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. 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.

 

Tips for How to Save on Travel to Costa Rica | Two Weeks in Costa Rica
Costa Rica’s curreny, the colon

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.

 

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 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.

[box type=”bio”] For more information about if you need a 4X4 and to save up to 10-25% on a rental car, check out this our Costa Rica Rental Car page. [/box]

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!

 

Eat local to save $ - More Tips for How to Save on Travel to Costa Rica
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. 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.

 

A fun, free activity, visiting the local farmers market - More Tips for How to Save on Travel to Costa Rica
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.

Planning a Trip to Costa Rica? Here are some more articles to get you ready:

 

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17 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.

    1. 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!

  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 🙂

  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!

  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!

  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.

    1. 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.

  6. Great post! Thank you for the useful info. I’m flying into Liberia next week, and will make the best of some of these tips 😉 Cheers

        1. Hi Beth, We usually use Booking.com when we travel in Costa Rica. We like it because you can search using a map and sometimes prices are lower than if you booked through the regular website. They have hotels but also smaller places like B&Bs, eco-lodges, and some vacation rentals. Otherwise, VRBO is good if you’re looking for a vacation rental. AirBnb is used less in Costa Rica but you can find some less traditional lodging on there too.

  7. Thanks for the helpful tips! You mentioned in your response to a comment that you paid $55/day for a small sedan during low season. I will be going in mid-August for a week. Can you tell me where you found the car rental? (i.e. website)

    1. Hi Yuki,
      If you go to our rental car page (https://www.twoweeksincostarica.com/costa-rica-rental-car-discount/), you can see how much rates are through Adobe. We get a discount through them for our readers and clients. We just put in a random week in August, and it looks like a small sedan (Hyundai Accent, automatic) is around $44/day, including basic insurance, and a small SUV (Daihatsu Bego 4×4) is $60/day, including basic insurance. Just use the form on the page to get the discount. Let us know if you have any problems.

  8. Hi and thank you for all the useful info on your site!
    I have just reserved a car through your link, but I don’t see anywhere in my confirmation that a second driver, emergency cell phone or buster seat are included, although I did request them in the comments during reservation. Do you know for sure if they are still included in the deal, or did Adobe change their policy?
    Thanks

    1. Hi Natalie, Yes, all of those things are still free for our readers. For everything except the booster seat, you just ask them for it in the comments section when you make the reservation. We saw your reservation come through and it looks like you did that. If you scroll down to Remarks, you will see what you wrote. There is a button to click that you need booster seats when you make the reservation online, it looks like maybe you didn’t do that, but you can just tell them that you need them when you call to confirm. Instructions for confirming the reservation are at the bottom of the confirmation email (“To guarantee a reservation…”).

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