Customer’s Perspective on Driving in Costa Rica
Vamos, Suzuki Jimny & General Costa Rican Driving Review - November 25, 2012
Just got back form Costa Rica after a 9 day trip. For 8 of these days, we rented a Suzuki Jimny from Vamos 4x4 in San Jose.
I’m a car guy, so this will a review written like a car guy. Hope it helps 🙂
With respect to Vamos specifically:
I reserved my car well in advance (2 months) and selected a Daihatsu Terios Bego. I exchanged many emails with Tiziana and explained to her that I did *not* want an automatic transmission car. Lucky for me, she said most of their fleet was manual, so the only way I’d run into an issue was if I was trying to reserve an automatic.
Unfortunately, despite checking in daily 3 days prior to picking up the car, the morning of the pickup it turned out our car was not available as somebody had extended their rental, and we were given an automatic Bego. I don’t think this is specific to Vamos 4x4, but you’d think that handling these logistics would be simpler. Lucky for us (sort of), they had a Suzuki Jimny Manual on hand for us to use at a lower rate.
Our car was a ~4 year old Suzuki Jimny with 79k kilometers on the clock. It had some minor scratches, the radio had nearly no reception, and the tires were inflated to something silly like 40psi (should be 23/26). Had no other problems.
Would I rent from Vamos again? YES. And here’s why:
1) This is Costa Rica. You want a car that doesn’t look brand new. Within a day we could pick out the tourists from the Ticos, and our dirt/mud/dust-covered Jimny was certainly closer to the Tico side. If you decide to rent a shiny new Hyundai Tuscon (or worse, a BMW), no amount of mud will keep people from looking at it in every parking lot. You will, however, fit in a good bit better at the Valet Parking at the resorts we stayed at 😉
2) Our rental was $302 with mandatory coverage for 8 days. I wasn’t able to get close with anybody else. I believe we got a 10% discount code through one of their youtube vids.
3) I doubt the guys setting the tire pressures are any better at the major franchises. I just feel silly for spending a day having my teeth pounded loose on dirt roads before fixing it. Just practice common sense.
4) Cars that are this simple, honestly, almost never have a problem or break down. There’s no power door locks, no power windows, no fancy automatic transmission to go bad. Everything is super simple and super proven, so going with one of the ‘big’ guys just to get a car with almost no miles provides very little benefit.
With respect to the Suzuki Jimny: Would I rent one again? YES, and here’s why, aside from ‘blending in’:
A) If you’re a couple traveling to CR, its the right size. The rear seats fold down and hold two large suitcases, 2 backpacks, and the provided free cooler from Vamos. That’s about it for space, but if you’re only 2 people, who cares. The tiny size of the car makes tricky U turns and tight parking a breeze.
B) The engine has only 80hp, so it’s very slow. But this is Costa Rica -- you can’t go fast. Highway limits are 80kph (50mph). Consider the lack of power a good way to keep you from being ticketed in the unlikely case of a speed trap. It also means you won’t be using much gas 🙂
C) As goofy as it looks, this is a real 4x4. Ladder Frame, solid axles, and a real transfer case with a low range. I will admit that we spent a good amount of time climbing stupidly steep rocky roads up the side of Tenorio Volcano and other places where the Bego would not have worked. If you’re not crazy like me, a Terios Bego (or standard Terios) will get you to all the tourist sites no problem.
With respect to driving in CR:
- DO NOT RENT A REGULAR CAR. DO NOT RENT A REGULAR CAR. DO NOT RENT A REGULAR CAR. Even many of the main tourist attractions will require driving through heavily potholed, possibly muddy, rocky, steep roads. Furthermore, you can save yourself a huge amount of time by cutting across some areas using a dirt road when your GPS tells you take a 50+ km detour to stay on the ‘main’ roads.
- DO BRING OR RENT A GPS. Costa Rica has no addresses. I chose not to rent a GPS and loaded CR maps into my Garmin. Without this, we would have been lost, many times over. Hats off to Garmin, their maps were incredibly accurate, even when were really, really, far off the beaten path.
- LOAD AS MANY ACTUAL GPS COORDINATES AS YOU CAN! Google maps is only an approximation in this country, and we learned that quickly. Make a list of places you want to go and places you’re staying, and use actual, raw, GPS coordinates.
- DO YOUR ABSOLUTE BEST NOT TO DRIVE AT NIGHT. Shift your day so you wake up right as the sun rises, and arrive at your hotel as the sun sets. I broke this rule repeatedly and it sucked, as 60-80 km/h roads now became ~30 km/h, so I could look out for road hazards. Ugh.
- TAKE YOUR TIME. Plan to average 40-50 km/h. Some places you’ll do better, other places you’ll have to drive like a WRC champion just to average 40. If possible, stay at hotels near the attractions you plan to visit to minimize your driving. Nothing worse than a 2 hour drive back after sunset at the end of a long day.
I enjoyed my stay in CR and I hope this helped. Feel free to ask anything below and I’ll try to respond.
Follow-up Comment - November 25, 2012
Oh, one more thing: In some parking lots, men will claim to be working “security” for tips. It’s public parking, just tell them you’ll tip when you leave. Then when leaving, tell them you’ve already paid, or ignore them (esp if its a diff guy). Ticos like to look for tips for everything, don’t give in!
Replies to Other Forum Posters - November 26, 2012
Oceanswells: Driving Manual is a personal preference for me. Also, with the smaller cars, having a manual makes passing easier on the 2 lane roads.
Trojandog: Now that you mention it, our Jimny had improperly adjusted headlamps. I adjusted them myself the first night I found myself driving in the dark. I don’t fault Vamos though, nobody drives in CR at night.
RanchoLasColinas: Visa contract says ‘off road’. We weren’t off road, we were on unpaved roads, which is so much of Costa Rica. Vamos also said driving on unpaved roads is OK as long as they’re real, mapped roads, which we stayed on.
You’re also completely right about the luggage. We left an empty backpack in our car when we were at the SuperCompro in Liberia and by the time we came out there was a guy next to the car scoping it out.
George Schwarzenbach: Don’t worry about the booking. It was out of your control, we were given a different car that was fine, and Alex (manager) gave us free use of the cell phone for the week for the inconvenience. I actually just recommended Vamos to my father who is traveling to CR in 3 weeks.
As for the tire pressure, the appropriate pressure is typically printed on the inside of the driver’s door sill. Often, people look at the pressure on the tire itself, which is the maximum safe operating pressure. I don’t know if this was the case here.
Reply from the General Manager of Vamos Rent-A-Car - November 26, 2012
My name is George Schwarzenbach. I am the managing director at Vamos Rent-A-Car.
First and foremost, thank you very much for your fair review. We are very appreciative of clients that leave a review on our services. Constructive critique allows us to continuously improve all elements of our organization.
I want to apologize for the fact that even after one of our rental agents (Tiziana) had confirmed you a manual vehicle, we did not have a manual car ready upon your arrival. Many of our clients often unexpectedly extend their car rental last minute -- informing us on the day that the car is due; during the low season (September - October), we quickly re-assign a similar vehicle. However, since November is the onset of our high season, for some dates, demand for certain models outstrips supply. Over the last two weeks, however, we have taken possession of an additional thirty-five vehicles, improving our ability to meet our client’s requests.
Your comments on the tire pressure have been noted. I am looking into the reasons for the tires having an abnormally high inflation. Our mechanics are instructed, after each rental and as part of their inspection protocol, to ensure that all tires are inflated to a proper PSI. I will personally re-emphasize this topic with our head mechanic.
If you do not mind, I will also back some of your comments with our observations:
1) Our clients often echo your comments on the conspicuousness of brand new rental cars. Aside from preventative maintenance, we strive to keep our cars in good aesthetic condition by repairing dings, dents and other imperfections at the first opportunity. We still want to ensure that our clients approve of the appearance of the car.
2) Thank you for the rate comparison; part of our business strategy is to pass on the savings of renting a pre-owned vehicle to our clients. A brand-new rental vehicle experiences significant depreciation within the first two years, these costs are passed on in form of a higher rental rate. Our rates are based on a lower acquisition costs, allowing us to offer lower rates.
3) Since we are smaller outfit (150 vehicles), our mechanics should pay more attention to the tire pressure. I will personally ensure that your comments on the PSI are not be in vain.
4) The Suzuki Jimny was actually the first rental vehicle that I ever rented in Costa Rica. It is simple car, but exactly this feature is what I liked the most. The more high-tech a car is, the more things that can go wrong... Yet, some clients have a Love/Hate relationship with this model.
5) Your comments on driving in Costa Rica are right on! We have a blog on our website dedicated to the topic of Driving in Costa Rica. Yet, your suggestions are very well formulated. Would you mind if we add your suggestions to our website exactly in your words?
Again, thank you for your review. We will continue to improve our services.