can’t wait for our trip! ~Cindy

    1. Hi Cindy, If you are planning to drive during the day, you should have no problems driving as first-time visitors. The roads between those destinations are in very good condition and are well traveled, major routes. The only one we have not driven is Route 935, which takes you the final stretch to Salinas Bay. Lucky for you, we just had a reader make this trip and they told us the road is now paved. You can read the thread on our forum here. I wouldn’t worry too much about rainy season affecting you. If there’s a big downpour, you might get slowed down but you will be on all paved roads.

      If you decide to go for the car, make sure to check out our rental car discount to save 10% or more. Hope you and your husband have a great trip!

    1. Hi Riane, You should definitely read our post about specific road conditions in Costa Rica. Just look up your route on Google Maps (it should be correct for those locations), then use that post for detailed information on each road you will take. And definitely rent a 4×4.

  60. Hi Jenn and Matt,
    Your website is stocked with great tips for traveling for CR. Thank you for all the info! I’ve seen a similar question answered in previous posts that driving from San Jose (flight gets in around 3 PM) to Dominical isn’t recommended but does that include a private driver, or shuttle service ? We will be traveling with another family end of July and will have up to 10-12 people in our party. What would you recommend ?

    1. Hi Cynthia, Drivers know the roads really well so the same precautions don’t apply. You can definitely leave from the airport same day and will get to Dominical around 8 p.m. If you need a recommendation for a shuttle (a private shuttle is the most economical for a large group), just let us know. We work with a reputable company that our clients have used in the past and have had a good experience with. Reply to this thread and we can email you more information.

      1. Thank you for your quick and helpful response. Yes, if you could please provide me with a shuttle recommendation, that would be great. Thank you.
        Cynthia

  61. Hi! Your blog has been so helpful for my sister and I who are planning a trip in May this year. We have both travelled a lot internationally and love the idea of renting a car while we are there to drive to Monteverde from San Jose for the flexibility of it. Other than those already mentioned (road conditions or your car being broken into) are there any safety concerns we should be aware of as far as 2 females driving a car alone?

    1. Hi Jennifer, I can’t think of anything else in particular that you should be aware of. A lot of women travel in Costa Rica in groups and solo too; I think you will be very comfortable here. It wouldn’t hurt to give our Safety Tips post a quick read if you have some time. Hope you and your sister have a great visit!

  62. Hey Matt
    I will be driving from La Fortuna to Venado Caves on 9 April and to Rio Celeste on 10 April and coming back to La Fortuna
    Is it possible to drive in a sedan? 4×4 or other SUV is not available on these dates.

    Thanks!

    1. Hi Naresh, sorry that we were traveling when your question came in. Did you get to do these trips? How were the roads? The last time we drove from La Fortuna to Rio Celeste, we were happy to have 4×4 in a couple of spots.

  63. Hi Matt and Jenn,

    I stumbled onto your website and am so happy I did! We are leaving for CR in a week, having never been there, and the info you offer has really helped diminish my anxiety. (I’m not a super-experienced traveler.) Thanks!

  64. Hi Matt and Jenn!

    Great website! I’ve read everything – I plan on renting a car through your website and wanted to know your thoughts on driving from – LIR -> ARENAL -> MONTEVERDE -> TAMARINDO -> LIR

    1. Hi Ryan, You can put your itinerary into Google Maps and then use our post about Road Conditions of Specific Routes for detailed information. Google will take you the right way with one exception being to take Route 606 from Monteverde to Tamarindo via Highway 1, and not Route 605. Generally, those are all well travelled routes but the roads getting to Monteverde are rough dirt and you will want 4×4. Our Road Conditions post references it, but we also have a post with videos about driving to Monteverde.

  65. Hi there!
    As a first time visitor and driver to Costa Rica, your blog has been extremely helpful in planning and preparing for my trip, especially the driving. A friend and I are driving and I’m a bit nervous about the road conditions and drivers there.

    We will be travelling from San Jose –> La Fortuna –> the ferry at Puntarenas –> driving around a little bit in Paquera –> Puntarenas to Quepos –> Quepos to San Isidro de Generale and back –> Quepos to San Jose airport.

    Are there arny roads to stay away from or anything important to note for travelling in these areas?

    Thanks!

    1. Hi Rosanna, You can read our Road Conditions post for specific information about each of your routes. In general, though, those are all not bad drives. If you explore outside of the immediate Paquera area, you will want 4×4. Otherwise, all the roads will be paved and in good condition. The roads to La Fortuna and San Isidro are curvy so be prepared for that. Hope you and your friend have a great trip!

  66. Hi Jenn & Matt, I am glad I found your blog. My wife, two kids (5 & 3 years old) and I are going to Costa Rica this July. We are flying to San José and heading to Guanacaste for 4 nights and the to Jaco for another 4 nights. This is our first time in CR and we are trying to decide whether to rent a car or take a shuttle.

    1. Hi JB, The roads between SJO and Guanacaste and Jaco are all in good condition. Much of it is highway driving. So if you follow the usual precautions like avoiding driving after dark, etc., renting a car is a good option. A car would be nice too so that you can stop when you want to let the kids run around, as some of those drives are quite long. With a private shuttle, you usually get an hour or so worth of stops too. Let us know if you need a shuttle recommendation and if you decide to rent a car, be sure to check out our rental car discount.

  67. Hi Jenn and Matt,

    I will be visiting Costa Rica the first weekend in June for a short 4 day trip. This is my first time traveling out of the United States – Ever! I’m super excited and scared at the same time. I have been speaking with people at work who have traveled to CR and received some good advice. I am planning on staying in the Esterillos Oeste area. Any recommendations on places to stay, routes to take from SJO, etc? I rented an SUV to be safe. I’m a little weary of traveling too far and thought of just staying by the airport and making short trips around the area. But, I do want to experience the beach. If you think the trek would be too much for a first-timer, can you recommend any other locations?

    Thanks!
    Jaime

    1. Hi Jaimie, We’re guessing you have probably answered your questions by now since your trip is coming up soon, but let us know if you still need help. Sometimes it takes us several days to respond to comments because we receive a lot of them. Hope you have a great trip!

  68. Hi Jenn and Matt,
    Thanks for the great information! We are going to Costa Rica early June and were wondering if you could recommend a company that would provide a private driver. We are flying into San Jose and then driving to Monteverde and La Fortuna. Then down to Jaco area & Playa Hermosa and back to San Jose. First time there and we only have a week. Any suggestions would be helpful!

  69. We are staying at Bosque del Cabo in mid-July and we were just informed the Puerto Jiminez airport will be closed for repairs.

    We’re thinking of driving from San Jose, rather than flying to Golfito, taking a taxi, ferry and another taxi to the lodge. And nice to have a car if we want to get away. Sounds like a six to eight hour drive. Are the roads OK that time of year? Anything special to watch for? We live in Mexico and are accustomed to driving in Latin America.

    Thank you very much for your informative website.

    John

    1. Hi John, It’s a long drive but most of the roads are in very good condition. You will go Highway 27 to 34 and stay on this for most of the drive. You can read our Road Conditions post for specific info, but these are well maintained, major roads. In Palmar Sur, you’ll get on Highway 2 and take that until the turnoff for Puerto Jimenez. The road is good until PJ, then will turn to dirt. We haven’t driven past PJ in a while but usually it is fine anytime of year in a higher clearance 4×4. There are some seasonal river crossings. Might be a good idea to check with your hotel about current conditions just to be safe. Be sure to check out our rental car discount for the car. Have a great trip!

  70. Hello Jenn ans Matt,

    We are travailing to CR next week! we are flying into SJO and staying in the Dreams in Las Mareas. how is the drive?

    Thanks.

  71. Jenn and Matt, my wife and I are looking to visit CR at the end of September for our 10 year wedding anniversary. We want to split time between volcano and beach, so we have our eye on Arenal area as well as Puerto Viejo on the carribean side. The plan is to fly into SJO, but it looks like the spread between those two places is pretty long, so planning on getting a rental. Any concerns you see for first time visitors but long time drivers (both mid 30’s)?

    1. Hi Blair, That’s a great itinerary for rainy season in September. The drive between those destinations is long, but we have done it in a day, even with a 1.5 year old. It can be done. From La Fortuna, you’ll take the northern route that Google Maps suggests (Route 4 most of the time to San Miguel, Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui) to connect to Route 32 in Guapiles. 32 is the highway to the Caribbean side. You’ll take this all the way to the coast, getting on Route 36. It’s all paved roads. The one thing to be aware of is that there are sometimes landslides on Route 32. You could check the government transit website for conditions in the days before your trip or ask your rental car company about any closures. Be sure to check out our rental car discount if you decide to rent a car.

      1. If you had to estimate the drive time, given it will be the rainy season, how many hours between the 2 locations would we be looking at? Need to make sure it passes the WAF (wife approval factor).

        1. Hi, I just drove from La Fortuna to Puerto Viejo 2 weeks ago…took about 5 hours, road conditions were good

  72. I am coming to CR with my wife and 4 kid family in August. We are flying into San Jose and then driving to Papagayo Peninsula. How is the drive?

  73. Hello,

    I just want to make sure I am understanding…Waze or Google Maps will help with routing but the government website lets you know about actual road conditions…is that correct? Do either of the two previously mentioned apps take road conditions into account?

    Thank you!

  74. Hello all! First of all, I’d like to commend you on the great work you two have done in compiling such great information and resources all in one place. I was unsure about where to start planning my trip to CR but since your blog fell into my lap (or my browser lol) you have been SO helpful! I have booked hotels at our primary locations ,Hotel Montechiari in La Fortuna and Hotel El Castillo in Ojochal. At this point, I am undecided about whether or not we will be needing 4X4. An employee at El Castillo stated it is not absolutely necessary but that he recommends it??? We plan on mostly exploring the coastal area as well as nearby waterfalls. Possibly heading over to Rainmaker, Boruca and/or San Gerardo. I’d like to be safe but I am also trying to save money where I can. If you have any suggestions or input, I would be forever grateful 🙂

    Thank you!

    1. Hi Gema, The Ojochal area is best explored with a rental car because everything is more spread out. Rainmaker is about 1.25 hours north, most waterfalls are a decent drive away, the Boruca is a few hours, and San Gerardo is several hours (best done as an overnight at least). You could technically use taxis to get around but it would be very expensive. If you won’t have a car for your whole trip, you could always rent one out of Uvita. The company that we work with, Adobe, has an office there and could deliver the car to El Castillo for free. Here’s the link to our Rental Car Discount page with more information.

  75. Hi! Thanks for a helpful post. I am traveling to Costa Rica in a few weeks. I will be flying into Liberia and planning to stay five days near Lake Arenal and five on the peninsula before retiring to fly out of Liberia. I have traveled internationally for work (Hong Kong, Philippines, Sierra Leone) but have never attempted to drive anywhere. I am thinking of renting a car in CR but nervous about the idea, especially since I will be traveling alone. I am considering taxis/buses etc as an alternative. What would you recommend?

    Thanks!

    1. Hi Shauna, Most people find that driving in Costa Rica isn’t as bad as they expected. The drive from Liberia to Lake Arenal isn’t too bad. A lot of it is highway and the last part around the lake is curvy but fine during the day. Not sure which peninsula you are visiting, but if you’re talking about the Nicoya Peninsula, the roads on the southern part (to Montezuma & Santa Teresa) are rough dirt and need a 4×4. We would not do this drive after dark but other than that, it is okay. So we would say that it would be fine to do on your own as long as you have your routes mapped out in advance and use GPS or a maps app on your phone to make sure you’re on the right road. Shuttles are a good alternative if you’re not comfortable driving because they are affordable and faster than the bus. Hope that helps. If you do decide to go with a car, make sure to check out our rental car discount.

  76. Hello,

    Your blog is amazing and has helped me in my planning so much. I am planning to come From Feb7-17th with my boyfriend and we want to rent a car. Our itinerary currently includes flying into SJO, next day driving to Arenal area to do volcano type things, then driving down to santa teresa for a few days before driving back up towards tamarindo/playa flamingo and flying out of Liberia. We were thinking of just renting a car for the entire trip. Any recommendations on this/driving between all of those places?

    Thanks,

    1. Hi Melissa, Those drives aren’t bad except Mal País is out of the way and takes a while to get to due to rough roads on the Southern Nicoya Peninsula. Just plan on leaving early the day when you leave La Fortuna for Mal País and Mal País for Tamarindo and you will be fine. That Itinerary is doable in 10 days. Make sure to get a 4×4 too.

  77. Thank you so much for your informative posts and website! My partner and I are going on our honeymoon at the end of the month. We are flying into San Jose and driving to Manzanillo on the Caribbean side. We are renting a car. Any advice for our drive? I am a bit nervous and I have heard a couple stories about being pulled over,etc. Thanks so much!

    1. Hi Alexis, The drive from SJO to Manzanillo isn’t too bad but don’t try to do it after dark (5:30 pm in Costa Rica) and be very careful if it is raining hard. You will take Highway 32 to Limon, and then Route 36 down to Puerto Viejo (read our Road Conditions post for what these are like). You should look at this news article too because they are doing partial road closures on some days on Highway 32. Allow more time if you will be traveling on one of those dates. I wouldn’t worry about being pulled over- just follow the speed limit and you should be fine.

  78. First of all, thank you for such an informative website.

    Do you think we will need a 4X4 for the following trip?

    Alajuela -> Arenal and La Fortuna -> Tortugero -> Cahuita -> back to Alajuela

      1. Hi Draxz1289, You will be here during rainy season, but will be traveling on mostly well paved roads so shouldn’t need a 4×4. The last part of the drive to Tortuguero is dirt, but it’s flat and normally in good condition. There are a few roads around Arenal that require 4×4, but most don’t. The road to Arenal Volcano National Park, Sky Adventures, etc. is dirt and bumpy but you don’t need a 4×4. If the price difference isn’t much, it would be nice to have a 2 wheel drive SUV just for the higher clearance and comfort.

  79. Hi Jenn & Matt!

    Thanks for your posts & website, very informative.

    We (family of 5) will be staying near Atenas/Jesus over Christmas/New Year and have rented an SUV (Grand Vitara or similar). Our flight arrives around 8PM and after reading about driving at night, am wondering whether we should stay overnight in San Jose. I am not a timid driver and often drive unlit coutry roads…I’m wondering if this stretch you would still avoid after dark or is it relatively easy? Also, which route would you take, #1 & #3 or #27?

    Thanks….

    1. SJO to Atenas is a short drive and not too rural so we think it would be fine to do at night if you’re comfortable driving on unlit roads. Route 3 or 27 would work, but go with the 27 because this is an easier-to-navigate highway. Route 3 has some curvy spots. The exact route would be Highway 1 west from the airport to the Coyol Radial (right turn after an overpass- there is no sign). The Coyol connects to Route 27.

  80. Lol…your post made me smile. My husband, my then 5yr old son and I visited Costa Rica last year and stayed for about 7 days at Apartotel Suites Villas del Rio. It was the most funniest trip. First of all, I booked during rain season (was not aware of this until it was too late to cancel). So it rained most of the time we were there, which made for some very “special moments”. I chose to try to immerse myself as much as we could by renting a car. (I don’t know what I was thinking lol). Even the sales clerk at the car rental says very seriously “the insurance will not cover you if you drive into the water” My husband and I looked at each other and thought “who in their right mind would do that”? I guess the clerk thought we looked like the type. Later on, we realized he was partly right. Apparently you both were much wiser than I was. I said “I” because I was the one with the bright idea who planned the trip. So there we were on our way up towards Manuel Antonio National Park. Didn’t even wake up early, the way normal tourists do. We were driving for hours…passed breathtaking scenery, lovely eateries, and nooks with fruit vendors. We finally arrived with only about an hour til the place closed and enough rain to deter us from going in. So we decided to get a bite at a restaurant nearby and a yummy ice cream. We walked around and ended up driving down the mountain after it began to get dark. We saw much rain, motorcycles zipping by, beach, the headlights of a truck coming directly towards us in the pitch black. all the while my 5yr old fast asleep in the backseat like all was good in dreamland. …oh it was a memorable vacation. Hysterical and a bit adventurous, but memorable. We did actually visit some other kid friendly spots successfully. Oh, and by the grace of God we actually did manage to keep the car out of water. God bless you both, would love to visit again someday….perhaps we’ll hold on the car rental though : )

    1. Haha, thanks for the funny account about your experience! The drive from San Jose to Manuel Antonio can be daunting in the rainy season. Sounds like you had a very good attitude about everything, though. Glad you stayed safe and were able to see some sights as a family. Next time, maybe stay closer to the attractions you want to visit. It’s hard to find a centrally located town in Costa Rica so staying in at least a couple of different places is usually the most convenient, especially with kids.

  81. Thanks for the very helpful post! My husband and I are looking into heading to Costa Rica the end of March/early April of next year. (Flying into San Jose, driving to/staying around La Fortuna, then heading over to an undecided coastal town – Playa Flamingo, Tamarindo, etc, then flying back out of Liberia). We are 26, from Canada, have never traveled to South America before. The craziest place we have personally driven is in Los Angeles but we are really wanting to rent a vehicle for convenience. Slightly nervous from some people’s stories but all in all it doesn’t sound too bad as long as you are smart and cautious, though a lot of people don’t seem to recommend driving for first time travelers. What is your opinion? Thanks

      1. Hi Jessica, For where you are going, the driving isn’t that bad. You will be on some narrow, curvy roads, but nothing that is too intimidating. March/April is dry season too so you don’t have to worry about problems related to the rainy season. We say go for it if you’re up for a little adventure. Just be smart, like you said, and don’t drive long distances after dark and be sure to research your routes in advance so you don’t get lost.

  82. I have never been to CR. I have driven in Greece, Italy and Mexico. My daughter is studying in San Jose and we were going to fly in and then drive to Tamarindo (1st week in November) and spend a few days. Am I crazy to do this?

    1. Hi Jeff, You are not crazy at all. Many people find driving in CR not as bad as they expected. It sounds like you have a lot of experience driving abroad, so if you want to do it, we say, go for it.

  83. First I love your site. This is my first time to CR. Flying into San Jose, we have a car reserved and plan on driving down to Uvita. I’ve driven in Mexico and England. We plan on being in Uvita for 10 days and then take the shuttle to Golfito. My main concern is just getting out of San Jose and down to route 34. I have just ordered one of the detailed waterproof maps. Is that enough or do you really recommend a GPS for that. I’m not sure if my phone will work down there.

    1. Hi Wilson, If you map out your route in advance using Google Maps and our Road Conditions post, you should be okay without GPS if you really don’t want to get it. The first big turn is off Highway 1, not far from the airport – you will want to take the Coyol Radial (unmarked road on the right after an overpass) to connect to Route 27 West. Eventually 27 will lead you to 34. Don’t miss the exit for 34; it says for Jaco, Quepos, Central Pacific Coast, or something like that. Signage is not great in CR so that’s why we recommend a GPS or using a Maps app on your phone, but it can be done without with some careful planning.

  84. Hi! So glad to have found your website and commentary. My family will be visiting Costa Rica in early January, flying into Liberia then going to Arenal for a few days. From there we need to get to Santa Teresa Beach area on the Nicoya peninsula. I was planning on renting a car. What route do you suggest from Arenal to Santa Teresa? Do you think we’ll need 4 wheel drive? Thanks for any insights you can provide.

    1. Hi Sara, That will be a long drive so be sure to plan for a stop or two to stretch. Here’s a Google Map with the route we suggest. This has you going around Lake Arenal to connect to the Interamericana Highway (1) South. Many of the roads on the Southern Nicoya Peninsula are rough dirt so we recommend a 4×4. You can use our Road Conditions post to find out more information about specific conditions.

  85. Hi Jenn and Matt,
    We are planning to go to Costa Rica trip in first week of April, we are planning to go to either San Jose or Liberia but are not able to decide what is a better choice. We would like to cover Arenal,La Fortuna water fall,Monteverde and Tortuguero. Please let us know what is better renting a car or get a private driver, would you please help us understand if we decide to get a private driver.
    Thanks you so much!!

    1. Hi Abha, SJO Airport is more centrally located if you want to go to Tortuguero so we would fly into there and go to Tortuguero first. Then you could fly out of either SJO or LIR, whichever is more affordable. We recommend renting a car if you are comfortable driving because it will give you the most flexibility to go at your own pace. Private drivers that stay with you all the time are quite expensive but if you didn’t want to drive a rental yourselves, you could take private shuttles between destinations. These are for only your group, leave whenever you want, and usually allow time to stop for an hour or so to eat, sightsee, etc. Shared shuttles are another option and cheaper, but they take longer and have set schedules.

  86. We are planning a trip to Manuel Antonio at the end of January 2018. We will fly into SJO. We are not big on doing our own driving. We see that there are 20 minute domestic flights on small planes. We are not fans of small planes, either. It seems that another option is to rent a private driver. Can you tell me how we would go about doing that?
    Are the small planes safe? Are they worth it?
    Thanks.

    1. Hi Ron, Small planes are nice because they get you to your destination so quickly. The two major carriers, Nature Air and Sansa, both have great safety records. We have taken them several times before and often recommend them to our clients. If you would rather take a private shuttle, that is another good option. The trip is about 2.5 hours from the airport to Manuel Antonio and the cost is around $190 through the driver we use. The ride would be with only your group in an air conditioned shuttle van. Just reply to this thread if you would like us to help make a booking and we can email you more information.

      1. Hey guys,
        Your blog is fantastic, thanks for all the great tips. We were going to book a plane to fly from SJO to MA, but with the recent crash, we are a bit nervous. Looking at the buses now and it’s approx $50+ per person and we are 3, so I’m wondering if it’s more economical to simply use a private driver instead… Could you kindly send me the information?
        A few other quick questions if you don’t mind; We will be staying in MA for 4-5 nights. Is it worth visiting Dominical for a few nights? We head to La Fortna afterward for 3 nights and then Tortuguero for 2. We are looking for a suggestion on a spot to stay for a night or two between Tortuguero and SJO? Thank you!

        1. Hi Glenn, Yes, it is very unfortunate and sad about the recent Nature Air crash. We have been following the investigation closely and hope they will figure out the cause soon. If you are more comfortable using a private shuttle, we can help you with that. We’ll send you an email shortly. On your other questions, it is worth visiting areas to the south like Dominical because they have a very different feel from Manuel Antonio. It is much more wild and immersed in the jungle. The area is more spread out and very quiet (see our Costa Ballena post for more info). You could either visit on a day trip as it is only a 45 min. drive or stay for a couple of nights. There are several interesting things to do with the highlight being the Nauyaca Waterfalls (see our 7 Things to Do in Dominical post). You will want a rental car if you do head south.

          For a place to stop between Tortuguero and SJO, there aren’t a ton of options but one good one is a small B&B called Casa Rio Blanco near Guapiles.

  87. We are retired Australians (he’s much fitter then her!) departing UK in 3 days, 4 Jan 2018, for 6 weeks in CR. We fly into Liberia and start off with one week Playa del Coco. Then to Monte Verde. Then La Fortuna. That’s all booked. At that point we have nearly 3 weeks left before we depart CR 18 Feb. I know we’ve left it a bit late, but where should be go then? Have own SUV booked. Reading as much as we can from this excellent website – thanks Jenn and Matt. Pamela

  88. HI Jenn and Matt,
    Im so happy to find this blog! We are travelling to Costa Rica (flying into San Jose) in April 2018 and are trying to figure out how we will get from the airport to our first hotel (The Springs) and then a couple of days later from the Springs to Mauel Antonio and finally back to the airport. We are a family of 7 and are pretty adventurous but didnt know if you thought that that much driving would be safe for us to do. I worry about the cost of all of those legs with a driver but if you think it would be safer and perhaps almost the same cost as renting a car then maybe we should go the driver route. Thanks so much for any thoughts!
    Andie

    1. Hi Andie, Driving is safe between those destinations but finding a car for 7 people plus bags can be tough. You really need to rent a bigger van in order to fit everything since the 7 passenger vehicles don’t have room for luggage when all the seats are being used. So for a rental car, you would either need 2 cars or a more expensive van. Taking a private shuttle van would probably be cheaper. Prices for these range from around $190-300 for each leg for your family. If you decide on shuttles, let us know if you would like any help making the arrangements. We work with several reliable shuttle companies and would be happy to help with the booking for no extra charge.

  89. Hi There!
    I’ll be going to CR in April. When I first arrive to SJO, i think I want to go to Arenal, Monteverde and possibly a few other places I’ve read about (Rio Celeste, Poas volcano). Would you say it’s safe for a single female to be driving to those places? I’m not intimidated by it, but just want to be sure. Sounds like I might need a 4WD car for Monteverde. I’m no stranger to gravel/dirt roads so I would probably be comfortable as long as it’s generally safe to do that alone.

    1. Hi Jessie, Check our responses to Glenda on January 27, 2017 and Katelyn on August 16, 2016, above, for general advice on driving alone. All of those places you want to go are accessible via well traveled roads. Some are rough like the one to Monteverde, but there will be other cars and shuttle vans coming through in April if you have any problems. Plan out your route, have a GPS or maps App, don’t drive at night, and definitely get a 4×4 for Monteverde, and you should be fine. Have a great trip!

      1. Thank you so much!! It looks like the bus schedules are fairly limiting in La Fortuna, so I think I’ll be driving so that I don’t waste time on transport. Plus the private transfers are outrageously expensive to/from the airport. The other areas of the country I’ll be fine with public. Thank you!! 🙂

  90. I am flying into Liberia and going to Nosara for the week with 3 teen girls. Are we safe to rent a car and drive there or should we arrange transportation?

    Also, they REALLY want to see the Sloths but that looks like a drive South is required to Manual Antonio Park. It looks great but a long trek … do you recommend that for a week visit?
    Thank you!

    1. Hi Michele, The drive from LIR Airport to Nosara is mostly paved roads if you go the inland route (Route 21 to 150 to 160), then is dirt towards the end from Samara north. It’s bumpy but well traveled and perfectly safe. We just don’t recommend driving it at night because the roads are not well lit.

      If they’re set on seeing a sloth, you could spend a couple of nights trying to do that, but we would choose somewhere closer to Liberia for your outbound flight. Bijagua is one option, which is closer, or the La Fortuna area.

  91. Hey Matt & Jenn! Thanks for all of this great information. I am in the midst of planning a trip to Costa Rica with my husband and a few friends. We have fallen in love with the Santa Teresa Beach area and I was wondering if you had any insight on driving there from San Jose? We want to avoid the ferry, so had mapped out a route using routes 1, 18, and 21. Any thoughts/advice would be appreciated! 🙂

    1. Hi Kate, If you don’t want to take the ferry, yes, you would go Route 1, to 18, to 21 all around the peninsula. These are all good roads until you get to Route 21 on the Southern Nicoya Peninsula (see our Road Conditions post for specifics). We recommend a 4×4 for the roads on the Southern Nicoya.

  92. Hi Matt and Jen,

    Thank you for this blog. I find it very helpful. Can you comment on the drive from LIR to Playa Flamingo? I have never been to Costa Rica and was wondering if that drive to our accommodation is narrow or heavy in traffic. I was told it is about an hour and a half drive,

    can you also give me more info on the private and shared shuttles in case we decide to do that instead from the airport? Thanks much !

    1. Hi Ray, You can read our Road Conditions post for more detail, but in general, the drive from LIR to Flamingo is along smooth well-traveled roads. That time estimate is about right, if there’s no traffic, it may be less.

      Shared shuttles are generally less expensive (unless you are traveling with 4 or more people) and run on a set schedule. Private shuttles are nice because the pick up time is custom so you can be picked up directly after your flight and won’t have to wait around. These are for only your group and the ride is faster because the van won’t have to stop to let other passengers off. The driver will be able to make stops for you along the way as well to sight-see, get some refreshments, pick up groceries, etc. To give you a ballpark figure, the cost from LIR to Playa Flamingo is around $120 for up to 5 people. Send us an email at bookings(at)twoweeksincostarica(dot)come with your travel dates and flight information, if you would like us to help you book one.

  93. This blog is awesome, thanks so much for having this. I am traveling to Costa Rica in Nov and Staying at the Dreams resort at Plaza Deportes El Jobo, Provincia de Guanacaste, Costa Rica. We are flying into Liberia and deciding whether to rent a car or take a shuttle to our resort. We do not speak the language and were told there are very few gas stations. We wanted to be able to hop in the car and site see without having to be with a tour guide. Is there a lot to do in this area and what is your opinion on having your own car. Would it be dangerous since we don’t speak the language?

    1. Hi Kerri, It is not dangerous at all to rent a car if you don’t speak the language and we recommend one for where you’re going. El Jobo is off on its own so you will need a car for day trips if you want to get off the resort without relying on organized excursions. And that area has plenty of gas stations so don’t worry. Maybe not as many as some people are used to, but Liberia has several and it’s only a 1.5 hour drive so you don’t need to worry about filling up right away. It may be useful for you to buy a phrasebook so that you know basic Spanish phrases or take a look at our post Simple Spanish for Traveling to Costa Rica. Also read the rental car section of our Safety post. And definitely check out our rental car discount if you do get a car.

  94. Hi, thanks so much for such an amazingly informative site 🙂
    We (two adults, 3 teens 12, 15, 18)are traveling in July for about 10 days, flying into Liberia, heading to Bahia pez villas (next to ocotal/playas del coco) for 4 days. From there we are staying at AOL for two nights, then closer to la fortuna for two nights, and near San Jose for the last night before flying home.
    We visited Costa Rica ten years ago and remember the roads and drivers being a little stressful (we used shuttles). We are from dc so are used to traffic and speedy drivers…but still.
    We just keep going back and forth about renting a car or using private shuttles! At the beach we plan to mostly stay around our villa, but do want to visit the llanos de cortez waterfall one day, and head into hermosa or coco for a little shopping and to find a restaurant on the beach.
    At AOL we are just planning to enjoy the grounds, and when we are closer to la fortuna we wanted to go into town, and plan to do a chocolate tour.
    Would navigating to any of these places be challenging? Am I over worrying about driving?
    Thank you!!

    1. Hi Barbara, We think that you will find that the roads have improved a lot over the past 10 years. The driving still can be stressful, though, so we understand your reluctance to rent a car. It sounds like you will probably want a car for when you’re at the villa at the beach so that you can do those day trips to Llanos de Cortez, etc. Driving in this area isn’t too bad so you should be fine. Major roads are all in good condition. In La Fortuna, you probably don’t need a car if you’re planning to stay at the Observatory the whole time and then will be near town in La Fortuna for the other 2 nights. You can arrange transportation for the chocolate tour. So maybe take a shuttle between destinations and rent a car locally for Ocotal/Playas del Coco. A private shuttle is usually the same price as a shared for a family of 5. Let us know if you would like any help making the arrangements. We work with a few different reliable companies.

  95. We rented a Hyundai 4×4 from Adobe and it was super easy. They met me with the car at the Airport courtyard marriot – we filled out all the paperwork on site and I was off in 15 minutes. My family of 4 (wife and 2 kids aged 7 and 9) drove from SJO down to the costa ballena in 4 hours. It was gorgeous and safe. We stopped off at fruit stands and at some gorgeous spots to see the ocean.
    We stayed in Ojochal and did several day trips in and around. Drivers were courteous, the roads were well paved, but we were glad to have our 4×4 for our more adventurous trips where there only dirt roads. All in all, having a car and being able to chart your own course to see the country was a great call!

  96. What a great site! Thank you for all of the info. We are a group of 8 heading to a “villa” near Jaco (flying into San Jose and being driven there). We are using the driver thru the week to take us to some excursions, but thought it would be good to have a rental car available for any quick trips to the store, or someplace close by that we wanted to visit. Some of our travelers think the rental car is a really bad idea because of the roads, the lack of night time lights, the language barriers, lack of signage, and the theft/burglary threat. We don’t want to be stupid but do like the idea of having wheels if needed. Thoughts??

    1. Hi Claudette, If you’re staying at a vacation rental, a car is nice to have unless you have stores and other amenities within walking distance. Driving in Costa Rica is not that bad, especially around Jaco, which is more developed and has good roads. Just avoid driving long distances at night and don’t leave anything in the car to avoid theft. We’d recommend using a maps app on your phone for navigating. The language barrier isn’t really a problem with driving, but you could always bring a Spanish phrasebook just in case.

  97. We are planning a 25th anniversary trip to La fortuna and would like recommendations for shuttle especially from san jose airport on October 12 to the volcano lodge and springs and then back to airport on october 16th

    1. Hi Shannon, We know it has been a while since you commented, asking for shuttle recommendations. We do work with several reliable companies so let us know if you still need help and we can send you an email ASAP. Thanks!

  98. I am visiting CR in July with my son (10) and aunt. I’ll be the driver and we’ve rented a place in San Isidro de Heredia for the week. I want to be able to get around and see different parts of the country. I’d love to get us to Monteverde, but how long is the drive (on average with the main highway being under construction) and do you recommend a 4×4 for this type of trip?

    1. Hi Nichole, You will be about 3 hours from Monteverde or slightly more depending on traffic around San José and construction near Monteverde so it will be tough to do as a day trip but possible if you leave very early. Yes we recommend a 4×4 with higher clearance when driving to Monteverde at any time of year. You should read our post Driving to Monteverde, which has detailed information about this trip. Also see the comments for people’s recent feedback about slowdowns because of construction on Route 606.

  99. Thank you for this great info. My wife and I are traveling to Costa Rica for a week April 30. We are staying at the Peace Lodge in La Paz nature area. We assume we should have a rental car to explore other areas. Any suggestions related to driving to/from that area would be appreciated. thanks.

    1. Hi Matt, Yes, a rental car will be nice to have if you want to do some exploring. Some attractions near La Paz that are an easy drive away are Catarata del Toro Waterfall and Tirimbina Reserve. Atenas and Grecia are nearby too, for coffee tours, waterfalls, etc. You could do La Fortuna/Arenal Volcano on a day trip as well; it’s about 2 hours each way so you would want to get an early start. If you do decide to rent a car, be sure to check out our Rental Car Discount.
      Hope you and your wife have a great trip!

  100. Our family of four just returned from Costa Rica yesterday. We spent eight days driving through San Jose and the country every day, it’s a little challenging but I would recommended driving over a tour anytime! Tips:
    – Waze Waze Waze! Live it, love it, follow it! That’s what the locals use…
    – Don’t be timid, don’t be afraid to poke your nose in there. They expect it. You will be notified if your courtesy is impeding someone’s progress, or worse you might cause a wreck.
    – City; You will be stuck in traffic, surrounded by pedestrians, bicycles and scooters inches from your car. Don’t fret over it. Relax and enjoy the scenery, it’s free entertainment watching the everyday life of the San Jose city dweller.
    – Rural; Twisty narrow mountain roads with many blind corners. Around every corner prepare to dodge something that will be moving significantly slower than you are. Pedestrians, bicycles, scooters, cows, goats, farm trucks, semi trucks, roadside vendors, tour bus, hyper milers, fruit stand operators claim the street as the theirs. It is your job to get around them safely.
    – Rent Diesel SUV. Everyone also pays extra for the nav from the rental car agency. I did, but would not the next time. Get a good data plan and use Waze. It’s 10 times better. I didn’t seem to have a problem finding gas between San Jose up and down the West Coast.
    – Pick a hotel near the airport. Do not stay in downtown San Jose, unless you pretty much just want to stay there. But then you wouldn’t need a car.
    Have fun!

    1. Hi Bob, my family of 5 is taking our first trip to CR for 2 weeks.
      I hope you don’t mind, I wanted to ask a few questions:
      Did you have 4WD (or AWD)? was it pretty wet? I’m curious, what was your itinerary? We arrive San Jose then plan to stay 3-4 days in the following areas: Turrialba (GPS says 2 hours), then go to Monteverde (5hrs), Santa Teresa (5 hrs) then Manuel Antonio. (5 hrs). I’m planning a half day for travel.
      What kind of data plan did you get? I have Verizon.
      What did you use for money mostly? Credit card? How much cash did you carry?

    1. Hi Erik, You will take Route 27 to Route 23 to Highway 1 to Route 21. Then after Liberia, you’ll take 253 to 254 all the way to Playa Hermosa. It’s a long drive but all the roads are well travelled and paved. You can read our Road Conditions post for more details.

  101. Wow, thank you for your informative posts and information! My family of 5 is making our first visit to CR in a few weeks. We have rented a car and I wonder if 4WD is necessary?
    We plan to travel to Turriabla, Monteverde, Santa Teresa then Manuel Antonio, spending 3-4 days in each location. Will the driving be too difficult? My kids are 18, 16 and 14.

    1. Hi Dan, Yes, we recommend a 4×4 for travel to Monteverde and Santa Teresa. The roads getting to those towns are rough dirt and/or mountainous, especially in the rainy season. We have detailed information about the specific roads you’ll take in our Road Conditions post. None of them are very difficult drives as long as you do them in the day time, stay alert, and have a 4×4 in case you need it. Also check out our Driving to Monteverde post as one of the roads to town is under construction.

  102. I was wondering if generally speaking the drive times on Google Maps are accurate to get from place to place? Trying to squeeze in as much as possible in a week and I don’t want to over commit if a “Google time” in reality is double!

    1. Hi Erin, Google Maps is fairly accurate but not perfect. Once in a while it will send you the wrong way, not taking into account bad roads or mountains. In general, we’d add a half hour or so to most estimates and double check to make sure that the route is correct. Our Road Conditions of Specific Routes post will help with figuring out if they’re sending you the right way.

  103. Hi guys, just back from three week trip to CR. Used your discount code with Adobe to hire a 4WD, couldn’t have gone any better! The service from our pick up point in Uvita was the best of any car hire company in the world. Driving in CR was a breeze (compared to Australia) and the off road sections of Monteverde and San Gerado de Dota not a problem in the Hyundai Tucson. We travelled San Jose, Drake’s Bay, Corcovado NP, Dominical, San Gerado de Dota, Montezuma, Monteverde and back to SJO. Only slight niggle was return point at SJO airport for cars was extremely small, so lots of car shuffling, get there with plenty of time or you may miss flight! Thanks one again for all your information, we will be back soon. Mike and Sharon

    1. Hi Mike and Sharon, Thanks so much for sharing your experience with Adobe and about driving in Costa Rica. This will be really helpful for others who are nervous. It sounds like you packed in a lot in your 3 weeks and saw a good chunk of the country- that’s great. Yes, the office near the airport is definitely small. LOL!

  104. Hello there, right now my gf and I are looking into getting a 4×4 Automatic but the price is for the cheapest one at the moment/Adobe office is really steep, relatively to the manual SUV’s we’re looking at (we can’t drive stick). We’re sorta forced to get 4×2 automatic SUV from Adobe to save a lot of money. Can you tell us if our 4×2 will have any problems with the following route we’re taking? (as well any advice for our thinking/planning).

    1. San Jose –> 2. Tamarindo –>3. La Fortuna –> 4. Back to San Jose.

    We would like to explore in between each destination.

    1. You should be fine with a 4×2 for those destinations. All the roads connecting them are well paved and the vast majority of local roads are paved as well. So worries, something like a 4×2 Hyundai Creta would be fine.

  105. Hi folks! Thanks for very insightful information. I will be traveling later this week from Liberia to Nosara. Any insight on the condition of route 160? Any suggestions on the best route to Nosara? Thanks much!

  106. Hi Matt and Jenn! Loved reading your blog before we came to CR – many useful tips, thanks! We have been here for the past 3 weeks (one week left) in Jaco and today I got my first parking ticket. Parking at the fruit market, there was a row of cars all parked on the yellow side with the parking police right there, I figured it was okay on the fruit market day –WRONG! I came back 20 mins later to a parking ticket (fine, fair my fault) and missing license plates! Apparently they took my plates and I begged, cried, begged and apologized some more, they wouldn’t give them back. I told them I’d pay there but apparently the ticket is in their system. So here is the part that is the biggest, unexpected expense ever. If the plate is removed, the rental car company has to be the ones to retrieve it. So in my case, my rental agreement has to stay open long after my trip is done until the company can retrieve the plates and the case is closed. They told me 14-21 days of rental payment in this case. So rather than being able to pay the $100 (approx) ticket, it is now the cost of renting per day until the plates are returned plus the ticket. We are estinmating about $400-500 if we are lucky. Plus the cost of now renting another car for the last week. Please beware of where you are parked! I do think my car was targeted because it was a rental…since everyone else on the yellow line still had their plates and no tickets on their windows. Jenn or Matt, if you have any advice, let us know, but I even called the Cosevi in Puntarenas and they said since the car isn’t mine, I can’t go there (in 3 business days) to collect the license plates after paying the fine. They said it has to be done by the company. I had no idea they take your car’s plates! Crazy….

    1. Hi Theresa, What a bummer! We didn’t think they were enforcing parking at all in Jaco. Last time we were there, we even specifically asked a business if we need to get a parking voucher and they said no. It’s really too bad that this happened to you. We’ve heard that it takes 3 days to be able to retrieve the license plates but didn’t know that only the rental car company could do it. Hope it doesn’t end up being too costly for you 🙁

  107. We just bought a car in SJ and had to drive it, along with our rental car, back to Playa Langosta in Guanacaste. Within 5 minutes of getting on CR 1 in SJ, my husband and I got separated. He and 1 of our children in the “new” car, me and 2 kids in the rental. We only had 1 CR phone so no way of communicating. I drove 2.5 hours to Limonal without any $ or phone, in the dark, with 2 kids. And I know only a little Spanish. Talk about an adventure!!

  108. Hi Jenn & Matt! I am so glad I found your website! planning a trip to Jaco at the beginning of Sept and trying to figure out transportation. It sounds like it will be fine to drive from San Jose to Jaco which is a relief. There are 8 adults in our group so I was thinking of renting one of the large 9 passenger cars but am wondering if those are ok to drive around there? Does that make us look too touristy and more susceptible to theft than other rental cars? Are the larger vans harder to get around in and harder to find parking then a smaller car? Just trying to decide if we should get two small cars or the one large car. thanks so much!

    1. Hi Nicole, Yes, those big vans are harder to find parking for and we’ve also heard that they can be very hard to drive. We usually recommend two vehicles instead. For Jaco, you could just get 2 sedans or 4×2 SUVs, which shouldn’t be too expensive in Sept. Make sure to not park illegally in Jaco (where there are yellow lines on the curb). We’ve been hearing about people getting tickets and having their rental’s license plates pulled, and it’s a real pain to get them back! Be sure to check out our Rental Car Discount as you’re looking at car options.

  109. Hi Jenn & Matt

    Great blog.
    We are a family from Denmark. Two adults with two children 10 and 7 years old. We have booked a hotel at the arenal volcano for the first 3 nights. We arrive in San Jose on Saturday, February 16, and will drive by car to Arenal. How are road conditions? Which road should you take? Do most of the rental cars have gps?
    Then we will drive to Samara. How long does it take and are the road conditions ok?

    kind regards

    Kim Nielsen

    1. Hi Kim, Here’s a map link with the route you will take from SJO to Arenal. The roads are in good condition and well paved, but are curvy and mountainous, which is why we don’t recommend making the drive in the dark. Then here’s the route map for Samara. Those roads are also in good condition. It’s not a bad drive but the road around Lake Arenal is very curvy and narrow. You can rent GPS from just about all rental car companies here. Be sure to check out our discount through Adobe Rent a Car as you’re considering the options.

  110. Hi Jenn and Matt!

    We’re travelling to CR this January and planning to drive from San Jose to San Isidro de General. Is it is as treacherous as people say? We would be driving during the day, and the rainy season is said to be over but I can only find information saying how dangerous it is to drive, not many pictures. What’s the driving speed like? Will the locals be frustrated if we’re not gunning it? I mean once in a lifetime experience, but only one life. haha. Also, we are renting a car from San Jose airport and can’t seem to guarantee a 4X4. Any tips?

    1. Hi Richard, That drive is through the high-altitude mountains where the weather can be harsh so mostly it is bad if you’re driving in bad weather conditions. The road itself is in good condition for the most part, except for some very narrow stretches near landslides where there can be big drop offs. We just drove it again a couple of weeks ago and it wasn’t too bad. Just, as you say, be sure to do it during the day. The speed limit isn’t too fast, maybe around 60 kpm, and most people don’t treat it like a race track.

  111. This is a fantastic post and very happy I stumbled upon it. We are planning to go to Costa Rica in March 2019 for our honeymoon. We are looking to fly to the Liberia airport and then drive to Rio Perdido for 2 nights and then drive to Bahia Del Sol for 4 nights. Do you think driving in the Guanacaste area would be difficult? We are otherwise thinking to just stay at Bahia Del Sol for the 6 nights and do excursions or get a driver…thoughts?

    1. Hi Lisa, The drive from Liberia Airport to Rio Perdido to Bahia del Sol wouldn’t be bad at all. All the roads are paved, main roads, except the last part to Rio Perdido, which is rougher dirt. Still not bad, though. It would be nice to have a car for the time on Playa Potrero since many activities in Guanacaste will be a decent drive away. You’ll be able to explore nearby beaches this way, and there are many beautiful ones. If you decide to rent a car, be sure to check out our Rental Car Discount. Hope you both have an amazing honeymoon!

  112. Hi Jenn and Matt,
    I’m headed to CR in late December with my wife and 2 year old. We are renting a 4×4 and I’ve been thinking about driving from Monteverde to Montezuma via 18 and 21 rather than taking the ferry. Is this a wise move or should I just stick to the ferry. Thanks.

  113. Hi guys, planning 1st time visit to Costa Rica in mid-Jan with 3 other ladies. Traveling SJO to Mal Pais but not sure of eta so am nervous about the prospect of driving in the dark. Could you pls send info on shuttles/buses/drivers? Thank you so much!

    1. Hi Marlene, Yeah, that’s not a good drive to do in the dark. It’s $302 for a private shuttle from SJO to Mal Pais for the three of you. A little expensive since it’s a long trip. There’s also the option of a shared shuttle, which would be cheaper. If you’d like help arranging one of these options, just send us a message through our Private Shuttle Transfers page.

  114. Love your website! I’ll be arriving Manuel Antonio by shuttle on a solo vacation. I’m thinking about renting a car to take it to Nauyaca waterfall for the day. Then the next evening, I would drive back to San Jose Int’l Airport. Any thoughts on 1) driving from Manuel Antonio to Nauyaca during the day in a rental car 2) driving from MA to San Jose at night time? I know there are a lot of comments that discourage driving at night in Costa Rica but wondering about driving this particular route at night. Thank you!

  115. Hello! My husband and I will be renting a car and driving from San Jose to Dominical. We know to make the drive before nightfall, but have questions as to where we can find rest rooms along the way. Are there enough gas stations to stop at, and is it customary to tip for use of the bathroom? Any info you can pass on is much appreciated!

    1. Hi Lisa, There are a lot of options for bathrooms for that drive. Gas stations always have them but be sure to bring some extra tissues in case they don’t have toilet paper. There’s also a great rest-stop-type restaurant shortly after you get off Highway 27 and onto 34. It’s called El Jardin (left side of road). They have nice bathrooms and a souvenir shop. You don’t have to pay there or at gas stations but restaurants do sometimes charge a little.

  116. Hi. Maybe this has been asked before, but we are flying into San Jose and renting a car..it is listed as a “mini car” and looks like a SUV version of the smart cars (that looks like toys!), and is the cheapest option.
    I have been reading that there are all kinds of mandatory insurances you must purchase that make the rate go up by hundreds of dollars and the coverage that most credit cards offer is not enough. I paid $156 for the rental and am just wondering with all the fees, am I better off taking a private bus from the airport, for $370 one way..$740 round trip to get back? I really wanted to freedom to leave our resort for the week and explore, but not at a lot of added expense.
    We are staying in Guanscaste…which brings me to my other question, would a “mini car” be ok for that ride? Will we traveling roads or mountains that I would need something with more power or 4 wheel drive? I saw that it is only about 100 miles away, but takes about 4 hours to get to because of the traffic. I certainly don’t want to be stuck in a tiny toy car because we can’t get through the terrain. And we speak no Spanish at all, so trying to get everything figured out to avoid having an emergency where the other people around speak no English.

    1. Hi Katie, Our post Renting a Car in Costa Rica: Clearing up the Confusion deals directly with the mandatory insurance and other fees to look out for so that should answer your questions related to that.

      For if the car you have rented will be good enough for the terrain, most of the resorts in Guanacaste don’t require 4×4 so you will probably be fine. If you want to do day trips to more remote areas, like Rincon de la Vieja National Park, for example, a 4×4 is good to have so it just depends on the activities you plan to do.

  117. Hello! We will be arriving in San Jose airport and want to drive onto
    Arenal Volcano, La Fortuna, San Carlos (Mountain Paradise Hotel). What route would you recommend and would we need an SUV or 4 x 4? First time in country and we would love to drive if possible. Thank you in advance!!

      1. Thank you! This is so helpful! Is San Jose the best airport to fly into? Again, thank you for your kind response!

  118. Hi there! My boyfriend and I are planning a trip next January (yes planning early!!). I really think renting a car will just be the smarter, less stressful option. But I have a few questions for you!

    1) How much generally do you think the overall cost for renting a car for 10 days is? I see online options like $6 a day, but that just cant be…
    2) We are 24 years old, so under 25. Do you know if Costa Rica car rentals will rent to us, and if so, how much they increase the price?

    Thank you both for all of your helpful information!

    1. Hi Rachel, You should read our post Renting a Car in Costa Rica: Clearing up the Confusion. It deals with pricing issues, and yes, those $6/day rentals are not real. The minimum age through the rental car company that we work with is 23 with no additional fee so you should be all set. Here’s the link to our Rental Car Discount page with more info and to get a quote for your specific dates. Adobe includes all required fees in its pricing so the quote you get would be the amount you would actually pay.

  119. Hi Jenn & Matt! My Husband and I are planning to move to the Puerto Viejo area on the Caribbean coast sometime later this year (still figuring out our exact timing), but I have found your articles EXTREMELY helpful!
    We are not planning to become citizens at this point, but we may want to purchase a motorcycle or vehicle; will we need to have a Costa Rican license in order to own a vehicle there?
    Also, we will be moving with our pets, a doberman, terrier, and our feline, so we are planning on hiring a private shuttle to get us all from the airport over to Puerto Viejo….as well as several suitcases and possibly a bicycle. Do you have a certain company that you would recommend working with that would be willing to carry our pets and excess/ large items?
    Thanks for all your insights and for sharing so much valuable information!

    1. Hi Danielle, That’s exciting about your upcoming move! No, you don’t need a Costa Rican license to own a vehicle here or drive. You will drive on your license from your home country, which renews with your passport stamp. To buy the car, you’ll just need to show your passport as your identifying document.

      For the shuttle, we used to work with a driver out of San Jose who would transport pets but don’t anymore, unfortunately. Not sure of another contact but you should be able to find something. Sorry we don’t have a specific recommendation.

  120. This is an awesome resource! We’re going to be making the drive from San Jose to Arenal in a few weeks. Any tips on places to stop along the way or conditions of the roads on that route?

    1. Hi David, For conditions, go to our Road Conditions post and click on Route 702. For places to stop, the city of San Ramon is a good mid point. It’s a locals’ town and has some restaurants and shops centered around a park. Just be careful to keep an eye on your car since you will have everything with you. Hope you have a great trip!

  121. Hi! We are planning a trip to Costa Rica in August. We were looking to drive from SJO to Juan Castro Blanco to Limon and return over a week. You mentioned that road 32 isn’t so great to drive. Any thoughts on what we should do as we would like to do two different hotels, so there isn’t a hotel shuttle between them. Any thoughts? Thanks!

    1. Hi Kristin, They are doing some maintenance on Route 32 for the next few months so there will be times when it is congested. Unless it’s really backed up, it’s still the best way to get to the Caribbean coast. If you’re going to the Juan Castro Blanco area first, you could go north on Route 4 for a while to avoid some of Route 32. Hope that helps!

  122. I haven’t read all the comments, as I live here, and this is more geared to visitors.
    So, apologies if this has been mentioned, but if not, it can be important.
    At many intersections, you may find a traffic light, and a stop sign. This can be very confusing to visitors.
    I suspect the stop sign is there to be used when the traffic light isn’t functioning (the power can go out frequently). So, unless the traffic light isn’t working, ignore the stop sign. Obey the traffic light.
    Also, traffic lights usually hang from a wire in the middle of the intersection, and control all four sides. So, it is best to park a little ways back, so you can see the light through your windshield. Many of the newer cars are equipped with LED daytime running lights, but if your car isn’t, I suggest you drive with your low beams on at all times.
    Best summation for driving here is to be defensively aggressive. Enforcement of traffic laws isn’t as over zealous as it is in North America, where it is used as a means of revenue enhancement (personal opinion), so drivers may disobey the ‘law’, but most of the time, are just being pragmatic. As a visitor, I wouldn’t suggest driving like the locals, and to obey the traffic laws.

  123. Hi Jenn & Matt
    Appreciate all your advice on your site. We’re a family of 5 incl 3 sons, 4 of us will be surfing. arriving in Liberia in June then Tamarindo, Playa Hermosa, Playa Giounes and back to Liberia over 2 weeks. Can I please have private driver company details, we’ve booked a car but thinking I’d rather relax than concentrate when driving the 4 hour distances! Is there a lot of rain during end of June early July?

    1. Hi Christian, We’d be happy to get you some more information about private shuttles for your trip this June. Please contact us through our Shuttle Booking page (LINK) and we’ll send you more info by email.

      For weather, in early July we typically experience a “mini summer” when the rains lessen so it’s usually a great time to visit.

  124. Hello Jenn and Matt, Thanks a lot for all th info on your site!
    I’ve checked your 2 weeks itinerary and driving a car posts. I have always backpacked during my travels and used public transportation or shuttles before. It’s my first time in Costa Rica with my 12 year old son and we have 12 days to do a combination of mountain, river and beach. We were thinking of doing the first part somewhat as you suggest : rafting in sarapiqui days1-2 after arriving in SJO, about 3 days around Arenal for hiking, zip-lining, hanging bridges and hot springs. Then, we want to spend our remaining days on the Nicoya peninsula to surf, swin, paddle, snorkel… My son wants to go to El coco to snorkel with bouledog sharks and I’d like to go to playa grande and maybe Samara for surf. My question, is this all doable by bus/shuttle withouth losing too much time or should I rent a car to be back at SJO the 11th night before coming back home?

    1. Hi Isabelle, With 12 days, you won’t be able to use the public bus to do all that. You could maybe get around using shared shuttles, but renting a car will give you the most flexibility and will probably be about the same price anyway. You have quite a few destinations on your list in different areas of the country so it will take some time to get around. Better to go with the car. Be sure to check out our rental car discount as you’re shopping around. Hope you and your son have a great trip!

  125. Hi Jenn and Matt,
    My wife and I have been to CR a number of times and just recently got back from a week exploring in a rental car. Quite the experience traveling south from Samara on the 160! We have plans to retire to CR, but we’ll do the 3 to 6 month visit before deciding on a permanent move. My question – In your opinion, what is the best way to travel and explore the country for 3 to 6 months? Do we buy or rent a car, take a bus? It seems a car is the most flexible means of travel but I’m not sure what options are available for that length of time.
    Thanks!

    1. Hi Tom, You could rent a car a few different times to avoid one long rental period. A car is the best way to see the country, but if you’re in a town for a while where a vehicle is not needed, you could return it for that time. We have heard of a lot of people doing that who come for longer stays. If you’d like a car for the whole trip, some companies will offer a long-term discount as well. You could contact Adobe Rent a Car to see what they would do for you. Good luck!

  126. Hello Jenn and Matt, I was wondering if you can give me some information on registering a car in Costa Rica. I was told that the vehicle cannot be more than 12 years old. Is that true?

    1. Hi Michael, Costa Rica did change the law on importing vehicles so they may have put a limit on how old imported cars can be. But you can certainly buy a car here that is 12 years old or even much older, not through importing.

  127. Hi. This is the first article I’ve read and seems so helpful. We are considering coming to Costa Rica for our Honeymoon. I was thinking San Jose to La Fortuna to Monteverde to maybe Playa Panama or Tamarindo and then back to San Jose (Unless you think we should go elsewhere). I feel like dealing with drivers will be tricky and expensive? We aren’t too nervous to rent a car but I’m hoping to stop at some waterfalls along the way. Does this get really tricky and dangerous? Any insight is so helpful. Thank you!

    1. Hi Aliza, That itinerary sounds fine, but it’s hard for us to say if it’s the right one for you both without knowing more about your interests. Private shuttles between destinations are a good option if you don’t want to drive. It usually ends up being slightly more expensive than renting a car, but not by too much. The good thing about taking a shuttle is that they can stop where ever you want en route and allow you to leave your stuff securely in the van. If you drive yourselves, you just have to be careful to not leave your belongings unattended in case of theft. If you decide on Costa Rica as your destination, we offer an itinerary service and would be happy to help you figure this all out. Here’s a link with more info. We can also help with just the shuttle bookings and have a rental car discount.

  128. 6 adults in my family are flying into San Jose on Jan 18, 2020 and need to get to Dominical for my daughter’s wedding on January 20th. Is there a shuttle that can take all 6 of us with bags after 1 p.m. arrival on 18th. Then, is it possible to rent a car in Dominical and drop it off in Jaco Beach area January 24, 2020 and then shuttle back to airport in SJ? It sounds scary to drive in the big cities. Thank you for your knowledge and help.

    1. Hi Janet, Yes, all six of you could definitely take a private shuttle from the airport to Dominical. The pickup time for a private shuttle is custom so the driver would be waiting for you after your flight at 1:00. We work with a very reliable company for this route that charges $246 for a van that holds up to 8 people. We will send you an email with the information now in case you’re interested.

      Then, yes, you could rent a car in Dominical or Uvita (Uvita has more options for rental car companies) then drop it off in Jaco and shuttle to the airport. You will be charged a fee for picking up and dropping off the car in different locations so it may make more sense and be less chaotic for you to just drop off the car in Dominical/Uvita before you leave then shuttle back to the airport from there. Here’s the link to our rental car discount. Adobe Rent a Car has an office in Uvita, 15 min. south of Dominical, and we could set up the arrival shuttle on the 18th to drop you off there.

  129. Jen and Matt,
    We love your site and information you have provided on all aspects of planning a trip to costa rica ! thank you very much !

    We are a family of four ( 2 kids ages 15 and 11) planning a 6 day trip to costa rica around thxgiving. The itinerary is as follows roughly
    SJo – Arenal NP/La fortuna – Monteverde NP- Manuel Antonio – back to hotel near SJO

    We would like to try driving but heard about poor road conditions from arenal monteverde. We have following questions

    – is it safe to keep the rental car ar La fortuna hotel for a day and take the taxi-boat-taxi option to monteverde and back and the pick up the car and checkout or are there any reasonable parking garages in La fortuna to keep the car for a day or two
    – Would you consider driving on other routes in above itinerary manageable if we give ourselves enough time and drive in day time ?
    – is it safe to park the car at a stop if we need to get down and grab something to eat or does some one have to be present at the car all the time since we will be travelling with our luggage with us
    – which other places in above itinerary other than monteverde would you recommend considering taking shuttles due to rough driving conditions or other reasons ?

    Thank you so much for the great work you are doing !

    1. Hi Udayan, With 6 nights, we’d recommend visiting only 2 destinations especially since you have an overnight near the airport at the end of your trip. We don’t recommend any of those destinations for just one night due to drive times.

      If you still decide to go to Monteverde, the drive really isn’t all that bad as long as you have a 4×4 with higher clearance. The other drives are all definitely manageable and on major roads mostly. I don’t think shuttles are necessary if you have good directions and do the drives during the daytime.

      For stops, we recommend picking a restaurant where you can pull the car right up to the building so you can keep an eye on it. That’s what we do when we’re traveling with our bags.

      Once you have your itinerary finalized, let us know if you need any help booking tours. We offer help through our tour booking service and love doing family trips!

  130. Hello,
    I’m also interested in rental car companies who can provide a driver for the duration or one part.
    I would like to drive to Jaco from SJO but i land at 7pm on Friday so ideally get a driver to drive there at night, and drive back on Sunday myself in the afternoon (or have the driver show up to drive back on Sunday, depending on how comfortable i feel) about driving in SJO itself where the bad traffic is.

    1. Hi Kaz, If you’re getting in after dark, we recommend taking a shuttle then you can pickup a car the next day in Jaco. A private shuttle to Jaco is $146 through the company that we work with. The driver would be waiting outside the airport doors for you when you arrive. The company that we recommend for rental cars, Adobe, has an office in Jaco and could deliver the rental to you if you request it (free service as long as hotel is reasonably close to their office). Here’s the link to our rental car discount page. Let us know if you’d like us to help arrange the driver for when you fly in.

  131. Hi guys,

    We are a couple traveling to Cahuita for the week of Christmas. We were thinking of renting a car just to be conveniently mobile between Cahuita and Puerto Viejo. So, 2 questions for ya:

    First, Is it possible to simply walk in to Adobe’s Limon agency and rent a car, and Second will a standard sedan suffice for this area or do road conditions mandate an SUV?

    Thanks for your time!

    1. Hi Daniel, We’d definitely recommend reserving the car in advance because Christmas is peak travel time and the rental agencies do run out of cars. And yes, a regular sedan will be fine for exploring the southern Caribbean. No need for 4×4.

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