As a developing nation, Costa Rica is often promoted as a nearby, cheap and safe tourist destination. So when I booked a two-week Thrifty car rental for a mere $200, I wasn’t so surprised. But standing online at the rental agency, we quickly noticed renters standing at the desk were infuriated by the news they received.
It turns out that Costa Rica has an obligatory insurance policy that is not posted anywhere and you may only learn of ahead of time, if you book through a travel agent who specializes in the region. The rules and cost of this insurance apparently vary from one rental agency to another, but here are the basics you must know.
1) There are 3 tiers to the insurance program.
2) The most expensive, which costs US$40/day on an compact-sized vehicle covers darn-near anything that might happen to your car short of deliberately setting it on fire. So seriously consider this if you’re planning on doing lots of adventure driving as anything off the main highways is not only unpaved, but likely to involve flying rocks or cattle crossings.
3) The next tier at US$25/day is what we took. This covered damage to another driver’s car (if one were to be involved) or replacing a tire or broken window. At this price, the cost was essentially the same as renting a car in Western Europe.
4) The least expensive option cost US$20/day. It relied primarily on your US-based credit card’s insurance (CDW) and only pays for damages resulting from an accident. In this scenario you must foot the bill and await reimbursement, at least according to Thrifty.
I don’t know if it’s because I’m proficient in Spanish, but before leaving the parking lot, the Thrifty agent came to our car window and warned us that there is a police scam to be aware of. According to the agent, police sometimes stop Gringos on the road claiming that they violated some local traffic law. They will then ask you to pay the hefty fine on the spot. NEVER pay the fine directly to the cop in cash!!! What you need to do is ask the cop for his/her name. If they really are trying to con you, they will usually give up and let you go. If you really did break a law, they will give you a ticket which then you pay at any bank (and I think post office).
Keep in mind that the above insurance options vary from one company to another, each one stating that each option covers something different. While we were there, other travelers told us that they were offered only 2 options or even a 4th option. Many people (understandingly) consider this surcharge to be a government monopoly. It was very frustrating to experience this as our “Welcome to Costa Rica”, but we were able to put it behind us. And quite frankly, if this is what the government needed to do to feel “powerful”, then I hope it works for them. I just needed some rest and relaxation.
Some people hire taxis or vans to get around the country. This is fine, but keep in mind that not many towns (unless you’re in a really built-up touristy area) have restaurants or well-stocked bodegas where you can buy your food.
This can also be really pricey if the taxi isn’t based in your town and needs to travel 1/2 hour to pick you up. Furthermore, with the taxi option it’s much harder (I’d presume) to explore and take detours off the beaten track. If it’s anything like Europe or the States, I’m sure many drivers down there would gladly take you to their friend’s overpriced gift shops, making their commission from whatever you buy. So you may want to take that into consideration, but personally, exploring on our own is what eventually made the trip down there worthwhile.