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Renting a car and driving in Costa Rica

We are often asked whether driving in Costa Rica is difficult or not. The short answer is no. In this blog, I will tell you about the street rules, what you need to know about renting a car and driving in Costa Rica.

To be honest, I also was a little scared at first, but I immediately understood that there is nothing complicated about driving in Costa Rica. Yes, there are some different rules and ways how to handle traffic than in other countries, but driving here is very easy as soon as you are aware of those rules. Now, I honestly enjoy driving here, and this is why I want to give you some tips about driving in this country.

Renting a car

To rent a car in Costa Rica, you have to be 21 or older and have a valid license for at least 2 years, which you have to present together with your original passport. Also, for traffic controls, a copy of your passport is not enough. An international license is not necessary. You will also need a credit card for the main driver to be responsible for the car. Which car you should choose, depends a little bit on your plans. With 4x2, you can get to most places. But especially in the rainy season, some roads might be a little muddy. Due to street conditions in rural areas, a 4x4 is recommended. My recommendation is to choose a high car either way.

Children under 12.99 years need a car seat, and children between 110 and 145 cm need a booster seat. 

In this blog, you can read more about renting a car. We will be happy to help you with your reservation, just This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


Maybe you have heard that the street conditions in Costa Rica are not always the best. I won’t deny it, but highways and big streets are always paved and normally in good condition. The streets in San José are very small and sometimes there is just space for one car, not just because of the way the street was built, but also because of parking cars on the right and left side. The reason for the narrow streets is that at the time the city was built, there were not that many cars or even just Carretas (ox-carts) in use and they couldn’t imagine that one day there would be this much cars. Of course, this causes traffic, especially during rush hour between 6:00 and 8:30 a.m. and 4:00 and 7:00 p.m. As everyone wants to get home, Ticos make two lines at a place where is actually just one, which makes it a little bit confusing, but this happens just during rush hour.

Driving through roundabouts during rush hour also might look a little tricky because Ticos like to take the space they find. Here you should have patience and just wait for a safe spot to enter.

Streets with holes are normally in neighbourhoods or rural areas outside the big cities like San José, Heredia, and Alajuela. If you see one, try to go very slow and if it is too deep, just wait for space and drive around it. In more rural areas, the streets might not be paved, but with a 4x4 it is normally not a problem.

Some bridges are very narrow as well, and just one car can pass at a time. If you see the red and white CEDA sign, you will have to wait, otherwise, it is your turn to cross the bridge.

During the rainy season, it can also happen that a river is blocking the road. This happened to us in Guanacaste. We had a big car and probably we could have made it, anyway we decided to turn around and look for another road. As we were driving backwards, a man with a motorcycle just continued driving straight through the river. The optimism of the Ticos is great, however, better take the safe way and don’t get in trouble with your car rental company. 


You will reach the most tourist destination over the highways. What is important to know here is that to enter the highway, you have to stop and wait until someone gives you space, but drivers that are already on the highway don’t have to give you space and probably won’t. This is marked on the floor with “CEDA” which means give way. On many highways, it is normal that at one point the right lane stops. Drivers on the right lane will have to give way again, so you may have to stop. The best advice I was given was to just stay on the left. 

Especially on the way to the Pacific coast, there are different toll stations that are marked with the sign “PEAJE”. Some meters before the toll, you can see on the sign how much you have to pay for your vehicle, usually, it’s between 400 and 700 Colones. For this, you should have some coins in your car, small bills are also accepted. On the way from the Pacific to San José, there is a toll station in Escazú which has 13 lanes that close to just 3, so as you can imagine, especially during rush hour it will take a while. If you drive during the week, try to pass this place before or after rush hour.

The rest of the highways is no big deal, the roads lead you along the mountains, fields and some nice landscapes and the drive is very calm and peaceful. If you drive through the mountains, you might see some cars going quite slowly, which is usually because of a little truck in the front trying to get up the hill. Here, you should just have patience. Don’t overtake the car in the mountains because there are many curves and you can’t see well.

Street signs and rules:

  • In Costa Rica, we drive on the right side. 
  • The speed limit is 40 km/h in cities and 80-100 km/h on highways

Alto: Stop

Ceda: Give way

No virar en U: No U-Turn

Calle sin salida: One-way street

Peaje: Toll station

If you are driving on a long road, you will probably wonder why people turn on their emergency lights that often. This is common to warn the drivers behind you that there is traffic. If someone gives you space to turn left or right, people also use the emergency light to say thank you. Sometimes they are honking twice for this. 

If you see someone on a long highway driving in the opposite direction and turning on their long light two times, they are warning you of a police control ahead.


This is one point I’m still struggling with after years. There are no street names! A direction would be: “In Heredia from the supermarket 500 Meters west and then 50 Meters north, there is a gas station, so continue for 350 Meters straight and then turn left.” Luckily, helpers like Google Maps and Waze are invented, so it is easier to just find the place you want to go there. But don’t worry, these confusing directions are mostly in the cities and if you go for example to Guanacaste, the way is mostly straight anyway, and in the end, we always find the place without any problem.

Gas stations

The gas stations have a service, so you just tell the person there “lleno de super” or “20.000 de super (veinte mil de super)” which means to fill the car up or fill the tank with Super of a value of 20´000 Colones, for example. You don’t have to leave the car here, just to turn it off and check that the numbers on the screen are on zeros. You can pay with credit cards or cash. A liter of Super costs approximately 645 Colones (about $ 1,12), Plus 91: approximately 623 Colones ($1,08), Diesel: approximately 561 Colones ($0.98), and LPG: approximately 246 Colones ($0,43) (as in February 2020).

In some areas, you won’t find a gas station for many kilometres, so never drive with your car less than half full and fill it up before driving long distances.


In public parking lots, they usually write down the number of your license plate and give you a little paper. When you come back, they charge the price by the hour. If there are no public parking lots, there are often men or woman in a yellow vest that take care of the cars and try to help you to get back on the street. It is common to give them some coins as a tip. If the street or the sidewalk is marked yellow, you are not allowed to park there. As much as possible, try not to leave your car on the street or let alone with visible valuables. Try to find a safe place to park your car.


  • As Costa Rica is a tropical country, tropical storms and heavy rains can occur. In this case, you should stop the car and wait that it stops until you continue driving. During the rainy season, sometimes there are landslides or fallen trees on the street, so plan enough time to get to the next destination, especially on the day of your flight home.
  • When you have to take a road that leads through the mountains, for example to La Fortuna, there is usually fog in the afternoon, so you should go early. In case you are driving through heavy fog, turn on the emergency lights and drive very slowly.
  • If you drive through rural areas, go slowly, even when the street is paved. There may be wild animals crossing the street.
  • You might see some people driving without a seat belt or trying to fit 6 people on the back seats (especially in areas outside the big cities). This is not allowed and if the transit police see you, you will get a ticket. This is another point you have to take care of. If you get a ticket, you can cancel it at the car rental company, if not you might get into problems at the airport and you can’t leave the country.
  • There are many motorcycles in Costa Rica and, especially during rush hour, they skip the cars from all sides. Try to check double before turning left or right.
  • Don’t leave the car or the windows open at any place when parked.
  • Especially at night, traffic lights and stop signs are just a suggestion for Ticos, so drive extra carefully. Anyway, try to get to your next destination during daylight. Not all roads in rural areas have street lights.

What to do in case of an accident

In case of an accident, call the car rental company where you hired the car. If someone is injured, the emergency number is 911. Don’t move the car until someone from the car rental company and the police get there.

As you can see, there is no big secret about driving in Costa Rica, and it is no reason to worry at all. As soon as you leave the city, you will see impressive landscapes and not much traffic at all.

If there is anything you´d like to add, feel free to write it in the comments below.

If you need help to rent a car, plan your trip, or if you have any other questions, feel free to contact us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. It would be a pleasure to help you.

Greetings from Costa Rica

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  • Janaina & Dieter, Brazil

    The trip was wonderful! Your help was invaluable and without your choices it would not have been so good! I am very very satisfied and very happy with the choices you made!

    Thank you very much for everything!

    Janaina & Dieter, Brazil
  • Kathrin, Ines, Matthias & Ingo, Germany

    Hello dear Aline, many thanks to you for the great compilation and organization of the trip. We were able to spend eventful, interesting and wonderful days in Costa Rica and will keep them in good memory. A thank you also goes to the ARA Tours team, which was available 24/7 for problems and questions, which were solved and answered quickly and reliably. The punctuality of the transfers offered should also be emphasized. In summary, it was a wonderful holiday.

    Kind regards

    Kathrin, Ines, Matthias & Ingo, Germany
  • Carina & Thomas, Germany

    Hello dear Aline,
    Now we have arrived back at San Jose Airport after a great trip. Everything worked out great and the tour was just perfectly planned and organized. Thank you very much. We take a lot of positive memories with us.
    Best regards.

    Carina & Thomas, Germany
  • Yvonne, Switzerland

    The Costa Rica trip together with my family is already behind us - it was wonderful!!! Everything went smoothly from A to Z, we had a wonderful time, no incidents and wonderful experiences.
    We all enjoyed it very much; the nature is enormous, but also the warm-hearted people, the cleanliness, the food - we are very enthusiastic!
    At this point I would like to thank you very much for your support in the preparation, for all the bookings, clarifications and enquiries!!!
    We visited the waterfall in La Fortuna and had a great view of the Arenal. In Monteverde we did a Hanging Bridges and Zipline tour and in Nosara a surf course. In Finca Rosa Bianca we did the coffee tour, it was all great, fun and interesting 😊. All in all, we saw lots of animals, always ate well, enjoyed the beaches....even in rainy weather 😊. Often we were even glad that it was overcast, otherwise it would have been almost toouuu hot for us.
    So THANK YOU again so much for everything!!!!

    Yvonne, Switzerland
  • Christina, Switzerland

    Many thanks for the extensive support (before, during and after the trip) and the professional handling of our concerns. With your support we had a smooth and unforgettable vacation in Costa Rica! Our favorite hotels: Hotel Plaza Yara and the Poas Volcano Lodge - a dream!
    All the best

    Christina, Switzerland
  • Jeanne, Bernd & Bill, USA

    Yay! I´m glad we are back on track. Thank you again for helping us with all these changes.
    I´m glad we choose ARA-you are amazing! Thanks for all your help! It made it a very memorable visit!

    Jeanne, Bernd & Bill, USA
  • Janka, The Netherlands

    Hi Eli & ARA Team,
    We have spoken to the guest and they are super enthusiastic about their Costa Rica roundtrip! Everything was well organized, nice hotels, nice mix of activities & beach and they have big compliments for you guys!!
    Many thanks for all the good work!! The guest highly appreciate it!!
    They had lunch nearby in Ara Ambigua Lodge, and they loved this place. Friendly staff and good food!
    Do you work with this accommodation? If so, we would love hear 😊
    Once again, heads off for this amazing trip!
    With warm regards

    Janka, The Netherlands
  • Thomas, Deborah, Eva & Paula, Switzerland

    Dear Priska
    Happily I write some words to you in English, so you can easily forward them also to Ara Tours, please. Thank you all, we spent a magic time in Costa Rica! Baumeler's and Ara Tours organisation and logistics were perfect, everything worked out even better than we expected. The tours were brilliant, we really enjoyed everything very very much!
    All the accomodation was absolutely wonderful... the setting, the quality, the food, with happy helpful friendly staff everywhere. It was a wonderful way to experience this beautiful country the way we did, on a private tour with personal guide and drivers. We saw and learnt sooo much - it would have been impossible to do so on our own.
    Especially we praise our brilliant guide Fernando Perez, we benefited so much from his truly wide knowledge and deep love for his Country which he passed on in lovely encouraging way. We even became friends and we will meet in Switzerland coming September! Also our driver Carlos Sandi was great, not only as a driver but also as a compagnion, animal spotter and photographer. Thank you!
    So.... now we just enjoy our last day...
    Sunny greetings, pura vida

    Thomas, Deborah, Eva & Paula, Switzerland
  • Yvonne & Andrea, Switzerland

    Hello all
    Unfortunately, our wonderful trip is already over and everyday life has caught up with us again. We would like to thank you very much for everything. The trip was planned exactly according to our wishes and we have seen so many beautiful places.
    Thank you Stefanie!
    We have felt completely comfortable and top cared for by you. Via Whats App we got immediate answers to our questions, with the car everything worked out great. In all locations we were treated very warmly and nicely. It was just so indescribably beautiful, we will dream of the beautiful experiences for a long time. In any case, we will warmly recommend you and hope for a next time. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
    Best regards.

    Yvonne & Andrea, Switzerland
  • Anita, Switzerland

    We have arrived safely in Switzerland and have already returned to work.
    It was a wonderful trip you put together for us.
    Your excellent service, as well as the 24 hour support service from ARA Tours, was truly outstanding.
    I have already recommended you several times and would book with you again and again. Thank you very much and keep me informed if there are any interesting offers.
    Best wishes.

    Anita, Switzerland
  • Lukas & Isabelle, Switzerland

    Hello Pedro, our time in CR is coming to an end and we wanted to say "thank you very much for organizing a phenomenal week". Everything has been well organized and we have seen many beauties of nature. Thanks!

    Lukas & Isabelle, Switzerland
  • Reinout & Yvonne, The Netherlands

    Thanks Jenny for the clear answer. We will make an appointment via the link you gave us.
    Today we visited National Parc Cabo Blanco. What an amazing park, so quiet for tourists, so full of animals, really lovely and therefore together with Monte Verde, Cahuita and Corcovado the park today, Cabo Blanco, scores high in our ranking of most beautiful parks of CR.These parks give us reason, together with the Pura Vida in CR, to come back soon. We'll keep in contact.

    Reinout & Yvonne, The Netherlands
  • Dominik, Germany

    Good day Jennifer
    As we have already told Simone, the stay at Lapa Rios is extremely enriching, thanks to the well planned planting and the untouched environment we see a lot of animals. Contrary to the plans before the stay, we do not want to visit more animals in captivity at the end. We will have a look at the few hours before we leave.
    We thank you and your team very much for the excellent advice and the permanent support! We can only recommend Ara Tours.
    Best regards.

    Dominik, Germany
  • Daniel, Jana & Theo, Germany

    A big thank to you, you saved our vacation!
    Communication already worked very well in Germany. The help from you, especially through Aline, should be mentioned here. This was fantastic from the first WhatsApp message to the last. We already know Costa Rica, so we knew what we wanted and what not. Ara Tours was an important point of contact for us. We are very grateful to Aline precisely because our actual travel agent cancelled our trip 36 hours before departure. She immediately organized everything for us. Whether the hotel in beautiful Punta Leona, the tours to the national parks, even the shuttle service with the great driver Guillerno Ortega has to be mentioned here. We are very grateful to you, dear Aline, but also to the entire Ara Tours team. You too made our almost 3-week trip to Costa Rica unforgettable again. We would love to come back and of course we will book through Ara Tours again.

    Daniel, Jana & Theo, Germany
  • Alexander & family, Switzerland

    Thank you, everything really worked out great. Super organization and at any time quick info / help / support from you!
    We liked it very much. The conclusion in Quepos was crowning. We liked the beach in the National Park Manuel Antonio very much. We would have liked to stay longer, but we take home many wonderful, unforgettable impressions. PURA VIDA!
    Many thanks to you Aline! We will gladly recommend you to others.

    Alexander & family, Switzerland
  • Neumann Family, Germany

    - The route was super planned, first on the beach time to arrive and then only from Monteverde with excursions inland etc. and at the end again beach - perfect!
    - Support from Ara Tours was VERY good!!! Through Whatsapp reachability the service was great, very quick answers / very flexible, good suggestions etc. Also with the doctor Ara Tours helped with translations by phone - that was really very, very good!
    - The home stay day was an absolute highlight - very authentic - so we got to know the locals REAL, the family was super friendly and very open and have talked about everything. Not at all touristy perceived.

    Neumann Family, Germany
  • Marine & Bruno, France

    We would like to thank you personally for this beautiful trip that you organised for us and for the follow-up that you did throughout the stay. A big thank you also to Jennifer d'Ara tours! Thank you again and have a great week!

    Marine & Bruno, France
  • Walter, Switzerland

    We really appreciated your (almost) daily updates from Costa Rica on Covid and related issues. That was a highlight compared to other incoming agents worldwide! We thank you for your effort and wish you that you manage the coming time well and stay healthy.

    Walter, Switzerland
  • Ronald, Germany

    Our great compliments for keeping us informed every day on the developments. We wish you all the best and keep yourself and families in good health and mood during this unprecedented period!

    Ronald, Germany
  • Kathrin, Germany

    You are really super! It is impressive how you manage the crisis with your super flow of information and the great reversal. Hats off!

    Kathrin, Germany
  • Michael, Germany

    Hello, we were on a round trip in Costa Rica from 27.11., which was booked through BigXtra and organised by them. We would like to take this opportunity to thank you very much. The tour was simply amazing! The support by Carlos was just great. We have done many trips before, but this one was an unforgettable experience thanks to Carlos. Carlos speaks very good German and was able to sensitively introduce us to Costa Rica, its incomparable nature and its great, friendly inhabitants. Pura Vida became for us a term for the attitude towards life in Costa Rica. Please say hello to Carlos from us and once again a huge thank you to him in the name of the whole group of 8. We wish him only the best for his future.

    Michael, Germany
  • Evelyne, Switzerland

    Wie just did a 4 week trip in Costa Rica which was organised from ARA tours and we really liked it - well done Ara Tours! We also had a guide - his name is Enrique. His German is really good and he knows a lot about Costa Rica and he showed us a lot of animals. We had a wonderful time with hime - thank you so much Enrique!

    Evelyne, Switzerland
  • Tanja, Germany

    perfect tour perfect tour guide pablo, everything very well organised 👍👍👍👍🇨🇷🇨🇨🇷 were thrilled

    Tanja, Germany
  • Ines, Germany

    Many thanks and great praise to our tour guide Mauricio and our bus driver Adrian! We felt very comfortable during the 2 weeks in Costa Rica. The wide-ranging knowledge of Mauricio and the super driving skills of Adrian were particularly admirable. Thanks to the eagle eyes of both of them, we had the opportunity to observe a variety of animals in Costa Rica. Thank you for everything!

    Ines, Germany
  • Sabine, Germany

    I can only recommend ARA Tours. Thanks again to Nicole for the great planning of the tour and the support. Our tour guide Peter Käser was simply incredible (a walking encyclopaedia) and always had an answer to all my questions about the flora and fauna and the history of CR. Our driver Julio carried my father on his hands, for which I am very grateful. CR is also worth a trip for wheelchair users at any time (with ARA Tours, of course).

    Sabine, Germany
  • Thieme Family, Germany

    We would like to thank you once again for organizing our trip [...] through the beautiful country of Costa Rica. Our special thanks go to our tour guide Enrique, who with his extensive knowledge of flora and fauna about his country brought it very close to us and made us want to come even a second time. We were very glad and happy to travel with him, as he was also very committed to our problems on site, in addition to his competent function as a tour guide.

    Thieme Family, Germany
  • Antonia-Maria & Boris, Austria

    Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your sensational effort! I do not know such a competent tour guide as with you really from nowhere else... and we have already traveled a lot... 🙏🏻🍀

    Antonia-Maria & Boris, Austria
  • Katja, Germany

    I wanted to thank you again for the great Costa Rica trip. We flew back home very happy and with many great impressions. A compliment for the super organisation. Everything worked out perfectly (except for the handover of the rental car, which was force majeure...). So thank you again and I have already recommended you to friends:-)!

    Katja, Germany
  • Denise & Alain, Switzerland

    Thank you very much for your email and the tickets. We really appreciate how quickly and efficiently you deal with our requests each time!

    Denise & Alain, Switzerland
  • Philippe, Switzerland

    Hello Christine Thank you very much for this information. The support is super👍 many thanks Gruss

    Philippe, Switzerland
  • Marianne & Stefan Gräub, Switzerland

    Otherwise, the planned trip was a complete success. Everything went well and the visits you organised were all very interesting. The visits you organised were all very interesting and gave us a great insight into the respective topics. The fact that the Ticos are very friendly and always ready to help was fully confirmed.

    Marianne & Stefan Gräub, Switzerland

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