I sometimes equate Costa Rican bureaucracies to the evolution on the Galapagos Islands . . . if you run into a blue footed Booby, you should not be unduly surprised.
This is something we send all our guests:
If you are arriving in the evening we advise not renting a car that night - take our free taxi to the hotel - driving in the dark is no fun in countries WITH great drivers and good signage (and Costa Rica has challenges with both).
Ask that rentacars be delivered to the hotel the morning after your arrival at the breakfast table and picked up on your last night if you like. You can hand us the keys and your bill can be faxed to the hotel that night. In the morning we call you a taxi at any time - it is usually here in 2 or 3 minutes. Make sure rental car quotes in Costa Rica always include the mandatory basic government insurance (cannot be declined in Costa Rica), taxes and car delivery to the hotel or at minimum a free shuttle. Recent internet quotes neglect to include that - usually adds $10 to $20 a day. Also check that your credit card covers car rental CDW in Costa Rica (most US ones do, many European ones do not). CDW does NOT remove the mandatory basic insurance (whatever your internet quote may say - this is a quirk of Costa Rican insurance only) but it will reduce the cost.
Of course many guests still go ahead and find "great Internet quotes on car rentals". This is one of our guests this week for example:
"Thanks a lot, that gives us one more day on the beach. Our car was from (International named car rental company name deleted) for a total of $199."
I asked if his original quote included insurance?
"An insurance charge of $38/day was added on."
"We didn't know about that mandatory charge until we got to the car. $20/day of insurance was mandatory, and $18 was optional. The $199 was for a week. It looked like all cars for 7 days and under had the same charge."
As I try to explain to some guests before they get here, the "total charges" for most of the quality rental outfits are all about the same for a similar car. I just don't think it's right for you to get to a rental counter thinking you have a tab for $199 and discovering it is $339 (with mandatory insurance of $20 a day). Make sure your quote includes this!
The second blue footed Booby that may follow for some is "won't my insurance work in Costa Rica?" or "are there other insurance companies in Costa Rica?".
The answers are no, no, no and no. First you ain't in Kansas and second for reasons of our unique evolution, Costa Rica nationalized insurance many years ago as a favor to the people of the country not trusting them with the financial wizards of independent insurance. So insurance here (for now anyway) is sold only by the government - an agency known as INS. This will change as CAFTA (Central American Free Trade Agreement) gets implemented but for now there are no options. And there is only one price for a specific car . . . so you can't shop for insurance when there's only one shop.
The final unique Booby of my tale is known as "what if you have an accident?". Well let's hope you bought all the mandatory insurance (no options there) and you bought the optional (what I call "zero deductible" insurance as about 80% of renters eventually decide to do). You may choose to carry the CDW insurance on your credit card which will save you a few bucks, euros etc.
But if you have an accident the whole road often stops for you. Literally. You first call your rentacar company (if you have no cell phone, do not worry borrow one from a gawker - there'll be many, or the person you hit if they don't feel too badly about it). Then you or they will call INS and you must move NOTHING until INS arrives. Even if you are blocking the main trade route to Centro America! Move nothing cause the INS person must determine fault and who will pay.
If you were at fault, INS will pay. If they were at fault, INS will pay.
We spent 5 hours behind an overturned beer truck accident once on the main highway to Nicaragua wondering about the discussions ahead of us about whose fault it might be and who should pay.
Just another blue footed Booby kind of day, Berni