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. Costa Rica’s 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.
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.
For much more about visiting during the rainy season, including the best times and where to go, read our post all about it.
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.
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.
7. Take the public bus
Ride with the locals on the public bus. It may not be 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 HomeAway, VRBO, and 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.
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