I’m not going to lie and say that Costa Rica is a cheap country because it isn’t. As far as Central America goes it is the most expensive country to travel. That being said, it is possible to travel in Costa Rica on a budget while still participating in amazing activities and not skimping of fab vibes! Here’s how we do it!
- 1 Costa Rica on a budget – Don’t book day tours ahead of time
- 2 Costa Rica on a budget – Skip the tours altogether
- 3 Costa Rica on a budget – Ask for discounts
- 4 Costa Rica on a budget – Skip the guides
- 5 Costa Rica on a budget – Travel at off-peak times
- 6 Costa Rica on a budget – Visit less popular areas
- 7 Costa Rica on a budget – Go to the beach
- 8 Costa Rica on a budget – Skip the lessons
- 9 Costa Rica on a budget – Take advantage of your hotel
- 10 Costa Rica on a budget – Ask locals for tours
- 11 Costa Rica on a budget – Get creative
- 12 Costa Rica on a budget – Stick to cheap activities
Costa Rica on a budget – Don’t book day tours ahead of time
Yeap, this is probably completely contradictory to everything you’ve ever heard. Usually, if you book ahead of time it’s cheaper right? Well, not in Costa Rica. See, all the big tour companies that you find on the internet have the money to set up websites and try to hook tourists. We have had much better luck asking at our hotel if they know anybody who offers similar tours. Usually, these local tour companies will partner with hotels and you will get a cheaper rate.
Costa Rica on a budget – Skip the tours altogether
If you are planning on renting a car it is almost always possible to experience the same activities as the day tours you will come across online but on your own. For example, a popular travel tour company offers a day trip from San Jose to La Fortuna for volcano viewing and relaxing at a fancy hot spring. This tour also includes lunch and dinner for $130.
First off, I would never take a day trip to La Fortuna. It is much too far of a drive and there are so many things in the area to see. Second, if you have a rental car you can drive to La Fortuna yourself, visit a lot less touristy hot spring for $12 and find lunch and dinner at small local places for about $10 per meal. That is $32.
Now obviously that doesn’t include the cost of renting a car or gas. Plus with a tour you get the ease of not having to plan anything, but if you are looking to travel Costa Rica on a budget, doing things on your own is a much better option.
Costa Rica on a budget – Ask for discounts
This doesn’t always work with big tour companies, but if you want to do a day tour with a small company you can always ask if they have a discount. This especially works if you are traveling with a large group. The worst they can do is say no, right?
We do suggest not being overly pushy about it if the decline a discount. Costa Ricans don’t like confrontation and it will make them uncomfortable. If they say no, just accept the price or say you will go with another company. If they offer to lower the price after you say you will take your business elsewhere, then we suggest accepting their offer.
Costa Rica on a budget – Skip the guides
At all the national parks you will be greeted by locals offering to be your guide. We have paid for a guide before at Manuel Antonio National Park and although I don’t regret it, it was also not necessary. The guides are great at spotting wildlife you might not otherwise see and most do carry quality scopes for up close viewing, but they don’t run cheap.
I believe we paid $20 or more per person for a guide last time we were in Manuel Antonio. If you want to save some money skip the guide and just pay attention what other people in the park are looking at.
Costa Rica on a budget – Travel at off-peak times
Everything gets cheaper in Costa Rica during the rainy season. That means that traveling between the middle of May and the beginning of December is the best time to get cheaper hotel rates and discounted tours. You also won’t have to deal with crazy crowds.
The only downside to traveling at this time is you will be forced to combat the rain. Depending on where you go, you won’t deal with completely washed out days (usually) but in the early afternoon the rain will begin and may continue for several hours or into the night.
Costa Rica on a budget – Visit less popular areas
Most of our favorite areas in the country are cheaper as far as activities because they are less popular areas. For example, Manuel Antonio National Park is $16 per person. Cahuita National Park (our favorite national park) is pay by donation.
If you would like an idea of some off the beaten path destinations, we have a complete post about it here.
Costa Rica on a budget – Go to the beach
Every beach in Costa Rica is free (except for in national parks) and by law needs to have public access. This means that having beach days at cool empty beaches are always possible and amazing. We have a full post on our favorite beaches here.
Costa Rica on a budget – Skip the lessons
Surfing and stand up paddle boarding are popular sports throughout Costa Rica. Several companies offer lessons, but they can be pricey. If you have a bit of experience and just want to get out on the water, skip the lessons and just rent a board for the day. Most companies rent surfboards for as low as $10 a day.
Costa Rica on a budget – Take advantage of your hotel
We love to select hotels or Airbnbs that have some kind of special amenities we can enjoy. For example, the picture above was taken at our favorite Airbnb in La Fortuna. This amazing place has two pools in the jungle, miles of hiking trails, and an amazing secret waterfall in the jungle. You can read more about this amazing place here.
When you book a place check the amenities and reviews so you can take advantage of amazing things like this.
Costa Rica on a budget – Ask locals for tours
If you are somewhat familiar with this blog you know that Thomas pretty much lives for fishing. Sometimes he just wants to get out on a boat for some fishing without the intensity and cost of a deep sea fishing company. On more than one occasion he has asked locals if they know of anybody who can take him out on their boat. Both times he was successful in finding someone who would take him out for a fraction of the cost it would be for a deep sea fishing company.
People are generally eager to make some extra cash and will help you out with this kind of thing. This is not limited to fishing. You can ask locals for other tours as well. Just be a but cautious with who you wander off with.
We have a full post on how we fish on a budget here.
Costa Rica on a budget – Get creative
Some of our favorite memories in Costa Rica come from doing silly things. For example, one thing Thomas and I love to do is to have wildlife competitions. Every national park we go to we compete to see who can find the most wildlife. You get a point for every new animal you find. Whoever is the loser has to buy lunch. Thomas is a pro at this game (he also walks at a snail’s pace which drives me crazy) and always wins. I’m always stuck buying lunch. 🙁
It’s fun and creative things like that which really make our vacations. A few other ideas for you are to go skinny dipping, have one day where you start by watching the sunrise on the Caribbean and end it watching the sunset on the Pacific, etc.
Costa Rica on a budget – Stick to cheap activities
A lot of the adventure activities in Costa Rica are expensive, but if you want a more local and cheap experience, just be really selective about the things you want to spend money on. If you need some activity ideas check out our list of favorite activities including many things for the budget savvy traveler in mind.
I hope these tips helped you to plan your trip to Costa Rica on a budget. If you have any questions or tips to add please leave them in the comments section below. We love to hear from you!
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