Are you planning a roadtrip to explore the wild side of Costa Rica, traveling off the beaten path, and are eager to go wilderness camping? Then Costa Rican car rental agency Nomad America might be the right choice for you.
My wife Anna and I traveled around Costa Rica with a Toyota FJ Cruiser from Nomad America for four weeks. Read our review about our roadtrip below.
We did a barter deal with Nomad America. For featuring them in our adventure travel documentary, we received a discount on our rental fee.
The Website and Booking Process The website of Nomad America is well structured and everything is easy to find. They have a good overview of the different cars they offer and at which price points they can be rented. The booking form is easy to use and gives you all the available dates.
The online chat on the website is your best bet to get an answer to any question you might have. After booking you will be asked with which flight you arrive to arrange for your airport pickup.
The Pick-up We were picked up directly from the airport after our flight landed. The entire process was very smooth and we were standing next to the car within 5 mins of leaving the arrivals gate. It was very convenient to start our journey directly from the airport.
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After arriving at the car, a friendly employee from Nomad America gave us a thorough rundown of the car and the included equipment. We were also introduced to the rules of driving in Costa Rica and what to look out for. The different 4x4 modes were explained to us, but ideally, you do some research in advance to have a basic understanding already. If you have never camped with a rooftop tent before, make sure to have the entire process explained to you in detail!
We picked the Toyota FJ Cruiser, which looks like a massive car on the outside. On the inside it is surprisingly small though, so do not pack more than necessary. We would not recommend this car for a camping trip of more than two people, as there won‘t be enough space to store all your luggage. We always bring a lot of gear, so the backseats were pretty packed. Definitely bring backpacks and packing cubes instead of bulky suitcases. It will be hard to store them. With a little bit of organization, you can fit all your luggage for two people.
The FJ Cruiser drives very smoothly. We had an automatic transmission vehicle, which worked fine on all roads. The V6 3.0l engine is rather fuel-thirsty of course. We did not keep track exactly, but the car must have easily used 15-20l of fuel per 100km, especially on the steep mountainous roads.
For offroading this car is a great choice as it has enough ground clearance to easily drive through rivers and enough power to get you through sandy or muddy patches. Just make sure to check the depth of the mud holes you intend to cross, to not end up as we did.
The Rooftop Tent Putting up the rooftop tent for the first time can be a bit of a challenge with all the little zippers you have to open. If you are very short, it will be a big challenge for you to properly put up the tent, as the FJ Cruiser has a very high ground clearance. Once you get the hang of it, it will become easier.
The inside of the rooftop tent is spacious - two people fit very easily. The tent comes with a mattress, so you do not have to worry about bringing your own. The blankets are rather thin, which is great when you stay along the incredibly hot coastlines of Costa Rica, but can be a bit chilly along the mountains of the Central Valley. The side flaps of the tent can be opened - definitely important if you want to catch the ocean breeze.
Be aware that you have to bring your own bed linen! We went to Walmart in Alajuela and bought it for the trip, as we did not bring any.
The Equipment Alongside your car rental, you will also get camping equipment for your roadtrip. This includes camping chairs, a camping table, a cooling box, pots, pans and dishes, a gas cooker, a hammock and some other items. The equipment is obviously used and not brand new, so do not expect your non-stick pan from home.
One of our favorite pieces of equipment was the metal coffee filter. As big-time coffee fans, one of our first purchases was a pack of coffee. Put a couple of spoons of coffee into the filter, pour hot water over it, and have it slowly drip down. The flavor is very smooth!
Another great item is the hammock. It is very easy to put up; just find yourself two suitable trees and relax!
The little Extras A great extra is an old phone you receive from Nomad America. The phone comes with a local SIM card and a data plan that allows you to access the internet during your trip. This can be useful for navigation with Google Maps, booking something online, or sending a message to your loved ones. Furthermore, the phone comes pre-installed with the iOverlander app, which is a great resource for finding suitable campsites. Be aware that these phones are old and used, and the battery life is extremely short. This is especially true if you are in a remote area and the phone is trying to connect to a network but fails.
Communications during the Trip If you have a problem or a question during your trip, you can always drop the guys at Nomad America a message on the phone they gave you. Their WhatsApp numbers are pre-programmed and they are quick to answer. You can also ask them about cool campsites anywhere in Costa Rica so that they can give you some tips. One of our favorite campsites at Lake Arenal was a tip by Nomad America. Be aware that some areas of Costa Rica are remote and there is no cellphone coverage.
We traveled around the country for four weeks and explored all corners of Costa Rica. We drove more than 3000kms, crossed mountain passes and rivers, slept along beautiful beaches, and on the mountainside of volcanoes. If you are interested in our trip, make sure to watch our adventure travel documentary on YouTube.
The Drop-off Nomad America sent us the address to which we should bring the car. Upon our arrival, the car was inspected and we signed all the papers. Then Nomad America called us an Uber that brought us back to our hotel. Very smooth process once more!
Problems We had some issues with our car battery. After leaving the car standing for three nights during our stay in Tortuguero, the battery died on us. It took us quite a while to get it going again with the help of some locals. The same happened again when we had to leave the car for two nights at Cerro Chirripó. Once again some locals came to our help. It was obvious the battery was old and not up to par anymore. We let Nomad America know of the issue and assume they exchanged the battery with a new one.
Furthermore, the trunk door panel came off repeatedly, especially when we drove on bumpy roads, which meant the trunk door got stuck when we tried to open it. Lastly, we couldn't properly use our on-car shower, because the water container had a tiny leak. We completely filled it up at a fuel station (with water), but as soon as we hit the road again we noticed water flowing down our trunk window.
Other than that, the car ran very smoothly and reliably, which is important if you venture into remote areas, and we enjoyed driving it quite a lot.
If you are looking for an adventurous camping roadtrip through Costa Rica with a car that isn‘t stopped by rivers or mud, then the vehicles from Nomad America will be a great choice for you. Their cars will allow you to go where others cannot, and to camp at some of the most beautiful beaches the country has to offer. Do not expect a luxurious holiday, though! If you go roadtrip camping you will have to deal with limited showers, bush toilets, a sultry heat, heavy rain, and pesky mosquitos. But you will be rewarded by falling asleep to the sound of the ocean, being surrounded by nothing else than nature, and traveling truly adventurously.
Nomad America Discount Code If you are ready for your Costa Rica offroad roadtrip then get 10% off your 4x4 rental using our discount code LUCAS10 at Nomad America.
Make sure to watch our full Costa Rica adventure travel documentary on YouTube:
If you have any questions about your trip to Costa Rica, do not hesitate to drop us a message!