Costa Rica on a Shoestring

Budget Travel


Costa Rica remains extremely popular among travelers seeking adventure, first-hand experience with the rainforest with all its exotic flora and fauna, and pristine beaches.  However, as its popularity has increased so has the cost of vacationing here.  That doesn’t mean you must cross this magical destination of your list, instead incorporate a few of these tips to stay within budget and still enjoy a memorable Costa Rican vacation.


To begin, the cost of renting a car in Costa Rica (and its mandatory insurance) will be higher than stateside, but the cost can be offset by the convenience and taking advantage of many low-cost or free activities.  Alternative transportation, such as the local bus, are time-consuming and uncomfortable compared to driving to your own schedule and pace.


Green Season travel: A great way to save money and beat the tourist trap is to visit Costa Rica during the low season.  Costa Rica has two very distinct seasons and between April and December, there are cheap deals to be found on flights, car rental, and accommodation.


Avoid the most popular destinations like Jaco, Manuel Antonio, Monteverde, Tamarindo, and Arenal/La Fortuna, and prices will be lower too.


Lodging: A night at a traditional hostel would cost a couple as little as $20 per night, and if you bring a tent, a camping spot is even less. For less rustic accommodation choices, expect to pay from $50 a night for a private room and bathroom, perhaps with breakfast included.


Vacation rentals:  Another practical option is to rent a house or room.  A big advantage of a vacation rental property is having a kitchen to avoid the cost of eating out.  Staying with a local can also help you get the inside scoop on activities in the area that are off the beaten path and easier on the wallet.


Groceries/Eating out.  For the best prices on packaged goods shop at the budget supermarket chains which stock local food at knockdown prices.  They have the best prices for canned goods and staples, like rice, beans, and pasta.  For fruit and vegetables, almost every town has a farmers’ market over the weekend for the freshest produce and better prices.  Markets offer organic options, plus it’s fun to mix with the locals and sample seasonal exotic fruits.


When eating out at restaurants, a mid–range pick will be around $8-$12 per person for lunch and up to $20 for dinner.  To save on eating out stick to “sodas” which is where locals and savvy tourists eat out. These mom & pop spots will serve you a filling plate of chicken or meat with rice, beans, salad and a drink for $6-$8 per person.  Sampling local “street food” like empanadas, pattys, yucca fritters or tamamles run about $1.50 each for a tasty lunch on the road.


Activities:  Tours can be pricey and usually include transportation, but savings can be made by driving to the destination and meeting the tour there.  In addition, there are many low-cost activities that can be enjoyed unguided. National Parks, including volcanos like Poas and Irazu, have  a $10  entrance fee and with the provided map and smartphone apps for bird, animal and plant identification; why pay a guide?  All beaches are designated as public access, so other than those located within national park boundaries, a day at the beach is free!