There are five main factors you should consider when choosing the best vehicle for your Costa Rica vacations, and they are: traction, terrain, weather, budget and your destination. Here’s a simple guide to make the best decision for your car rental in Costa Rica.
4×2 vs 4×4
A 4×4 drive (also known as four-wheel drive) provides power and torque to all four wheels of the vehicle. Generally, it has a sturdier chassis with larger tires and more ground clearance than a 4×2. Basically, a 4×4 comes in handy because of its towing capacity when there’s a slippery or steep incline, which is why we need to consider the following four other factors in order to make your rental vehicle decision more accurate.
Road conditions are greatly influenced by the weather. As you may already know, Costa Rica has two seasons: rainy and dry. Rainy season commences around May and lasts all throughout November. However, this doesn’t mean that it rains continuously for seven months! A typical rainy day in Costa Rica means sunny throughout the day and a few showers in the afternoon. The heaviest rainfall you might find is usually during October. However, because most sought-after destinations in Costa Rica are rural areas, the roads can get muddy, more potholes are formed and gravel roads (which you will most likely drive through many of these) may get somewhat slippery. Nothing worth dreading over, it’s not unlike most countries. If you do plan to visit during the rainy season- we’d recommend opting for a 4×4. However, your destinations will have an upper hand in your final decision.
This comes hand in hand with your destination, as there are some places in Costa Rica that have easier accessibility than others. Our country has continuously invested in infrastructure throughout the years and most destinations have main highways and well established roads from point A to point B. What’s worth pointing out though, are all the other places that are worth visiting that might not be the town center where you’re driving towards. For example, the drive to Tamarindo is pretty much a one-highway drive…however, once you get there you’re going to want to visit nearby beaches, tour sites, etc which most will be through gravel, dusty roads. This is mirrored all throughout the country.
To make this easier, we’re going to divide this in two: the main destinations that you definitely don’t need a 4×4, and the ones that you most definitely will want to rent a 4×4 in Costa Rica.
Will be fine with a 4×2:
- Manuel Antonio (although if you’re going in the rainy season, be advised that all hotels and restaurants in Manuel Antonio are located on a very steep hill which during the rainy season *could* get tricky with a 4×2. However, it’s a paved road).
- Monteverde (then again, if you’re visiting during the rainy season will definitely not advise a 4×2 in this specific destination as the last bit is all gravel and can get plenty of potholes).
- La Fortuna
- If you’re solely going to North Pacific beaches such as Tamarindo, Flamingo, Conchal, etc. (emphasis on *solely*, because if you’re planning to visit surrounding beaches- which most travelers do, we’d definitely recommend a 4×4).
- Tortuguero (you actually can only access Tortuguero by boat, but you can leave your car in a parking lot and then take the boat from there).
- The Caribbean: Puerto Viejo and all of its surrounding beaches.
We recommend a 4×4:
- Mid Pacific destinations such as: Nosara, Sámara, Santa Teresa (lots of gravel, huge potholes, etc which can make driving a 4×2 quite stressful).
- All of South Pacific: Drake Bay, Puerto Jiménez (Osa Peninsula), Corcovado, Pavones, etc.
Simple: a 4×2 will always be a more budget-friendly option than it’s 4×4 counterpart.