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    Car Hire in Costa Rica - Explore central America

    If you are planning a trip to this small yet great country, why not book your car hire in Costa Rica with Auto Europe? With over 60 years of car rental experience, pick-up locations in more than 180 countries and great partnership with the best national and international car hire companies; Auto Europe will get you to your final destination affordably and safely!

    Located in Central America and one of the most visited international destinations, Costa Rica connects North and South America, and share borders with Nicaragua to the North and Panama to the South. As a tropical destination, the landscapes are ever changing during the year and several micro-climates are found throughout the country, contributing to a great variety of landscape, filled with lush vegetation and a stunning display of flora and fauna. As the ultimate playground for adventures, Costa Rica will offer you jungles, breath-taking beaches and a wide array of terrain, including the rugged highlands and several active volcanoes.

    Ticos, as Costa Rican's are called locally, are a happy and welcoming people. The culture is a reflection of its racial diversity; Europe is the predominant influence, from the language to the architecture of churches and historical buildings. The indigenous influence is less visible but can be found from the tortillas to handmade ceramics.

    What are the most important driving rules in Costa Rica?

    Driving in Costa Rica can be challenging for first-time tourists, as you will come across mountainous roads, rural gravel paths and coastal byways. Auto Europe advises you to plan where you'll be going and when, to get a better sense of what type of driving conditions you will come across along the way. Around places like San José, large, multi-way freeways with excellent road conditions can be found, however further from developed areas the road conditions tend to be poorer, and due to the geographic of the country, many roads are two-lane and windy, curving up, down and around the mountains. Here, it is also common for large trucks to drive very slowly and usually there will be traffic jammed up behind them.

    Some roads will have steep drops on both sides, and the rainy season wreaks the country’s roads with landslides and flooding. In rural areas, the norm is gravel or dirt roads. Signs are equally missing or hit in many parts of the country, however, in the most travelled tourist areas, signage is well-positioned and easy to see. For these reasons, we advise you to rent a car in Costa Rica that is a four-wheel drive if possible and also add on a GPS device for extra comfort while driving.

    Gas stations – called Bombas or Gasolineras- are found in every town, but there are parts of the country without it. Both gas and diesel are available, note that gas is sold as regular or super, the difference is the super has more octane than the regular. We advise you, to confirm the fuel type of the rented vehicle at the supplier desk.

    As your head out to discover what Costa Rica has on offer, please keep the following important driving rules in mind.

    • Driver and passengers are required to wear a seat belt and motorcyclists must wear helmets. A fine will be applied if you fail to cohere to these driving laws.

    • Driving faster than 75 mph (120km/h) or 12 mph (20km/h) over the speed limit is considered speeding. In addition to police controls, there are also traffic cameras positioned around the country that reports the license plate numbers to police and rental car suppliers. If over 93mph (150km/h) you might get to spend some time in jail.

    • Talking or texting while driving is not permitted.

    • Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is taken seriously with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.050being considered under the influence. Higher than 0.075 will result in prison.

    • Child seats are mandatory for children under 12 or smaller than 1.45 meters.

    • Driving on beaches is strictly prohibited.

    • San José has a rotating ban on rush-hour traffic to reduce congestion and fuel consumption. The ban bars certain license plate numbers from driving during certain times of the day, Monday to Friday from 7 am to 8.30 am and from 4 pm to 5.30 pm. License plate ending in 1 and 2 are banned on Monday; 3 and 4 on Tuesday; 5 and 6 on Wednesday; 7 and 8 on Thursday; 9 and 0 on Friday.

    What to do in Costa Rica

    When you decide to rent a car in Costa Rica there are numerous towns and cities, as well as places to explore like the rain forests, waterfalls and stunning volcanoes. Marvel at the rich wildlife in National Parks or at Forest Reserves or simply relax on the beach. below we have picked our top choices when visiting this stunning country.

    • Manuel Antonio National Park: Was established in 1972 to preserve one of the most beautiful and bio-diverse areas in the world. With 683 hectares it is one of the smallest national parks in Costa Rica but well-worth a visit due to its diverse wildlife. It contains a combination of rain forest, picturesque beaches and coral reefs perfect for snorkelling. The forest is home to iguanas, sloths, squirrel monkeys and many more interesting creatures. Whether you’re looking for a relaxed or an adventurous day, you’ll find what you’re looking for in this small but complete national park which can be reached by the south of the town of Quepos, with a variety of hotels and restaurants.

    • Arenal Volcano National Park: Home to the most active volcano in Costa Rica, Arenal Volcano is nowadays limited to puffs of steam and a few deep rumbles. It is strictly prohibited to reach the crater for security reasons; however, it is possible to admire its perfect cone from all around the park. There are almost a dozen hot water-based theme parks and the Balneario Tabacón Gran Thermae Spa, is original and most prestigious of the thermal pools. The Arenal is perfect for hiking, kayaking, trekking, cycling or a simple tour. It as a lake, several rivers, refreshing waterfalls offering natural pools and spectacular views with natural habitats for a diverse number of animals.

    • San José: Planning a trip to the capital is something you can’t miss. Located in the Central Valley with the Talamanca Mountains to the south and volcanoes to the north, here you can admire the Spanish colonial buildings, like the National Theatre of Costa Rica and the Plaza de la Cultura. Barrio Amón is well known among tourists for its century-old mansions and architecture. For a variety of restaurants, bars, cafes and bakeries head to Barrio Escaldante. The Central Market is filled with vendors and small restaurants called "sodas" serving local seafood. For a night out you should try the San Pedro and La California neighbourhoods, both near the University of Costa Rica.

    • Jacó: Lovely, energetic beach town full of shops, restaurants and beachfront hotels. Surfers usually venture to Hermosa and Esterillos Este beaches for the best waves, but if you’re looking for a quiet beach day the most popular with the locals is Mantas and Blanca beach. The Pura Vida Gardens and Waterfalls is perfect if you are looking to explore nature and its beloved residents – colourful birds and monkeys.

    • Monteverde: Monteverde or the Green Mountain is a town located in north-western Costa Rica, famous for the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve where it shelters wild species, including jaguars. The reserve's trails goes through fields of ferns and orchids and suspended bridges allow a walk above the canopy. All over the city, you'll find sites that bring the fauna and flora alive, from butterfly gardens and a serpentarium – home to hummingbirds – to an orchid garden with more than 400 species. Monteverde is dedicated to coffee and sugar plantations that are also open to the public for tours.

    • Cartago: Located near the foothills of the Irazu Volcano, this town was once the capital of Costa Rica but was partially destroyed by a volcanic eruption in 1732 and San José took over. Las Ruinas de la Parroquia's outer walls only remain today but the unique architecture and intricate design are still worth a visit with your car rental in Costa Rica. Las Ruins of Cartago has a deep-rooted past as it began with two brothers fighting for the same woman, after the death of one, the other decided to build a church on the site, however, everything that was constructed an earthquake destroyed and the ruins were left as they were in 1910. The Basilica de Nuestra Senora de Los Angeles is one of the most important ones in Costa Rica, home to the Black Virgin, which was rumoured to appear on a rock day after day.

    Road trips with my car hire in Costa Rica

    As you might have discovered by now, Costa Rica can offer you pristine clear blue water beaches, multi-coloured birds, amazing wildlife, hissing volcanoes and sprawling coffee farms, all part of this tiny country. Here you can choose from a stress-free day at the beach to an adventurous one with zip-lines throughout the rain forest. Besides all the tours described above, there is a lot more to see and enjoy!

    As it is impossible to leave Costa Rica without trying local coffee, you must add Finca Rosa Blanco Coffee Plantation and Resort to your itinerary. Located a 30 min drive north of the capital city, on the slopes of the Poás and Barva Volcano, this Luxury accommodation and organic coffee plantation can give you an authentic local taste of Costa Rica. Visit the 30 acres large organic coffee farm, tended by the Jampol family, dedicated to sustainable practices, organic agriculture, and honouring three centuries of Costa Rican coffee heritage and end the day with a coffee cupping session, the art of coffee slurping, or pair your coffee tour with and exquisite tasting menu that honours the golden bean.

    Continue your tour of this rich country by heading to Volcán Poás National Park, and the Poas Volcano, which is an active volcano, the largest open one in the world, with a highly acidic and turquoise crater lake. The crater of the volcano is over a mile across and 1050 feet deep and has two small lakes at the bottom. The water in each these lakes interacts differently with geological properties of the volcano, giving one of the two lakes its distinctive bright blue colour. The roads in the Alajuela districts heading up to the national park are in good conditions but be prepared for winding mountain terrain the closer you get to the end destination. The park is open from 8.00 AM every day and also offers short 2 hours hikes around the top of the crater once you’ve checked the views of the volcano.

    On your way back, take a detour to La Paz waterfalls, before heading towards the city of Heredia, also known as the city of flowers. Tucked between two small mountainous towns, its central park, or Parque Central is well worth a visit, surrounded by beautiful and unique architecture and lined with splendid mango tress.

    End your road trip in the the northwest region of Guanacaste, one of the most popular provinces of the country and known as a tropical paradise thanks to its stunning pristine shorelines, beautiful mountain ranges and several volcanoes. Head to the Papagayo peninsula, and you’ll get the most beautiful sunsets, perfect lazy days on the beach and you can admire the little white-faced monkeys jumping around.

    How old do I have to be to rent a car in Costa Rica?

    To be qualified to drive a car hire in Costa Rica, you will need to be at least 18 years old and have held your driver's license for at least 1 year. Drivers under age of 24 and above 65 might be subject to a surcharge locally called a young driver fee or senior driver fee. As terms and conditions are unique for each supplier, always make sure to proof-read them before booking.

    Do I need to pay tolls when driving my car rental in Costa Rica?

    Most of the motorways have tolls on them and all will accept cash. Toll fees are usually inexpensive, around 300-500 colones per car/passage (0.45-0.75 GBP approximately).

    There are three types of lanes:

    • Manual or regular lanes – where you stop at the booth, pay and get the change.
    • Voluntary lanes – where you pay with 100 colones coins only, as you cannot pay with anything else and you do not get change. It is understood you forfeit your change for getting through faster.
    • Quick pass lanes – this is a transponder system that allows you to pass with only a few seconds stop. These lanes are exclusive for the quick pass and if used without it you’ll get a fine.

    A bit of history

    Less than 20 indigenous tribes occupied the lands when Christopher Columbus landed in Puerto Limon, in 1502. The crew named the country Costa Rica, meaning Rich Coast due to the golden bands used as earrings and nose rings. Costa Rica officially declared their independence from Spain in 1821 and Juan Mora Fernandez was elected the first chief of state in 1824 and started to construct roads and ports and established a judicial system. He encouraged coffee cultivation by providing free land grants to farmers and by the 19th century a few families owned sizeable properties that soon become some of the wealthiest in the country. To support the coffee trade oxcart path from the Central Valley to the Caribbean coast was built for direct exports to Europe. The capital San José developed quickly and was one of the first three cities in the world to have electricity. In 1871 the railroad begins its construction with Jamaican slaves, Chinese servants and American inmates.

    After two brief periods of violence, a fraudulent victory to the presidency and a six-week civil war, in 1948 José Ferrer assumed the presidency and a new constitution were adopted and elections have since been free and fair. Nowadays, Costa Rica still has a large agricultural sector including coffee, banana, pineapple and sugar exports. During the last twenty years, the Eco-tourism and technology have become the top-earning industries.

    What is the currency in Costa Rica?

    The Costa Rica currency unit is the Costa Rica Colón (CRC). Colones come in paper denominations of 1000, 2000, 5000, 10.000, 20.000 and 50.000 colones. coins came in 5, 10, 25, 50, 100 and 500. Older coins are silver and larger than the newer versions. Most of the new one is gold-coloured, except for the 5 and 10 colones coins, which are silver.

    Many banks will exchange British pounds, US dollars and Euros. ATMs are widely available in Costa Rica and known as Cajeros Automáticos. Some banks will charge a fee if using an ATM abroad, so check with our bank before travelling. Credit cards are accepted throughout the country, but there will be occasions when cash is the only possibility.

    What time zone is Costa Rica in?

    Costa Rica is located in the Central Standard Time zone (UTC-06:00), meaning it is 6 hours behind Coordinated Universal Time. It also does not have daylight saving time, as it keeps the same time offset all days of the year.

    Which are the most common words and phrases in Costa Rica?

    The official language is Spanish, but English is commonly spoken. Below are a few words and phrases that may be useful during your travel.

    Pura Vida - Pure Life. As mentioned above, it has many meanings but all friendly: great, fantastic, hello, nice to meet you, thank you, you're welcome. It is common to answer to how's it going with Pura Vida.
    Mae - Dude. You'll hear this word a lot, especially among men, usually friends and can refer to any person.
    Suave un toque - Hold on a second. This expression is a step toward learning how to relax.
    Vara - Thing or stuff. Used in various ways as Qué es la vara? (What's the deal?) or Tumba la vara for calm down or drop it.
    Hacer un MacGyver - To do a MacGyver. Rreferring to the 80’s TV show of the ingenious secret agent who solved problems using paper clips and chewing gum rather than guns. It means to improvise or fix something with whatever you have at hand.
    Buenos dias / tardes / noches - Good Morning / afternoon / evening.
    Hola - Hello
    Por favor - Please
    Gracias - Thank you
    Habla inglés? - Do you speak English?
    Cuánto vale? - How much is it?
    Puedo pagar con tarjeta? - Can I pay with a card?

    Electricity - Do I need a power adapter in Costa Rica?

    Electricity runs as 120V and 60Hz, much lower than the United Kingdom so make sure your electric devices are prepared for that. As plugs are typically the 2-pronged flat type you will need a power adapter, usually, in the UK the plug type is G and Costa Rica is type A and B.

    Do I need a Visa to travel to Costa Rica?

    British nationals don’t need a visa to enter Costa Rica. Tourist visa waiver allows you to stay for 90 days; the exact period is at the prudence of the immigration officer on arrival. If you plan to work or stay for a longer period you should check the requirements with the Costa Rican authorities. Also, your passport must have at least one day’s validity from the date you are leaving. Entry may be refused if you fail to provide proof of return or onward travel.

    Useful links

    Costa Rica Travel Information

    Offial Tourism Website of Costa Rica