How to Save on Travel in Costa Rica

Although Costa Rica is less expensive than many destinations in North America, Europe, and the South Pacific, it isn’t as budget friendly today as it once was. Like all great things, the word has gotten out about Costa Rica’s awesomeness. Its beautiful beaches, rainforests, and wildlife draw millions of visitors annually, and with that popularity, prices are on the rise. But don’t fret. If you’re a frugal traveler, there are plenty of ways to save. Here are our top 10 tips for saving money on your trip to Costa Rica.

 

Colones Currency Picture

Costa Rican Colones

 

1. Travel during the low season

Most people visit Costa Rica during the dry season, but if you don’t mind getting a little wet, the rainy season is a great time to come. Everything is green and lush and beautiful. The rainy season runs from May to November but in most locations it doesn’t get too intense until August. Hotels are a lot cheaper and it’s much easier to negotiate discounts on tours and activities when there are fewer tourists around.

2. Don’t travel during the holiday season

Christmas is a big holiday in Costa Rica and is the busiest time of year for travel. Most hotels charge peak rates during the weeks leading up to and following the holiday. It’s not just hotels either. Other things are more expensive too, like rental cars.

 

Manuel Antonio Beach Picture

A busy Manuel Antonio beach during the holidays

 

3. Avoid big tourist towns

The most popular destinations, like the beach towns of Guanacaste, are more expensive than lesser known places that haven’t made it into the guidebook yet. Of course you’ll want to visit the hotspots too, but staying just 15 minutes away could save you for a lot on meals and lodging.

4. Make sure you need a tour

You can visit a lot of places (e.g., national parks, waterfalls) on your own if you’re trying to save money. Guides definitely add value to nature tours because of their expertise but you probably don’t need to have every tour be a guided one.

5. Think twice about renting a 4WD

Do some research before deciding whether to rent a standard sedan or a more expensive SUV/truck with four-wheel drive. Although there are places in Costa Rica where you definitely want 4WD, you don’t need it everywhere.

6. Eat at sodas

Sodas are mom and pop restaurants that serve inexpensive, typical Costa Rican food. They vary in size from full-blown restaurants to shacks with a couple of stools. Often they don’t look like much but don’t let the plastic tablecloths and simple structures stop you. We’ve had some of our best meals at the most unassuming places.

 

Costan Rican Casado Picture

Casados are traditional lunch dishes found at sodas and very inexpensive at around $6

 

7. Take the public bus

Ride with the locals on the public bus. It’s certainly not the fastest or most convenient option but it’s cheap and can get you almost anywhere you need to go. Plus it’s a great cultural experience.

8. Look into vacation rentals

This applies to other countries of course too but we’ve saved a lot by using sites like Airbnb. Costa Rica has tons of vacation rental listings from studios to shared rooms to whole houses, many of which are a lot cheaper (and often nicer) than standard hotels. As a bonus, maybe you’ll have a kitchenette so that you can have some meals in.

9. Skip the bottled water

There are exceptions depending on where you’re visiting (e.g., Puerto Viejo), but almost everywhere in Costa Rica the water is treated and safe to drink.

10. Take advantage of free/inexpensive activities

Sure you’ll want to go zip-lining and do other fun tours, but Costa Rica has lots to do for free or not very much. Get a sense of the culture by walking around a Tico town, browse the local feria (farmer’s market), or visit one of the 50+ national parks and reserves.

 

Quepos Costa Rica feria Picture

Quepos feria

 

Costa Rica is one of the most expensive places to visit in Central America but there are plenty of ways to keep those colones in your pocket. It’s easy to save money and still see (almost) everything that this amazing country has to offer.

What do you do to save money when you travel?

Post by: Jennifer Turnbull-Houde & Matthew Houde

 

7 Comments

  1. Thank you for this very informative post! I’ve yet to visit Costa Rica, but it’s on my list for sure – great surfing!
    When I travel I try not eating out at the expensive places and if possible I camp out instead of staying at the expensive hotels.

    Reply
    • Hi JP,
      Those are both great ways to save money. Camping, especially here in the jungle would definitely be a fun adventure. Let us know when you make it here and we’ll give you some ideas. The waves are definitely great for surfing too!

      Reply
  2. Thanks for the top 10 tips for saving money on Costa Rica trip. But… when I go for a vacation trip I never bothered about money saving instead I love to spend. Astonished? You know how often I go for holidaying? Once in 5 years :)

    Reply
  3. Great tips! Saving on food is so easy to do- stay out of the tourist traps and visit the local joints which generally have tastier food anyway!

    Reply
  4. Hi Andrea, it’s so true, we have had some of the most amazing meals in the most hole in the wall places. One of our favorite things to order here in Costa Rica are soups. It seems like whoever is back in those kitchens takes great pride in them. Thanks for reading!

    Reply
  5. Hey Matt & Jenn, I would go even further and suggest that you don’t need to rent a car at all. With the mandatory insurance, it’s almost impossible to get a car for less than $80 a day after all the additional fees – and that’s for a low-end sedan or equivalent. I would say that local taxis, collectivos (pirate taxis that drive major routes and pick up more than one person along the route) and shuttles (private or shared) or buses between towns is the way to go… whether you are on a low-budget trip or even splurging. Much more relaxed way to travel if you’re not used to CR roads, and one less thing to organize in advance.

    Reply
    • Hi Liisa, getting around without a car is definitely a more relaxed way to travel and the bus system is pretty good. When we traveled as tourists, we almost always took the bus, coupled with cabs when needed. To visit some places though, it’s really nice to have a car so that you can explore…rates really vary by season and company so it’s good to shop around. We just paid $55/day for a small SUV, though it was the low season. In the high season (week after Christmas), we’ve paid as much as $118/day.

      Reply

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