Is it possible to visit Costa Rica on a budget? Yes, absolutely. Here’s how much we spent while experiencing the best of the country.
With the beautiful national parks, tropical wildlife, adventurous activities and friendly locals, Costa Rica’s popularity is rising year after year – and so are the prices.
It’s more expensive here compared to neighbouring Guatemala, Nicaragua and Honduras. And sure, if you don’t pay attention, you can easily spend half a fortune on fun activities and luxury hotels. A trip to Costa Rica won’t be cheap, but it also won’t be that expensive either.
Before we dive into how you can travel Costa Rica on a budget, let’s take a look at how much it typically costs to visit.
Read next: How to spend 10 days in Costa Rica
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How much did I spend?
In total, I spent $50 USD per day in Costa Rica. And surprisingly, I didn’t go over budget. When I planned a backpack trip through Central America, I expected to spend extra in Costa Rica, since it’s the most expensive country in the region.
But Costa Rica surprised me in a good way. I actually ended up spending LESS than I had budgeted for – without missing out on adventures, comfort or quality.
You can read my top budget tips at the end of this post. First, here’s how I traveled Costa Rica on a budget and how much I spent per day:
Food – $15
Alcohol / bottled water – $4
Accommodation (hostels and airbnb)– $16
Activities – $5
Local buses – $1
Cabs – $5
Miscellaneous – $4
The cost of traveling Costa Rica
To help you plan for your trip to Costa Rica, I’ve listed here the highest expenses.
It’s not as difficult to visit Costa Rica on a budget as you might think. Especially because you’ll find accommodation for every budget, whether you’re looking for hostels, hotels or airbnbs.
Below, I’ve written some examples to help you plan your stay according to your budget. You can expect higher prices in tourist towns like Arenal, Manuel Antonio or Tamarindo, and it also depends on which season you’re visiting (high or low).
- Hostels: $18 – $40 per night
- Mid-Range Hotels: $40 – $100 per night
- Luxury Hotels: $100 – $200 per night
A good meal at a nice restaurant costs around $20. There’s already an included tip, so you don’t need to tip further. Western food is generally at the expensive end, too.
A great and more affordable option that might give you a feel of the local culture is a soda. It’s a local family-run restaurant that serves huge plates of Costa Rican food for as little as $5 – $8.
You’ve got three main ways to get around in Costa Rica: by bus/shuttle bus, air or rental car.
Busses: The cheapest way to go from A to B is by local busses. That’s how we traveled through Costa Rica, and I found the busses reliable and comfortable. A bus ticket costs about $3 from one town to the next and you can travel half the country for ~$10 USD
Shuttle busses: Another option is to travel by shuttle bus. You can expect to pay around $40 – $80 USD to get from one town to another. It’s faster by shuttle bus and a more direct way to travel.
Rental car: If you’re up for a road trip, you can rent a car in Costa Rica for as little as $150 per week (for a small 4×4 SUV). It’s a great way to explore the country at your own pace, and roads are generally well maintained and signed. One thing you should keep in mind, though, is that some roads get flooded during the rainy season. Also, you’ll be driving on gravel roads (with potholes) in the nature parks, small towns and near waterfalls – so I recommend a 4×4 rental, unless you’re only planning to drive in and around San Jose or directly to the coast.
Domestic flights: If you’re short on time, you can also fly with the local airlines Sansa and NatureAir between several of the main cities. It’s the most expensive way to get around in Costa Rica, but if you book in advance you can get a flight down to $50.
Guided tours and hikes can quickly swallow up a big chunk of your budget in Costa Rica. While adventure activities like zip lining, white water rafting and jungle night safaris require you to join a tour, you can easily do surfing, diving, and jungle trekking on your own.
Here’s an estimate of how much the different activities cost in Costa Rica:
- Zip lining: From $35 to $75 per person
- Horseback riding: From $35 -70 per person
- Scuba diving: About $115 for a two-tank dive
- Surfing: A 2-hour group surf lessons costs around $55 or you can rent a board for around $20 a day
- Canyoning (rappelling down waterfalls): Around $85 per person
How to travel Costa Rica on a budget
There are lots of ways to visit Costa Rica on a budget. I’ve mentioned some of them already, but here are eight more simple tips to avoid your budget going through the roof.
1. Travel off-season
The low season (or rainy season) in Costa Rica goes from May to November. Visiting during this time will help you stay on a low budget. It rains, yes, but the early months of the rainy season are actually a fantastic time to go, since there aren’t so many tourists and everything is more green and lush.
2. Take local busses
Now, I wouldn’t recommend this for all countries in Central America, but the public bus system in Costa Rica is cheap, reliable and extensive. When we traveled from Monteverde to San Jose, we could get a minibus for $50 (Intershuttle). The local bus, which was way more comfy, was only $5!
3. Drink tap water
¨If you don’t mind the iron taste, it’s perfectly safe to drink tap water. And with the bottled water costing between $1 and $3, you’ll definitely save a few bucks refilling your own bottle.
4. Cook your own meals
Another way to visit Costa Rica on a budget is to cook your own meals – which is easy because house and apartment rentals are pretty popular throughout the country. They come with kitchen, fridge and bathroom, so there’s plenty of possibility to buy and prepare your own meals. We bought our own breakfast, dinner, beer and we always had toast bread and different sorts of meat (and peanut butter) to make sandwiches.
5. Eat at the sodas
The food is actually not that expensive if you know where to look. Costa Rica has small, homely restaurants called sodas, where you can get a meal between $5 – $8.
6. Make friends with locals
Costa Ricans are very friendly people and they’re always eager to help pointing you in the right direction. Ask and get good advice on transportation, restaurants, sights and adventures. We got advice on visiting Llanos de Cortez, a beautiful waterfall that can’t be found in the typical guidebooks. We took a local bus there for under $1 and got this amazing sight for free!
7. Buy beer from the supermarket
Simply go to the local Mercado instead of ruining your travel budget on the bar prices. Bring it with you to the beach when watching the sunset. The Nicaraguan beer, Toña, is the best in all of Central America, if you ask me. Only $1,5, whereas you pay double at most bars.
8. Do self-guided hikes
Finally, I recommend doing self-guided tours and hikes. Most of the time, you don’t need to have a guide for activities, especially if you rented a car or just take the local bus. For example, visiting Poas Volcano is very straightforward and easily done without a guide.
Want to travel Costa Rica on a budget? Ask me anything in the comments!
More posts from Costa Rica you might like
- A quick Costa Rica travel guide
- 10 days in Costa Rica: The ultimate Costa Rica itinerary
- 10 epic things to do in Monteverde Cloud Forest, Costa Rica
- How to visit Poas volcano Costa Rica
- Playa Tamarindo, Costa Rica – Everything you need to know
- The Lovely El Punto | Costa Rica
- What to expect from a Monteverde night tour (Finca Santa Maria)
- Selvatura Park: How to spend an action-packed day
- The ultimate guide to Llanos de Cortez waterfall