Traveling To Costa Rica On A Budget: Traveler's Guide [2024]

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Traveling To Costa Rica On A Budget: Traveler's Guide [2024]
Lapped by lush landscapes, turquoise beaches, and a thriving culture, Costa Rica is an adventure lover’s paradise. With lots of postcard-worthy activities and attractions, this destination screams pricey. So, is it possible to travel to Costa Rica on a budget?
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Flaunting flourishing national parks, whimsical wildlife, and adrenaline-infused adventure activities, Costa Rica is filled with charm at every end. Bordered by Nicaragua and Panama in Central America, this charismatic country is a beauty to behold. 

If you want to zip-line through the towering treetops or kick back with a cocktail at the beach, Costa Rica sure offers a lot. This paradise boasts a blend of pleasurable pursuits, but things can add up too quickly if you don’t plan ahead. 

Suppose you’re a backpacker or a traveler who’s tried to keep things affordable. In that case, you might be speculating whether or not budget travel in Costa Rica is possible. The good news is that it can be done, just make sure you incorporate these tried-and-tested tricks. Vamos! 

Learn more from the rest of our Costa Rica series…

Why Visit Costa Rica? 

I mean, is there really any explanation needed? Costa Rica is carved with captivating natural splendor, flourishing culture, and a Caribbean vibe that’s sure to entice you. From the rich landscapes to the delectable food scene, there’s something unique to satisfy every type of traveler. 

Better yet, there are plenty of pocket-friendly activities to keep you entertained. You’re covered whether you want to shake things up with a sloth-watching tour, a waterfall hike in La Leona, or see nocturnal animals on a night tour in Monteverde. In fact, these are just a handful of activities under $50! 

If you’re wondering if budget travel in Costa Rica is worth it, I’m here to answer that. It turns out you don’t have to spend so much to get the authentic Costa Rica experience. How about that! 

Book In Off-Season 

The best way to reduce your Costa Rica budget is by slashing the high prices of traveling during the high season. You can enjoy this lush landscape in the low season, May to November, while saving some serious cash. 

Not only will accommodation and flights be more affordable, but you’ll also have to battle fewer crowds. Score!

Should you choose to travel during the high season, December to April, make sure you book everything well in advance. 

Image Courtesy of Travel Awaits

Get Frugal With Booking Flights 

There’s no doubt that flights can incur some seriously hefty fees. You could be traveling from North America or Europe... still the flight to Costa Rica puts a dent in your wallet. The best way to keep costs low is by booking flights in advance. 

Think of using flight comparison sites like Momondo and Skyscanner to scan for the best deals. If you want to learn how to hack the system, save this guide on how to find cheap flights for your Costa Rica trip. 

Another tip is to consider various budget airlines and ensure you’re flexible with your date and time.

So, which is the cheapest airport to fly into Costa Rica? The most affordable airport is San Jose Juan Santamaría. 

When planning budget travel in Costa Rica, note that there are multiple airports around the country, so you may need to book a connecting flight depending on your accommodation. The major international hubs are: 

  • Juan Santamaria International Airport (SJO)
  • Daniel Oduber International Airport (LIR) 
  • Tobias Bolaños International Airport (SYQ) 
  • Limón International Airport (LIO) 

When choosing flights, don’t forget to factor in the time it takes to arrive at your accommodation, different modes of transport you can use, and unexpected costs too. 

Figure Out the Best Place to Stay 

Aside from all the travel expenses piling up in your budget, one factor that can have a considerable impact is, in fact, the neighborhood. When planning budget travel in Costa Rica, it’s essential to consider where the best places to stay are

Places like Tamarindo and San José are perfect for budget travelers and backpackers. In contrast, neighborhoods like La Fortuna and Manuel Antonio can be slightly more expensive.

It’s no secret that budget travel requires budget accommodation. Aside from Couchsurfing and Airbnbs, staying at a hostel is the best way to wiggle some extra room in your budget. 

To save cost, consider glamping in Tamarindo or taking it to the next level at a backpackers resort in Arenal. 

Whatever your choice, Costa Rica has a lot on offer, as seen in this best Costa Rica hostels guide. Now, you’re all set in Costa Rico. But what’s next?

Taste Local Costa Rican Cuisine 

Ay, que rico! There’s nothing like locking lips with a flavor-packed plate, especially in a new destination. Whether you’re a dedicated foodie or not, the cuisine in Costa Rica is worth trying out. So, how much does food cost? 

Restaurants and cafes that are situated near tourist destinations, beaches, ski areas, and amusement parks all boast high prices. To keep things budget-friendly on your trip to Costa Rica, you need to make sure you’re making the most of your meals! 

In Costa Rica, breakfast is generally the most affordable meal. To save yourself some pennies, fuel up with breakfast, then eat lighter meals later. 

A standard budget breakfast, around $4-$7, would be gallo pinto, which includes eggs, tortillas, fried plantains, and a side of fresh fruit. 

If you’ll be eating out at lunch and dinner time, head to a local spot known as a soda. The best budget-conscious meal is generally a casado, which includes rice, beans, fried plantain, salad, with either chicken, beef, or fish. 

A standard casado plate costs around $6-$7, but if you’re in a popular tourist area, you can expect to pay around $7-$13. 

Here are some local favorites:

Local Costa Rican food, Casada
Image courtesy of Needpix

Take Advantage of Costa Rica’s Free Activities 

Wet your whistle with the network of natural splendor! Costa Rica is brimming with bliss-inducing landscapes, and there’s much to see for free. Whether it’s the turquoise beaches or peaceful national parks, you don’t have to be a big spender to have the most fun at this destination. 

You could consider budget-friendly activities like:

If you want to discover what else is on offer, save these top things to do in Costa Rica for your next trip. Whether it’s wildlife, waterfalls, or nightlife you’re after, you’ll be surprised at just how many affordable activities there are.

Toucan in a tree in a Costa Rica
Image courtesy of Tanja Wilbertz from Pixabay

Experience Costa Rica Like a Local 

Undoubtedly, the tourist attractions in Costa Rica are popular for a reason. But if you’re craving something a little more authentic, your budget doesn’t have to be a party pooper. 

You can take a step back from the crowded tourist hubs without breaking the bank! 

Starting with the beaches on the Nicoya Peninsula and the forests of Monteverde, getting local really couldn’t be any easier. Be sure you leave some room in your budget for these local spots in Costa Rica.

Now, what better way to push yourself outside your comfort zone, and experience Costa Rica like a local than embarking on a solo endeavor? Costa Rica is one of the best places to travel solo as a female, especially considering there’s a surprisingly large community of English-speaking travelers. 

If you want to take a deep dive into all the details, you can find out everything you need to know in this guide to solo travel in Costa Rica. It includes the top activities for solo travelers, as well as tips on safety and meeting other solo travelers. With all this valuable info, you’ll be all set for success. 

7-Day Costa Rica Itinerary 

If you’re considering planning a trip to Costa Rica for 1 week, you’ve just hit the jackpot. Cha-ching! Highlighting the huge haul of activities and natural attractions, this 7-day Costa Rica itinerary includes the best of the best. 

There are all types of natural attractions, from hiking the volcano in Arenal to listening to the birds sing in Monteverde. If you’re staying for 7 days, dive into these top destinations in this step-by-step, day-by-day travel guide! 

Kick off the Costa Rica itinerary in the capital city of San Jose, before moving on down to La Fortuna. Start day 2 with a blast with canyoning in Arenal and explore the volcanic area. On days 3 and 4 of your itinerary, you can stop at the Monteverde Cloud Forest with fun activities like zip lining. 

On your fifth day in Costa Rica, drive to the Manuel Antonio National Park. Here you’ll uncover the white sandy beaches and flourishing greenery. 

On your final 2 days, you can sprinkle in some sea kayaking or water sports. This 7-day Costa Rica itinerary hones in on all the top-rated spots, but feel free to be creative and have fun!

Waterfall in a jungle in Costa Rica 
Image courtesy of sterlinglanier Lanier on Unsplash

Wildlife, Watersports, Weather, and Beyond! 

After learning about budget travel in Costa Rica, you probably feel excited about everything that awaits you. Now’s the time to nail the planning process with Pilot!

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Jessica Bergin Blogs
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Jessica Bergin
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