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Costa Rica Expedition: A 3-Week Journey Across the Country with a Rental Car

Costa Rica is a small country in Central America and a true paradise for nature enthusiasts. In our opinion, a road trip through Costa Rica is one of the best ways to explore the country with its numerous national parks, volcanoes, and dreamy beaches. Having your own rental car provides flexibility, allowing you to visit the places that interest you the most.

We spent 3 weeks exploring Costa Rica with a rental car, circumnavigating the entire country. In this post, we'll share our experiences, unveil our dreamy route with all the highlights, and provide valuable tips for your dream vacation in this natural paradise!


Table of contents


1. Unveiling Costa Rica: Essential Insights and Tips for Your Vacation

Before you embark on your travel planning, consider the following tips and advice:

The official language in Costa Rica is Spanish. As in almost all South American countries, it is advantageous to know and understand a few words in Spanish because very few Costa Ricans speak fluent English.

Costa Rica Flag

The official currency in Costa Rica is the Costa Rican Colón (CRC). However, US dollars are widely accepted in many shops, restaurants, and hotels, especially in tourist areas. Nevertheless, it's advisable to have Colones on hand for shops that do not accept US dollars.

Costa Rica has numerous ATMs where you can withdraw money with your credit or debit card, though some may charge fees.

Entry to Costa Rica is seamless with a German passport or a provisional passport. With a German passport, you can stay in Costa Rica visa-free for up to 90 days. Upon arrival, you will receive a tourist card (Tarjeta de Turismo) that you need to fill out and present along with a fee of 8 USD. Additionally, it's recommended to have proof of a return ticket or onward travel.

If you don't have a German passport please inform upfront if you need a visa to enter the country.

Costa Rica Rundreise: Einreise

Costa Rica is situated in the tropical climate zone, maintaining warm and humid conditions throughout the entire year. However, there are variations in climatic conditions across different regions of the country due to varying elevations and geographical locations.

The dry season in Costa Rica lasts from December to April, while the rainy season spans from May to November. During the rainy season, there is typically daily rainfall, but it is usually brief and often occurs in the late afternoon or evening.

For more detailed information on the best time to visit Costa Rica, check out our article: "Best Time to Visit Costa Rica".

In Costa Rica, sockets of Type A and B are used. Type A sockets have two flat pins, and Type B sockets have two flat pins and a round pin for grounding. In Germany, Type C, F, and E sockets are predominantly used, which are not directly compatible. You can find a suitable adapter here.

2. Finding Rental Cars and Booking Flights

You can easily explore Costa Rica with a rental car. However, be sure to book a four-wheel-drive rental car, as this significantly facilitates driving on local roads. Many roads in Costa Rica are not paved and may have quite deep potholes, so always drive cautiously and preferably during daylight hours.

Finding the Right Rental Car for Costa Rica

When booking a rental car, it's crucial to do so before your departure and to include sufficient insurance coverage. This way, you are on the safe side and can pick up your car on-site without worrying about additional costs.

If you're in search of a rental car for Costa Rica, we recommend this booking portal. In our opinion, it provides the clearest overview of the included insurance coverage and offers a wide selection at competitive prices.

Budget-Friendly Flights to Costa Rica

To secure the most cost-effective flights to Costa Rica, we recommend booking at least 3 months before your planned travel dates. Additionally, prioritize flights with shorter durations and single layovers. If you are flexible on layovers, you may find additional cost savings.

We suggest the following platforms for finding affordable flights to Costa Rica:

3. Your Arrival in San José

Upon your arrival in Costa Rica, you will likely land in San José. We recommend not spending too much time in the capital of Costa Rica, as the crime rate there is relatively high. If you arrive late in the evening, consider staying overnight in Alajuela, a small town near San José.

4. Monteverde Cloud Forest

The first stop on our journey was the Monteverde Cloud Forest. It's approximately 125 km by car from Alajuela, making it a sufficiently long distance after a lengthy flight or to familiarize yourself with the road conditions.

Streets of Costa Rica

Monteverde is renowned for its incredible biodiversity and breathtaking natural landscapes. One of the main attractions in Monteverde is the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. This reserve is one of the most well-known and preserved cloud forest areas in Costa Rica, offering a variety of hiking trails and the opportunity to observe wildlife, including monkeys, birds, and rare mammals.

Moreover, you can book zip-line tours (which we highly recommend!) and marvel at enchanting butterflies.

Monteverde Costa Rica

So you won't have to search for long: you can book your accommodation and activities for Monteverde directly in advance here!

5. Arenal Volcano

The Arenal Volcano is an active volcano located in the La Fortuna region of Costa Rica and is one of the country's most famous landmarks. The last eruption occurred in 2010, following continuous activity since 1968.

Vulcano Arenal in Costa Rica

The volcano is situated within a national park where you can hike or take a canoe tour on the lake at the base of Arenal Volcano. We opted for the canoe tour and were absolutely thrilled with the stunning views of Arenal from the lake. If you have more time, it's worth staying for several days to appreciate the wonderful landscape.

Near the volcano, there are several hot springs formed by the geothermal activity of the volcano. Some of the popular hot springs in the area include Tabacon Hot Springs, Baldi Hot Springs, and Ecotermales Hot Springs.

If you're looking for suitable accommodation, we recommend booking one with a view of Arenal, as it is truly breathtaking at any time of day.

6. Embarking on a Scenic Journey to the Enchanting Nicoya Peninsula

Nicoya is a city and a peninsula on the Pacific coast in the Guanacaste province of Costa Rica.

Known for its beautiful beaches along the Pacific coast, such as Playa Guiones, Playa Carrillo, Playa Samara, and Playa Santa Teresa, Nicoya offers a variety of activities. You can enjoy surfing, snorkeling, and diving at these beaches.

You can reach Nicoya either by road or by taking the ferry from Puntarenas. We opted for the latter as it is much more time-efficient. The car ferry from Puntarenas operates early in the morning. We recommend not spending too much time in Puntarenas, as the small port city isn't very noteworthy.

By the way, the ferry ride is quite pleasant—especially if you travel early in the morning, allowing you to enjoy the sunrise from the deck.

Montezuma waterfall

Nicoya is also known for its rich history and culture. It is the cultural center of the Chorotega Indigenous people and offers a variety of historical sites and museums, such as the Nicoya Colonial Museum and the Guaitil Pottery Village.

The Nicoya Peninsula is also famous for its natural beauty, including the Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve, the Barra Honda Caves, and the Curu Wildlife Refuge. Here, you can observe exotic animals and plants, as well as engage in activities like hiking and kayaking.

Nicoya is also a popular destination for yoga and wellness retreats. Along the coast, there are many yoga and wellness centers offering courses and activities.

We spent several days in the charming town of Montezuma and thoroughly enjoyed its relaxed atmosphere. There are truly wonderful hotels in the area, but it's advisable to act quickly, as the best accommodations can fill up early.

You can find a suitable hotel directly here:

7. Exploring the Natural Wonders of Manuel Antonio National Park

After a rejuvenating stay in Montezuma, soaking in the relaxed vibes of the peninsula, you can take the ferry back to Puntarenas and head south.

This national park is a protected area on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, located in the Puntarenas province. Covering an area of approximately 16.4 square kilometers, the park is renowned for its stunning beaches, diverse wildlife, and lush tropical forests.

Home to over 100 mammal species, including monkeys, sloths, and raccoons, as well as more than 180 bird species and a variety of reptiles and amphibians, the park offers a rich biodiversity. Witnessing several sloths in the park was one of the highlights of our journey.

slot Costa Rica

The national park is relatively touristy, but worth a visit as it houses several beautiful beaches where you can take a swim – don't forget your swimwear and sunscreen!

Beach Manuel Antonio Nationalpark

To ensure you spot the sometimes well-hidden animals, we recommend booking a guided tour; otherwise, you might overlook much of what is happening around you. Your guide will also have binoculars and provide you with more information about the animals living in the park.

8. Discovering Untouched Beauty: Uvita's Coastal Charms and Whales

Our next destination in Costa Rica is Uvita. Uvita is a small coastal town on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica known for its pristine beaches, stunning landscape, and diverse wildlife.

The town is close to Marino Ballena National Park, which features a beach shaped like a whale's tail. You've probably seen a photo or two of it.

Uvita Beach

Uvita is also a popular starting point for whale-watching tours, as humpback whales visit the waters off the coast between December and April.

We had a fantastic accommodation recommendation in Uvita that we absolutely want to share with you. You'll stay in your own little wooden house, and you won't have to sacrifice any comfort, as these "cabins" are very modern and newly equipped. The accommodation is run by a very friendly French family.

As with many great accommodations, the key is to book quickly!

9. National Park Corcovado

The Corcovado National Park is our final stop on the Pacific coast and the southernmost point of our itinerary.

Located in the southwestern region of Costa Rica on the Osa Peninsula, the Corcovado National Park is a stunning natural area celebrated for its incredible biodiversity and pristine wilderness. The park is home to a myriad of animal species, including monkeys, tapirs, jaguars, anteaters, macaws, and many more.

National Park Corcovado

The national park is also home to more than 500 bird species, including the harpy eagle, considered one of the largest and most powerful birds of prey in the world! Visiting the park requires a guide, as it is subject to strict conservation regulations. Your guide will lead you through the jungle in a small group, providing valuable information about the region and its animal inhabitants.

For us, this national park was an absolute highlight. While it may be a bit remote, that's precisely what makes it special. The area is much less touristy, offering a more traditional and natural experience.

In our opinion, Corcovado is one of the most beautiful national parks in Costa Rica. Expect breathtaking sunrises and sunsets, along with secluded beaches and pure nature.

10. Discovering the Caribbean Vibe in Puerto Viejo

Puerto Viejo, nestled along the southern Caribbean coast of Costa Rica in the Limón province, beckons with its breathtaking beaches, laid-back atmosphere, and an abundance of Caribbean charm.

The town stands as a haven for surfers, thanks to the numerous surf spots dotting the surrounding areas. However, Puerto Viejo isn't just for wave riders – it invites you to explore underwater realms through snorkeling and diving or embark on scenic hikes amidst its natural wonders.

Beach in Puerto Viejo Costa Rica

As our journey through Costa Rica neared its end, Puerto Viejo emerged as the perfect haven to savor the concluding moments of our adventure. Here, we embraced the serenity of coastal days and indulged in the flavors of delightful evenings at seaside restaurants and Caribbean bars.


For further inspiration and valuable tips to enhance your Costa Rican vacation, explore our additional articles designed to assist you in planning an unforgettable travel experience:

Want more insights into our journeys? Join us on our Instagram channels tom_rbg_ and anna_mser, and feel free to reach out with any questions about the routes. Your Costa Rican adventure awaits!


*We want to be upfront with you! This post contains affiliate links. Rest assured, your purchase through these links won't incur any additional costs for you; rather, it's a way of showing appreciation for our efforts. Thank you for being a part of our journey!


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