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Costa Rica Vehicle Rentals: Good Car Rental Agencies Are Hard To Find. Here’s Where We Choose To Look.

Costa Rica Vehicle Rentals: Good Car Rental Agencies Are Hard To Find. Here’s Where We Choose To Look.

NOTE: The content on this page was last updated on October 2nd, 2017.

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best car rental company in Costa Rica
Nikki; at Mapache’s head office in San Sebastian


We are no strangers to the arena of vehicle rentals in Costa Rica. We use the word “arena” with purpose here, as the realm is not only rife with competition, but it is also one in which games are often played. We explored some of these games in our blog post Costa Rica Vehicle Rentals: How Not To Fall For A Vehicle Rental Scam and tackled other related questions in our Costa Rica Vehicle Rentals: Should You Rent A Car For Your Costa Rica Trip? and Costa Rica Vehicle Rentals: Credit Card Insurance Coverage & Declining Part CDW posts, however if there was ever a question more often asked of us by travellers familiar with each of these articles it would be the following: “Which agency is the best car rental company in Costa Rica?”

Fortunately, for all of the shows we have witnessed, we have also come across some real class acts. One of our noteworthy favourites? Mapache Rent-A-Car (herein referred to as “Mapache”).


Given that many of you reading this post will be catching your breath right about now (some of you letting out sighs of relief that we have disclosed the name of our preferred vehicle rental agency and others simply surprised by our choice), it feels like a better time than ever to answer the follow-up question we suspect most travellers planning to rent a car in Costa Rica will ask us: “Why Mapache?”

Our simplest and most direct answer is the following:

Mapache is the only Costa Rica vehicle rental agency we currently work with as we have a long-term and positive relationship with their company. We used to work with three Costa Rica vehicle rental agencies at the same time (and have worked with a few others in the past), however since the best record we have (among vehicle rental agencies) is with Mapache, for the last few years we have chosen to work solely with them given that our relationship is a great one. They respect us and our business, and we are confident that they would never intentionally act towards us (or travellers we opt to recommend to them) in a way that would jeopardize the history that our companies have built together.

From a more personal perspective, we feel proud to work with Mapache as they are a company that strives for change and are actually doing something to achieve it.

best car rental company in Costa Rica
Sustainable Tourism accreditations

Of course, each and every traveller differs from the next. Most want to make sure the vehicle they rent is relatively new and in working condition, and that the vehicle agency they rent through will offer the product reserved with good customer service on the side. Some travellers take worth to a whole new level, determining whether a particular company is worthy of their business according to its philosophy, mission, vision, accomplishments, and/or community involvement. We ourselves are not unlike such travellers, in that our criteria for recommending any company over another (whether it be a hotel, tour operator, or transportation service provider) pushes the envelope too. Like our own business, we need to know that the individuals and corporations we surround ourselves with care as much about helping others as we do, far beyond the boundaries of corporate politics. We need to go to bed at night knowing that the recommendations we make are sound ones (based on our own personal feelings, opinions, and experiences of course) and that the business we conducted during the day didn’t simply better ourselves, our business partners, or even travellers alone, but that our work is contributing to something bigger, including the local community, the country at large, or perhaps our entire world.

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To start, the following are Mapache’s own corporate statements:


In this era of intense competition in business, Mapache Rent a Car ® seeks as an organization to establish the best way, all the necessary factors to achieve quality service, considerating a strategy for quality care, facing the Customer Service area by affirming positive attitudes in treatment and respect for people, friendly smile, appropriate techniques for conversation, the selfless help; which are aspects that contribute to attract customers as we ensure a personalized treatment of them, considering the kind of customer. Telephone contact, email communication, attention of settled claims, as well as our facilities are the main elements within our organization.


To be a facilitator for the tourist through a highly qualified and identified staff with the objectives of the company, to ensure total customer satisfaction through joint work with suppliers and partners.


To be the best company with Costa Rican capital in car rental business in the country through an orderly and sustainable growth with meticulous and personalized customer service with a clean production system that respects the environment and consider the views or opinions of our consumers.

Their intentions are good, but official and formal wording aside, here’s the real reasoning behind our preference.

Apart from the fact that Mapache is a transparent company (they are one of a few Costa Rica vehicle rental agencies whose pricing includes both mandatory portions of CDW insurance, as opposed to only part CDW insurance and then expecting travellers to pay for additional mandatory insurance upon vehicle pick-up or else forcing them decline part insurance in agreement of particular sacrifices; we have written more about that here), they are also a reputable one. Their team is made up of a group of employees who have worked with the company for many of its 20+ years (low employee turnover is a great indication of high company morale and an enjoyable work environment). Their office staff not only work well together but they actually like each other (a good sign that operations run smoothly internally), their vehicle fleet is virtually new (most of the vehicles are from the last few years, if not brand new), and they have a remarkably detailed and accountable process of ensuring vehicles are examined upon each return by travellers prior to them being renting out again (each vehicle must pass a safety test each time it re-enters the office, whereby mechanics thoroughly check the vehicle according to criteria outlined on a master list and are obliged to record the maintenance specifics, work date, and name of the inspector/mechanic for any/all work performed). To take accountability one step further, Mapache also takes photos of each vehicle upon vehicle pick-up by the traveller and repeat photos of the vehicle upon vehicle return by the traveller for the company’s records and travellers’ peace of mind (a new step in their rental process, initiated in late 2015). Why would they bother taking the time to do so? To avoid games of he-said or she-said if/when vehicle damage is ever in dispute. It is merely a detail that other companies may overlook, but Mapache chooses to pay attention to in order to help the rental process run as smoothly as possible for all parties involved.

Mapache is also always “on”. Every airport pick-up service, every vehicle rental delivery location, and every vehicle rental return time, they have (with us, anyway) a meticulous record of keeping track of numerous reservations and never missing a beat. How do we know? Because not only have we worked with Mapache for years as business partners (receiving regular updates regarding the status of vehicles leaving their offices, vehicle being returned to their offices, and any other applicable reservation details along the way), but we have also experienced the thoroughness of their service as travellers given that we have rented nearly ever car in their fleet at one point or another throughout our Costa Rica travels.  The multiple rentals have not only allowed us to experience Mapache’s vehicles firsthand (as our blog has always maintained, we pride ourselves on being able to recommend items to travellers that we have personally tried), but the rentals have allowed us to be on the receiving end of Mapache’s business too (note: non-Spanish speaking travellers, you will be happy to learn that the majority of Mapache’s reservations/operations staff is fluent in English).

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best car rental company in Costa Rica

Mapache’s business is also an admirable one. Details related to their numerous accomplishments can be read on their website, but here’s a taste of what has been shared:

  • The Company Manager for Mapache signed the Private Sector Commitment to the Global Code of Ethics for Tourism, pledging to uphold, promote and implement the values of responsible and sustainable tourism development championed by the Code and undertake to report on their implementation of the Code’s principles in their corporate governance to the World Committee on Tourism Ethics (2013)
  • The Ministry of Environment and Energy gave Mapache the Guayacán Award for meritorious work pro environment (2013)
  • The National Commission on Ecological Blue Flag Program awarded Mapache with the prize of BAE Category: Actions to front climate change (2013)
  • Mapache was awarded the prize of Tourism Industry to the best car rental company by the National Chamber of Tourism (2011)
  • The Institute of Technical Norms of Costa Rica INTECO certified the process of carbon neutrality of Mapache (2011)
  • COSEVI recognized road safety work and the efforts of Mapache as they developed programs not only internally but for the national levels, that lead them to become certified as a safe company by the Commitment to Road Safety (2009-2010)
  • The Central American Integration System (SICA) and the Central American Commission on Environment and Development (CCAD) gave the Regional Award for Cleaner Production to Mapache (2009)
  • The Ministry of Environment and Energy recognized the contribution that Mapache gave to government policies to reduce CO2 as well as the contribution it made to environmental reforestation and awareness of society to protect the environment (2008)
  • The Minister of Environment recognized the participation of Mapache for the support and participation of the “Dare You To Plant A Tree” Campaign (¡A Que Sembrás Un Arbol!) (2008)

Upon our most recent visit to Mapache’s head office, we noted that the values, efforts, projects, procedures, and practices that the company has earned acknowledgments for were glaringly obvious. The following is merely a sample of the good they are doing (further evidenced by their recent accomplishment of achieving the 5th and highest level within the Certification for Sustainable Tourism program developed by the Costa Rican Tourism Institute to monitor and evaluate the level of sustainability exhibited throughout the operations of tourism companies), whether travellers take the time (or have an interest) to learn so or not.


Upon entering Mapache’s head office, immediately to the left is a wall full of summaries of past events hosted by the company. Photos of tree planing days, local school visits, and employees literally making a difference can be seen. The sheer volume of work being done is moving. Equally so is the donation can sitting atop their front desk where visitors and employees can toss their loose change. Proceeds are put towards a school project the company facilitates in nearby Alajuela. Beside the can rests a sign taking a stand against corporate sexual exploitation. A fitting advertisement for the office given that Mapache has signed the Agreement for the Protection of Children and Adolescents from Commercial Sexual Exploitation in Travel and Tourism in Costa Rica.


Much like our own Reach Out Costa Rica Travel Philanthropy donation project, Mapache has opted to donate a portion of their income ($1.00 for every vehicle rented) to a worthwhile cause. Their organization of choice is UNICEF, working to “improve the lives of children in the country, giving them more and better opportunities”. Any interested travellers may donate to UNICEF in Costa Rica directly via the following website:

best car rental company in Costa Rica
Mapache’s UNICEF brochure (only a few copies were available on-site to minimize abundant printing, and those that were printed were done so on recycled paper)


Think choosing the recycle bin over the garbage can for your office paperwork is doing enough? Think again. Mapache employees dispose of office garbage in their on-site compost machine (as you might suspect, recyclable materials are disposed of in appropriate on-site containers). Workers take turns churning the barrel and mixing in wood chips until (over time) the mixture turns into usable soil; nourishment for the plants that adorn the premises.


Just when you thought recycling couldn’t get any better… it does. Imagine how many cars pass through a vehicle rental agency’s office each day, week, and month. Now imagine how much water would be wasted every time each of those vehicles was washed in preparation of its next occupant. Fortunately, Mapache employs an on-site water recycling plan that is quite genius, really. Their garage is built on a slight decline with a long trough that runs behind the area where each vehicle needing to be washed is parked. Upon spraying the vehicle with water and washing it with soap, the water runs off the vehicle, down the sloped ground, into the trough, and enters an underground cleansing system (above which a small rock garden sits) that filters the water and pumps it above ground again, ready to be used on the next car. Not the most intricate engineering project undoubtedly (that’s the beauty of it, that sustainability can be easy and practical), but certainly an important and commendable one that gets the environmentally-friendly job done.

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Mapache’s head office is part workplace, part greenhouse. Or at least it seems that way upon entering given the office’s grand atrium filled with lush green landscape. During the early morning hours, birds visit and sing. Throughout the rest of the day, office staff breathe probably the cleanest air any car rental company’s garage could offer, as the plants that adorn the area help purify it through the absorption of gas (and arguably, other toxins).

best car rental company in Costa Rica
Mapache office entrance atrium gardens


From time to time we receive questions from travellers asking us why we opt to recommend Mapache over other vehicle rental agencies given the few negative reviews that floated around about them on the internet years ago. Our response? Given that our relationship with Mapache has always been positive, we have no reason not to recommend them. To confirm, we never comment on any reviews other travellers post on online travel forums (either positive or negative) regarding any hotel, tour operator, or transportation service provider we opt to recommend as the experiences offered through them are not our own (and to be fair, we have no way of knowing who was at fault –a traveller or a company–in any given case as we are not aware of the facts). We can reconfirm (as we state in our “disclaimer” provided at the very bottom of our blog/this page) that all of the opinions, recommendations, and advice expressed on Costa Rica Travel Blog are our own and that our reviews are not financially supported by the companies we choose to evaluate. Neither Mapache nor any other company we have chosen to write about on our blog has paid us to write our articles. With respect to negative opinions concerning vehicle rental agencies in Costa Rica, we know these are common and would suspect that one of many viable reasons for such is because (as we previously suggested here) the process of renting a vehicle in Costa Rica is the area of trip planning wherein travellers are taken advantage of most often (it is also the area of trip planning wherein travellers are the least informed which is likely why many are surprised and put off by aspects of the rental process). We have always done our best (via our detailed and lengthy blog posts on the subject) to shed light on the ambiguity and steer travellers in what we feel is the right direction. Our recommendation of Mapache at this time is no exception. That being said, if/when a traveller would prefer to book their vehicle rental with a different Costa Rica car rental company that is 100% alright with us. We always respect travellers’ opinions and simply aim to accomplish (via our business and our blog) our never-ending purpose–to provide the Costa Rica travel community with as much information as possible, so readers can make their own informed and confident trip planning decisions.


QUESTION TO COMMENT ON: What criteria do you require when choosing a car rental agency?

Pura vida!

If you’re more of a visual learner, take a moment to view our gallery photos below from our most recent visit to Mapache’s head office.

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4 thoughts on “Costa Rica Vehicle Rentals: Good Car Rental Agencies Are Hard To Find. Here’s Where We Choose To Look.”

  • In your writeup of what scams to watch out for, one item you list is how rental companies use the term “or similar”. However, on the Mapache site, they also say “or similar”. Can you comment on that?

    My biggest concern is booking a 7 passenger vehicle and ending up with a “similar” 5 passenger. There are 6 of us travelling!


    • Mike,

      Absolutely! Let me clarify things for you. I’ll add some additional text to our How Not To Fall For Car Rental Scams In Costa Rica blog post too, because if you had any doubt on the subject there is a chance that someone else did to, in which case it would be best to clarify our point for everyone. 🙂

      To confirm, we wouldn’t count all use of “or similar” terminology as a scam, rather we would consider the use of generalized vehicle rental categories (which generally make use of “or similar” terminology”) to be one. Here’s where we note a difference.

      If one vehicle rental agency was to note that X was the price for a mid-size vehicle, then X would be the cost paid for any vehicle type that the vehicle rental agency could argue falls under that category. This would mean that if (for example) a vehicle rental agency classified three different vehicle makes/models under one particular category–regardless of whether they were the same in features, etc.–the same cost would apply. In some cases, when a vehicle from a particular category is reserved, it is a toss-up as to which exact vehicle make/model will be received, and we would bet that so long as it could be argued by the vehicle rental agency that the vehicle that was provided fell under the category of vehicle that was reserved, that it could also *technically* be argued that there would be no wrongdoing.

      With respect to Mapache, what we love about them is that the vehicle type we reserve is the vehicle type we get. That has always been the case throughout our years of experience with them, and I believe it to be true for others; we have yet to hear of a case otherwise where a traveller has used our free “Pura Vida! eh? Promotion Codes” to save 25%-50% off the cost of the vehicle rental only to later receive a vehicle different than the type originally reserved. Here’s where the confusion may be coming from. On Mapache’s website they do mention the words “or similar”, however not in the context we intended when we wrote our How Not To Fall For Car Rental Scams In Costa Rica blog post. Instead, they list the specific make/model of vehicle to be reserved, and the “or similar” simply refers to their option to offer a complimentary upgrade if/when available and preferred. Although I cannot speak on behalf of all Costa Rica car rental agencies, I know some use vehicle makes/models interchangeably. At Mapache, when a traveller makes a reservation for a specific vehicle make/model, that specific make/model of vehicle is reserved. Or, if that specific vehicle make/model is not available given the reservation details provided, availability for an alternative vehicle make/model could be suggested as an alternative option (as opposed to that alternative make/model automatically being reserved in the original make/model’s place). The only exception to this would be if Mapache could offer availability for a complimentary upgrade, but this is rare and would not result in a downgrade. Also to confirm, whenever a reservation is placed using our “Pura Vida! eh? Promotion Code” (via email or through Mapache’s website), when Mapache provides the traveller with the rental confirmation, the specific vehicle make/model–not merely the vehicle category–is noted on the confirmation (actually, the vehicle’s make, model, wheel-drive type, and transmission type are all noted).

      With respect to your specific vacation concern, it is certainly a valid one! A possible change such as the one you note would be disastrous for your trip. In all honesty, that is unlikely to happen, even using most Costa Rica vehicle rental agencies in the country; a feature as important as the number of seats/seatbelts would be nonnegotiable. This wouldn’t happen with Mapache as a 5-passenger vehicle would be processed completely different than a 7-passenger vehicle (i.e., the two vehicle types wouldn’t only have different makes/models, but they would have different codes and prices associated with them so the two could never be mixed), and I’d like to think that the same would be the case for all (or at least most) vehicle rental agencies in the country. I do apologize if our How Not To Fall For Car Rental Scams In Costa Rica blog post scared you; reference to the “or similar” text was written with respect to the interchangeability of vehicles along less-significant lines. 🙂

      Pura vida!

      • Thanks for taking the time to reply! I did contact a large international rental company that has a desk at the SJO airport to confirm. I wanted to book the ‘full size SUV category – Toyota Avanza 7 seat or similar’. To my surprise, they responded saying if I needed to guarantee 7 seats I need to use the ‘Premium SUV category’. Perhaps it was an upsell, but that is what sparked my question.

      • Hey Mike!

        No problem! We’re happy to help. 🙂 Thanks so much for providing that context; it’s always good to know where certain inquiries come from–that helps us stay on top of things and learn where gaps in information (or areas of ambiguous information) exist.

        Just a heads up (in case you don’t already know, and/or in case you opted to go with the large international rental company you referenced in your comment), car rental companies with offices directly at the SJO airport have to charge an airport fee/tax, so watch out for that on any quotes you receive (or as a surprise upon vehicle pick-up at the airport). For this reason, the majority of Alajuela/SJO airport rental offices are located just outside of the airport’s property, usually within a five-minute drive away, and many agencies (Mapache included) offer complimentary airport pick-up/drop-off services to cover the traveler’s distance in between. 🙂

        Pura vida!

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