Costa Rica is a country that will have you out and exploring the outdoors immediately after arriving. In fact, you may be so struck with the beauty of the area as the plane is landing that you may not want to wait to see more of it. Unfortunately, you will need to wait a few minutes if you want to leave the airport unless you plan on walking everywhere!
Costa Rica can be visited using public transportation, but this way you are much more limited, since the center of all communications in San Jose, the capital. This will mean that you will have to pass through the capital even though it is not the most direct route, with the loss of time that this will entail. That is why it is best to travel around the country with a rental car. Driving there is easy and the landscapes you see along the way are a real pleasure. Moreover, this way you have total freedom to choose the schedules and routes you want to do, thus saving a lot of time.
Thankfully, renting a vehicle at the Juan Santamaria Airport is really simple, so you will be on the road towards new adventures in no time at all. While you can rely on public transportation for your time in this gorgeous country, we recommend a rental car if you really want to have the best time.
When you arrive in Costa Rica, you must be ready to show your driver’s license before signing all the paperwork. It is usually best to see what your personal car insurance company covers before arriving in this country because that will allow you to understand whether or not you need to purchase anything more than the mandatory insurance for the vehicle you are renting.
Once you have signed all the papers and loaded your luggage into your rental car, you will finally be free to explore as much of Costa Rica as you can in the time you have available. The good news is that since you took the time to rent a car, you will now be able to go anywhere that you want when you are in this country. You will not be limited to where public transportation can take you and you will not be limited to any type of schedule. In other words, you won’t find yourself running from an attraction because you are about to miss the last bus of the day!
When is the best time to go to Costa Rica?
First of all, we want to recommend the best time of the year to visit Costa Rica. The best time to visit Costa Rica is during the dry season, which is from mid-December to April. However, in our opinion, the best time to go to Costa Rica would be from the end of November to the beginning of December. This is a time when the dry season begins, it is low season for tourism (the high prices and high occupancy of Christmas have not yet arrived) and the country comes from receiving the rains for a long period, which makes the forests have a splendid color.
How many days does it take to visit Costa Rica?
This is one of the most recurrent questions when you visit a country. If you want to visit Costa Rica thoroughly, we recommend at least two weeks to be able to visit both coasts, as well as the interior of the country. Although, if you only have 10 days, discarding one of the coasts, you can have a pretty complete trip. Of course, if you have more time, so much the better.
What kind of rental car do you need to visit Costa Rica?
One of the questions that arise is whether you need to rent an SUV or a regular car (compact or sedan) to drive around Costa Rica. Our recommendation is that you opt for a small SUV.
On most roads, you could drive with a hatchback, but most often you will end up driving on dirt tracks in poor condition, like the ones that lead to Monteverde, or on other dirt roads where it is better to drive with a four-wheel-drive car 4×4 and with the low ones at a certain height to avoid stones damaging the car. To all this we must add that depending on the time you travel and the route you choose, you may have to wade through a river, and doing so with a normal car is crazy.
Through our website, you can book an SUV in San Jose – Juan Santamaria Intl. Airport from at good price, with the best car rental companies: Alamo, Avis, Adobe, Budget, Easy Car, Enterprise, Green Motion, Mex Rent a Car, Payless, or Sixt.
Things to See While Exploring Costa Rica Via a Thrilling Road Trip
Day 1: Arrival in Costa Rica. Pick up your rental car in San Jose – Juan Santamaria Intl. Airport.
To pick up your car, please follow signs to the baggage claim area. Past customs, proceed to the rental car counters in the car rental area.
The airport is located in the city of Alajuela, just 20 kilometers from San José.
Although San José is not its main attraction, it is interesting to see some of the treasures of the most important city in the country. Some of the activities we recommend in San José are, for example, visiting the National Theater, visiting Central Park, walking around the Plaza de la Cultura, visiting the Metropolitan Cathedral of San José, enjoying the atmosphere of the Central Avenue, or visiting the Post Office Building.
Day 2: The Tárcoles River and the beaches of Manuel Antonio
On the way from San José to Manuel Antonio National Park, there is a mandatory stop, the Tárcoles River crocodiles. From a bridge that crosses this river, dozens of American crocodiles can be seen just a few meters away. Without a doubt, this is the best place to see crocodiles in all of Costa Rica.
After an hour’s drive, we arrive at our first stop of the day, the Tárcoles River and its impressive crocodiles. If you are going from San José to Manuel Antonio National Park, the easiest route by car passes through this place, making it a really interesting stop before continuing the journey. If you take the road in this direction you can park in a car park just before the bridge. The Tárcoles River crocodiles can be seen from the top of the bridge that crosses the river.
After an hour’s walk, you will arrive in Quepos, the largest town and closest to Manuel Antonio National Park and also the one with the greatest offer of services. Many of the people who visit Manuel Antonio stay in a hotel in Quepos, as there is a wide variety of hotels to suit all budgets and needs.
Beaches in Manuel Antonio Park and Quepos:
- Espadilla Beach: white-sand beach located right on the border of the national park. The Espadilla South beach does lie inside the park, but swimming can be dangerous because of the currents.
- Biesanz Beach: Also a public beach, but shorter than Espadilla. In Manuel Antonio’s high season it is usually full and the access is not as good as the previous one.
- Manuel Antonio Beach: the most famous beach within the park and also the safest beach for swimming, as it is in a sheltered bay. On weekends, when we went there, there are quite a few people, just like in the rest of the park.
- La Mancha Beach: if you want to avoid the crowds of the previous ones, this public beach offers an oasis of tranquility. The bad thing is that it is not very easy to follow the path that goes to it.
- Inside the national park Manuel Antonio there are other quieter beaches like Puerto Escondido beach or Gemelas beach, although in our opinion they are not as nice as Manuel Antonio beach
Day 3: Manuel Antonio National Park.
Manuel Antonio National Park is the most visited park in Costa Rica, despite being the smallest of all.
When you get to the parks you will have to leave your car somewhere, but in the case of Manuel Antonio National Park, there is no parking, at least not officially. What happens is that before reaching the entrance you will find small improvised parking lots. Our recommendation is that you go to the entrance of the park, and there turn around and park your car in the nearest car park. Another recommendation, both for these car parks, as for the rest of the car parks in Costa Rica is that you should not leave anything of value in the car; or at least not in sight.
To enter Manuel Antonio National Park you must pay an entrance fee. There is only one authorized box office for the sale of tickets in the park, managed by Coopealianza, and it is located 75 meters before the main entrance. Payment can be made either by card or in cash. In the case of the entrance payment for foreigners, it is possible to pay in American dollars as well as in Costa Rican colons. The price is $16 ($14.50) for adults. Children under 12 years of age have free admission.
Inside the national parks, you can’t “move freely” wherever you want. There are some marked trails where you can walk, to prevent the environment from deteriorating.
Day 4: Monteverde
The journey by car from Quepos (Manuel Antonio) to Monteverde is about 190 kilometers and takes about 3 and a half hours by car, via Route 618, Route 235, Route 34, Route 1, and Route 606.
There are several activities you can do in Monteverde.
- Visit the Monteverde Frog Farm: The Monteverde Frog Farm (also known as Monteverde Theme Park) has more than 25 species of frogs, toads, and some other amphibians. All of them are inside large terrariums that simulate their natural habitat.
- Hanging bridges: It’s really curious to walk on the hanging bridges at the top of the trees. The perspective you have of the cloud forest is completely different from how you see everything from the trails. The activity takes two hours and is well worth it, both for the experience of walking on the suspension bridges and for what you learn from the environment during the walk. The price of the tickets is $40 for adults and $34 for children between 4 and 12 years old. The price includes the accompaniment of a Naturist Guide.
- Colibris Garden: At the end of the Hanging bridge activity we stopped at a hummingbird garden. The hummingbird gardens are just an area where they put certain nectar feeders to feed the hummingbirds.
- Canopy (Zip-Line): This activity has spread from Monteverde to the rest of Costa Rica. It is very exciting and fun. The price of the tickets is $57 for adults and $46 for children between 5 and 12 years old.
Day 6: Guanacaste beaches: Coco and Hermosa.
To go from Monteverde to the beaches of Guanacaste you have to drive on Route 606 and Route 605, and then Route 1 to Guanacaste Province. Reaching Liberia, take Route 21 to Hermosa Beach.
Playa Hermosa, a beautiful beach of just over 1 kilometer. It is a quiet beach, perfect for those who want to relax and not go to a crowded beach. This is a good area for diving in Costa Rica
Playas del Coco
Playas del Coco is located just a few kilometers from Playa Hermosa. It is a fairly long beach, more than 2.5 km, with a quiet atmosphere. It is next to a town with many more services than Playa Hermosa.
Tamarindo is one of the most popular destinations among Guanacaste’s beaches. This resort offers a wide variety of services, with tour options, restaurants, shops and accommodations for all budgets. The area of Tamarindo is your next stop and it is there that you will finally experience the multiple cultures of Costa Rica. Spend hours on the sandy beaches, or learn how to surf, before doing a little shopping. The nightlife is extraordinary in this part of the country, so make sure you stay long enough to live it up for a couple of nights.
Playa Conchal (Shells beach)
Playa Conchal is considered one of the most beautiful beaches in Guanacaste. It is a unique setting, whose characteristic is that instead of being a sandy beach, it is a beach composed of small pieces of white shells. These shells are what give it a much whiter appearance than the rest of the beaches in the region, and the water has a beautiful turquoise color.
Playa Santa Teresa
At this point we suggest that if you have planned many days for your trip to Costa Rica, so you can venture on down to Santa Teresa. As long as you are there during dry season, you should travel to this destination via the coastal roads, as the scenery is breathtaking. There are multiple waterfalls that you can hike to, so make sure you throw your hiking boots into your suitcase!
This destination is quite far from the beaches of Guanacaste, approximately 200km. You should use one day to enjoy Santa Teresa.
Day 7: Celeste River and Tenorio Volcano National Park
To reach Tenorio Volcano National Park, take Route 159 and Route 254 to Route 21. In Liberia Take Route 1 and Route 6 to Camino al Parque in Bijagua de Upala. The journey by car from Guanacaste to Tenorio Volcano National Park is about 150 kilometers
This part of the trip may be one of the most difficult you will encounter, as the road to the volcano area is dirt and it is best to drive an SUV. Luckily, if you have followed our advice, you will have rented one on this website. Book it now!!
Tenorio Volcano National Park is located in the north of Costa Rica, in Bijagua. It is formed by rainforest and cloud forest, with virgin areas where some endangered species.
The volcanic massif is formed by 5 craters that are inactive, being the main attractions of this area: the Rio Celeste waterfall, hot springs, natural forest, animal watching, and the Teñidero.
Day 8: Arenal Volcano National Park, La Fortuna waterfall and Baldi hot springs.
Visit the province of Alajuela to see the Arenal Volcano up close, one of the most spectacular places in the region, and relax in the Baldi hot springs in the middle of the rainforest.
To get from Tenorio Volcano National Park to Arenal Volcano National Park you must take Route 927 and Route 142 to La Fortuna. The trip is about 70km and takes almost two hours.
La Fortuna is a small town that serves as the entrance to the Arenal Volcano National Park. Make a stop in this town to look at the sky, which on clear days will let us contemplate the imposing Arenal Volcano.
Continue your trip, and once immersed in the National Park, stop as close as possible to the Arenal Volcano, which will welcome us at 1,670 meters. You will be able to admire its shape and contemplate the jungle landscape around it.
Explore the nature surrounding the Arenal to reach the thermal area of Baldi Hot Springs Resort. Between waterfalls and pools, you will live a unique water experience, and you will be able to relax in the heart of the jungle while you dive into its thermal mineral waters.
Day 9: Tortuguero National Park
Enter the Costa Rican animal world in Tortuguero National Park, home to the green turtle that gives its name to this place and other protected species such as the sloth.
The protagonist of this park is the green turtle, but there are other animals with which it also lives, such as the manatee, the sea cow or the crocodile. In addition, this place is home to endangered mammals such as sloths, monkeys, and pizotes.
Day 10: Rafting on the Pacuare River
Near Tortuguero is the Pacuare River.
One of the most recommended adventures, adrenaline and fun activities you can do in Costa Rica is rafting. And the king of the scenery for this sport is the Pacuare River. In fact, it is considered one of the best rivers in the world for this activity, both for its rapids and its spectacular environment.
The Pacuare River begins in the Talamanca Mountain Range and after descending through the Costa Rican mountains and forests it reaches the Central Caribbean coast where it flows. In the middle of all this journey is the part that takes place during rafting. While you navigate through some really fun rapids you enjoy the exuberant vegetation, admire the waterfalls that fall directly into the river and observe the fauna that inhabits the surroundings. It is not only rafting, being able to enjoy that environment makes it worthwhile to go down the Pacuare.
Day 11: Cahuita National Park
To reach this park, you must take Route 32 towards Limon, and there take Route 36 towards the park.
Visit the best-preserved coral reef in the Costa Rican Caribbean and enjoy the scenery, culture, and gastronomy that the area offers.
White sand beaches, a turquoise sea, and a diverse marine life are some of the attractions that await you in Cahuita National Park, in the province of Limon.
In this ecosystem, located in the Caribbean but with a forest environment, you will find species such as raccoons, coatis, sloths, snakes, iguanas, and basilisks.
Within the Park, it is possible to do recreational sports and hiking on the trails, or simply enjoy the beaches by swimming or sunbathing.
This is about as far as you will get in Costa Rica, so when you leave Cahuita National Park, it will be time to make the drive back to San Jose. Since you probably didn’t spend any time in San Jose when you arrived in Costa Rica, this is the perfect time to see what the big city has to offer before you must return your rental car and board your plane back home.
Renting a vehicle in Costa Rica will have you experiencing so many more adventures that you would if you were relying on public transportation to get you to where you wanted to go. So, make that rental car reservation now and finally see the true colors of Costa Rica.
So, you can check out our ultimate Ranking of the Best Car Rental Companies in Costa Rica in 2023. We hope it helps you to decide on your next car rental booking.