Jet Blue flies direct from JFK into Liberia, Costa Rica. VERY handy! And, thanks to Costa Rica's welcoming attitude you don't need a separate visa to visit, just your passport. You will fill out customs and immigration forms (very simple) on the airplane so you're all ready when you arrive. Liberia is a fairly small, but recently updated airport so we moved through immigration quickly. The kids were thrilled to get their passports stamped for the first time, and I have to say I was pretty excited myself.
Baggage claim and customs were also totally painless. I had a letter from my chiropractor noting the supplements, vitamins, etc. that I had with me (you can find a list of what you can and can't bring into the country on the Costa Rica Embassy site), but they didn't even open my suitcases. The only item of interest in my luggage was my microphone stand.
And so, looking like total tourists (like the camera around the neck?) we looked for our car rental rep. I always feel like a celebrity when there's someone waiting for me at the airport with my name on a sign, but besides that ego boost I do recommend reserving a car before your get to Costa Rica and doing some homework.
When it comes to car rental, you are NOT in Kansas anymore. Here is what you NEED to know about renting a car in Costa Rica.
1. The rates you see advertised on websites are usually the base rates for a vehicle, not including insurance, taxes, and other fees that add up to 100% or more to the daily rate. Additional drivers add fees, etc. However, remember that you can negotiate a better price. Don't be afraid to ask!! You will also get a better rate if you rent from an office not directly in the airport. Our car rental office was a short trip by shuttle.
2. When you rent a car in the US, and you own a car in the US, your US car insurance generally covers insurance on your rental. NOT TRUE in Costa Rica (or any other international destination from what I understand). Even if your credit card covers car insurance for rentals-and definitely call your credit card company to find out-liability insurance is mandatory in Costa Rica and is anywhere from $10-15 per day, depending on your deductible.
3. Get a reliable recommendation for a rental company from someone who has experience. It's a common practice to roll back odometers or have an older fleet of cars. Nelson Chacon from Adobe Rent a Car was referred to us and we were not disappointed. Our representative met us on time from the airport (even though we were a half hour early), gave us a great price, and even gave us a surprise upgrade without us even asking. (That's the amazing Larry on the left there-he works for Nelson and took fantastic care of us!) This company includes roadside assistance, and will drive a new car out to YOU when you're stuck while they take care of the breakdown. If you're not keeping the car for your whole trip (like us), they will come and pick it up from you. You can't ask for better customer service than that!
4. When you're considering how to pay for your rental, make sure you have enough room for the insurance deposit on your credit card, and don't use a debit card. There is an insurance deposit of $1,000 that is refunded when you return the vehicle in the same condition you got it in. Even though this is a "hold" and not a "charge" on your credit card, you still need to have enough available on your credit line to cover both the deposit and the amount of the rental. Why shouldn't you use a debit card? Because they can't put a hold using a debit card, it will be an actual charge, and it can take up to a month to get your $1,000 refunded.
5. Look over your vehicle carefully and make sure any existing dents or paint chips, etc. are notated by the rental company so you don't get charged for something you didn't do.
6. What are the biggest mistakes that drivers from the US and Canada make, according to Larry? Once you are on your way, remember not to drive through a flooded road, even if it looks shallow. Your insurance won't cover it. This is generally only an issue in the rainy season. Oh, and avoid "shortcuts" if you want to return your rental vehicle in good condition.
Now that you are on your way and free to adventure onward, you will be amazed at the beauty all around you. Pura vida!