Traveling to Costa Rica might cost more than you think. A lot of people expect that because Costa Rica is in Central America, it will be extremely inexpensive. While the price of some things is low compared to what you’re probably used to paying back home, lots of other things are about the same. But don’t fret. If you’re on a budget, it is still possible to visit Costa Rica without making too many sacrifices. In this post, we’ll break down the different types of expenses you’ll have on your trip to help you estimate the cost of traveling in Costa Rica. We’ll also give you some tips for easy ways to find accommodations and save money.
Costa Rica’s infrastructure for tourism is very developed, which should be no surprise since tourism is the country’s number one industry. In major tourist destinations, you’ll sometimes find 50 if not more than 100 different hotels. From backpacker hostels, eco-lodges, treehouse lodges, and surf camps to modern bungalows and luxury resorts, Costa Rica has something for everyone when it comes to accommodations.
Here’s what you can expect to pay for accommodations in a major tourist destination:
Hostel: $10-15 for a bed in a shared dorm room.
Budget Hotel: $50-75 for a simple, but clean and comfortable room. For this price, you can typically get a room with a private bathroom, air conditioning, and hot water for the shower (via an electric, on-demand hot water heater).
Mid-Range Hotel: $100-200 for a room with more space and amenities. For this price, you will have all the basics like A/C, hot water, TV, and wifi, as well as additional amenities like a hearty complimentary breakfast, in-room mini-fridge and coffee maker, and a nicely landscaped property with a view and pool.
High-End Hotel: Starting around $250 a night for a well-appointed room with all the amenities. Costa Rica has a range of higher end hotels. Some are more classic, larger hotels with big rooms, an infinity pool, and ocean or jungle views. Others are boutique style and may have less than ten rooms, each uniquely designed with an eye for style and comfort. High-end lodging ranges from around $250 all the way up to $500+ a night for the very best luxury resorts.
Ways to Save Money on Lodging in Costa Rica
- Travel during the low season: Rates for hotels are the lowest during the rainy season (months of May through November). You might even be able to find a special 3×2 rate if you stay in a hotel for more than two nights during this time of year. If you do travel during the busier months, try to avoid dates around Christmas, New Years, and Easter. This is when locals take their vacations and high demand drives prices up even more.
- Visit less touristy areas: Prices are highest in well-established tourist towns. This includes many beach towns like Tamarindo, Nosara, Jaco, and Manuel Antonio, as well as popular towns in the mountains like La Fortuna/Arenal and Monteverde. Lesser known areas tend to be less expensive because the locals want the business.
- Look for homestay-type lodging: Locals who live in tourism hubs are starting to open up their doors to travelers in an effort to make a little money on the side. If you’re looking for the best deal in town, a homestay is the way to go. People often have completely separate spaces that they rent out too, so you’ll have plenty of privacy. We recently did a homestay in Drake Bay with a local family and saved a ton of money.
- Check out AirBnb and VRBO: Vacation rentals are located throughout Costa Rica and can be a great way to save money. Recently, we needed a place to stay for just one night near the Papagayo Peninsula. All of the hotels in the area were very expensive or booked up but we managed to find a cute and spacious condo on Airbnb in Playa Ocotal for just $50 a night, about half the normal rate for hotels in the area.
Best Way to Find Lodging in Costa Rica
Hotels in Costa Rica are listed on a variety of booking sites but the one we like the best and use ourselves is Booking.com. Booking.com seems to have the largest selection of hotels and is very user friendly. You just put in your search parameters like where you’re going and your travel dates, and a list of available hotels pops up, ranked by customer satisfaction. You can also narrow your search based on your budget and there’s a map, which is great for figuring out how far a hotel is from a town center or tourist attraction.
The reason Booking.com is such a great tool specifically for Costa Rica is because of the difficulty of using hotel websites. Often times, hotel sites are very simple and don’t have a reservations system, forcing you to use a contact form or call them to find out about availability. We like Booking.com because you can find out right then if a hotel has rooms available and make a reservation at the same time.
The main ways to get around in Costa Rica are by public bus, rental car, shared or private shuttle van, and small plane.
Public Bus: The bus is by far the cheapest way to get around and can get you just about anywhere in the country. You can expect to pay from $2 to go from one town to the next or to up to $20 to go across the entire country.
Rental Cars: The cost to rent a car is often higher than most travelers expect. It’s more expensive than in the US and some other countries, predominately because of mandatory insurance, which you cannot decline by law. Expect to pay around $400-700 per week for a mid-size SUV with four-wheel drive and $300-500 per week for a four-door sedan. Prices are lowest during the rainy season and tend to go down the longer you have the car.
Shared Shuttle Vans: Several companies offer shared service in air conditioned vans that hold between 8 and 19 passengers. A shared shuttle costs between $40-75 per person depending on how far you’re traveling.
Private Shuttle Vans: Private shuttle vans are a good option for families or large groups who don’t want to rent a car. Rates vary significantly but if you have the same driver for your whole trip, you should be able to negotiate the price.
Tip: Book your small plane flights as far in advance as possible to save money. The companies have different fares available and once the less expensive tickets are sold out, they’re gone. You can see this on the NatureAir website with their three fare options, which range from the least expensive locos option to the most expensive flex option.
Like lodging, eating out in major tourist destinations will be more expensive than in lesser known towns with mostly locals. At a mid-range restaurant, you can expect to pay around $8-12 per person for lunch and $10-16 per person for dinner (including tax and service). While the price for food is comparable to the US, luckily drinks are a lot cheaper. Many restaurants, especially in beach towns, run 2×1 happy hour specials on cocktails and local beers are just $2-3 a bottle.
Tip: A great money-saving option that will also give you insight into the local culture are sodas. Sodas are the name for local mom and pop restaurants that serve typical, Costa Rican cuisine. They’re a bargain compared to the restaurants that cater to tourists so you’ll definitely want to follow the locals to the busiest one if you’re on a budget. Expect to pay $5-8 for a big plate of food, like the one below, and a fresh fruit smoothie.
Tours and Activities
The cost for tours depends on the activity, but here are some examples to give you a sense. Keep in mind that most tours include transportation (pick up and drop off at your hotel) and a meal.
Zip-line tour: $50-85
Rafting tour: $70-130
Kayak tour: $50-60
Snorkel or dive tour: Snorkel- $80-100; dive- $120-150
Coffee tour: $15-30
Guided tour of national park or reserve: $10-25 per person (cost decreases the bigger your group) plus the cost of admission
National Park or reserve (self-guided): $10-16
We hope that these estimates help you budget for your trip. Costa Rica may be more expensive than some other Central American countries but don’t let that deter you. If you are like many travelers, one visit will have you coming back again and again.
Have a question about something that we didn’t cover? Ask it below.
Interested in learning more about how to handle money for your trip? Check out our post Money Matters: Currency, Exchanging Money, and Tipping in Costa Rica.