Tom and I recently returned from a fantastic Costa Rica self drive adventure, exploring both sides of the country and a little in the middle! After deliberating about whether to self drive or take a shuttle bus we decided that the freedom of a hire car would better suit our style of travel, and also would allow us to stay in more remote locations – perfect for wildlife spotting from our front door!
I’d recommend self-drive in Costa Rica to anyone who enjoys making the journey between destinations part of the adventure. There will certainly be potholes, large lorries and the odd sloth crossing the road, but you’ll also get the chance to explore off road and discover places far away from the usual tourist trail. Read on to find out how to make your ride a little smoother…
A sat-nav will be your best friend
Apart from the obvious getting to and from a destination a sat nav will be your partner in crime for seeking out remote restaurant locations, gas stations and the ever useful ‘dangerous bridge ahead’ warnings. Simply pre-load your sat nav at the beginning of your trip with all hotel names and off you go!
Remember to drive on the right hand side of the road
Simple advice but easily forgotten.
Consider upgrading your hire car
Most of the roads in Costa Rica are well paved and wide, making for a comfortable ride. Then you turn off at Monteverde and realise that a larger 4×4 might have been a better idea. Well that’s what happened to us, and in hindsight I would have paid the extra money to upgrade from a Suzuki Jimny to a 4×4 with better suspension. It’s a good idea to work out where you’ll be heading to and researching the roads before making your decision (or pack a strong sports bra!).
Pack some CDs
Or risk listening to a crackly version of Spanish Michael Bublé for two weeks. You have been warned. Most cars will not have a port for your iPod but almost all have a working cd player, make sure to check it out before leaving your car hire rep. If all else fails you can make a nifty amplifier by popping your iPod/phone into a cup or the glovebox…
Check your ride
We had a great experience with our car hire company, the rep was waiting at the meeting point for us and took us through the paperwork and we checked over the car. It’s a good tip to ensure you have agreed any scratches or dents before you take to the wheel to ensure you don’t get charged when you return the car.
Remember your ID
You’ll need your passport, driving license (paper copy is fine) and a credit card for the company to take a copy for a deposit.
Leave an hour earlier than you need to
Costa Rica is a beautiful country and as you drive through it you’ll see many opportunities to stop and admire a waterfall. By giving yourself a bit of extra time you’ll be able to appreciate these moments rather than speeding on toward your next destination. Be mindful that if you are dropping your car off in San Jose traffic is ever present and getting into the city may take you an extra hour or so.
Learn how to ask for gas in Spanish
We had a brilliant lost in translation moment when instead of getting $80 worth of gas in our car we ended up getting $8. Which got us as far as the next gas station where we consulted the Lonely Planet guide and had another go. In order to avoid such blunders make sure to commit the following phrase to your memory…
‘Hola! Me puedas llenar el auto/coche (car) con ochente dollars de gas por favor’. Simples.