Unfortunately, one of the most expensive things about your travels in Costa Rica will be food. That stuff is expensive here! See, every food item which is imported has a 30% import tax. That means anything which is not produced in Costa Rica is crazy pricey in comparison to what you are probably used to. To help you out we created this guide on how to eat on a budget in Costa Rica. Oh, and don’t worry, we included drinking on a budget as well!
Eat on a Budget in Costa Rica – Restaurants
It is possible to eat on a budget in Costa Rica at restaurants, you just need to know how to go about it.
- We suggest eating at local places called “sodas” if you are trying to stick to a budget. A soda is a small restaurant which sells typical Costa Rican food. Usually, a meal at a soda consists of rice, beans, salad, and a meat for about $5. It is almost always really filling. We like going to sodas because it allows you to have a really local and authentic experience. Plus, we like knowing we are supporting a small local business that really appreciates having customers.
- Another option is to eat a large meal at lunch and just snack for dinner. Some restaurants have a cheaper lunch menu option which is usually more than enough to fill you up.
- Don’t be shy about asking for a to-go box in Costa Rica. It is totally acceptable and will allow you to have another meal for later.
- Try to stay in a hotel with a restaurant which has free breakfast. Breakfast here is usually very filling and consists of rice, beans, eggs, bread, and a piece of cheese.
Eat on a Budget in Costa Rica – Cooking
We always like to stay at accommodations with a kitchen that we can use so we can cook our own food.
- One of our favorite options for this is Airbnb. In fact, we wrote a complete guide to using Airbnb in Costa Rica here if you want to check it out for ideas.
- Most hostels also have shared kitchens which guests can use. Make sure to check for that before booking a place.
- Sometimes it turns out not cheaper to cook because you have to buy things like oil, salt, etc. If we are really trying to stick to a tight budget we usually make really basic meals like pasta and meat sauce, which does not require a lot of extra ingredients.
- You can ask at the place you are staying when the local farmers market is. Getting food at the farmers market is a great way to get affordable produce. Plus you can usually buy a lot of fruits you’ve probably never even seen before.
- Some accommodations have a grill you can use. This is a great option for cooking your own food if there is not a kitchen for guests. Just remember you will have to buy things like charcoal and starter.
- As I mentioned before, everything which is imported is more expensive. When you go shopping for cooking it is best to avoid cheese (it’s always really expensive) and any product from a company which you know is not Costa Rica based (Nabisco, Lays, Kraft etc). Instead try to buy mostly meat, rice, beans, and vegetables.
- If you want to feel like you are on a nice date, but on a budget, we like to make a picnic and bring it with us to the beach at sunset. That way we are not paying the usually high price of a restaurant with a beach view, but we still get to eat with a nice sunset.
- If you are into fishing, we sometimes save a lot of money on food costs by eating the fish Thomas catches. We recently had a few weeks of delicious, fresh tuna which he caught. We have a full post about fishing in Costa Rica if you want more info.
Eat on a Budget in Costa Rica – Drinking
You’re on vacation! You deserve to have a few drinks!
- Go to restaurants during Happy Hour. Most restaurants have a Happy Hour here. Sometimes they have great deals such as two-for-one cocktails.
- You are allowed to bring up to 5 liters of alcohol into the country with you. Yes, I know, this is an insane amount to me as well. If you want to save some alcohol costs, bring the liquor into the country with you and then buy mixers here.
- Buy your liquor at the small mini markets. I’m not really sure why (OK I’m convinced they illegally import it) but often the prices for alcohol at the little privately owned mini markets throughout the country is a lot less than the price at the regular grocery stores.
- Make your own cocktails and bring them to the beach. Just because you don’t want to spend a ton of money for restaurant priced drinks, doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy fancy drinks. We make our own nice drinks and bring them to the beach for the sunset.<
- Buy the local beer. Alright, I’ll be honest, the local beers kind of suck. Also, they aren’t really all that cheap. Sometimes you just want a beer though. This may sound strange but one thing I’ve grown to love here is local beer (Pilsen or Imperial) in a glass with ice and lots of lime. I know, I know, I’m ruining the beer, but I promise you it’s super tasty.
- If you are traveling to Costa Rica from Panama there is a duty-free shop on the border where you can get more affordable alcohol.
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