How to Drive in Costa Rica / 2022 Edition

Car Drive in Costa Rice

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What to Know Before You Go

Is it safe to drive in Costa Rica? Of course, driving in Costa Rica can be an intimidating thought for a first timer, but being informed and following the rules can insure a safe driving experience.

Costa Rica is a beautifully diverse country with so much to see! Sure, you could book one of those large group tours where everything is planned out for you. No need to think about your next activity or destination. This is a great way to allow someone else to be in control of your vacation. You can sit back, relax and just enjoy. However, if you are a budget traveler with a gypsy soul then renting a car will be the best option for you! Renting a car allows you the freedom to stop at every waterfall, beach, volcano and national park along the way! You can travel on your time and at a speed you are comfortable with. 

Prior to arriving in Costa Rica, we read many negative stories ranging from the terrible road conditions to local authorities harassing foreigners. Unless you are planning to stay in one area, renting a car in Costa Rica is necessary. We are huge fans of public transportation and even looked into taking a bus from San Jose to our end destination of Dominical. Unfortunately, not only was there only one bus a day with our desired route, but it would take a three-hour car ride to a six-hour bus ride. Mix in the added bonus of the bus not even taking us to our rental house once we arrived in Dominical, we opted to rent a car. I will not bore you with the entire math but it not only made more sense logistically, but also financially. 

Where to Rent

There are many car rental companies in Costa Rica, but they are not all the same. Many of these companies have more than attractive price points. However, it is common for companies to surprise you with many hidden fees upon the pick-up of your rental car. This is no way to start your vacation. After a lot of research, and input from a Costa Rican local, we ended up renting with Adobe Rent A Car. Our experience could not have been any better! No hidden fees, painless pickup and drop off and courteous employees who took the time to explain some extra driving tips to us. Another benefit is the option to opt out of the vehicle damage coverage if it is covered by your credit card – A printed letter from the credit card company stating the coverage is required to have on hand. In addition, our deposit was immediately released after drop off. We highly recommend Adobe Rent A Car when renting a car in Costa Rica. When you book with this link you will get a discounted rate!

General Information

  • You do not need an international driver’s license to rent a car in Costa Rica. A valid driver’s license from your home country and a passport will suffice.
  • Seat belts are required in Costa Rica.
  • Children 12 and under are required by law to use a car seat or booster.

Although you may see a family of four with two small children sandwiched onto a motorcycle, this is not legal. It is very common in more rural areas to see children riding on their parents laps, but do not take this as your sign to do the same. You are a guest in this country. Following all the rules can minimize your chances of an encounter with the local authorities.

Rules of the Road

In general, driving rules are likely similar to the rules you have back home. Double solid lines mark lanes and dotted lines for when passing is allowed. Speed limit signs are posted in kilometers but again, not as frequently as you may be used to. For my friends in the US who may be freaking out about how to calculate mph to kph while simultaneously driving and paying attention to foreign street signs, do not worry. Your vehicle will only display kph. 

Prior to driving in Costa Rica, we read how the absence of road and street signs were prevalent throughout Costa Rica. This was not our experience. We are not saying this will be the case for everyone and every route, but we did not experience any issues with road or street signs not being present.


To avoid getting lost, use a GPS device instead of fully relying on road signs. You can either rent an external GPS device with your car rental or you can use your maps on your phone if you have an international data plan. While deciding which avenue of navigation you will choose, be aware that phone coverage may be spotty.

Most Useful Maps App

If you decide to rely on your phone for navigation, we highly recommend using Waze (App Store | Google Play Store) as your form of navigation as other map apps do not work properly. Waze is not only great for directions, but it is a great resource for warning about traffic jams and speed traps. Paying attention and using Waze will ensure you are always aware of the speed limit. 

Traffic Stop

If you are pulled over, just remember to stay calm. Respectfully request a citation and make sure you mention you will be happy to pay it at the end of your trip through the proper channels. Never offer a bribe. Offering a bribe is a serious crime and could result in jail time. As you probably already know, the best way to avoid dealing with a traffic stop and being asked for a bribe is not to get stopped in the first place.

On the Road

Road Conditions

Costa Rica’s road conditions can change in a snap. I highly recommend planning your route and doing the proper research to see if a 4×4 will be required during your stay. 

We did indeed get a 4×4, as it was required to access our rental house at Edge of the World. During our stay, we visited Alturas Wildlife Sanctuary where in our opinion, a 4×4 was required to access the property. Just be careful and if you are in any doubt or do not have a set route, just go with a 4×4 to be safe. 

Car Costa Rica Drive

Rainy Season

Rainy season is from May to November. During Rainy season, it is not uncommon for complete roads to be shut down due to landslides or washouts. Prior to arriving, it is always a good idea to ask your hotel or rental owner about the current local road conditions and plan accordingly. We traveled to Costa Rica during rainy season and were lucky enough not to experience any issues. 

Road Hazards

Costa Ricans are quite resourceful. More often than not, a pothole or road hazard will be covered or marked with whatever is laying around. Do not assume that giant leaf or trash bag in the middle of the road is unimportant. It could be a warning sign to something more dangerous. Always stay alert! 

Pedestrians and Bicyclists

Pedestrians and bicyclists do not have the right of way in Costa Rica. No one will expect you to stop for them to cross. Bicyclist and motorcycles will weave in and out of traffic. At times, they will be so close to your car, you may think they will bump into you. 

One-Lane Bridges

One-lane bridges are very common in Costa Rice. The general rule is whoever gets there first has the right of way. Rather than each side taking turns, you will notice that an entire side will go. Once cleared, then it is ok for the other side to go. 

Car Costa Rica Drive


If you find yourself in an accident, immediately call 911. Under no circumstances should you move the vehicle. It is illegal to do so. After calling 911, call your car rental emergency number which you should be able to find in a pamphlet given to you at the time you signed your rental car paperwork. 

Parking Security Guards 

It is quite simple. Follow the rules and do not draw attention to yourself. Never leave your luggage unattended in your vehicle, as break-ins are common. Often when parking in a public space, you will see a parking attendant who will be wearing a reflective vest helping you to park. These individuals work as a type of parking security. They keep an eye on your vehicle to prevent break-ins while you are out exploring. It is customary to give them a small tip for keeping your car safe. 

Enjoy Your Trip!

Renting a car and exploring at our own pace was definitely the right choice for us. It allowed us the freedom to stop spontaneously whenever we saw something interesting. We hope you have a safe and enjoyable trip! If you have any questions about driving in Costa Rica, feel free to leave a comment or reach out to us on Instagram. Happy trails and Pura Vida!