Costa Rica, officially known as the Republic of Costa Rica, is a notable, well-established, expensive, and famous tourist spot in Central America. It is renowned for its numerous enthralling landmarks, unending beaches, lively culture, lush jungles, national parks, world-class surfing spots, and destinations that appeal to thousands of travelers globally.
For that particular reason, traveling to Costa Rica on a budget might seem pretty daunting, and in fact, you experience sticker shock when looking at prices for eco-lodges, food, renting vehicles, and booking tours in Costa Rica, but, honestly speaking, there are ways to navigate these costs.
In this guide, I’ll tell you the best budget travel tips for Costa Rica, focusing on affordable accommodation, tasty yet inexpensive food options, and activities that won’t drain your wallet. So, without further ado, let’s get started!
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Official Costa Rica Currency
The official currency there is the Costa Rican colón, named after Christopher Columbus (Cristóbal Colón in Spanish).
Introduced in 1896, it replaced the Costa Rican peso at a rate of one colón equaling 8 pesos.
The currency symbol is a fancy “₡,” pretty unique, right? Currently, at the time of publication of this blog, one USD is worth about 528 Colon.
Understanding Costa Rica’s Travel Costs – Daily Expenses
Accommodation in Costa Rica for a hostel room costs you about $25-45 daily, while a basic room for two can set you back $80-150. For a more immersive experience, I recommend eco-lodges, which no doubt are a great option, yet they range from $150-350.
I found getting around in Costa Rica is fairly economical; intercity bus tickets are a steal at $2-10, but if you’re after more comfort, tourist shuttle transportation in Costa Rica costs between $65-85.
When it comes to food, you can enjoy a hearty Casado, a traditional Costa Rican meal, for $8-12, while Batidos, refreshing fruit smoothies, are available for $3-5.
A craft beer will cost you about $6. You can even explore Costa Rica’s natural beauty for a decent price tag, too.
Entry to national parks or nature preserves typically ranges from $12-17, and for thrill-seekers, a canopy tour will be around $50-80.
Overall, you’re looking at an average daily cost of about $75-150, which in Costa Rican currency is around 39665 – 79330 colon.
Best Time To Travel In Costa Rica
The most expensive time to visit Costa Rica is in the dry season, especially during Christmas, New Year, and mid-December to the end of April.
If you want to save money, then the best time to visit Costa Rica is in the green season, which falls from May to November.
The prices for flights, restaurants, and hotels in Costa Rica are at their lowest during the green season or rainy season. So, for budget travel, this is indeed the right time.
Pro Tips To Travel On Budget In Costa Rica
1. Exchange Currencies Wisely to Avoid High Fees
The currency used in Costa Rica is the colon (₡), and ₡528 is equivalent to approximately one USD offer – from traditional Casado meals to thrilling canopy tours. And even better, intercity bus tickets are a steal at just $2-10, while tourist shuttles go for as low as $65-85.
The best way to exchange a currency for a colon is by your bank’s ATM network or other affiliated banks.
It can be done in Costa Rica or before the trip. The process helps eliminate unnecessary and excessive fees.
Nonetheless, US dollars in smaller bills of $20 also remain widely accepted in Costa Rica. They can be used only at airport taxi stands, hotels, restaurants, and other places where the transaction processing happens through a computer. It ensures accurate exchange rates.
2. Costa Rica Budget-Friendly Vacation Homes
Statistically, Costa Rica is a highly affordable and cheap place. It offers rent and housing at a low price, reducing the burden on the pocket. On top of that, you can find numerous Costa Rican vacation homes at modest rates and with desirable features.
Most vacation homes in Costa Rica offer everything you may desire and require despite their cheap rates. Thus, they will have bedding, bathing, cleaning, and other necessary facilities.
Some accommodations may also come with a cooking space.
Renting a vacation home in Costa Rica works better for the budget you set than staying at a hotel.
3. Consider a Work Exchange
Work exchange or voluntourism is a system where an individual can exchange their skills, abilities, and time in return for accommodation at a lower rate or for free.
In Costa Rica, you will be able to find numerous hosts who are ready to provide you with a living space and even food under this concept.
Generally, work exchange entails assisting and supporting accommodation providers for a particular number of hours every week.
You may require your vocational or technical skills for it. It can include abilities and dexterities in teaching, cooking, gardening, etc. In exchange, you can get several benefits.
Most probably, you have to work 20 hours a week, and in return, you’ll get free accommodation. So, that’s particularly very interesting, as you can spend more on getting around Costa Rica instead of your accommodation.
Essential Travel Resources
❗Don’t forget travel insurance
This company is the one I trust, it’s one of the most essential things for any trip. It has your back in case you get sick abroad, or have an accident.
🎒Pack smarter, not bulky
Check out this vacation packing list, including all the essentials you need to pack when traveling, from travel clothing to backpacks and more.
🏡Where to Stay – Here are Suggestions
This is my favorite place to look for accommodations, it offers different types, a ton of locations, and good price options.
🗺️Get Around Hassle-Free
This one is the perfect option to look for different transportation options between cities, from flights, buses, and taxis to minivans and more.
🛫Find Cheap Flights
Whenever I need to fly, I head to this website for low-cost flights.
4. Go for The Cheapest Hostels
This point will require some research but will yield significant results. Several hostels in Costa Rica offer accommodation with multiple benefits at a considerably low cost.
However, extensive search and investigation into the matter can help you find the best one. You will like the facilities provided by the hostels and the price at which they do so.
A few days of all-encompassing research will allow you to find the cheapest hostels no matter where you decide to stay in Costa Rica. Likewise, you will be able to avail of all the services and amenities you desire and require.
5. Eat Local Foods and Drinks
High-end restaurants and dining spaces prove exceedingly costly if you wish to travel on a budget. They can drain your pockets if you do not manage your finances appropriately. A tour of Costa Rica is no exception to the case.
Thus, it is better to eat and drink at the local joints. The prices at these dining spaces cater to the locals and are significantly low.
On top of that, most dishes served at these places are either specialties of Costa Rica or general food anyone can enjoy. Also, you will be able to get your orders fast and hot.
6. Transport On a Costa Rica Public Bus
The system offers a navigable and reliable way to get to various parts of the country. In addition, the vehicles run frequently. Private cars are not so recommendable as some roads can be tricky and arduous to drive through.
In Costa Rica, two shuttle companies named Gary Line and Interbus offer buses that go to almost all the notable and significant towns and cities across the country. They even go to a few destinations and landmarks located in off-road places.
A Few Budget-Friendly Activities
Costa Rica is one of the best countries in the world to surf. It can be attributed to the warm water and the perfect swelling of the water that promotes the sport. Anyone, from beginners to professionals, can partake in the activity here.
Another beneficial aspect of surfing in Costa Rica is its affordability. You can purchase all the tools and equipment required for the sport at a considerably low cost.
For instance, you can rent surfboards for anywhere between $10 to $25 per day. Also, you can enroll in group surfing lessons of 2 hours for fees starting at $45.
Do Hiking in the National Parks of Costa Rica
In Costa Rica, hiking is one such activity that offers an incredible and memorable experience. You can enjoy the stunning and captivating scenery, nature, and landmarks as you walk through the National Parks of the country. In addition, you can set the difficulty level of your hikes.
Hiking in Costa Rica is an affordable activity. You merely need to pay a small amount as the entrance fee to get well-maintained and beautiful hiking trails.
Nevertheless, many paths remain free to access. Furthermore, you can eliminate the guide costs of all Costa Rican hiking trails owing to their perfect direction markings.
Take a Tour of a Local Coffee Plantation
Costa Rica is renowned for its coffee, which offers a taste and aroma of the highest standard. The beans, named Grano de Oro, are exceedingly famous globally for their high quality. Thus, several local coffee plantations across the country remain dedicated to growing the beans.
As a part of the country’s tourism, Costa Rica offers visits and tours of the local coffee plantations. There, you can learn about the rich history of coffee and understand the growing, harvesting, and processing methods. The tours, which generally take 1.5 hours, are cheap. Adults can avail of them for as little as $30.
Explore the Free Waterfalls in Costa Rica
Costa Rica has several mesmerizing and spellbinding waterfalls. They offer a stunning view embraced within nature. You will need a short trek or hike to reach some of them, making the experience even better.
The waterfalls are open and free to access for everyone. In other words, you will not need to pay anything to enjoy the view. At the falls, you can have a relaxing time by dipping your feet in the water.
On top of that, you can go for a waterfall shower. Otherwise, you can swim in the water accumulated below for a memorable and relaxing time.
Looking for More Inspiration?
I have been traveling and living in Costa Rica for over 25 years
Check out these Hand-Tested GUIDES
If you want to travel without the hassle and confusion – check out a complete guide for traveling to Costa Rica.
For more travel ideas to add to your bucket list, check out a complete guide to all the best places to visit in Costa Rica.
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Last Updated on December 12, 2023