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Costa Rica car rental review: Vamos vs. Mapache

26 November 2007 10,961 views 18 Comments

Renting a car in Costa Rica ended up being a great decision. I give Trish the credit for wanting to do it, since I was down with taking public buses. I relented after finding out that renting a private van & driver would cost $300 for 3 days. While we would miss his knowledge and experience, we ended up learning a lot by taking charge and driving ourselves around.

We had 2 basic requirements – 4 wheel drive (just in case) and a cell phone rental (a great option if you don’t plan your itinerary all in advance). For both weeks we rented a Daihatsu Terios – a compact 4wd SUV with slightly more pickup than an ox-cart. It was manual transmission, which was fine since we both drive stick and it cost a little less. For those of you who prefer automatic, both rental companies had automatics available, but I imagine they get booked a lot faster.

We rented the first week from Vamos Rent-a-Car, located 4 miles from San Jose International Airport. Mike, who seems to be the owner, spoke excellent English and was very courteous and professional every time we spoke. The Terios was $325/wk (green season rate) and included insurance. Also included was a celphone for emergency use, which can be upgraded to unlimited usage for $25/wk. This was an excellent deal. The required deposit for renting is $750, which is supposed to be charged upon rental and then refunded after the car is returned. In our case, we never got charged the deposit, and I’m not sure if that is usual or not. If it is the norm, then it’s a great deal for people on a budget. When the car was returned, they gave back the unused credit card form for the deposit.

Vamos’ service was very good. We were about 1 mile from the airport, and the car was delivered a couple of hours late (due to cleaning/maintenance since it had just been returned) while pickup was on time after a quick confirmation call. The celphone died and Mike dropped one off the next day – with the wrong charger. Luckily, we were staying some place where we had access to a phone, but this was a bit of an inconvenience. We got the right charger 2 days later, just 1 day before the car was to be returned. Mistakes happen, so I wasn’t interested in making a stink about getting some money back for the celphone rental. I’m not certain that we would have used the phone too much more regardless.

We would have stayed with Vamos for the 2nd week, except they were booked. Mike was nice enough to say he would find us a car and not to worry about calling around for a car. I initially called asking about extending the rental 4 days before the car was due, and when I hadn’t heard an answer beyond ‘I’m working on it’ for 3 days, I went ahead and called Mapache. Mike finally let me know that the car was available for the next week, but I had already made the Mapache reservation.

Mapache Rent a Car seemed to me a larger company from the start. They hadn’t heard of Vamos, and I imagine that they would be aware of their major competitors. They also mentioned having a fleet of 400 cars and offices in every major municipality. They also spoke excellent English (or were quick to find someone who did) and were courteous and professional. Their rates for the Terios were a little higher – $275.40/wk, plus $18/day insurance for a total of $401.40. The big loss was in their celphone rental – the celphone itself was free but they charge for minutes used. This didn’t seem too bad until I found out that it was truly medievel – $1.60/minute! For both incoming and outgoing calls. Needless to say, the celphone did not get used and was kept aside for emergencies only. (FYI: to match Vamos’ $25 fee we had to use 15 minutes) The other major difference is a deposit of $950 – for the car only. After delivery, they immediately charged the credit card over $1400 for car rental, cel usage, and deposits for both car and cel. It would have been nice to know about the celphone deposit.

Service-wise they were very good. The guy who dropped the car off, Giovanny, was very friendly and did a good job of explaining everything (except maybe the celphone deposit – or perhaps he did and I don’t remember). He was also nice enough to ask how our trip had been and perked up when I mentioned Grecia and Sarchi. He had grown up in Sarchi and lived in Grecia, then asked if I was interested in buying property because he knew of a nice 6 month old, 2br 2 garage house in Grecia for $25k. He wrote down his name and home phone number in case we would like someone to enlighten us about Grecia when we return. He wasn’t very pushy and I got the feeling that he was trying to be genuinely helpful.

In the end, the final cost of renting from Vamos for one week was $376, while Mapache, even after returning one day early, came to $476 (I have no idea what that extra $75 is, but I’m not interested in debating long distance) $376 (11/29: the extraneous charges were removed). The next time we are in Costa Rica and need a car, I’ll definitely book ahead with Vamos and keep Mapache in mind as a reliable back-up.


  • Angie said:

    We rented from Mapache while on our honeymoon in Costa Rica and they completely screwed us over. I would not recommend using them to anyone. They gave us an old car that ended up over heating. We pulled over immediately and were stranded on the side of the road for 5 hours (we lost a whole day of our honeymoon). They brought us a new car and we went on our way. When we returned the car they said everything was fine. A few days after we got back to the states they charged our credit card $2300 for a “new engine”. They completely blamed us for the car breaking down which was not our fault. When we disputed the charge with AMEX they sent AMEX tampered with documents. They took the documents we signed for the original rental and changed them so that it looked like we authorized the charge of $2300 which I can assure you we never signed anything authorizing such a charge. So now we are stuck paying this amount money which is a lot of money to us considering the cars we drive in the states are only worth about $4,000 tops. Very frustrating!

  • Arp (author) said:

    Wow – that is a horrible experience! I’m sorry you had to go through that. I’m hoping Amex backed you up. I would definitely not recommend using a bank debit card for renting a car here.

    Cars in CR are very expensive – in the US our 98 Subaru Forester was worth around $3k, and for that amount here we got an 87 Isuzu Trooper.

  • Steve Apted said:

    Do not use Mapache Car Rental – they WILL TRY to rip you off . I prepaid for a 10 day car rental and my experience was an eye opener . First , when I went to pick up my car (prepaid), they informed me that they required an additional $750 hold on my credit card . When I declined they said they could drop it to a $100 hold if I bought extra insurance from them for an additional $99 ( I am a safe driver , according to my license , without a ticket for 27 years and never an accident ) . I agreed just to be able to start my vacation . They then charged my credit card $199 for the deposit plus insurance . When I returned the car , the clerk working then , Roberto , told me I owed them $14 for gas , that was fair there was only 3/4 tank . When I gave him my credit card to pay for the gas he told me it had to be cash only . If I wanted to charge it , it would be $99 for the gas ($99 must be their majic number ). He then tried to charge me another $99 for the insurance that I had alredy paid for when I picked up the car . Both agents that I dealed with at Mapache tried to rip me off .BEWARE!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Arp (author) said:

    I feel fortunate to have not had anything like that happen. Was it any specific branch?

  • Jon said:

    We’ve rented from Vamos about ten times, and they’ve been great every time.

    The one time we had car trouble, we were about six hours away from Vamos’ office.

    Vamos paid for the taxi rides we needed, and actually sent a mechanic to us with a replacement car. When our original rental was repaired, he delivered it to us with a friendly smile and an explanation.

    I’m convinced Vamos did everything they could to help us, and I couldn’t be happier with their service. In fact, I’m about to book yet another rental with them.

  • Gary said:

    In October 2009 I rented a car from Economy Car Rental at San Jose airport. When I returned the car there was not a scratch on it. Then a month later my credit card was billed for $149 for damage to the rear bumper that I allegedly caused. I protested the charge to Visa and Economy then submitted a photo showing the alleged damage to the car. The irony is I had full insurance coverage on the car and even if I had totaled the car I would not have owed them anything. This is pure fraud. Avoid Economy Car Rental at all costs!

  • Sylvain said:


    A feedback about MAPACHE rent a car company. We were in Costa Rica for two weeks and half in February 2010. I really advise to AVOID this company. We got a lot of issue with them :
    - bad state of the car with several hidden issues: speed indicator not working, tires in very bad conditions, washing system not working…
    - their “philosophy”: they put old tire so that to have to buy new ones with your money and at the end you return a car that is in a better state than at the beginning !
    - very bad relations with client: you never can talk to a responsible
    - very bad experience with the payment: they withdraw money 2 weeks after the return of the car without any communication and the amount was completely false ! the amount was more than in the initial contract !



  • Rob said:

    In April my wife and I traveled in Costa Rica, and thoroughly loved it. The same cannot be said for Vamos Rent-a-Car. They have a great looking website, and a cell phone was included; but that is where our satisfaction ended. We arrived at the Liberia airport, and were met on time by the Vamos reps., who then took us straight to our dirty, unwashed rental car. It was a blazing hot day, and my wife had to sit on the curb while we spent over an hour doing the paperwork in the parking lot. I had rented an automatic transmission vehicle but they delivered a manual, which posed a bit of a problem while negotiating the curves and hills on the way to and from Arenal Volcano area. The GPS navigation system which I paid extra for did not work properly, so we gave up on it before we even completed the first leg of our trip. The last problem was on the day of departure. I had paid extra for “early dropoff” as our flight left at 7AM before they opened. The rep was supposed to meet us at the airport at 5AM, but after repeatedly going back out to the parking lot with noone there I ultimately had to go ahead and check in for my flight and had to leave the keys in the car. At 6:15 the rep came to the waiting area for the flight and said he had been there since 5, but there was never anyone there when I repeatedly went back to check on the vehicle up until after 6. When we return to Costa Rica, which we definitely intend to do, we will stick with one of the “big guys”.

  • Arp (author) said:

    Wow – what a range of experiences. Even with the big guys, I suspect that the possibility of nonsense exists. It’s still Costa Rica :-)

  • Kyle said:

    This is a review for ADOBE rental car. We just returned from 8 days of traveling through Costa Rica. We rented a Dihatsu BeGo, 4-wheel drive vehicle for all 8 days. The car was pretty solid; we were able to drive through the various unpaved mountain roads of Costa Rica, through small streams, etc.; the 4-wheel drive was definitely helpful.

    On the 4th day of the trip, there was a hurricane in Manuel Antonio, and our rental car was crushed by a fallen tree in the storm. This cost us $790 through our insurance deductible. The storm also shut down all of the roads, electricity, and telephone lines in Manuel Antonio. Our first car, crushed, unusable, sat in the hotel parking lot for 2 days, until the Quepos ADOBE office representatives were able to meet with us; ADOBE made no attempt to refund us for these 2 days of unused car rental service.

    After 2 days, they were able to meet with us, arrange the proper paperwork, tow the crushed car, and give us a new rental car. In a very cunning tactic, they back-dated our costs for this new car, so that they would include the days just after the first car was crushed; days that were prior to the new car even being delivered. It was an obvious SCAM!!! They clearly ripped us off, making us pay for additional days of insurance / car rental fees, even though the new rental car had yet to be delivered!

    The lack of ADOBE staff sympathy for our state, as the customer, was unbelievable! We had to pay the $750 (+ tax and fees) deductible, as expected. On top of that, ADOBE scammed us, by making us pay for days in which the contract for the new rental car had been written, but the car was yet to be delivered.

    Finally, we returned the new car to the ADOBE San Jose Airport office, and voiced our concerns over the back-dated charges. In a typical scam-artist fashion, they claimed that the contract was signed for those dates, and failed to give any sympathy that we were paying for days in which the car had not yet been delivered to us.

    The rudest and most offensive part of this whole experience, was on the drive from the ADOBE office to the SJO airport. While in the cab, the ADOBE representatives spoke about us (the clients) in Spanish (which we understood, and speak well), claiming that it was our fault, that we were to blame, and that it was silly of us to ask for remuneration for the days in which we payed for the car, but it had yet to be delivered.

    In conclusion: 1) I will never rent from ADOBE rental-car again. 2) It is offensive to talk behind someone’s back, when they are present, in a different language (Spanish); especially a language that they understand and speak well.

  • Arp (author) said:

    The overall lesson I have is that pretty much anyone can rip you off, Tico or gringo.

  • George said:

    Dear Rob,

    I am the owner of Vamos Rent-a-Car and recently read your review our our services on this great website. We do take all comments serious, and I do apologize that we did not meet your expectations. I am not sure why you were given an dirty and unwashed car, but often client turn-in their vehicle later than originally agreed on, leaving our staff scrambling to prepare a car for the next renter.
    It certainly is our intention to offer flawless service to all of our clients, and your experience is no means a representation of our services. I have drawn attention to our staff in regards to your impressions to minimize the chance of this happening in the future. As for the GPS not working, that is an issue with the GPS provider. You see, we subcontract the GPS rentals, with a company that is the most accurate map provider in Costa Rica. We always check the GPS before they go out, so your GPS not working properly may have been a fluke of the GPS.

    I do appreciate your feedback, however wanted to present our point of view since we do strive to offer flawless service.

    For what its worth, I apologize for the lack of service that you received, however most of our own survey show that 90 percent of our clients are very satisfied with our service. Perhaps we can convince you in the future again.


    George Schwarzenbach
    Vamos Rent-a-Car Costa Rica

  • Brian Goldsmith said:

    I just returned from Costa Rica a few days ago. My wife and I went to a wedding at Playa Conchal and then to Arenal. I did a lot of research online regarding taking taxis/shuttles or renting cars. In the end we decided to rent a car. However, that turned into a very difficult decision. I initially looked at all of the big name car rental companies. It was very easy to find terrible reviews for all of them. Apparently, fraud is very common with rental companies. After finding this site and reviewing vamos.com I decided to try them. They seemed to have the best price and best reviews. I cannot express how glad I am that I made that decision. My experience with Vamos was fantastic. I did read the bad review above regarding Vamos. I made sure to email ahead of time confirming that the car would be an automatic. We flew in to Liberia and were taken to the office about 5 minutes away. The employee working at Vamos, Anibal, was fantastic. He was very clear about all of the paperwork. He gave suggestions for driving in Costa Rica. He warned us about speeding tickets. Also, he was very, very thorough during the inspection of the car. He made sure to mark down every little scratch or dent (not that there were many.) This was very comforting, especially after all the terrible reviews from other companies about charging for damages. Anibal then setup our GPS for our hotel (Flamingo Beach Resort and Spa.) Overall, we are VERY, VERY happy that we chose Vamos. Thank you to Arp for this article and all those that commented.

  • Arp (author) said:

    I’m glad to have been of help – and it’s a credit to Vamos that they have been consistently good since our review 3 years ago.

  • I could not be happier with my experience from Vamos. said:

    [...] car company to choose.  I researched online and found many horror stories.  I found one website (http://www.tinygrass.com/2007/11/costa-rica-car-rental-review-vamos-vs-mapache/#Ms9F9hqiXo55) that gave very positive reviews for Vamos and decided to try.  I am very glad I did.  I could [...]

  • Fernando said:

    The MOST HORRIBLE RENT A CAR I’ve ever used!

    Made a reservation and they did not have it available upon arrival. We paid for an upgrade and got a bigger vehicle. Not only was the car’s suspension shot and we felt every single bump on the road, but the car had 75,000km. The same day the car key broke in half (of which they had to bring us a new one). Then the next morning it took us 30min to get the car started and then to top it all off the GPS cable connector broke.

    We had it so we went back to complain. They were unsympathetic and did absolutely nothing to help the situation. Their responses to our concerns were sarcastic and rude.
    We ended up going next door to SIXT RENT A CAR. What a DIFFERENCE!! Our car was BRAND NEW with only 3,000km. Vamos Rent a Car said they did not have our money in hand to return to us and that only the manager had access to it. We ended up putting a huge hold on another credit card in order to rent with this other company, and Vamos promised to return the money to us the following week.

    A week went by and a day before returning to the car, I called Vamos Rent a Car to make sure they had our money ready. They very sarcastically reassured me that they had the money. The next day we arrived and they didn’t have the money. And even with it being their mistake their employee was extremely rude with smart ass remarks. They ended up writing a signed letter to SIXT Rent a Car promising payment so that we only had to pay the difference.

    If you want to save yourself a headache and get a better car and better service, don’t go with Vamos Rent a Car. SIXT RENT A CAR is by far a better company and to further add to this, Vamos actually buys SIXT Rent a Car’s old cars for their own fleet!

  • Arp (author) said:

    Wow – that’s pretty bad. I’d never heard of Sixt but they seem to be a pretty big & known European firm.

  • lauren said:

    We rented a Terios from Wild Rider (http://www.wild-rider.com/) for three weeks. I did a ton of research and found them to be the cheapest and the most straightforward in their pricing. Booking was very easy to do via email and I found them to be straightforward through that process as well. We requested a drop off at our hotel in Alajuela, which cost $15 and although they were about a half hour late, they call the hotel to let us know. It is was not a brand new car, but it was clean and maintained with air conditioning and a stereo. The guy who brought the car to us was VERY thorough. He gave us maps, directions, tips on driving in Costa Rica, and walked us through all the important documents. We had some trouble with a tire early in our trip so we called and they directed us to the closest gas station were it was fixed in 5-10 minutes for $4, which was reimbursed later.

    Upon our returning the car they were amazing! Granted, we opted to get the zero deductible insurance so we wouldn’t have been charged regardless, but they inspected the car and didn’t point out any issues. Also, Thorsten, who is one of the owners, was so incredibly helpful that day. I ended up with a really bad case of vertigo that morning and by the time we made it to San Jose I had decided that I needed to seek medical attention. He immediately got us a map, showed us where we should go, got us a taxi, and wrote down the return address for the rental place (where we left our bags for day) to give to our return taxi driver. He also gave the other couple we were traveling with lots of info on where they could go in the city, and told us to use his cell phone as a way to relay messages between us and our friends. He also told us to use his place of business as our meeting spot. He even said if we were at the hospital longer than his business hours that we could call him on his cell phone and he would come back to allow us to get out luggage. Absolutely amazing experience with them! And the the cheapest rates I found! I HIGHLY recommend them.