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Please tell me about your expeiences driving a RENTAL CAR around Costa Rica.

Please tell me about your expeiences driving a RENTAL CAR around Costa Rica.

Old Oct 10th, 2003, 06:25 AM
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Please tell me about your expeiences driving a RENTAL CAR around Costa Rica.

We are looking into a trip through Costa Rica and feel that taking organized tours every day would be to expensive. We are interested in renting a car and spending our time touring the country and staying at a different spot every night.

How are the roads and traffic? How about danger from crazy drivers who do not folloow the rules of the road? How about theft and supplemental insurance costs? If we get in an accident will both parties be thrown into jail until the whole thing is understood (like Mexico)? How about police roadblocks and bribes/kick backs?

Is touring by Americas around Costa Rica by car popular and safe? Your stories and advice please?
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Old Oct 10th, 2003, 07:19 AM
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During our first trip to Costa Rica two years ago, we rented a small SUV from Hertz. It was pretty expensive, maybe $600.00 for the week. In retrospect, I think we could have found a cheaper alternative.

We didn't do any driving in San Jose. After being in a cab there this past year, I can tell you that I wouldn't want to be driving around downtown San Jose. Crazy drivers.

The roads. Where to start. Huge amount of variability. We drove from the airport area to La Fortuna. Took the scenic route via Sarchi and Zarcero. The road was narrow and winding through the mountains, but very drivable. The sugar cane trucks were pretty daunting and as they flying at you from the other direction. Just pull as far out of their way as possible. We got lost in San Carlos, the map we had was wrong and the signage is bad. No big deal, finally found our way. After that the road was straighter, but more potholes. And I mean, big pot holes. The kind you wouldn't want to hit at highway speed for fear of major damage to the vehicle.

The absolute worst road we enountered was between Tilaran and Monteverde. Something over 20 kilometers of rocks and potholes. Never got out of second gear. I've never seen anything like it. But, as long as you take your time, it was certainly doable.

PanAm highway is fine, but there are slow trucks you can't get around and cattle and other animals on the road. Road between San Jose and Quepos is ok, just some potholes to watch out for. And some bridges that made me go, "We're going to drive over THAT????" No problem, in the end.

The biggest problem I see with your plan is that it really isn't wise to leave any belongings in a car while you tour anywhere. We got lucky in that nothiing was ever stolen while we were looking around in some small towns. But, we weren't gone very long, and they were small towns. Not necessarily tourist destinations. I think if you want to drive, that you should pick a few places to stay and take day trips from there. Less unpacking, and your 'stuff' will be safe in the hotel.

All that being said, we didn't rent a car our second time back. We flew and hired drivers. Certainly was 'easier', but you did lose some spontanaity.

Jean
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Old Oct 10th, 2003, 07:46 AM
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We rented a Pathfinder from Dollar for our 2 week tour of CR. We first went from San Jose to Peurto Viejo on the Caribbean coast. The drive itself was no problem. However if you get behind trucks or slow drivers there really isn't many places to pass. Once out of the mountains and on to the main highway to Limon traffic got better. When we left PV we drove directly to Agua Vargas near the Arenal volcano. While it took approximately 7 hours it was the distance not the traffic that caused to take so long. Going around Arenal Lake was the worst road conditions that we had encountered. You just have to drive cautiously. Once around the lake the roads improved. We continued on to Samara and then Nosara. If you are intending on going in this direction take the ferry at the north end of the bay (perhaps 15 minutes to cross) rather than the ferry at the mouth of the bay from Jaco (?). It was are understanding that it can take up to 2 hours to cross once on the ferry but you may also face a delay getting on the ferry if you are queued up. The lower road from Samara to Nosara was a dirt road that was washed out in some places. With the Pathfinder that really wasn't a concern. As far as personal possessions are concerned take your normal percautions. We did not have any problems. There are police parked on the side of the road frequently, especially on the Pacific and Caribbean side highways. I would not hesitate to tour CR the same way again. We had a wonderful problem free vacation. Oh yeah...you can get to the Caribbean side by an alternate route through Cartago. When we left Nosara we drove all the way back to PV for our wedding. When we left PV on our last day we went the Cartago route to get to the airport. It was a lovely relaxing ride with very little traffic. As far as staying at a different spot every day. No problem. We did not have any reservations when we arrived in CR. We simply looked at the rooms in various types of facilities until we found one that suited us. We stayed in everything from cabinoes ($20US/person) to lowrise hotels ($$75US for room) to luxury accommodations (El Tuscano, $125US for room). Hope info is helpful. Here is a couple of good website.

http://www.costaricamapguide.com/home_page.htm

http://www.infocostarica.com/

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Old Oct 10th, 2003, 09:28 AM
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We rented a Pathfinder from Europecar through Tico Travel (because of an advertised green season special that was pretty affordable). Got the extra all inclusive insurance for peace of mind....and needed it because someone backed into me in a parking lot one time and another time someone scratched the car with a key. Didn't pay for any of that. Extra coverage wasn't much more money....$70 more for the whole 8 days.

You need to make sure your tires are good, since tires are not included in the extra coverage...if you hit a pothole and more than a patch is needed, it's your dime.

Our routes tended to be on well traveled roads and in general the roads were fine. The bridges and potholes in some areas were part of the experience that made our trip different from driving in Southern California -- we had fun driving. We didn't experience poor/insane drivers at all (although we didn't drive in San Jose itself). There were creative drivers that drive like everyone does in Costa Rica. After a few kilometers driving you can see the informal rules of the road and get the hang of watching for passing cars in both directions. Another adventurous aspect of driving is that, off the pan american highway, directional signage and street signs are non-existant. No house addressed either. You need a good map and even then sometimes the only way we knew we were headed in the right direction was seeing the occasional van with "Turismo" painted on it coming the other way.

Don't know to what extent you want adventure in Costa Rica....but if you are a capable driver I think that driving yourself helps you understand the country a little bit more. Fun to get lost...fun to ask the kid by the side of the road for directions....fun to be able to drive through the off the beaten path residential areas...fun to worry about whether or not the bridge is safe...fun to get out and enjoy looking down on a beautiful creek with white heliconia along the banks....fun to go into the local soda and get some nuts.

Sorry for the length of the response (much of which I've said on other posts before) but I really think that people who are adventurous and who are capable drivers would miss out by being driven. Disclaimer: my position does not apply to driving alone off the beaten path, driving at night, driving distances on terrible back country roads, and driving in a non-suv car.

Jim
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Old Oct 10th, 2003, 11:03 AM
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In my trip to CR last year, I was the designated navigator and my traveling companion, the driver. And as others have described, signage is not a strong point in Costa Rica --- if you see the name of the next town on your map, and that's what looks like where you're going, then you know you're still on the right road.

We actually were pulled over by the police; apparently we were over the speed limit in a school zone. My friend (who speaks basic Spanish) was very polite to the officer and "pretended" not to fully understand what he was saying. I was sitting there smiling like an idiot (yes, sir, yes sir, we're stupido americano tourists and please don't haul us off to the pokey). Fortunately, he gave us a warning (I understood enough Spanish for that) and we went on our way ---- SLOWLY, very slowly.

One suggestion I have for anyone renting a car in CR. Do NOT rent a sedan; really want an SUV, be it rainy or dry season. And the reason for this choice is to sit high on the road and have your best view to dodge the potholes.
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Old Oct 11th, 2003, 07:38 AM
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Lots and lots of good advice by the previous posters. A couple of things worth mentioning.
1. your comment that you wanted to stay in a different place each night is very unrealistic. The travel times between many of the highlights in CR are long enough that, once you get there, you won't have much time to see what is there. The day length in CR is about 12 1/2hrs a day. You do not want to be driving at night. Many of the places in CR that are worth seeing are anywhere from 3-9hrs away by car.
2. there are some crazy drivers just get into the swing of things. You will find the driving much slower going than you are used to at times because of the potholes, animals, water on the roads at times. Plus, as was mentioned, getting behind the sugarcane trucks on the mountain road between the coast and the central valley can be extremely slow. Our driver that we use instead of driving ourselves passes the trucks but it is not for the faint of heart.
3. As was mentioned but needs to be stressed because people still come back from their trip minus their belongings..do not leave things in your car while sight seeing. Even leaving things in the car on a busy street just to run into the bank (as was reported by one person on this board) cost them their belongings.
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Old Oct 13th, 2003, 07:40 AM
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Hi
Have to agree with the others. Been there 5 times always rent an SUV. Try and get to your destination before about 3:00, you will have more chose in accomdations.
When you first start driving take it easy till you are comfortable, the tendency is try and keep up with the Ticos, if they want to get by you, don't worry they will!!
San Jose is not bad when you get used to it.
We were there 5 weeks last year, criss crossed the country several times.
When you fill up with fuel make sure you check fluid levels yourself,(we let the attendant do it) our rad had a leak last year and we ended up siezing the motor. If the rental company decides you didn't take proper care of the car you could be liable for repairs. You will have a blast driving CR!!!
Greg
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