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 (December to April), 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 or September. 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 Costa Rica 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, New Years, and Easter (Semana Santa) are big holidays in Costa Rica and the busiest times of year for travel. Most hotels, and even rental car companies, charge peak rates over the holidays and even during the weeks leading up to and following. If you can, try to travel during off-peak times to get the most value for your money.
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 guidebooks yet. Of course you’ll want to visit the hotspots too, but staying just 15 minutes away could save you hundreds on meals and lodging.
4. Make sure you need a tour
You can visit a lot of places like national parks and waterfalls on your own if you’re trying to save money. Guides definitely add value to nature tours because of their expertise, but once you know the basics, you probably don’t need every tour be a guided one.
5. Think twice about renting a 4×4
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 local mom and pop restaurants that serve inexpensive, typical Costa Rican food. They vary 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. Just look at this lunch plate- fresh fish, rice and beans, plus salads for only $6!
7. Take the public bus
Ride with the locals on the public bus. The bus is by far the cheapest way to get around and connects just about every destination in the country. Plus, lots of locals ride the bus so it’s a great cultural experience.
8. Look into vacation rentals
We’ve saved a ton of money during our travels by using sites like HomeAway, VRBO, and Airbnb. Costa Rica has a variety of vacation rentals from studios to shared rooms to whole houses, many of which are a lot cheaper (and often nicer) than regular hotels. As a bonus, you might be able to find something with 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 de Talamanca), 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 adventure 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 (farmers 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.
Planning a Trip to Costa Rica? Here are some more articles to get you ready:
- Packing for Costa Rica: The Essentials – Ultimate Guide to just what you need for your trip, no matter the destination or season.
- Cost of Traveling in Costa Rica – Breakdown of what to expect for hotels, eating out, tours, and transportation, plus more money-saving tips.
- Costa Rica: Your 2-Week Itinerary – Our most popular post, this guide will show you some of Costa Rica’s best destinations and things to do.