Is Costa Rica Expensive? What to Budget for Vacation Costs

Are you wondering, “Is Costa Rica expensive to visit for vacation?”

The short answer is, yes. It can be difficult to travel in Costa Rica on a budget, but it is not impossible.

Costa Rica is often considered to be the most expensive country to visit in Central America. Prices for goods and services are often equivalent to what you would expect to pay in the United States.

When we first moved here we were on a really tight budget but wanted to see all of the amazing places this beautiful country has to offer. It wasn’t always easy and we sometimes had to get a bit creative, but we managed to do a lot of traveling while spending very little. 

After several years of living here, we are somewhat of experts on traveling at all different budget price points and can give you cost insights and money-saving tips for luxury travelers to backpackers.

So, let’s figure out what you can expect to spend on your Costa Rica vacation based on your budget and travel style.

Also, stay tuned until the end of this post to get access to our Costa Rica Travel Budget Calculator. It’s super helpful in figuring out your projected costs.

Cost of a One-Week Trip to Costa Rica

Thomas and I have been testing the cost of traveling in recent years by taking a few week-long “vacations” throughout the country. This has helped us to get a better feel for how much we spend for things such as transportation, hotels, food, and activities. 

We have determined that for a one-week-long trip in Costa Rica, you will likely spend between $700 to $1,200 per person.

That does not include flights. 

I would say this is an average budget. It is definitely possible to travel on less, but if you would like to do some activities and stay at mid-range places, this is likely what you can expect to spend. 

We also concluded this as a couple. So, that means we were only paying for one hotel room and one rental car for two people. We would definitely spend more per person if we were staying in hotels as solo travelers. 

Also, keep in mind that prices will be higher during peak travel season and lower during the green season.

Let’s break that all down a bit further for you. 

Keep in mind that everything we have calculated from here on out is written in US dollars.

Average Hotel Cost

playa avelanas hotel

There is a wide range of what you can expect as far as hotel costs in Costa Rica based on your travel style and location. 

Resorts

Resorts typically run from $300 per night and up. At these high-end resorts, you can usually expect multiple restaurant options, great amenities such as spas and pools, excellent service, and well-maintained modern rooms. 

If you are looking for a nice all-inclusive resort experience and see a place listed as $100 to $300 a night, it is most likely not a high-end place.

We have found that Costa Rican resorts are typically not nearly as budget-friendly as you might experience in Mexico or on a Caribbean island. 

Eco-Boutique Hotels

Costa Rica is a popular eco-tourism destination. The country puts a large focus on sustainability with green energy and reforestation being two focal points of the future. 

Is Costa Rica Expensive? What to Budget for Vacation Costs

There are eco hotels at a wide range of price points, but the best ones typically have a boutique hotel feel to them. You can usually expect to spend between $100 and $200 a night at some of the nicer eco-friendly hotels. 

Check out our guide to Costa Rica ecotourism for more info.

Hotels

Hotels typically start at about $50 per night in Costa Rica and go up from there. This country relies heavily on tourism, so there are TONS of hotel options at a variety of price points.

We really like Booking.com for searching for hotels in Costa Rica. One of my reasons for this is that there are a lot of places that offer free cancellation up until a certain date. This allows you to book a hotel and with the peace of mind that you can always cancel if you find a better option.

Just make sure to keep track of the cancellation date deadline!

A few other tips for you are:

  • If you are staying on the beach, definitely book a place with an AC unit. It can stay hot and humid even at night.
  • Traditional breakfast in Costa Rica is super filling! Usually, this meal consists of a rice and beans mixture (called Gallo Pinto), eggs, fried plantains, fresh fruit, a corn tortilla, a fruit drink, and coffee. If possible, stay at a place with breakfast included and you likely won’t be hungry until dinner.
  • Pay attention to where exactly the hotel is located. Some places can be on unpaved side streets and may be difficult to access without a 4×4
  • If you will not have a rental car, make sure the place is within walking distance of restaurants and fun things to do.
  • In Costa Rica, a place with a pool is always a good idea.

Check out our guide to booking hotels in Costa Rica for more info.

Vacation Rentals

Thomas and I are big fans of vacation rentals and almost always book this type of stay in Costa Rica instead of hotels. 

Typically you can find a private place with bedroom, kitchen, seating area, and small outdoor space starting at about $50 a night. 

If you are looking for a multi-bedroom villa for a large family, wedding, or bachelor party, that is always possible as well.

VRBO is great for finding private houses and apartments in Costa Rica in all budgets. 

Usually, these prices are comparable to hotels and often this will give you the opportunity to have your own kitchen so you can save money on meals. 

A few other tips for you are:

  • Look for places with a nice outdoor space. We find that we spend almost all of our time in Costa Rica outside, so this is important
  • Read all the reviews. I feel like pictures of vacation rentals don’t always explain little things such as you might have to walk up 50 steps to the front door or the owner lives in the top floor. Things like that definitely matter.
  • Book a place with free cancellation if you can. VRBO has a filter for that. 
  • Check out our guide to booking with VRBO for more tips.

Hostels

If you are looking for a budget-friendly stay and want a bed in a dorm at a hostel, you should have no problem finding a place in Costa Rica. There are hostels located all throughout the country and most tourist destinations have tons of options to choose from.

Typically a bed in a mixed dorm can range from $10 per night to $20 per night depending on the location and season.

We like hostels because they give you the chance to meet other like-minded travelers that are probably on a similar budget. By doing activities or cooking together as a group you can often save money and meet interesting people.

Check out our guide to hostels in Costa Rica for more info

Average Cost of Flights to Costa Rica

It is difficult to determine the cost of your flight to Costa Rica because that will depend on where you are flying from. However, I can give you some tips for getting the best flight deal. 

Did you know that there are two international airports in the country? 

One is the main airport called Juan Santamaria International Airport located just outside of San Jose in the central part of the country.

The other airport is Liberia International Airport located in the Guanacaste Region on the Pacific Coast near the Nicaragua border. 

In the past, it was almost always cheaper to fly into San Jose, but now more and more airlines are offering flights to Liberia. 

costa rica airports maps

We suggest checking both airports when looking at flights to determine the best price.

Also, if possible, we have found that it is usually cheaper to fly on weekdays and at off-peak times.

When booking your flight don’t forget to factor in the costs of things such as checking a bag and leaving your car in a lot at the airport. 

We created a guide to getting the best flight deals in Costa Rica that can help you out further. 

Average Transportation Cost

car rental liberia airport

Transportation is often one of the most difficult things to figure out when traveling to Costa Rica. You might find yourself actually taking several modes of transportation while traveling here.

Let’s go through all your options and how much each one costs.

Rental Car

We think renting a car is by far the best way to get around, but it can be pricey, especially during the dry season. Plus, there is a mandatory car rental insurance in Costa Rica that adds on a big expense.

However, having a car can sometimes be worth it because it allows you to explore destinations on your own without depending on day tours. 

If you are traveling with a group of friends or family it is also usually more affordable than booking a seat for every person in a shared shuttle or domestic flight.

Plus, in our opinion it is one of the least stressful transportation options. 

Yes, driving in a foreign country like Costa Rica can be a bit daunting, but we find it less stressful than having to organize multiple shuttles and figure out taxis and tours with transportation for every activity.

For a 4×4 SUV for one week in the high season you can expect to spend about $1,200

For a 4×4 SUV for one week in the low season you can expect to spend about $600

We highly suggest our favorite Costa Rican rental car company called Adobe and have a 10% discount plus other great perks for you if you book your rental car here.

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Is Costa Rica Expensive? What to Budget for Vacation Costs

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Domestic Flight

There are domestic airports located throughout the country. Taking a domestic flight in Costa Rica to your travel destination will save you a lot of driving time. 

You can then always rent a car once you arrive at your destination for day-to-day use.

The most popular domestic airline is called Sansa. 

For a one-way flight on Sansa From San Jose you can expect to pay per person on average:

San Jose to Quepos/ Manuel Antonio: $90 to $120

San Jose to La Fortuna: $100 to $140

San Jose to Tamarindo: $130 to $170

San Jose to Tortuguero: $100 to $150

San Jose to Puerto Jimenez: $140 to $190

San Jose to Tambor: $110 to $150

Just keep in mind that these are small planes. If you have a fear of flying, this might not be the best option for you. 

Also, note that there are often disruptions in the travel schedule during the rainy season if it is stormy. 

Private Shuttle

We suggest private shuttles if you are traveling with a family or group of friends and are only going to one destination. For example, if you are staying at a resort and won’t need transportation while there, a private shuttle is a great option. 

With a private shuttle, you are not paying by person, but for the whole van, so it definitely is more cost effective for a larger group.

We work exclusively with Adobe Transfers for all our private shuttle needs. You can get a price quote from them here.

Shared Shuttle

A shared shuttle is a small van or bus that will take you from point A to point B with other travelers and an experienced driver. 

If you are traveling alone or as a couple, this is often more cost-effective than hiring a private shuttle. 

The downside is that you will need to make sure the shuttle leaves at times that fit your schedule and go to the exact destination you need. 

Here are a few samples of what you can expect to pay on average for a shared shuttle per person:

San Jose Airport to Manuel Antonio: $45 to $65

San Jose Airport to La Fortuna: $45 to $65

San Jose Airport to Puerto Viejo: $50 to $70

Liberia Airport to La Fortuna: $50 to $70

Liberia Airport to Tamarindo: $35 to $50

Public Bus

Costa Rica has a public transportation system, but outside of the cities, it can be a bit cumbersome. 

If coming from San Jose it is easy to get almost anywhere in the country, but beyond that, you might not find great connections. 

Also, keep in mind that the buses aren’t always the most comfortable. We were once on a public bus for five hours from the Panama border to San Jose and the inside temperature gauge said it was 97 degrees Fahrenheit in the bus. It was brutal. But, at about $8 for a one-way trip, I was willing to deal with the heat. 

Typically you can expect to spend between $5 and $12 for a public bus depending on how far you are traveling in the country.

If you would like a good route with decent bus connections, check out our guide to backpacking in Costa Rica.

This guide even has routes for those of you that are traveling Central America and would like to connect to Panama and Nicaragua. 

Our Opinion: If you want some comfort and less stress, skip the public buses. 

Cost of Taxis in Costa Rica

In Costa Rica you need to always make sure that you take an official taxi.

You can recognize official taxis because they will be painted red (or orange if originating at the airport and will have a yellow triangle on either side (or green triangle on orange airport taxis). This triangle will state that it is an official taxi and the taxi registration number. 

taxis san jose airport

All of these official taxis need to charge based on the official taxi price list.

This is important because illegal taxi drivers are known to scam tourists and rip them off. So, always take an official taxi.

If you are coming from Liberia Airport you can get a taxi quote from our favorite family of official taxi drivers here

Also, note that Uber is illegal in Costa Rica. It used to exist in some kind of legal gray zone but i recent years the police are really cracking down on this. 

So, don’t take Uber because although it may be cheaper there is a chance you could be pulled over and get in trouble with the police or be left on the side of the road as your Uber driver gets in trouble with the police. 

Our Thoughts on Costa Rica Transportation

When visiting Costa Rica for one week we suggest two destinations, one jungle and one beach spot. This will give you a few days in each location without feeling rushed. 

The reason I say this is because it is helpful to consider when organizing transportation. 

Your trip will likely consist of three longer drives. One drive from the airport to a beach town, one drive from a beach town to a jungle town, and one drive from a jungle town back to the airport. 

We really like rental cars, but we also are often off-the-grid travelers and like the option of exploring.

If you are planning to mostly take day tours with transportation included, then a shared or private shuttle might be the very best option for you.

Costa Rica Transportation Money Saving Tips

  • There is a Facebook group dedicated to organizing ride shares in Costa Rica. It is worth checking here for connections.
  • Book your transportation early for the best rates and most options 
  • Be aware of Costa Rica transportation scams. Only use reputable companies and read reviews when possible. If you are unsure about a company, ask us. We are happy to give you our opinion. 
  • If you will spend the first or last night of your trip near the airport, opt for a place with a free airport shuttle. Check out our guide to San Jose Airport hotels and guide to Liberia Airport hotels for all the best options.

Average Cost of Food

lolas restaurant in playa avelanas

Get ready for tons of tasty food in Costa Rica! We definitely suggest trying as many traditional Costa Rican specialties as possible as a way of really embracing the culture. 

Plus, local food is often way more affordable than restaurants geared towards tourists. 

Restaurants Geared Towards Tourists

Typically you can expect to pay between $15 to $30 for a main course at an average-priced restaurant in Costa Rica that is geared towards tourists. I am not including alcohol or appetizers and dessert in that price. 

We find that main courses tend to be big enough here that you usually don’t need a dessert or appetizer (but definitely try them if you are interested in checking out traditional Costa Rican food options). 

Local Restaurants

“Soda” is the name for the small traditional restaurants in Costa Rica. They are nothing fancy, but sometimes you will find the best meals of your trip at these places. 

Usually, we opt for the daily Casado which consists of a protein, salad, rice, beans, and sometimes fried plantains. 

Bars

It is possible to find small local bars, craft beer bars, beach bars, and more in Costa Rica.

A lot of places offer happy hour specials or two-for-one deals on certain cocktails, so definitely ask if there are any ongoing specials before ordering. 

Grocery Stores

There are a wide range of grocery store options throughout the country. Typically, Automercado is the most expensive grocery store and mini markets or Pali tends to be the cheapest. 

If you are looking for the best range of products, Automercado is where you want to be. But, just be warned, Thomas and I always walk out of Automercado with way more expensive treats than we need. 

Here is the price of some typical food items at the grocery store:

A carton of milk: About $2.50

A bottle of Coca Cola: A 2.5 liter bottle is about $2.50

A stick of butter: About $2.75

A bag of coffee: On average about $9 to $11

A bag of pasta: $1.50

A head of lettuce: $0.75

Money Saving Tip: Stick to local products rather than imported goods. All imported goods have an import tax added which drives up the price of them. 

Alcohol

Costa Rican local beer at the grocery store: A six-pack of Imperial is about $10

Costa Rican bottle of beer at a restaurant: On average about $4 to $5

Craft beer at the grocery store: A bottle of craft beer is usually between $4 and $5

A bottle of wine at the grocery store: Bottles start around $9 and go up from there

A glass of wine a restaurant: Usually between $7 and $10

A cocktail at a restaurant or bar: Usually between $8 and $12

Money Saving Tip: Buy alcohol at the duty-free shop at the airport or at small local stores and make your own drinks to enjoy at your accommodation

Water

It is usually fine to drink the tap water in Costa Rica in most areas. However, because you are visiting Costa Rica on vacation I really don’t want you to get sick from the water and have your trip ruined. 

So, we suggest purchasing bottled water just to be on the safe side. Typically we purchase a huge jug and just refill our reusable water bottles as needed. 

A 6 liter jug of water costs about $4.50

Our Opinion on the Cost of Food

One thing we have noticed in recent years is that more and more foreigners are moving to Costa Rica and opening up restaurants geared toward tourists. It makes it difficult for smaller local restaurants to compete. 

For example, we were recently in Santa Teresa and I was craving a good traditional breakfast of gallo pinto. I searched online and found all these organic nice cafes that served traditional breakfast but the price was kind of insane in my opinion. 

Plus, I just wanted a small little local place that I knew would make the dish correctly.

I eventually found a place that lived up to what I was looking for in downtown Santa Teresa, but it made me sad that some of the smaller places couldn’t compete and must have closed.

So, if you are interested in the local food, try and support the small local places if you can. 

Also, another great way to support locals and have a fun cultural experience is to visit a farmers market. Most of the bigger towns have a farmer’s market once a week. You can ask at your hotel and they should be able to tell you what day of the week the market occurs. 

We love to take visitors to the market because it is a chance to try tons of interesting Costa Rican fruit that you have probably never even seen before. 

Cost of Things to Do

surfing costa rica

No matter your budget you will find plenty of fun things to do in Costa Rica. 

We find that living here means about 80% of our waking hours are spent outside. Most things to do in the country are outdoor activities. 

If you are looking for adventure you can find plenty of that and if you want relaxation there are plenty of spas, hot springs, and beaches to relax at as well.

Here is a breakdown of what you can expect to pay for different activities throughout the country. 

National Parks

National Park admission is usually about $15

Keep in mind that at some national parks (such as Manuel Antonio and Poas Volcano) you will need to pre-book your tickets online

Also, note that all national parks in the country are going cashless. So, you will need to pay your entry fee with a credit card. 

Money Saving Tip: If you plan to visit the national parks there is always the option of paying extra to hire an experienced guide. This is great to ensure that you see wildlife, but it is somewhat pricey. Instead, we suggest bringing your own pocket binoculars and searching for wildlife yourself.

Visiting the Beaches

All beaches in Costa Rica need to have public access. That means that all the coastlines on both the Caribbean and Pacific coasts are yours to explore. 

And there are so many free or budget things to do on the beach!

Some of our favorite things to do include:

  • Walk the beaches for miles
  • Enjoy the sunset on the Pacific and sunrise on the Caribbean
  • Bring your own snorkel gear and explore the waters
  • Go for a swim
  • Go shore fishing
  • Enjoy some yoga or meditation
  • Rent a surfboard (this costs about $15 a day)
  • Spend a day beach hopping

Surf Lessons

Surf lessons typically cost between $50 and $65 for a two-hour lesson. It is possible to find lessons for a range of skill levels, but most are geared towards beginners with a focus on learning to stand on the board and hopefully catch your first wave.

Sometimes, after the lesson, you will be able to use a board for free for the day.

A few of our favorite places for beginner surfers are; Tamarindo, Santa Teresa, Dominical, and Puerto Viejo.

Zip Lining

Prices tend to range from about $50 to $90 for a zip line experience in Costa Rica. This depends on the location, company, and what is included. 

For example, a lot of zip-lining companies offer a combination of activities such as zip lining, hanging bridge walk, and a visit to the property’s butterfly garden in one tour. Also, you will pay more if transportation from your hotel is included.

When choosing a zip line tour experience it is best to read reviews, compare prices, and see what all is included. Personally, I’m wimpy and usually opt for zip-line tours that don’t include crazy things like Tarzan swings or rappelling down waterfalls.

Wildlife Tour

We definitely suggest taking at least one wildlife tour while in Costa Rica. This is a great way to see a variety of animals up close. You might see monkeys, sloths, colorful birds, snakes, and more!

The cost of a wildlife tour can vary greatly depending on which type of tour you are doing. For example:

A night walking tour to see night active animals: $30 to $45 per person

A day tour through a national park or reserve with a guide: $40 to $80 per person

A boat tour to see animals along rivers: $60 to $100 per person

Combo Tour

One of our favorite things to do during the day in Costa Rica is to take a combo tour. A lot of tour companies offer these tours as a way of combining multiple activities into one full day of fun. 

We like combo tours because they are usually somewhat pricey, but when you factor in all the activities included they are actually very reasonable. 

Plus, a combo tour takes all of the stress off of you. Usually, they include transportation from your hotel so you can just sit back and relax as you are led from one action-packed adventure to the next.  

On average, a full day combo tour with transportation will cost between $120 and $180 per person.

Miscellaneous Costs

playa hermosa beach

There are always those unexpected costs in Costa Rica that you don’t plan for which crop up during your travels. Here are some of the things you should add in to your budgeting total. 

Souvenirs

There are tons of souvenir shops throughout the country. However, in our opinion, the best Costa Rican souvenirs are coffee and chocolate. Almost everybody loves these items and you can easily purchase products from Costa Rica at almost any grocery store. 

Travel Insurance

Don’t forget to purchase travel insurance! It may seem like “oh great here is another expense!” but I think it is always worth it.

You never know what will happen during your travels from lost luggage, to canceled flights, to injuries; travel insurance helps protect you from those added costs.

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Tolls

If you are renting a car, it is good to know that there are tolls on the highway from San Jose to the Pacific coast.

You will spend about $10 in total to get to the coast from the San Jose Airport. This can be paid in US dollars or colones. 

SIM cards

It is possible to purchase a SIM card at the airport in Costa Rica, but unless your cell phone is unlocked for international use, you will have trouble getting this to work. 

Instead, we suggest asking your cell phone plan provider if they offer a temporary international plan for travelers. 

For example, Verizon offers this for an extra $10 per day while you are traveling. 

Gas/ Petrol

If you are renting a car you will need to pay for gas. In Costa Rica, gas prices are regulated by the government. That means the price is the same no matter which gas station you go to in the country. 

Also, keep in mind that gas stations are all fill service. Just stay in your car and an attendant will come fill up your tank for you. 

Tips

In Costa Rica, tips are not required, but it is always polite. We like to leave tips for great tour guides, taxi drivers, and good service at restaurants.

If you are looking for more info, check out our guide to tipping in Costa Rica.  

Costa Rica Currency and How to Pay

The currency in Costa Rica is called the Costa Rican colon (CRC). However, US dollars are also widely accepted throughout the country. 

We suggest mostly paying with your credit card. This will usually just be easier. Just check with your credit card company before traveling because some cards add a 2% service fee for out-of-country transactions. 

Also, it is best to notify your credit card company that you will be traveling out of the country so they don’t block your card thinking there are fraudulent charges.

It is always good to have at least some cash with you. There are ATM’s located throughout the country if you need to get money out of the bank. 

Check out our guide to currency in Costa Rica for more info.

Travel Tip: Download the free app XE Currency Exchange to easily see the current exchange rate and better calculate colones to your currency.

Ways to Save Money

Is Costa Rica Expensive? What to Budget for Vacation Costs

Here are some of the ways we like to save money while traveling in Costa Rica without skimping on amazing vibes. You 100% can have an amazing vacation without doing everything high-end. 

In fact, I would argue that in a country like Costa Rica, it is almost better to stick to more budget-friendly things because you tend to have a more authentic experience. 

And, in a beautiful friendly country like this, a chance to really experience the culture is always a plus. 

Travel at Off-Peak Times

It is really crazy how much prices vary depending on the season in Costa Rica, especially in more popular tourist areas.

The busiest and most expensive time to visit Costa Rica is from mid-December until early May. This is the dry season in the country so you can expect almost no rain. However, prices are high and the country tends to be filled with tourists. 

Instead, we suggest traveling in May through August for lower rates and (usually) decent weather. You will likely have to contend with an afternoon rainstorm that last for an hour or two, but the rest of the day will be great.

Plus, in our opinion, it is also the prettiest time of year in the country because everything starts to turn green and lush again.

For the absolute cheapest trip, visit Costa Rica in the fall. Just note that during fall you might experience some total washout days.

Book Early

One things about Costa Rica is that there is no shortage of hotel options throughout the country. If possible, definitely book your hotels and transportation as early as possible to get the best place at a reasonable rate. 

Typically, you can be a bit more relaxed with activities. Unless it is an activity with really high demand (like Manuel Antonio National Park tickets) you can book day tours somewhat last minute. 

Stay in a Place with a Kitchen

We find that on a trip to Costa Rica, you can save a lot of money by cooking your own meals. Hostels often have a shared kitchen and if you stay in a VRBO listing you can usually find a place with a private kitchen,

Check out Our List of Free Activities

We created a list of free activities in Costa Rica to help you find the absolute most budget-friendly things to do all over the country. 

Embrace the Costa Rica Vibe

Most people who live in Costa Rica do not go out to restaurants every day or go zip lining on the weekends. If you want to stick to a tight budget, do as the Ticos do. For example, have a picnic on the beach, go swimming in the rivers or under a waterfall, and cook your meals at your accommodation. 

Pay in Colones

Although US dollars are widely accepted, you’ll usually get a better rate if you pay in colones. Also, keep in mind that if you pay in US dollars you will most likely receive colones as change. 

Don’t Exchange Money at the Airport

There are currency exchange counters at both the San Jose and Liberia Airport. However, they do not give good exchange rates. 

Don’t use them! 

You’ll lose out on a lot of money. 

Instead, it is always best to exchange money at your own bank before traveling or use one of the many ATM’s throughout the country. 

Cost of Traveling to Popular Areas

fortuna hot spring

Here is what you can expect to pay at some of the most popular areas throughout the country.

La Fortuna

La Fortuna is the most popular jungle town in Costa Rica. It is definitely a touristy destination, but we think it is worth a visit because of all the options here for all price ranges. 

If you would like luxury, you can stay at a resort with volcanic hot springs and spas. If you are looking for average-price accommodations you can find TONS of hotels and vacation rentals between $60 and $100 per night. If you are on a budget, there are several hostels with beds for under $20 per night. 

As far as things to do, La Fortuna also has something for every budget.

For example, there are hot spring parks located near the Arenal Volcano for all price points and interests. We suggest Baldi Hots Springs, Tabacon, or the Springs Resort and spa for a luxurious experience.

For budget travelers, head to the river for a completely free hot spring experience. 

Monteverde

Monteverde is a cloud forest town located on the other side of Lake Arenal from La Fortuna. This is a great place to visit for nature and hiking enthusiasts. 

We have never had an issue find a place to stay here at a variety of price points. But, I will admit, we have also never stayed at a hotel here that we were completely blown away by.

No matter what your budget, I definitely suggest a visit to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. It is the highlight of this town and admission costs $25 per person. 

Jaco

Jaco is the closest Pacific coast beach town from the San Jose Airport. 

It is not our favorite town because it is a bit hectic and dirty. But, it can be a good jumping-off point for activities.

Jaco is home to several hotels at a variety of price points as well as vacation villas and tons of condos that you can rent in beachfront complexes.

For a budget-friendly activity relax on the beach, go beach hopping, or take a day trip to Carara National Park.

Some other fun things to do here include zip lining, white water rafting, and taking an ATV tour. 

Tamarindo

The town of Tamarindo is one of the most popular places to visit in the country for families and surfing enthusiasts. 

If you are looking for a more luxurious experience we suggest renting a villa just south of Tamarindo at Playa Langosta or staying at one of the many resorts in the area.

For budget-friendly travel, check out one of the many hostels, enjoy the nice beaches in the area, and rent a surf board for under $20 a day.

Tamarindo definitely fills up fast during the high season, so reserve early if possible.

Puerto Viejo

Puerto Viejo is a popular backpacker town located near the Panama border on the Caribbean coast. This is a good place to stop on your way to or from Bocas del Toro Panama. 

It is a good budget-friendly destination because there are several hostels and there is a direct bus from San Jose to Puerto Viejo that costs under $15 per way. 

Most Expensive Areas to Visit

papagayo costa rica palm trees

Papagayo Peninsula

The Papagayo Peninsula is home to some of the most luxurious resorts in the country. These are the Four Seasons Resort, Andaz Papagayo, and Planet Hollywood. 

Besides those three resorts, it is only possible to stay here if you rent a luxury vacation property located within the resorts’ complexes. 

If you would like to see this area, but don’t have the budget to stay at one of these resorts, you can always visit the beaches as a day trip. 

We provide more info on how to do that in our Papagayo Peninsula guide

Playa Hermosa

First off, there are two towns called Playa Hermosa in Costa Rica. I am referring to the one in Guanacaste near the Liberia International Airport. 

This is one of our favorite areas to stay in the country because the beach is calm and there are so many fun things to do nearby. Plus, it is just a short drive to the Liberia International Airport. 

However, it can be expensive because there are not that many accommodation options. 

To save money, check VRBO for vacation rentals. These are often more affordable than the area hotels.

You can also find a place with a kitchen which will help you save even more money by allowing you to cook your own meals instead of going to the area restaurants. 

Playa Flamingo

Playa Flamingo is a beach town located just north of Tamarindo. This area is often known for having the nicest beaches in the country with fine white sand and turquoise waters. 

This town is a bit different than most other destinations in Costa Rica because most of the accommodation options consist of condos in beach front resorts. 

I think this area can be pricey, but it’s actually a good option if you are traveling as a small family. 

You can rent a condo for usually between $100 and $200 a night with two bedrooms, kitchen, balcony, and access to shared facilities such as pool and fitness center. 

I think that this is actually OK, because it gives you the option of cooking your own meals. 

Playa Langosta

Playa Langosta is a small village located just south of Tamarindo that consists of several luxury villas and boutique hotels dotted along the beautiful coastline.

We do not suggest staying here if on a tight budget, instead head to Tamarindo. 

However, if you are looking for a large villa for a family, this area could be a great option for you.

We rented a villa here for our wedding and it was a great way to have several family members stay in one place, plus it was the perfect place to host our beachfront wedding. 

Nosara

Nosara is one of the most popular surfing towns in Costa Rica. 

It used to be very difficult to access because all the roads were unpaved and some river crossings were involved. This definitely added to its charm. 

However, most of the roads are now getting paved which has made it far more accessible for travelers. 

Several surfing and yoga eco-resorts have opened in recent years and it is now difficult to find a budget-friendly place to stay. 

Plus, because it is so popular with backpackers, all the budget-friendly places tend to book out early.

Our Tip: If you are really set on going here, try to reserve a place to stay as early as possible. Accommodations will definitely be the most expensive thing during your stay here. Otherwise, you can rent a surfboard for several days or spend your time doing yoga on the beach to stick to a budget. 

Santa Teresa

Santa Teresa is going through the same changes as Nosara. It also used to be a relaxed bohemian surfing town, but it has grown in popularity in recent years.

Now the roads are paved and fancy eco-friendly hotels are popping up all over the town. 

We still recommend a visit here, but to save money and have a bit more calm in your life, check out staying in Mal Pais or stay in Montezuma and visit Santa Teresa as a day trip. 

Manuel Antonio

Manuel Antonio is a beach town located in the Central Pacific region of the country. It is also one of the most popular beach towns for people to visit if flying in or out of the San Jose Airport.

The main draw here is the Manuel Antonio National Park (the most popular national park in the country). 

There are hostels and cheaper hotel options here, but you will need to book early.

Money Saving Tip: A good way to save money if visiting the Manuel Antonio National Park is to actually stay outside of the downtown area. We suggest the beach towns of Esterillos to the north or Dominical/ Uvita to the south. You can then always take a an easy day trip to Manuel Antonio to visit the park. 

Most Affordable Areas to Visit

Tortuguero

Tortuguero is a remote Caribbean coast destination that is only accessible by boat. 

Because it is somewhat difficult to get here it doesn’t typically fill up with tourists and the hotel prices tend to stay low. Plus, it is not a popular town for expats to move to so the cost of living isn’t driven up.

You can expect most restaurants to be run by locals and the prices are very affordable. These restaurants also offer a good opportunity to try some delicious traditional Caribbean cooking.

Typically you can find an average hotel room here for under $50 per night. 

A main dish at an average restaurant will be about $12.

The one more expensive thing is tours. If you visit Tortuguero you should definitely do a sunrise wildlife canoe tour. This is typically about $35 to $45 per person not including national park admission (which you will need tp purchase separately).

If visiting during peak turtle nesting time (July through September) you should definitely take an evening turtle tour. This costs about $30 to $40 per person.

Cahuita

One of the best things about Cahuita is that it is easy to stay busy while on a tight budget. The beaches are nice and the other best thing to do is visit the Cahuita National Park. 

This is one of the only national parks that functions on a donation basis. So, you can pay whatever you would like for entry. 

This is our favorite national park in the country because the trails are great and run parallel to the beach. You can easily bring lunch and spend a full day here walking the trails and relaxing on the white sand beach. 

Plus, it is usually possible to find good accommodation and food options without breaking the bank. 

La Fortuna

As I mentioned above, La Fortuna can fit almost every budget. To save money it is best to focus on hostels, mid-range hotels, or vacation rentals.

Creating Your Costa Rica Travel Budget

We think it is always a good idea to create a travel budget for your trip to Costa Rica. This will give you a better idea on what things you want to splurge on and what things are more important for you to do on a budget.

For example, we tend to splurge on experiences and maybe one or two restaurants that we really want to try.

For accommodations, we tend to stick to a budget because usually it’s just a place we sleep rather than a place we spend a lot of time. 

To help you create your Costa Rica budget, we made a FREE Costa Rica travel e-book. In this book there is a whole section of printable pages including a budget worksheet. 

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Costa Rica Travel Budget Calculator

We created this Costa Rica travel calculator to help you figure out exactly how much you can expect to spend on your vacation in Costa Rica. Just note that for it to work you will need to enter a value for each area (even if that value is 0). 

Also, put in the total cost for each section for all people in your travel party. 

Enjoy!

Costa Rica Vacation Cost Calculator

Costa Rica Vacation Cost Calculator

FAQ on Is Costa Rica Expensive?

Is Costa Rica budget-friendly?

Costa Rica is often called the most expensive country in Central America. Despite that, it is possible to travel the country on a budget. Just don’t expect to get such great deals as you may experience in other Central American countries.

Is Costa Rica cheaper than Mexico?

Comparing the overall cost between Costa Rica and Mexico is complex. However, generally speaking, Mexico tends to offer lower prices and can be considered more budget-friendly compared to Costa Rica.

Is it possible to plan a family vacation to Costa Rica on a budget?

Yes, definitely! It is best to travel at off-peak times and visit less touristy areas to save money. There are also tons of affordable or free activities that families can enjoy such as enjoying beach days.

How much is two weeks in Costa Rica on a budget?

That depends on your travel style, overall interests, and time of year. Even on a budget, you can probably expect to spend between $1,500 and $2000 USD on a two-week trip.

Costa Rica Cost: Conclusion

In conclusion, although Costa Rica may be expensive, you are now aware of several ways to save money with transportation, food, activities, and accommodations.

I hope these tips and tricks helped you determine how you can easily travel to Costa Rica on your desired budget and travel style.

If you have any questions don’t hesitate to leave them in the comment section below. We are always happy to help you plan your vacation to paradise.

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๐Ÿš— Should I rent a car in Costa Rica?

Having a rental car will give you the most flexibility when traveling in Costa Rica. This will also allow you to take fun day trips on your own.

๐Ÿ„๐Ÿฝ How can I book things to do?

We find that Viator tends to have the most comprehensive selection of activities with secure booking and good cancellation policies.

๐Ÿ I’m overwhelmed with planning. Can you help?

Of course! I suggest joining our Facebook group for specific questions and head to our Start Here Page to get started planning.

โœˆ๏ธ What is the best way to book a flight?

Usually, we have the best luck finding great prices with Skyscanner. Check for flights to both San Jose Airport (SJO) and Liberia Airport (LIR).

๐Ÿ›๏ธ What is the best way to book my Costa Rica hotels?

We highly suggest Booking.com for hotel bookings and typically use VRBO for Costa Rica vacation rentals.

๐Ÿ—ฃ๏ธWhat is the main language in Costa Rica?

The main language in Costa Rica is Spanish. Most people working in tourism speak at least some English.

๐Ÿ’ฐ What is the currency in Costa Rica?

The currency used in Costa Rica is the Costa Rican colรณn (CRC). However, the US dollar is widely accepted in most tourist areas

๐Ÿ“ž What is the best way to stay connected?

An eSIM from Airalo is the easiest way to get 4G data while traveling in Costa Rica.

๐ŸŒด Is Costa Rica safe?

Generally, Costa Rica is considered safe for tourists. However, like any travel destination, it’s best to use caution and be aware of your surroundings.

๐Ÿ›‚ Do you need a passport to go to Costa Rica?

Yes, Costa Rica is its own country. You will need a passport to visit.

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One Comment

  1. Excellent ideas – especially about buying coffee as a souvenir! Everyone will enjoy that so much more than anything else.