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

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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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