My companion, Julia, and I booked an impromptu trip to Costa Rica a year ago. The plan was simple: an all-inclusive resort where we wouldn’t have to leave. A beach, unlimited drinks, all you could eat food (including the best rice pudding I’ve ever enjoyed in my life), and kayaks was all I needed. When we came home—and thankfully we made it home—the first question friends asked was, “How was your trip?” I quickly responded, “NEVER rent a car in Costa Rica!” Now, that’s an aggressive statement. You may be wondering, “But I thought you weren’t leaving the resort?” Well, when you read that there’s a beach with baby turtle hatchlings a five hour drive away, you simply cannot turn that opportunity down.

We got into our KIA (the small sedan a la sardine can) armed with a country map and Michael Jackson’s greatest hits. About 30 minutes in, the map (and the GPS) directed us to basically off-road. No joke. It was a rock road (far from ice cream) you may discover when hiking the Appalachia. Julia insisted that it was correct. I knew it was wrong. Nonetheless, we followed the directions and basically ran over boulders the remainder of our trip. I may get a KIA as my next car because those are sturdy vehicles. The roads are impassable. Imagine collecting an entire beach worth of stones and rocks and then building a trail with them. That’s what it was like. I became car sick. We were stranded twice. On boulders. When we passed the only gas station for hours, I realized we had 10 dollars to our name. I bought nuts, plantain chips, chocolate, and a bottle of water—the essentials. I prayed the entire way. We off-roaded for hours. Though, we were technically on the road.  

Eventually, we made it to the beach on the central Pacific coast. But we were alone on the beach. No other people. No turtles. We sunbathed and swam for hours. I got sun-poisoning. So in addition to being fearful about the trek back, I was ill. Note to self: if you walk into a Farmacia with a sunburn, you may be offered diaper lotion. That’s what we put on. Other note to self: Listen to Lonely Planet; never drive in Costa Rica!
Posted in: World Wanderings


sue chrstensn
# sue chrstensn
Wednesday, August 13, 2014 6:42 PM
I am really sorry to learn you had this sort of experience. About 10 years ago four of us rented an SUV and toured CR from N to S and then west. We had a wonderful time, met kind people who helped us find our way, who drew maps for us, recommended good places to explore, etc. Would do it again. We stayed out of the cities, all 2 main ones, but had no real problems elsewhere. Roads are rock, that is what they have to work with. Did you notice there are no junker cars? Tours are mostly driving Mercedes buses and while we walked in a park, the driver was cleaning the bus. They may zoom down the narrow roads, but they slow way down to inch by you or others. Only rough driving was main highway south of San Jose where big trucks would prefer others stay out of their way. Went back roads for over 75km, were stopped by kind men who were warning us of meeting huge crane on one lane. We stayed put til it passed. All in all a really great experience. Sorry you weren't able to share CR in this way.
vera gueorguieva
# vera gueorguieva
Saturday, March 7, 2015 9:17 AM
I agree that renting a car in Costa Rica is not a very good idea. We just came back from a week long vacation and 900 km of driving around the country. The roads are narrow, zigzag with turns and no place to pass other vehicles driving at 20 km/hr, or to avoid crazy drives heading into your lane.

We rented from Dollar Rent A Car. All they had was a vehicle with 100 000 km on it, after one hour of a descent in the mountails the breaks suddenly stopped working. Fortunately for us and others, this happened once we were in the middle of town. We used the parking break to stop. Our travel plans were delayed as the vehicle had to be taken for repairs, Luckily we had risk elimination coverage and emergency road assistance purchased. Dollar Car rental has very few locations around the country and bringing a new car was going to take them 4 hours.

In order to enjoy the country and the marvelous views along the way, one needs some sort of transportation, and rental vehicles provide some degree of freedom, if you survive the drive. Given the state of roads in Costa Rica and the condition of their rental vehicles, I would never choose to drive again in Costa Rica.
cathy silberman
Tuesday, September 1, 2015 12:08 PM
Thanks for your comment and valid concern. Not all rental companies have same safety standards. Travelers should inquire about safety features in their rental vehicles. A simple check list might include:
1) are there airbags? 2) Are seatbelts accessible and in working order?
3) Have the tires been checked? When did car last undergo a full safety inspection? ASIRT cannot make recommendations on specific car rental companies, but we can advise you to ask questions before signing on the dotted line.
# uk
Tuesday, September 29, 2015 6:41 AM
You know where to rent a car, but do you know where you're allowed to DRIVE your rental car? If you go the wrong direction, you may actually void your contract.
Hong Kong
# Hong Kong
Monday, October 26, 2015 2:36 AM
Once Again you Shared Great post for tourist.. it is helpful for many people..

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About the Authors

Bobby Gondola
Debra Bokur

Globe Tripper
At Grand Central Station when she was 9 years old, Debra Bokur decided that a different train from the one her parents were boarding looked as though it might be going someplace more interesting, so she took that one instead. She still loves trains, and has since traveled the world as an award-winning journalist, magazine editor and filmmaker. A member of the Society of American Travel Writers, Debra contributes regularly to Global Traveler Magazine, and serves as the magazine website’s daily feature writer.

Debra is a contributing author to Spreading the Word: Editors on Poetry (The Bench Press, 2001). She holds degrees in both Theater and English Literature, and has been the poetry editor of the nationally acclaimed literary journal Many Mountains Moving since 2002. She has also been the travel editor at national publications including Healing Lifestyles & Spas Magazine, American Cowboy Magazine, and Fit Yoga Magazine, and has been a frequent guest on Wine Country Network’s national radio program discussing the topic of international travel.

Debra once lived a double life training horses professionally in the disciplines of dressage and three-day eventing while serving as an editor and writer at several equestrian-themed publications. Her current favorite places to wander are Iceland, Switzerland, the U.K., Israel and Italy. In her new blog, Globe Tripper, Debra will bring us along on her adventures.

Bobby Gondola
Bobby Gondola

World Wanderings
Bobby Gondola serves as Director of Operations & Development at Year Up, a nationally recognized workforce development and higher education program for urban young adults. He leads both the internal operations and external relations. Previously, he was Director of External Relations at Opus 118 Harlem School of Music in New York City, the Harlem-based violin program made famous by Meryl Streep in Music of the Heart. He also worked as a community development consultant in the townships of Cape Town, South Africa.  

Bobby earned a B.A. in painting and politics from Salve Regina University and studied abroad in Rome, Italy. He also holds an M.P.P. in Political Advocacy and Leadership from Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, where he was a Public Service Fellow. Bobby lives in Providence, Rhode Island and serves on theWaterFire Providence Board, College Leadership Rhode Island Program Committee, and the Providence Public School Board. He has traveled to all continents, except Antarctica and Australia, which he’ll get to. Eventually.

Aaron Shapiro
Aaron Shapiro

My Driver Project
Aaron Shapiro is a 2011 alumnus of University of Maryland, College Park, where he received a B.S. in Global Health and completed a minor in International Development and Conflict Management. After graduating, he joined the Global Health Corps as a program manager for Gardens for Health International in Kigali, Rwanda. Aaron has interned for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Bureau for Food Security, the Social Justice Coalition in Cape Town, South Africa, and volunteered at St. Lucia Hospice and Orphanage in Arusha, Tanzania. Aaron has also traveled in Congo, Burundi, Uganda, and Zambia. He is currently working in Washington, D.C. and applying to medical school.

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Natalia Jaffee

Traffic Lights are Optional in Hanoi
Natalia Jaffee is a 10th grade student at the United Nations International School of Hanoi. She grew up in Potomac, MD and attended Cold Spring Elementary School and Cabin John Middle School. While visiting Maryland in the summer of 2011, she interned at ASIRT and published a personal account of the road situations in Vietnam. Natalia enjoys traveling and has traveled throughout East Asia. In her free time, she enjoys running, playing soccer, cooking, and reading.

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Laura Blanar

From A to B Safely: A Transportation Travel Blog
Laura Blanar traveled through Asia, Africa and Oceania with her husband, Adam, for 14 months. Prior to her travels, she worked at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety as a research scientist, and in injury and violence at PAHO/WHO as a contractor. Laura holds a Masters of Health Science from the Department of International Health at the Johns Hopkins University, Bloomberg School of Public Health, with a specialization in health systems, and also obtained the B.A. in public health from the Johns Hopkins University. She has been published in several professional journals relating to injury and public health. In September 2011, Laura entered a PhD program at the University of Washington in public health, with a focus on injury. When not traveling, Laura enjoys running, wood carving and reading non-fiction and mystery books.