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Get Off the Beaten Path With a Rental Car in Costa Rica

Waterfall at the Rinc—n de la Vieja National Park, Costa RicaSix must-visit places in Costa Rica when you have the freedom of a rental car

Rightly famous for its beauty and charm, Costa Rica can also be flooded with tourists; and, you can avoid the crowds when you’ve got your own wheels via your Costa Rica rental car.

While everyone else is visiting coffee plantations and going to the beach, try these off the beaten path destinations for a different take on Costa Rica.

Rio Celeste

Legend has it that the river got its celestial blue color when God dipped his paintbrush in it while painting the heavens blue. Scientifically, though, it’s a reaction between different volcanic minerals in two clear water rivers in the Tenorio Volcano National Park that come together to create the spectacular turquoise at their confluence. The relatively easy trail up to Rio Celeste’s 295-foot waterfall through primary cloud and rainforest is breathtakingly beautiful. The trail to the Tenideros, where the two rivers merge to create Rio Celeste’s amazing color, is strenuous but provides its own reward.

Punta Uva, Limon Province

When you’ve got the freedom of a rental car in Costa Rica, you can head for its furthest regions to get the very best of the Costa Rica experience. Punta Uva, on Costa Rica’s southern Caribbean coast, is blessed with 2 beautiful, palm-lined white sand beaches. Mostly located within the Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge, there’s ample opportunity to see monkeys, sloths, and colorful birds. The Caribbean’s turquoise waters make snorkeling around the sheltered reef a real delight. Playa Punta Uva’s gentle surf is perfect for swimming, stand up paddle boarding, and kayaking.


Dramatic cliffs, reminiscent of California’s northern landscape, define the Pacific Coast to Dominical, which is far south of most modern, skyscraper beach cities. A scenic drive in your rental car, the deep blue Pacific meets a rugged, tropical shoreline, which is remarkable for its small, tucked-away coves and vast panoramic views. World famous for its challenging surf, the experts take on the waves off Playa Dominical. Those without boards should try Playa Dominicalito, to the south of Dominical, for swimming.

Santa Teresa

The vibe in Santa Teresa is as laid back as it is international. Also, world-renowned for its challenging surf, it’s become a favorite beach destination in Latin America. Santa Teresa is everything one might expect for a tropical new-age-meets-hippie locale. Well off the beaten track on the Nicoya Peninsula, Santa Teresa is not a casually arrived-at destination. You’ll need to board the ferry between Puntarenas and Paquera with your rental car, and then drive another 45 minutes to get to Santa.  Only some of the road is paved and most of it is rough, but then again that’s part of the fun when driving through paradise.


Once a small fishing and cattle-ranching village, Malpais is at the road’s end on the southern Nicoya Peninsula. In English, the word Malpais means “Badlands,” and you’ll know you’ve come to that kind of raw beauty when seeing the beaches and surrounding tropical forest. With its next-door neighbor, Santa Teresa, Malpais is one of the best-known surf destinations among the world’s best surfers.

When visiting the Malpais- Santa Teresa area, consider choosing an SUV or 4×4 when you select your Costa Rica rental car. The roads can be bad at any time of year, but in the rainy season, they can be exceptionally challenging.

Volcán Arenal

Arenal is one of the most active volcanoes in the world; its last major eruption was in 1968. The surrounding area is also an important watershed, home to birds and wildlife, as well as a major source of hydroelectric power. The volcano itself is off-limits for hiking, but the Arenal Volcano National Park has many trails worth the time. With a bilingual naturalist guide, visitors can explore old lava flows and wildlife in the many unique micro-climates and ecosystems.

A rental car is a wise idea in the Arenal area, as there is much to explore beyond the volcano. Famous for its grand lake, small lake towns with delightful little shops and restaurants, as well as a multitude of hot springs to choose from, you’ll be happy you’ve got your own ride when you’re in the area.

Whenever anyone asks about the best way to vacation in Costa Rica, we always recommend a car rental. Yes! We are tooting our own horn! And, we think you’ll agree that taking the bus, or flying, just doesn’t compare to the freedom you’ll have to explore, discover and enjoy all of the adventures that this beautiful country has to offer when you’ve got a rental car to get you there.

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Costa Rica Sea Turtles

Sea Turtles Costa RicaA beachcomber’s dream: Costa Rica’s sea turtle nesting sites.

If you have a chance to visit Costa Rica, there is no better way to sample its beaches than during the sea turtle nesting season.  Four primary species visit the beaches of the Pacific and Caribbean coastline throughout the year to lay their eggs. If you’re up for driving around the country, you’ll see spectacular scenery and one of nature’s most awesome sights.

Tortuguero, on Costa Rica’s northern Caribbean coast, as the name implies, is one of the best places to visit for sea turtles. Jungle canals and wild beaches draw green, leatherback, hawksbill, and loggerhead sea turtles for nesting. Tortuguero Beach is the Western Hemisphere’s largest nesting site for endangered green sea turtles. Green turtle nesting season begins in July, peaks in August and September, and winds down by mid-October. Leatherbacks come ashore here from February to June, peaking in March and April.

On the southern Caribbean coast, at Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge, green, hawksbill, loggerhead, and leatherback sea turtles come ashore to nest between March and July. If you’re lucky enough to see hawksbills and loggerheads, you are lucky indeed.

At the southern end of Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast, on the Osa Peninsula, you can also see leatherbacks, hawksbill, green, and olive ridley nesting sites. The beaches are remote, often only accessible by boat, so it will take some planning to get to them. On the Osa Peninsula, leatherbacks nest here from March through September; olive ridleys nest between June and December and green sea turtles come ashore between July and October, as do the rarest of all sea turtles: hawksbills.

Olive ridley sea turtles’ massive annual nesting migrations, called arribadas, and which can number hundreds of turtles in a single night, arrive at Ostional Wildlife Refuge, north of Nosara on the Nicoya Peninsula. Ostional has a protected turtle nesting area, where the turtles nest throughout the year. The peak time for arribadas is September and October, so timing can be tricky.

Leatherbacks are the world’s largest sea turtle, weighing more 1,200 pounds and growing to nearly eight feet in length. Leatherbacks nest on Costa Rica’s Playa Grande, north of Tamarindo in Las Baulas National Marine Park. Each year, between October and March, most leatherback females return to nest on Playa Grande.

If you’ve timed your visit right, you’ll not only witness the nesting, but also the emergence of the hatchlings and their race to the ocean one to two-months after their eggs were laid.

Most of Costa Rica’s nesting sites are strictly controlled and accessible only with a guide. Please be respectful of the turtles: listen to your guide and follow instructions to keep invasive interaction at minimal levels. Penalties are harsh, so keep your distance.


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Safety Tips for Driving in Costa Rica


driving rental car Costa Rica

driving car


Driving yourself around while visiting Costa Rica means more flexibility than public or private transportation can offer.

Freedom and flexibility make your Costa Rica vacation more adventurous and memorable when you are driving yourself. A rental car in Costa Rica makes spur-of-the-moment itinerary changes possible. You’re on your timetable, free to stop at an intriguing cove, waterfall, or wayside attraction at your leisure.

To help you navigate the roads and other drivers, we offer these 9 safety tips for driving in Costa Rica.

Costa Rica road conditions vary, especially during the green season, which is May through November,

when heavy rains can mean potholes, rock slides, or subsidence just around the bend. Don’t expect warning signs, in any language; you’ve got to be prepared for anything and drive with the caution and care that requires.

Costa Rica is a bit special in that most addresses and street directions involve local landmarks instead of street names and numbers. When given an address, it might look something like this: Turn left 2 kilometers after the white church, and look for the black gate on the right. Invest in technology, whether your own app (such as WAZE) or a GPS system from your rental car company. Most hotels, resorts, restaurants, bars, and attractions will have their coordinates on Google Maps and you’ll be able to find your location.

Keep to the speed limit, drive on the right and pass on the left. You’ll find that driving laws are very similar to what you’re accustomed to in the United States or Canada.  Unless otherwise posted, highway limits are 80 kpm, secondary roads, 40 kpm, urban areas, 40, and schools, 25. It’s tempting to go faster, but it’s not worth the hassle of being stopped and fined.

If you’ll be driving in backcountry areas, a 4-wheel drive vehicle is a good choice, especially in green season. Otherwise, any make or model will be fine.

If you’re in an accident, leave the car where it is, move everyone to safety, and call the police (911 just like in the States), as well as the insurance company and the rental agency. Have your paperwork handy.

Don’t leave valuables in the car. Carry only the cash and cards you’ll need. Keep cameras, phones, and other expensive items out of sight, even when you are in the car. While driving in urban areas, keep the doors locked and the windows closed. Leave everything else back in the hotel safe or take it with you when you leave the car.

Park in a secure location. Usually an enterprising local will approach as you lock up and offer to watch your car—even in areas with free parking. It’s worth the few dollars ($5-$10, depending on the length of time) to avoid break-ins, mysterious flat tires, or car trouble down the road.

If you do leave your car unattended, check it thoroughly for hidden damage before driving away. It’s not unheard of for the car to break down and a “Good Samaritan,” to stop and help, then steal whatever you have in money and valuables. As with traveling anywhere in the world, it’s important to pay attention to your surroundings and be aware of potential danger.

Be sure to fill the tank early and often, gas stations can be hard to find on the road, especially in more remote areas of Costa Rica. There are two grades of gas and diesel is readily available. In more rural areas, watch for signs reading, “gasolina.”

Driving through the Costa Rican countryside is an adventure; for safety’s sake, use common sense and follow our rules of the road. You’ll have better control of your schedule if you drive.

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