I’ll be honest, I get a bit stressed out sometimes. I get so many emails from people saying things like, “I’m flying to Costa Rica in two days and have nothing planned. Can you help me book a last minute trip to Costa Rica?” And I am of course like, “Yes, I can definitely help you out!” but I also have a mini panic attack for a moment or two every time because I just want you to have the best trip possible and I get scared with so little planning time.
It is OK though. You can definitely plan a last minute trip to Costa Rica. In fact, sometimes it can even save you a ton of money. Thomas and I plan weekend trips all the time, usually on Friday afternoons about twenty minutes before we leave and we still manage to stick to a budget.
We created this guide to show you how we plan for last minute trips in Costa Rica without going over budget.
I know, when booking a last minute trip you are not left with too much planning time. Costa Rica is a small country, but it has such different vibes in each location that it can be difficult to decide where to go.
Here are some things we suggest looking at when planning your trip last minute….
Our Destination Guides– We have destination guides for every location in Costa Rica. They will definitely help give you an idea of where you would like to visit and what to expect at each location.
Our email list- When you sign up for our email list we also send you a free travel planning packet. This is great to have when trying to organize your trip. Feel free to subscribe just to get the planning packet and then unsubscribe. I won’t be offended. Although I will say our email list has a lot of helpful emails when planning your trip.
Our Packing Lists- Our packing lists will help you throw everything together last minute. We have one for men, one for women, and one list for must bring gear.
Our Must Know Page– This will help you out to learn little things such as must eat food, how to protect yourself from mosquitos, the best travel insurance, etc.
My go-to flight search engines for last minute flights (or any flights really) are Skiplagged and Skyscanner. I love both for different reasons. Let’s start with Skiplagged.
In the past, Skiplagged had a bad reputation because their website shows hidden city fares and the airlines were not OK with this. What I mean is, let’s just say you want to fly from San Jose to Houston. Sometimes it is cheaper to book a flight from San Jose to Chicago with a stopover in Houston than it is to book a flight directly to Houston. You then just leave the airport in Houston and obviously don’t continue on to the flight to Chicago.
Airlines caught on to this and started cracking down. So, let’s say you book a roundtrip flight with American Airlines and do this on the first leg of your trip. They will the cancel your return flight for violating their policy.
Anyway, despite Skiplagged being a bit shady about that, they are my absolute ride or die search engine for last minute fights. I love their site because they have this handy-dandy little calendar on the right top side of your search results. You can then see when it is cheapest to fly and edit your dates accordingly.
I always find the cheapest flights through Skiplagged, but please be careful when you actually go ahead and book your flight. Sometimes you can book through Skiplagged directly and other times it will direct you to a 3rd party site. So, as you can see here ↓ it is directing me to a site called Exloretrip. I don’t know this site, so it is best to do research first and make sure the site is reputable.
If the site they suggest looks a bit sketch to you, try to search the airline’s website directly to try and find a similar rate.
I love Skyscanner for last-minute flights because of their flexible date features. In other words, if you say “I think I’d like to go to Costa Rica in two weeks, but I’m not totally set on that,” you can then search from your departure city to “Everywhere.”
You can also select where you want to go and put in a date range if your dates are flexible.
Skyscanner is also just an all around great company. I have worked with them in the past and have had wonderful experiences.
Pro Tip: Don’t limit yourself to flying into San Jose when planning your last minute trip to Costa Rica. More and more airlines are flying into Liberia and you can sometimes get great rates. Liberia airport is a great jumping off point for going to the northern Guanacaste beaches such as Playas del Coco, Nosara, or Tamarindo. It is also possible to get to La Fortuna or Monteverde without much trouble.
We always like to rent a car because it gives us more flexibility in seeing a lot of Costa Rica. Typically it is possible to rent a car even at the last minute.
We partner with Adobe, our favorite rental car company here in Costa Rica, and have a 10% discount for you. You can find out more here.
The only time I have seen Adobe get completely booked out of cars is around Easter vacation when everyone and their mom seems to be in Costa Rica. Other than that, you can usually always get one.
If you would prefer to take public buses, you do not need to book tickets for that ahead of time. We just suggest showing up about thirty minutes before you bus leaves so you can definitely get a seat.
If you would like more info on last minute transportation option in Costa Rica, we have a complete post about transportation here.
For last minute trips, we usually have the best luck with Booking.com and Airbnb. Let’s go through how you can use each site to get the best deals for your last minute trip to Costa Rica.
We used to never use Booking.com because it is a huge company and I just kind of assumed you couldn’t actually get the best deals through their site. In fact, they always have the best rates ever!
First thing I suggest doing is signing up for a free account on Booking.com. I’ll admit it, they do send a lot of annoying emails, but you can just unsubscribe from them. After signing up for an account you will be able to get discounts that are not available to non-members. After a few stays you become a “genius” member and then you get even more discounts.
In your search results, it will show which places are cheaper with your genius discount.
You can then select the place you would like to stay and see your savings.
The other great thing about Booking.com is that most places offer free cancelation up to a certain date. This means if you find a better deal, you can always cancel your reservation.
In all honesty, in Costa Rica it is usually cheaper to book through Booking.com than through the hotel website directly. This is not always true, but I’d say about 80% of the time for me this has been the case. always do a Google search to see if the hotel has a website and if the rate is cheaper, but usually, it is not.
We have gotten really into Airbnb for last minute bookings. If you are new to Airbnb, sign up with our link and save between $30 and $40 off your first stay.
One thing to keep in mind if doing a very last minute booking is that it is best to only search for places that allow instant booking. Otherwise, you will have to wait for a response from the owner and it can waste time if you really need to book something for the next few days. By searching listing that are instant bookings you will limit your search results, but at least you know your booking is confirmed and you don’t have to wait for someone to get back to you.
Also, please read the reviews. I mean, I’m sure that is a given, but just a reminder. There are a lot of really great Airbnb listings in Costa Rica, but some are definitely sub par.
If you would like some more tips on booking accommodations we have a few articles you might like.
How to Find Budget Accommodations in Costa Rica
A First Timers Guide to Airbnb in Costa Rica
Usually, it is not a problem to arrange activities at the last minute in Costa Rica.
Recently we have been a lot of tours through Viator. We like Viator because they usually have good cancellation policies. It allows us to support small local companies with the security of a big company like Viator.
Otherwise, places like national parks, beaches, waterfalls etc, are always open to everyone. You don’t need any kind of reservation.
If you want to get an idea of some great activities you can do, check out our destination guides for each location you are visiting.
We also have a couple of articles that will help you out.
Our Favorite FREE Activities in Costa Rica
The Best Budget Activities in Costa Rica
– Although it is always possible to book a last minute trip, you will have the best luck with getting good deals during the off season. In other words, from December until May, things tend to book out fast. The rest of the year means you can usually find last-minute accommodations. activities, rental cars etc. with no problem.
– We’ve learned that booking things last minute sometimes means having to compromise on activities. For example, we recently went to Uvita for the weekend and wanted to do a whale watching tour. We did not plan for this ahead of time and had to book spontaneously. We ended up overpaying for the tour and neither of us felt as though the tour was worth the money.
In hindsight, we should have just skipped the tour because we both knew ahead of time that it probably wasn’t the right tour for us. Yea, we wouldn’t have gotten to see whales, but it would have saved us a lot of money and I’m sure we could have found something else fun to do. Oh well! You live and learn.
If you have any questions about arranging your last minute trip to Costa Rica, feel free to leave them in the comment section below. We are always happy to help you out! Also, if you have any tips for your fellow travelers, we’d love if you’d share them!
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