Costa Rica is a gorgeous country with lots to see! You’ll want to tackle both the rainforest and their gorgeous beaches but getting from one to the other can be tricky. You can take a shuttle, rent a car, or do a little bit of both! Check out my guide to all of the options and make the best choice for you.
1. Rent a Car
I read a ton of articles that recommended, insisted and borderline demanded that we rent a 4×4. Renting a 4×4 is of course going to be a bit more expensive than your standard rental car so I was digging for details. I finally came across an article that gave details about certain roads between cities and I was convinced we could make the trip in a regular rental car.
If this is your first time in Costa Rica, chances are you’re going to be sticking to the more touristy locations. We spent our trip in La Fortuna, Monteverde, Jaco and Manuel Antonio. We flew in and out of San Jose and our little two wheel drive Toyota Corolla from Avis made the trip without a single issue! The rainforest is definitely more treacherous and if you’re going to venture off the beaten path, I’d go with a 4×4 for peace of mind. But, if you stick to the more known areas like we did, a regular car will do just fine.
The road from San Jose to La Fortuna was 90% paved, 10% gravel and the second half of the trip contained a decent number of swerve worthy potholes. The road from La Fortuna to Monteverde was 60% paved with massive potholes and 40% gravel. Once you hit gravel, you won’t see paved roads again until you reach the center of Monteverde. We left Monteverde for Jaco and experienced gravel for the first hour and then hit paved roads. The roads got better and better the closer we got to the beach and were dreamy by comparison all the way to Manuel Antonio and back to San Jose!
Costa Rica is not known for being easy to navigate. We relied very heavily on google maps to tell us when and where to turn because streets were rarely labeled. Locals will pass you on double yellow lines and sometimes even on gravel roads on a tight corner of a cliff. If you think this will be too stressful, look into option number two!
2. Take Shuttles
If you’d rather let someone else do the driving, there are quite a few shuttle companies in Costa Rica! They’d be happy to do all the driving for you! Going this route will make for a smooth and perhaps more relaxing trip while you’re gone but will involve more pre-planning.
Make sure your hotel is in a good location and close to everything or that your hotel provides a shuttle. In La Fortuna and Monteverde, almost all of the tours offer free hotel pick up. If you just want to head into town for a meal you might have to take a taxi.
The main downside of taking a shuttle is committing to an exact time frame. It’s recommended that you book your shuttles before arriving to guarantee a spot. This can be tough if you suddenly discover something you want to check out but can’t because you have to leave earlier in the day. We also had the opposite happen where we got through everything we wanted to see. We were ready to leave in the morning when originally we thought we’d still need half a day.
3. Take Shuttles and Rent a Car
If you want to do the best of the rainforest and the beach like I did in my itinerary, you do have the option of taking a shuttle and renting a car! Since we found the roads along the coast to be easy, I would recommend taking a shuttle through the rainforest. Then, you can rent a car either on your last day in the rainforest, or your first day on the beach.
They do have rental car locations up in the rainforest so you have quite a few options. This way you’re not having to deal with massive potholes, gravel and impatient locals! But, you still have some freedom for most of your trip.
Lots of shuttle websites have the ticket costs easily accessible in a table (and already in US Dollars) so calculating your overall cost was a breeze. I found in most instances that it ended up being more expensive to take shuttles than the base price of renting a car.
However, calculating the actual cost of your rental car may not be possible until you arrive. In Costa Rica, you are required to have insurance on your rental car. This is not a cost that is included in your original reservation. Some credit cards provide international car insurance so this would be something wonderful to look into. It could easily save you hundreds of dollars!
The freedom that comes with having a rental car is not without its caveats. Costa Rica is known for having daunting roads with massive pot holes. In some places you’re lucky if it’s paved at all! Cost, convenience and amount of stress all play a role.
So, which would you choose? Shuttle? Rental car? Or a little bit of both?!
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