Costa Rica is often considered the most expensive country in Central America. It can be difficult to travel here while on a tight budget, but it is not impossible.
When we first moved to Costa Rica 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.
We made this guide as a way of gathering all the things we learned so you too can travel to Costa Rica without breaking the bank.
In Costa Rica, transportation can sometimes be the biggest cost for your travels. Here is how you can save money on that….
Check Both International Airports
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.
We suggest checking both airports when looking at flights to determine the best price.
Public Buses are the Cheapest Way to Get Around
Public buses are cheap, but their routes aren’t always the most convenient. 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.
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.
Sometimes Renting a Car Can Save You Money
We think renting a car is by far the best way to get around, but it can be really expensive, especially during the dry season.
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, we think it is worth it.
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 here.
Check out the Costa Rica Ride Share Facebook Group
There is a Facebook group dedicated to organizing ride shares in Costa Rica. It is worth checking here for connections.
Beaches Are Always Free
All beaches in Costa Rica need to have public access. That means that all the coastline in both the Caribbean and Pacific coasts are yours for exploring.
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
-Rent a surfboard (usually this costs about $15 a day)
Skip the Guides
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.
Check out our Destination Guides
In all of our destination guides for each area of the country we have included a section of activities at a variety of price points and for all interests.
Opt for Your own Transportation
As I mentioned earlier in this post, sometimes you can save a lot of money by opting for your own transportation rather than taking guided tours.
We love guided day trips because this takes all the stress of planning off of you and sometimes you can experience things you wouldn’t be able to do on your own, but using your own transportation is definitely cheaper.
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.
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 guide to grocery stores for all the info on food shopping as well as some easy recipes we often make.
Eat at Local Sodas
“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.
Take Advantage of Breakfast
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.
In our experience, this is usually enough to last us until dinner with a snack in the middle of the day.
Hostels Are Always Great
It is possible to find many hostel options in all of the more popular tourist destinations. We like hostels for budget traveling because the prices are great, you usually have access to a shared kitchen, and it is easier to meet other travelers to share transportation costs.
Book Hotels Early
I really like Booking.com for searching for hotels. 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!
Check out VRBO
VRBO is great for finding private houses and apartments. Usually, these prices are comparable to hotels and often this will give you the opportunity to have your own kitchen.
In our experience, some destinations are cheaper than others as far as food, accommodations, and activities.
Some of our favorite cheaper destinations include; Tortuguero, Cahuita, Monteverde (cheap for hotels, but activities might not be cheap), and La Fortuna (a lot of budget accommodations, but some pricey activities).
Usually, it is cheapest to pay in colones rather than US dollars (although both currencies are accepted).
If your credit card offers you points for travel, use your card to make the most of your spending.
Time of Year
January through April is the most expensive time to visit Costa Rica. This is the peak dry season. You won’t experience any rain and all days will be sunny and hot.
The rainy season runs from late April until the end of November. During this time of year, prices tend to go down a lot for hotels and transportation. Plus, you won’t be competing for all the cheapest places with tons of other tourists.
For the absolute cheapest trip, visit Costa Rica in the fall. Just note that during fall you might experience some total washout days.
You can find out more in our guide to the weather in Costa Rica.
Purchasing travel insurance is an added cost to your trip, but it could potentially save you money in the long run.World Nomads travel insurance has been designed by travelers for travelers, with coverage for more than 150 activities as well as emergency medical, lost luggage, trip cancellation and more.
If you need info on saving money on flights, head here.
If you need info on saving money on transportation in Costa Rica, click here.
If you need to find affordable accommodations in Costa Rica, head here.
If you want info on how to eat and drink on a budget in Costa Rica, head here.
I hope these Costa Rica tips and tricks helped you determine how you can easily stick to a budget while traveling here! If you have any questions don’t hesitate to leave them in the comment section below. We are always happy to help you!