Costa Rica is a land of extreme natural beauty, with two beautiful coasts, volcanoes, rain forests, and other natural gems. It’s the land of “pura vida” (pure life), where time seems to be just a little more relaxed and though perhaps not as cheap as the rest of Central America, budget travel in Costa Rica is possible.
Cost of Travel in Costa Rica
The first thing to know about Costa Rica cost of travel is that it can vary significantly based on the time of year and region of the country. Dry season is from Christmas to Easter and, naturally, this is when prices are the highest. Traveling during the low or “green” season, between May to November, is the best way to save money in Costa Rica.
And, by the way, traveling during low season is not a bad thing. Yes, it’s rainy season but that doesn’t necessarily mean it rains all day every day. In many areas, it may be perfectly clear all morning with a rain shower in the afternoon. This is especially true in the Playas del Coco area of Guanacaste which receives the least amount of rain in the country. Mountains and, obviously, rain forests do see more rain and the months of October and November see the highest amount of rainfall.
Things that may become cheaper during low season include accommodation and transportation – including transportation to Costa Rica from other countries, like the United States. Restaurants and stores tend to keep their food prices the same, though restaurants may offer extended happy hour specials, and tour operators will also often discounts.
The other important factor in figuring out the Costa Rica cost of travel is location. Certain areas of the country are significantly more expensive than others. A general rule of thumb is that the areas popular with tourists will be the most expensive and getting off the beaten path will be cheaper. Exceptions to this are areas like the Osa Peninsula that are definitely off-the-beaten path but difficult to get to and therefore more expensive than other areas of the country.
Cost of Accommodation in Costa Rica
Accommodation is typically the most expensive part of Costa Rica travel. Accommodation in Costa Rica varies from $8 hostel dorm beds to multi-thousand dollar a night resorts. Long-term rentals and Airbnb are also popular Costa Rica accommodation options.
Hostels vary depending on location but average around $12-15 per night for a shared mixed dorm. Generally, the bigger the dorm room, the cheaper the bed. Some hostels allow you to sleep in hammocks or camp as well. I love hostels for their social atmosphere but if you prefer privacy, most hostel dorms also offer private rooms. These start around $25 per night.
Hotels in Costa Rica vary widely, from just above the price of a private dorm room to Kardashian-only prices. Generally speaking, however, you can often find a decent hotel room for $70 or less in most areas and $100 a night can sometimes get you a 3 or 4 star hotel, though expect to pay $150-300 a night for the fancier chain hotels.
Airbnb prices in Costa Rica tend to fall between private hostel rooms and hotels though, again, this varies significantly by location.
Renting a house or apartment is a good option if you plan to stay in one location for a long period of time. The longer you stay, the cheaper the rent will be. For the cheapest rent, look for local Tico-style houses. While condos and complexes are available in most big cities, these can often run at the same prices as rent in the United States. In the popular Playas del Coco region, a one bedroom Tico-style house can often be found for $350 or less while a studio condo starts at $500. [add other examples…check Jaco, Central Valley, etc]
Accommodation prices do fluctuate with low season. It’s not unusual for hotels to offer 50% off deals during low season or for rent to drop $100 or more a month.
Costa Rica Food Prices
Restaurant prices in Costa Rica are similar to prices in small US cities. Expect to spend $15-20 on a meal in most areas. The cheapest options will be found at sodas – small restaurants serving Tico food, like fried chicken and plantains or casados. In larger cities there may also be street carts serving chicken or pork on a stick, which is usually a tasty and affordable option.
Buying food and cooking at home is the much cheaper option – as long as you eat like the locals do. Avoid the brands that you would buy at home as they are usually the most expensive. Ask a local where they do their grocery shopping and go there. Also look for produce and fruit stands to get the best Costa Rica food prices.
Cost of Transportation in Costa Rica
Bus transportation is always the cheapest option. You can get from San Jose to nearly any city for around $10 and many local buses running shorter routes are $3-5.
Taxis are also readily available in the cities. In some areas, there’s a flat rate no matter where you’re going but in most areas they use a meter. Always make sure to ask that they use the meter (la maria) and check that it’s set at 0 before the trip starts. When in doubt, negotiate a price BEFORE getting in the taxi.
Shuttles are available between most major destinations in Costa Rica. These can range from $25 to $80.
Local flights are the most expensive form of transportation, though considerably cheaper during green season. Flights from San Jose to Drake Bay, for example, are over $100 during high season but around $80 during green season. Sansa and Nature Air are the two popular airlines.
Budget Costa Rica Tours + Adventure Activities
While relaxing on the beach or laying in a hammock are perfectly acceptable ways to pass the afternoon, Costa Rica is full of adventure. And that adventure doesn’t have to break the bank because budget Costa Rica tours do exist!
Popular adventure activities include ziplining and white water rafting, both of which cost around $60-80, as well as horseback riding ($50-85), and kayaking ($50-75). Anything requiring a boat – such as deep sea fishing and sunset sails – varies greatly, from $50 per person to hundreds for a private charter. Many of these activities are offered cheaper during green season and do vary based on location as well. If you plan on doing several things, look for combo tours offered by adventure companies as these are one of the best ways to experience Costa Rica on a budget.
Yoga classes run between $8 and $15 per class. Surf lessons start at $45 per hour.
Costa Rica Daily Budget
So, how much should you plan to spend each day for Costa Rica travel expenses? Well….it depends on your lifestyle but assuming you’re here to connect with nature and not indulge in consumerism and every comfort from home possible, it is definitely possible to travel in Costa Rica under $50 per day. If you want to indulge a bit or plan on doing tours frequently, $75-100 may be a safer bet. But for those being frugal and focusing on nature and living local, even $40 per day is possible. With a bit of effort, budget travel in Costa Rica is completely doable.
Costa Rica Money Saving Tips
From personal experience, a few tips for saving money in Costa Rica:
Do as the locals do. The cheapest way will always be the local way, whether that’s food or transportation.
Eat rice and beans. Seriously. It’s cheap, it’s filling, and the nutrient content is actually decent.
Pay in colones. In most cases, you will receive the best rate by paying in colones, even if dollars are accepted. Also, some accommodation will give you a discount for paying in cash.
Slow travel. There’s a ton to do in Costa Rica – it can be overwhelming – but to save money, focus on one or two areas as opposed to seeing every inch of the country in a short time.