Costa Rica is one of the most popular and visited country in Central America. It offers something for every type of traveler, like budget minded backpackers to all-inclusive luxury resorts. Vacationers flock to the stunning beaches for surfing & horseback-riding, glide through the jungle on zip lines, relax and connect with nature at luxurious Eco-lodges.
Costa Rica’s popularity can be bad news for budget travelers, as the prices for services rise with demand, but with a bit of planning and flexibility, tourists on a budget can enjoy Costa Rica without sacrificing experiences and activities. Often, lower-cost trips bring the traveler closer to the culture and people.
Stay at Hostels
Budget travelers in Costa Rica can save a lot of money simply by staying at hostels. Costa Rica’s hostel industry has grown with the tourism industry, and it is now possible to find clean, cheap accommodations all over the country. In popular Tamarindo, travelers can stay at local hostels such as Chocolate Hotel & 5 Star Hostel for as little as $12 per night in a dorm room. As a bonus, most hostels will provide information about budget tours specific to their location, a social atmosphere, wireless Internet, television, kitchens and low-cost food and drinks.
Eat Like a Local
To reduce food spending in Costa Rica, avoid overpriced restaurants with menus in English. Instead look for the small, informal places frequented by locals called sodas. Street food is a good option and can be found all over Costa Rica. Find fresh, low-cost produce at street markets, and hit the supermarket for staples that you can use in the hostel kitchen. Choose local brands and stay away from imported brand names which are often double the price. Eat out at lunch instead of dinner, when prices are lower. Enjoy local specialties such as plantains, rice and beans. Casadas (the best deal in town) usually include a little of all the staples like rice, beans, cooked vegetables, plantains, salads and your choice of meat, fish, pork or chicken. They go from $3 – $5 for a big plate of food.
Use Public Transportation
Taxis, flights and tourist shuttles can be outrageously expensive in Costa Rica, particularly if you do not speak Spanish or know what a reasonable rate should be. The Costa Rica bus system is an excellent option for travelers on a budget, offering long-distance trips at rock-bottom prices, most under $10. Local bus schedules are not available online; ask at bus stations or at your hostel for the most up-to-date schedules and prices. Be prepared for a wide variety of quality levels, and be sure to use the bathroom before long rides, as most buses will not have on board toilets. The Directo Bus is worth the few dollars more and can save you hours of travel compared to the Public Bus which stops at every small town along the way.
Travel in the Low Season (green season)
During Costa Rica’s peak tourist season, prices for food, accommodation and services are at their most expensive. To avoid these price hikes travel during the off-season, which coincides with Costa Rica’s rainy season: May to early November. You will still get some beautiful, sunny days. Most mornings start off beautiful and sunny, followed by afternoon showers.
Get off the Beaten Path
For a budget experience and a unique glimpse of Costa Rican culture, get away from the popular tourist destinations. Head to the small villages around the Corcovado National Park near the Panama border, or travel to the country’s eastern Caribbean coast for less-populated surf. Smaller towns tend to have fewer services for tourists and more options with prices suitable for locals’ budgets.