Last Updated: 2/2/2020 | February 2nd, 2020
Costa Rica is one of the most beautiful and naturally-diverse countries in Central America.
Unfortunately, it’s also the most expensive.
Due to its natural beautiful, amazing outdoor activities, safety, friendly locals, and well-established expat community, prices in Costa Rica have been rising higher year after year. For that reason, it’s not uncommon for budget travelers to actually skip visiting Costa Rica, heading to cheaper destinations like Nicaragua or Guatemala.
To be honest, I was skeptical that I could visit Costa Rica on a budget.
Fortunately, as i discovered, it is definitely possible to visit this amazing country without breaking the bank. It won’t be cheap, but it also won’t be that expensive either. In this post, I’ll show you everything you need to know to visit Costa Rica on a budget.
Table of Contents
- How Much I Spent on My Trip
- Can You Do It Cheaper?
- 3 Suggested Budgets
- 6 Ways to Save Money
- Costa Rica Travel FAQ
How Much Did I Spend?
In total, I was in Costa Rica for 20 days and I spent 424,660 colones or $849.32 USD. (The exchange rate was about $1 USD = 500 CRC). That works out to be an average of $42.46 USD per day. So, like in Panama, I went over my budget. However, I often set my budgets low simply as motivation not to spend a lot of money. There are many reasons why I went over my budget, but let me break down my expenses first:
Food – 150,755 CRC ($301.51 USD)
Alcohol – 16,740 CRC ($33.48 USD)
Bottled water – 9,150 CRC ($18.30 USD)
Accommodation – 89,530 CRC ($179.06 USD)
Activities – 17,500 CRC ($35 USD)
Local buses – 9,105 CRC ($18.21 USD)
Cabs – 98,000 CRC ($196 USD)
Miscellaneous – 33,880 CRC ($67.76 USD)
My miscellaneous expenses were things like laundry, sunscreen, a poncho, and the departure tax. I didn’t factor these costs into my original budget plans.
Moreover, I took a lot of taxis, because sometimes they were the fastest and most convenient way to go — but they were certainly not the cheapest. I overspent on food simply because I did eat a lot of nice seafood dinners on the coast as well as have some Western meals. Also, in many touristy areas, a cheap meal can still cost 4,000 CRC ($6 USD).
Can You Do It Cheaper?
Yes, but it won’t be fun. If you simply account for food, room, and buses, you can probably get by on a bare-bones $30 USD per day. But you won’t enjoy it. That budget has no activities included, and the fun adventure activities like zip lining, surfing, diving, and jungle trekking are what make this country as amazing as it is. It’s not a budget I would recommend.
On my budget of $43 USD a day, you can afford cheap rooms, mostly local food and some Western meals, going out, and many activities. (If you avoid the taxis, you can have even more money for fun adventure activities.)
I didn’t do a lot of adventure tours this time since I did them the first time I was in Costa Rica. I never felt I was missing out on anything with my budget, and though it’s more than you might spend in Nicaragua or El Salvador, $43 USD shouldn’t be high enough to scare you away from the country.
3 Suggested Budgets for Costa Rica
To help you plan for your trip to Costa Rica, here are some suggested daily budgets based on a few different types of travel:
- Accommodation – 6,000-9,000 CRC ($10-15 USD)
- Food – 6,000 CRC ($10 USD)
- Transportation – 6,000 CRC ($10 USD)
- Activities – 6,000 CRC ($10 USD)
- Daily Total – 24,000-27,000 CRC ($40-45 USD)
- Accommodation – 15,000-18,000 CRC ($25-30 USD)
- Food – 9,000-15,000 CRC ($15-25 USD)
- Transportation – 9,000-12,000 CRC ($15-20 USD)
- Activities – 33,000-54,000 CRC ($55-90 USD)
- Daily Total – 66,000-99,000 CRC ($110-165 USD)
- Accommodation – 24,000-30,000 CRC ($40-50 USD)
- Food – 21,000-27,000 CRC ($35-45 USD)
- Transportation – 12,000 CRC ($20 USD)
- Activities – 54,000 CRC ($90 USD)
- Daily Total – 110,000-123,000 CRC ($185-205 USD)
6 Ways to Save Money in Costa Rica
There are plenty of ways to save money in Costa Rica. And if you don’t at least try to do some inexpensive things while here, your budget will go through the roof.
1. Don’t drink. Drinking in bars in Costa Rica can be quite expensive. Local beer is typically 1,200 CRC ($2.50 USD). Sometimes you can find it for around 900 CRC, but that’s very rare and usually during a happy hour. I avoided drinking here simply because it was too expensive.
2. Eat at the sodas. The “sodas” are the local Tico restaurants and a great bargain. You can usually find casado, a typical local dish, for around 2,000 CRC (about 1/2 the price of tourist restaurants). In many of the towns on the Caribbean coast, you can find meals for under 1,000 CRC. I found the empanadas the best value for money; for 500 CRC, I could get a filling snack/light meal.
3. Eat at Musmanni. Musmanni is a bakery chain found all over the country. It offers a great lunch special. For 1,000 CRC, you can get a sandwich and a soda; most of their pastries are only 300 CRC. I ate at this place whenever I found one because it helped keep my food costs down.
4. Stay in dorms. Accommodation in Costa Rica isn’t cheap. I stayed at a few budget hotels, and they were around 15,000 CRC ($30 USD) per night. Dorm rooms offer the best value, as they cost only 5,000 CRC ($10 USD) per night; on the Caribbean coast, you can find them for around $8 USD.
Here’s a list of my favorite hostels in San Jose to help you get started!
5. Couchsurf. Don’t like dorms? Use the site Couchsurfing, which can connect you with locals who will let you stay at their house for free. It’s a great way to meet locals and cut down your accommodation costs.
6. Drink the water. Though I spent 9,150 CRC on bottled water, the water in Costa Rica is safe to drink. I would always lose my water bottle and have to replace it, but if you can remember to keep yours, refill it from the tap and avoid spending money on water.
Budget Travel in Costa Rica: Frequently Asked Questions
Do they accept US dollars in Costa Rica?
Generally speaking, US dollars are widely accepted. For smaller purchases, you will often pay in USD and get CRC back. It’s good to have both US dollars (in denominations no larger than $20) as well as colones.
How many colones are in a dollar in Costa Rica?
As of 2019, there are 600 colones to dollars. $1 USD = 600 CRC.
Can I use my credit card in Costa Rica?
Yes, you can use credit cards are most hotels and larger restaurants in the cities. That being said, always make sure you have cash on hand as well.
Do you tip drivers in Costa Rica?
For short rides, it’s generally common to just round the ride up to the nex dollar. For longer rides (or rides that encounter heavy traffic) it’s always good to tip a couple of extra dollars.
Do you tip at restaurants in Costa Rica?
Restaurants often add a service fee onto your bill, which makes tipping unnecessary. However, tips are always appreciated if someone goes above and beyond and provides excellent service.
Costa Rica is one of my favorite countries in the world. Whether you’re a budget backpacker, flashpacker, or someone looking to have a more luxurious stay, you’ll be able to have an amazing trip here.
While the country is by no means the cheapest destination in Central America, you can definitely still visit here on a budget. By utilizing the tips and suggestions above, you’ll be able to keep your budget intact while you explore this amazing, diverse, and beautiful country.
Book Your Trip to Costa Rica: Logistical Tips and Tricks
Book Your Flight
Use Skyscanner or Momondo to find a cheap flight. They are my two favorite search engines because they search websites and airlines around the globe so you always know no stone is left unturned. Start with Skyscanner first though because they have the biggest reach!
Book Your Accommodation
You can book your hostel with Hostelworld as they have the biggest inventory and best deals. If you want to stay somewhere other than a hostel, use Booking.com as they consistently return the cheapest rates for guesthouses and cheap hotels. My favorite places to stay are:
- Arenal Backpackers Resort
- Rocking J’s (Puerto Viejo)
- Hostel Vista Serena (Manuel Antonio)
Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. My favorite companies that offer the best service and value are:
- World Nomads (for everyone below 70)
- Insure My Trip (for those over 70)
- Medjet (for additional repatriation coverage)
Looking for the Best Companies to Save Money With?
Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel. I list all the ones I use to save money when I’m on the road. They will save you money when you travel too.
Want More Information on Costa Rica?
Be sure to visit our robust destination guide on Costa Rica for even more planning tips!