Car Rental San Jose
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Why rent a car in San Jose?
San Jose is a great place to explore by car. Although Costa Rica is more famous for its beautiful coastline, volcanic landscapes, and tropical nature reserves, the capital city also has plenty to offer from fascinating museums focusing on the region’s pre-Columbian past to colorful neighborhoods and some of the best restaurants in the country. San Jose is located in the central part of Costa Rica which means that both the Atlantic and the Pacific coasts, as well as all the other main attractions, are easily reached from here.
Top ways to enter San Jose
- Juan Santamaria Airport: Named after a Costa Rican national hero and sometimes simply called San Jose Airport, it serves more than 5 million travelers every year. Served by more than 20 airlines, it offers flights to and from destinations in North, Central, and South America as well as the Caribbean Islands. Located 17km (11 miles) northwest of the city center, the airport can be reached in about 20 minutes.
- Tobías Bolaños International Airport: The other airport serving the capital city, San Jose-Tobias Bolaños only serves domestic routes of as July 2019, connecting the capital city to many destinations in all four corners of the country. International flights have been scheduled before and there are plans for doing so again in the near future. Located just 8km (5 miles) north of the city center, the airport can be reached in about 15 minutes.
- Liberia Airport: Also known as Daniel Oduber Quirós Airport after Costa Rica’s former president, the airport is located near the border with Nicaragua in the northern part of the country near the Pacific Coast. It hosts flights to and from many destinations in the Americas and also serves a route to London in the United Kingdom. Located 220km (136 miles) northwest of San Jose, the airport can be reached in about 3 hours and 15 minutes. The airport should not be confused with Monrovia International Airport in Liberia, a country in West Africa, which is sometimes also called Liberia Airport.
- Limon Airport: Located on the Caribbean coast, Limon Airport serves the city of the same name. As of July 2019, it only hosts domestic flights, but there are plans for starting to serve some international routes in the near future. Limon Airport is 160km (100 miles) east of San Jose and can be reached in about three hours.
Useful city facts
- A tropical destination with wet and dry seasons, San Jose is a very warm place year-round. Temperature differences are minimal between the seasons - the average high temperature is 30°C (87°F) in April, the warmest month, and 27°C (81°F) in October, the coldest. The rainy season lasts roughly from May to October; in the dry season from January to March, there is almost no precipitation.
- The population of San Jose itself is only 330,000, but around 1.8 million more people live in the city’s larger metropolitan area. This means that nearly every second inhabitant of Costa Rica lives in on around San Jose. The city is made up of 11 different cantons or districts, each of which is further divided into barrios. A person from San Jose is called a Josefino or Josefina, while Costa Ricans, in general, are sometimes informally known as Ticos.
Top destinations and activities
- The Pre-Columbian Gold Museum. One of the most specialized and interesting museums in Latin America, it consists of more than 1,600 golden artifacts that were found in Costa Rica. Some relics date back to as early as the year 500 AD. Not only are the golden objects on display, but the museum also does a good job at telling the story of the gold’s production and of its social and religious significance to the pre-Columbian civilizations of the region. Buying the ticket for the museum also allows you to visit the adjoining Numismatic Museum and the temporary exhibition galleries.
- Church of Our Lady la Soledad. A neoclassical church built a little more than 100 years ago, it is one of the most popular (and most photographed) buildings in San Jose. The church is best known for its colorful glass windows. Not only a tourism object, it still fulfills its original role for the local community. The church is located near San Jose’s Chinatown, an interesting part of the city to explore if you’re in the area.
- The National Museum. In 1948, Costa Rica became one of the first countries in the world to completely abolish its army. Since that year, the old and impressive Fort Cuartel Bellavista has hosted the country’s largest museum. With exhibitions of pre-Columbian stone tables, artifacts from the colonial times, and a large butterfly garden, it’s a truly interesting place to visit.
Traffic and parking tips
- Costa Rica drives on the right side of the road. Vehicles with the steering wheel on the right side are not permitted in Costa Rica.
- Unless specifically indicated otherwise, the speed limit is 120km/h (74 mph) on national highways, 60km/h (37 mph) on most secondary and countryside roads, 40km/h (24 mph) inside urban and built-up areas, and 25km/h (15 mph) around hospitals and schools.
- Drivers are not allowed to cross yellow lines.
- Many places in Costa Rica, even some neighborhoods of San Jose, do not have a unified house numbering system. Many places can only be found in relation to the nearest landmark. The road signs might also be lacking. Because of this, it’s a good idea to get a rental car with a GPS system.
- Most national highways in Costa Rica are in good shape, but the secondary roads and roads crossing protected areas can be of varying quality. Some are not paved, might have potholes, lack adequate lighting, and have no sections for pedestrians. There’s plenty of animals in Costa Rica, so both cattle or wildlife crossing the road can also be an issue. Mudslides and floods happen, too. Because of this, it’s important to drive very carefully, especially after dark, and to plan your route in advance.
- For driving in San Jose, getting a smaller or medium-sized car is a good choice. However, if you plan to drive in rural or natural areas, getting a 4WD is a good idea.
- The legal alcohol limit is 0.05%. The laws are actively enforced and exceeding the limit can lead to fines, a license ban, or even deportation or imprisonment.
- Proof of insurance and the documentation of the car need to be in it whenever you’re driving.
- When driving, you need to have your passport or ID card with you at all times.
- The nation-wide, general emergency number is 911. You can also call 117 for police, 118 for the fire department and paramedics, and 128 for an ambulance.
There are many toll roads in Costa Rica, some of them starting or ending in San Jose.
Most toll roads have three types of lanes - manual, voluntary, and Quick Pass. The toll booths in the manual lanes only accept cash. It’s a good idea to have coins and lower denomination notes, otherwise getting change back might be an issue.
In the voluntary lanes, the fee is slightly higher than in the manual ones and the toll booths only accept exact change. The idea is that the voluntary lanes generally tend to move faster than the manual ones. For tourists, it’s only worth taking them if you are in a rush.
The cars that can use the Quick Pass lanes have to be equipped with the Quick Pass electronic transponder. The payment will be made automatically and the transponder will register it by beeping. Many rental cars will come pre-equipped with a Quick Pass transponder, and some rental car providers might charge an extra fee for this service. Contact your rental car provider in advance to find out more about Quick Pass or with any other questions regarding toll roads in Costa Rica.
Ideas for a day-trip
- Cartago. Costa Rica’s third city is not short of impressive historical places, such as the Our Lady of the Angels Basilica and the Ruins o Saint James the Apostle Parish. But there’s just as much to enjoy in the province of the same name from Lankester Botanical Gardens to one of Costa Rica’s most impressive places, Irazú Volcano. Cartago is just 27km (17 miles) east of San Jose, but because of frequently congested traffic, it can take up to one hour to get to it.
- Orosi Valley. A large area in Cartago Province, Orosi deserves a special mention. Made up of ancient ruins, hot springs, waterfalls, coffee plantations, and Tapantí National Park, it has everything for a fun day away from the city. Located 42km (26 miles) southeast of San Jose, Orosi can be reached in 1 hour and 30 minutes.
- Jacó. Located in the central part of Costa Rica’s Pacific coast, Jacó is a surfer’s paradise. With plenty of surf shops, schools, and instructors, it’s a place that everyone from first-timers to seasoned pros can enjoy. With many great restaurants and affordable accommodation opportunities, Jacó is one of the most enjoyable places in the country. Located 98km (60 miles) southeast of the capital, it can be reached in 1 hour and 40 minutes.
Most popular rental types and cars
The most popular rental car in San Jose is the Toyota Corolla. Travelers also love the Toyota Yaris and the Hyundai i10. The most popular rental car types in San Jose are standard, compact, and mini. Smaller cars are great for driving in the city (and perhaps even preferable to bigger ones because the city has its fair share of narrow streets); however, if you plan to travel to natural areas outside the capital city, renting a more powerful vehicle is a good idea.
- Arenal Volcano. A volcano surrounded by a national park, Arenal is a large nature area in the northern part of the country. The Arenal Volcano went dormant in 2010, but visitors sometimes still get to enjoy the sight of smoke coming out of it. Visitors can go on a walk through lava rocks, swim in Lake Arenal, trek through the jungle, or simply enjoy the primeval landscape. Located in Alajuela Province 160km (99 miles) north of San Jose, Arenal can be reached in about three hours.
- Corcovado National Park. A true wildlife paradise, Corcovado’s forests and waters are home to a large number of unique and protected species. Some of the park’s inhabitants include the jaguar, puma, white-faced capuchin, American crocodile, and even bull shark. Keep in mind that Corcovado is very hard to get to - you will definitely need a 4WD vehicle and hiring a local guide is also strongly advised. The best idea is to set up a tour in advance, either from San Jose or Puerto Jimenez, a small town 373km (231 miles) southwest of the capital on the edge of the park.
- Puerto Viejo. A coastal town on Costa Rica’s South Caribbean coast near the border with Panama, Puerto Viejo is another surfer’s paradise, only even more remote than that of Jacó. Should you ever tire of hitting those beautiful waves, the area also has wildlife refuges, rainforests, and coral reefs to explore. Puerto Viejo is 217km (135 miles) southeast of San Jose and can be reached in about four hours by car.
How can I save money on my rental car?
Follow these tips and land a great rental car in San Jose:
- Compare the rates of different rental car providers
- Book your rental car well in advance
- Plan your route before you go
- Know your fuel and mileage requirements
- Visit during the month when the rental prices are the cheapest. According to our data, visiting San Jose is the cheapest in May when renting a car is about 40% cheaper than the yearly average and a whole 57% cheaper than renting a car in July.
Top Cities near San Jose
Liberia Car Rentals from $29.04 per day169.3 km / 105.2 miles away
Top 2 Locations near San Jose
Juan Santamaria International Airport (San José Airport) Car Rentals from $27.99 per day
San Jose, Downtown Car Rentals from $26.40 per day
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