After booking your flight to Costa Rica with American Airlines you are going to be encouraged to rent a car through Avis. As almost everyone will do, you can hop over to Expedia, Booking.com or one of the other car rental search services and find there are a number of car rental companies. Some of these look shady such as “Discount”. Understand that Costa Rica is a third world country so it is not as if you are going to find an upscale car rental company. If you are like many, you will want to have a vehicle secured before you leave the United States. Here was my experience with Avis.
You are going to pay a lot in taxes and fees. You may find that a car is $30 or $40 a day but it ends up coming out to being closer to $70 or $80 a day after the fees and taxes. If you book on Expedia or booking.com you will find the same daily rate and then the taxes and fees will get added at the end. You aren’t going to save a lot of money by using any of the travel websites. It is just as easy and comforting to use the Avis booking that is prompted after paying for your American Airlines flight. Also make sure to choose an automatic or a manual. There are a lot of manual cars for rent in Costa Rica unlike in the United States where basically every car rental is an automatic.
When doing some Googling you are going to find that some people say you should absolutely pay for the GPS while others will say it is a waste of money. Note that cars in Costa Rica do not have a GPS device built in. When they are renting you GPS they are giving you an Android phone that has Waze and Google Maps on it. They will also sell you on the fact that it can be used as a Wifi hotspot as well. It was about $15 a day for me and I bought it just because I didn’t want to be somewhere in the middle of Costa Rica and have Google Maps or Waze go out on my iPhone.
If you have an international cell phone plan with AT&T or Verizon ($15 a day) you absolutely do not need the GPS device. It is a waste of money. At the time of my trip in April 2021 I had both an AT&T and Verizon iPhone 12 mini. As soon as I landed the Verizon phone texted me and asked if I wanted to add the International Plan for $15 a day. Since I already had my personal AT&T phone with the International Plan I did not turn on my Verizon phone. The coverage on the AT&T phone was through Movistar and it was amazing the entire trip. Not once was I without coverage. So, if you don’t have an international cell phone plan, the GPS device may be worth it. If you do have an international cell phone plan, the GPS device is a waste of money. I didn’t turn the GPS device on once during the entire trip.
For six days with a GPS device my car rental came out to about $470. You will find that most vacation rentals, hotels or AirBNB locations will offer to pick you up from the airport and drive you to your destination. I was staying in Manuel Antonio and it was $180 each way. So, just to get to and from the airport I would have paid $360. I would have also had to pay for taxis and transportation in and around Manuel Antonio, Quepos and Jaco Beach.
Note that once you get to your destination there will be an opportunity to rent a car in that particular small town or tourist area. If you do not want to deal with the crazy drivers in San Jose this is the smart thing to do. If you have a lot of luggage or golf clubs you may also want to get the private driver as most of the cars Avis will rent you are smaller cars.
I am an adventurous traveler and I like to drive a lot. I could never go to Costa Rica and not have access to a car to drive around in. Some people may wonder if they need four wheel drive or an SUV or truck because the terrain is so bad. This is not the case. All roads from San Jose to Manuel Antonio were paved and there was never a moment in which I felt as if I would need four wheel drive. If you plan to drive up in the mountains on dirt roads you might want to consider getting a four wheel drive vehicle but if you are just going from point A to point B you can take the Nissan Versa or regular car they offer you.
Of course, they will ask if you want to pay for gas from the Avis station or fill it up with gas. Gas stations are full service in Costa Rica and they are abundant. You will have no problems filling up with gas before you bring your car back to the airport. In fact, most of the tourist locations are less than 100 miles from the airport so you can fill up around your hotel or vacation rental and you will basically have a full tank of gas when you return it to the airport.
Getting the car back to Avis is very easy as there are signs that will lead you right to the Avis lot. You drive in, let someone check you out and they put you in a shuttle to go right to the airport. It takes about 30 minutes total to drop the car off and get back to the airport. If you really want to be careful, give yourself 45 minutes.