Costa Rica is a very attractive destination for tourists. However, vacations in Costa Rica can quickly get expensive. In fact, there are entry fees for every national parks, and renting a car for 2 weeks or so can be terrifying. Do not panic, it is possible to travel to Costa Rica on all budgets. Do you have a micro budget? There are solutions. Do you have an almost unlimited budget? We give you the best places to see and things to do.
Budget for backpackers
Are you more of the backpacker / adventurer / resourceful type? Perfect, here are our best tips for staying on budget.
Getting around Costa Rica
It is not a secret that getting around Costa Rica will require a car. In fact, there are buses, but there is no service throughout the country. Links and connections are not necessarily reliable, and you will waste precious time. The best thing is to rent a car for your vacations.
What model to choose? A 4x4 is not essential. An SUV will work well, and it will be much cheaper. We give you some piece of advice to amortize the cost of the rental.
- Anticipation: Book online the earliest you can to get the best rates.
- Season: It’s better to come during the green season (rainy season) from August to November. Everything is much cheaper than the rest of the year since it is the low season. Rest assured that during the rainy season it does not rain 24/7. In the morning, the weather is generally good, it usually only rains in the afternoon. Also, this is the best time to visit the Caribbean coast and the Pacific coast as it is always dry. You see? It is not so bad! You just must organize yourself differently, but Costa Rica with fewer tourists is good too :)
- Shared cost: if you come with more than one, the rent is divided by the number of people… That goes without saying.
- Carpooling: it works very well in Costa Rica. Once your car is picked up at San Jose airport, you can Carpool people on every trip you take. There you have it, the price of the car is well amortized. Where can you find these carpool plans? Chatting with people you know who look like you, backpacking.
Otherwise, you can use Facebook. There are many groups of travelers in French, English or Spanish looking for advice.
Accommodation and catering
Housing versus service
What do you think about being fed and lodged free of charge ? it is only possible if you have a little time ahead of you (a few weeks). Go for woofing. The concept is very simple: You are hosted for free in exchange for a job (surfing, yoga classes, help in the garden, cleaning, caring for animals while the owners are away, etc.). Woofing is widely practiced in Costa Rica.
Otherwise, couch surfing is quite popular in the country. You stay for free with the locals who welcome you with open arms if you share your cultures. You can cook for them or just have a good time chatting.
Minimum price: Youth hostels
There are many youth hostels, for example, the Selina hostels which is widespread in the country. For example, a bed in a room of 10 at the Selina of la Fortuna hostel will cost you around $12.
Average prices: Cabins
You can also opt for Cabins. These are hotels without great comfort. The rooms are not air conditioned, but there are fans. There is no hot water in the shared showers, but since it is hot outside, you do not need it... And it firms the flesh ;-). You said backpacker, here we are and that is great.
Some Airbnb have very acceptable rates as long as it is a room in a shared accommodation.
Tired of eating ham and cheese sandwiches? Go and try the foods that are served at the "sodas". These are small local restaurants that offer an executive menu for $5 (drink included). The dish consists of a protein (meat or fish), starch (rice and beans) and vegetables (a salad). Sometimes they add cheese, and it happens that the fish is replaced by seafood ... Yes, still for $5.
Visits and Activities
Entrances to the national parks of Costa Rica are paid. However, it is possible to find plans B and national parks without going there. Here are some examples:
- Entrance fees to Manuel Antonio National Park are up to $16 per person. The main attraction is Playa Manuel Antonio, considered by many to be the most beautiful beach in Costa Rica. Keep in mind that next to it is Biesanz Beach, another equally beautiful beach that has the advantage of being outside the park and to which access is free.
- Enjoying a wellness session is one of the things to do in Costa Rica, but it often comes at a price. A solution? The Tabacón Hot Spring is a famous hot spring place where it is (very) good to relax. It is a natural hot river that runs through the wellness center. If you want to enjoy it, follow the river and swim in it, without spending a penny.
Otherwise, the beaches, waterfalls, and hiking trails outside the national parks are free. You may be asked for a parking fee, but it never exceeds $5.
Only volcanoes are only accessible in parks. So, we recommend that you make one, but not just any! The one in Irazú is magnificent and you can climb the crater unlike the still active Arenal Volcano.
- Ask the Ticos about places to visit for free off the beaten track. They know them better than anyone.
- Establish a daily budget. If you are thinking about a budget of $100 per day, you can one day go to the beach (free) and indulge yourself in a good restaurant or on the contrary go to the Monteverde Natural Reserve which costs $90 for 1 day per person and eat a sandwich in the afternoon.
Some Facebook groups give you good advice on free activities in Costa Rica:
- Gastando Suela in Costa Rica: Group focused on hiking
- Waterfalls of Costa Rica: The Waterfalls of Costa Rica, free!
The means of transportation when we go with the family is a very important expense. Therefore, we recommend that you rent an SUV instead of a 4x4, which will be cheaper and more than enough. If you come to Costa Rica with your children and you still have room in your luggage, you can bring your child seats / booster seats. Otherwise, Jumbo Car Costa Rica rents them.
Like everything else, the earlier you book your rental car, the better the rates will be because we will have more availability than at the last minute. Finally, we advise you to prefer the October or the February holidays. In fact, if you come for Christmas or Easter, you will be in high season and the prices of the cars will be much higher.
Accommodation and catering
For family accommodation, you have several options at your disposal:
- Some hostels like Selina offer family rooms (1 double bed + 2 bunk beds) for $80 a night ($110 breakfast included).
- Some hotels also offer family rooms
- Airbnb’s exist at very reasonable prices.
Our piece of advice: if you choose a hotel or Airbnb, make sure you have a small kitchen to prepare your meals and you do not have to eat everyday in a restaurant.
Regarding catering, you will find what you need for all budgets. We have already told you about "sodas”, but you can also opt for local restaurants that offer dishes for about fifteen dollars.
Our piece of advice: be sure to eat local. Imported cheese, wine, and other products are expensive. Feel free to ask for fresh local fruit juices. Not only are they cheap, but they are also delicious too. You will not buy more bricks when you get home.
When planning your trip, you noticed that all national parks have entrance fees. On the other hand, good news: all apply reduced prices for children. To know the prices of the national parks, simply go to the SINAC website. Note that the parks cost between $10 and $45 per person, slightly more if you bring a guide. So, choose the ones that fit your budget.
We recommend that you choose at least one national park with a volcano for a great family hike.
Remember, most of the beaches are free. You can go there and introduce your children to snorkelling and even offer them a surf lesson as it is a very popular board sport in Costa Rica. There are also many hiking trails and rivers.
Budget: almost unlimited
Costa Rica can be a true luxury destination. In fact, it was originally ... Do you want to dream?
The best thing in Costa Rica is to rent a 4x4. With this vehicle, without stress, you can go wherever you want with peace of mind.
You can also rent a 7-seat vehicle and choose to rent a roof box to travel with everything you want, without worrying about running out of space. The 400L roof boxes can accommodate up to 75 kg of cargo.
Costa Rica is famous for hosting the most beautiful hotels in the world. Luxury, eco-friendly, infinity pools surrounded by nature, nothing is missing. Recently, Forbes magazine even voted Papagayo's Four Seasons hotel the best hotel in the world.
Our piece of advice: also stay in boutique hotels, all magnificent with high-end services. This is especially the case with the Cayuga pickup chain.
Either way, luxury hotels are very easy to find on the Internet, either through their sites or by booking. You can also find very high-end accommodation on Airbnb. Sometimes you are even offered staff to help you with housework, and even staff to help you.
Are you looking for unusual experiences?
- The Pacuare Lodge is an ecological lodge that can only be accessed by rafting.
- El Mirador is in Tajo Alto and offers you to stay in a bubble with views of the jungle from your bed.
- Art Villas Costa Rica in the province of Puntarenas offers you the option of luxury villas or nests in the jungle.
If you go to La Fortuna, head to Hotel Nayara, it is splendid.
You can also rent celebrity houses ... Wherever you go! Especially Mel Gibson's on Samara Beach.
With a big budget, you can do it all. We advise you to visit the national parks with guides. They know everything by heart and will show you what you need to see with their keen eyes. They can even take you off the beaten track, that is great.
The most beautiful beaches in Costa Rica remain free for the most part. Go for it! There is often a spa nearby. You can pamper yourself with a treatment or massage overlooking the sea.
Tour all the parks with a guide showing off the beaten track paths.
If you do not want to manage anything and get carried away, many travel agencies will organize a trip for you and take care of everything from A to Z so that you have an even better stay than you dreamed of:
- Tucaya Travel
- Discovery of Costa Rica
- Green Costa Rica
- Tropical route
You can also go to the website of the Chamber of Commerce and take the tourist contacts that are officially registered in Costa Rica.
Some budget references
Food and fuel prices
In Costa Rica there are supermarkets as well as small convenience stores. The most important brands are:
- More x less
- Maxi Pali
In the provinces there are many independent supermarkets, often called "Chinese shops". For fruit and vegetables or the local products, it’s better to go to local markets.
Here is an order of food prices in supermarkets that you may find helpful:
- 1 liter of water: 1 USD
- 1-liter Coca-Cola: $1.25
- Eggs x24: about $4
- Can of soda: $1.5 - 33 cl
- Canned tuna: $2
- Ham: $4.5 - 250g
- Sliced bread: $2 - 450g
- Baguette bread: $1.5
- Package of chips: $1.5 - 250 g
- Sliced cheese: $2.5 - 300g
- Philadelphia type cheese spread: $1.5 - 100 g
For information: the water is drinkable throughout the country. Therefore, we recommend that you bring a canteen that you fill as soon as you leave your accommodation. Economic and Ecological.
When it comes to fuel, 80% of cars run on oil and not diesel.It costs an average of $0.80. However, as in France, you will find 2 grades of gasoline. The Regular and the Superior a little more expensive
Telephone and internet
Of course, you are not in France or Europe, so you cannot use your phone plan.
When you arrive in San José, Jumbo offers you 2 options:
- Purchase a SIM card loaded with 60 minutes of talk time for $5. Once downloaded, you can recharge it in all small stores for 1000 colones ($1.5), more than enough for a full day.
- Purchase of a Wi-Fi Hotspot to have internet with you at all times. Ideal for GPS and for all applications.
WhatsApp is the messaging service used by all Ticos. Car rental, accommodation or activity reservation confirmations go through WhatsApp. It is best to download the app if you have not already.
What to bring in your luggages ?
In your suitcase, bring what you want, but above all do not forget the essentials. We detail everything:
- Backpack for hiking
- City shoes, walking shoes (or sneakers), flip flops
- Refills to take with every hike: it is raining and humid
- Long pants and shorts
- Jersey / fleece: essential, especially if you are up to it
- Waterproof, you are in a tropical area.
- Binoculars to observe all the animals
- Repellent against mosquitoes
- Hand Wash Laundry Detergent