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September 26, 2020

7 Tips for Traveling in Costa Rica on a Budget

While many people spend a lot of money on their vacations, it’s totally possible to enjoy a trip to Costa Rica on a budget.

There are so many reasons to visit Costa Rica, and around 3 million tourists arrive every year. There are fun things to do no matter how much you can spend.

Is Costa Rica expensive? Some visitors complain that it is, and yet a recent survey by Numbeo found that the cost of living in Costa Rica (not counting rent) is 28.52% lower than in the United States.

However, there are a few things you can do to make the most of traveling Costa Rica on a budget. Here are some tips to stretching your dollar in this country.


1. Make a Budget

First of all, anyone planning a trip to Costa Rica should set a budget and stick to it. All travelers should do this, whether they’re looking for a luxury vacation or a more affordable backpacking trip.

a young blonde female yoga instructor in grey tights and matching halter top strikes a perfect "Tree Pose" while several students mimic her movements | Costa Rica on a budget - brought to you by

Ask around for budget-friendly yoga classes so you can still get your “Zen” on while traveling throughout Costa Rica.

Take into account the cost of flying to Costa Rica, along with the cost of lodging, food and transportation while you’re here. By all means, you should plan to splurge on a fun adventure tour, outdoor excursion or other guided activity — just put it in your budget in advance.

Once you’ve determined a budget for your trip, then all you have to do is stick to it. So if someone in your group says, “Hey, let’s go skydiving,” and this sounds like a perfectly terrible idea to you, then all you have to say is, “Sorry, it’s not in my budget!”


2. Travel During the Off-Season

You can visit Costa Rica any time of the year, and you’ll never be disappointed. But you can save a lot of money by traveling when other people aren’t.

That means visiting during the low season, from May through October, when many people stay away because it’s rainy.

a rainbow spans a valley on a bright sunny day in Costa Rica | the weather changes quickly in Costa Rica - brought to you by

Visiting Costa Rica during the rainy season offers the chance to experience its amazing jungles and rivers at their richest and fullest.

Prices for flights, accommodations and transportation within Costa Rica all tend to be lower during this so-called “green season.”

And yet for many old Costa Rica hands, this is their favorite time of year. The rain washes all the dust off the leaves and generates all kinds of new growth — literally making this very green country even greener. Also, rain usually falls in the afternoon, so visitors can enjoy outdoor adventures in the morning when it’s dry and relax under a roof in the afternoon when it’s raining.


3. Find the Right Accommodations

Next to the expense of flying here, lodging will probably be your biggest cost. So if traveling Costa Rica on a budget, you need to be careful about choosing where to stay.

Look into the difference in prices between a hotel and a vacation rental. There are budget options both ways, so don’t assume that either choice is necessarily less expensive.

several hammocks hang above an old, cracked mosaic tiled floor under a metal roof.  This is a hostel Costa Rican style, a simple structure with no walls | traveling Costa Rica on a budget - brought to you by

If you’re visiting Costa Rica on a budget, it doesn’t get much cheaper than a hammock in a hostel!

While a hotel may be most people’s go-to option, it’s always a good idea to look at vacation rental listings before making a decision.

Also, be aware that almost anywhere you go in Costa Rica, you can find low-priced hostels that may cost just a few dollars a day if you stay in a shared dorm.


4. Eat at Sodas

There are many foods to try in Costa Rica, but travelers wanting to enjoy Costa Rica on a budget have lots of good options to hold down the cost of dining out. For starters, if you’re staying in a place with a kitchen, you can buy your own food and prepare your own meals for very reasonable costs.  

a typical local restaurant, called a "soda" looks almost thrown together with a variety of building materials, mismatched furniture and a super colorful motif | visit Costa Rica on a budget - brought to you by

What’s not to like about “Guetto Girl One Love”? Inexpensive Costa Rican restaurants called “sodas” can save you lots of dinero.

But when you do dine out, choose wisely. Costa Rica is famous for its humble “sodas,” mom-and-pop restaurants that serve inexpensive food. The “casado” (a popular lunch with beef, pork, chicken or fish, rice and beans, salad, sweet plantains and vegetables) is an especially good deal because it usually offers more food at a lower price.


5. Follow the Locals

Restaurants, shops and other venues that target foreigners in popular tourist areas will generally be pricier. But if you can find out the locals’ favorite spots to eat, shop or play, you can generally find more affordable options.

a local market stand in Costa Rica, showing all kinds of fruits, vegetables, scales for weighing by the kilo and even beach mats | follow the locals in CR - brought to you by

Buy where the locals buy, cook your own meals, and you can save hundreds on restaurants.

Spending time with the locals is also a great way to learn more about what Costa Rican culture is like, and that’s a major attraction of coming to this country in the first place.


6. Enjoy the Wildlife

Costa Rica is one of the most biodiverse places on earth, so wherever you go you are likely to see tropical animals and exotic birds. It’s virtually a must to do some hiking in a national park or some other kind of protected area, where spotting wild animals is common.

two young women in a small row boat on a jungle waterway looking up into the canopy with binoculars | bird watching in CR - brought to you by

Guided wildlife tours are awesome, but in this country it’s usually possible to see wildlife on your own without hiring a guide.

If possible, it’s usually best to go on a guided wildlife tour, because you will almost always see more animals with a sharp-eyed guide. But plenty of people go on wildlife hikes without a guide and still spot plenty of animals.


7. Head to the Beach

All beaches in Costa Rica are open to the public by law, and the cost of going to the beach is exactly zero. So anyone traveling Costa Rica on a budget should take some time to catch some rays and splash in the ocean — it’s free!

There’s no shortage of fun things to do in Costa Rica, and while some may be a bit costly, many are surprisingly affordable. Shop around and you’ll find great activities to enjoy no matter how tight your finances are.


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