5 Tips for Touring Costa Rica on Less Than $25 a Day

 

Costa Rica used to be synonymous with budget travel, but increasing interest from tourists around the world has driven prices up.

The best of Costa Rica. Photo credit: Scott Robinson.

 

However, the country’s landscape, food, and culture are still more than worth a visit, even for the cost-minded traveler. It is still possible to visit Costa Rica without spending too much, provided you plan ahead, are willing to forego some of the more tempting tourist attractions, and you follow these five tips.

Sunset in Costa Rica,Puerto Caldera. Photo credit: Ted McGrath.

 

1. Go During the Off-Season

The nicest time to head to Costa Rica is during North America’s winter months, but the cheapest time to go is from June to September. While the weather won’t be as ideal, the prices you’ll pay for accommodations and airfare will more than make up for it. Remember that Costa Rica is beautiful no matter when you visit.

Beautiful beach in Costa Rica. Photo credit: Luis Alvarez.

 

2. Eat Like a Local

Food is one of the many highlights of world travel, and you can still eat like a rich man, even on a budget, if you are willing to eat like a local. Local mom and pop restaurants called sodas serve up hot, delicious food that runs from $3 to $8. The portions are usually big enough to share if you’re traveling with a companion. If you’re on a solo mission, make sure you’ve packed some collapsible Tupperware into your bag, so you can make lunch last through dinner.

Costa Rican Meal. Photo credit: janeyesee.

 

You can also try to pick up some things here and there at groceries and markets, but you won’t save much money. Most of the prices are on par with North America and Europe, so eating at sodas is actually your best bet.

3. Travel With a Buddy

Traveling alone definitely has its perks, but saving money isn’t one of them. Especially when it comes to lodging, splitting costs on where to sleep will go a long way in keeping you under your $25 a day threshold. The least expensive options, hostels or habitaciones, will still set you back anywhere from $20-$60 a night, so splitting a room is essential. You can also pack a small tent and sleep out under the night sky. If your Spanish is decent, you may be able to convince a local to let you set up a tent in their pastures for little to no money, and having a companion when you’re sleeping in a tent is always something that makes for greater peace of mind. Traveling with a friend also means that you can always share meals — another great way to save money.

4. Buy a Bicycle (Then Sell It Before You Go)

There are plenty of ways to get around Costa Rica, but if you’re serious about being money-conscious, you’ll need to travel by foot or bicycle most of the time. Costa Rica is actually a perfect country to tour by bike, and while renting is certainly an option, it will cost far too much money over the course of a week or two. Buying a bicycle is, therefore, a great option. You’ll likely pay around $100 for the bike, but when your vacation ends, you should have no problem selling it for a $25 discount. If you’ve spent two weeks or more in Costa Rica, you’ve certainly saved money.

Costa Rica
Costa Rica. Photo credit: noestim.

 

Be sure to always lock your bicycle up when you aren’t riding it and brush up on bike maintenance before your vacation. Those $100 bikes are rarely in perfect condition.

5. Do Some Work Instead of Going on Tours

Tours and guided sightseeing excursions can cost a lot of money, but you’ll actually see more of the country and save money by doing volunteer work or paid work while you’re here. Help on a fishing boat, pick coffee, work on a small farm — wherever you see people working ask if you can join in. Even if you don’t get paid for the work, you’ll gain a rich hands-on and cultural experience, and you’ll have a better potential to form local friendships.

Bananas in Costa Rica. Photo credit: Bob Boyer.

 

Touring Costa Rica for less than $25 a day is still possible; it just takes some foresight and willingness to step away from comfort. From traveling with a companion to buying a bicycle, follow these five tips, and you’ll have the time of your life and stay within your budget in the paradise known as Costa Rica.

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28 Comments

  • central america is another undiscovered region. its down the list but i do want to get there one day! BTW – the Jet Radar thing is REALLY intrusive… just thought I’d let you know!

  • Great post! I’ll be heading down to Costa Rica for 3 months in January. I visited last year and feel in love with Costa Rica. The Soad’s are great, aren’t they!? I’ll definitely be bookmarking this post!

  • Awesome tips! I loved Costa Rica, but it was pricey compared to some of it’s neighbors. I’ll definitely be trying some of these when I go back! It’s such a gorgeous country!

  • Great advise- I’ve been told that Costa Rica is nearly as expensive as the US, but it’s good to know you can explore cheaply too. I particularly like your idea of getting a bicycle. I’ve met a few people cycling through South America too and it seems like such a great way to really see a country. Thanks for sharing.

  • I wouldn’t say this was the best advice for travelling in Costa Rica. We actually travel for $30 each per day and oh my that can really be tight! We’ve only been travelling off-season too, I might add. If you don’t mind sleeping in a hammock then sure, you can shave $5 off of that but that option isn’t available many places.

    Also, a bike wouldn’t get you far in Costa Rica, especially not in the super humidity and with really terrible gravelly roads most places! As for sharing meals out, that’s a little insulting to the lovely people who run sodas. They’re cheap local eateries and I don’t think that you’d get along so well asking to share 1 plate between 2. You’re better off just trying to buy at the farmer’s market and find a hostel with a decent kitchen.

    Also, volunteering isn’t quite as easy that in Costa Rica… Mostly the country has it set up so that people “pay to volunteer.” There’s a lot of really, really expensive voluntourism going on over here, and no so much “helping out picking fruit” type stuff. Better advice would be house sitting, which is very in demand over here due to the high number of US expats who need to leave the country for VISA reasons every 3 months.

    • I disagree.
      I traveled in Costa Rica on my bicycle and absolutely loved it. When cycling you always get a breeze so it’s not too hot. Also those unpaved roads are normally the best ones as you get less traffic.
      I spent an average on 6USD per day, so yes. Costa Rica can be done on the cheap easily.
      Sharing a meal in a restaurant is something done anywhere. I don’t understand why it can’t be done at the sodas in Costa Rica.

  • Thanks for the great budget tips, Agness! Costa Rica has been on my radar for a while already, but so for I haven’t managed to actually visit. Maybe next year, that should give me time to work on the travel buddy and bicycle issue… ;)

  • Love your tip about buying a bike, although sadly I’m rarely in one place for more than a few days but next time I do get to stay in one place for a bit longer I definitely look into getting my hands on a bicycle.

  • I have been reading a lot about Costa Rica recently and I have to admit that my curiosity about that part of the world has surely increased mainly for the amount of animal wildlife there which I’d love to experience too one day.

    I’ve never thought of buying a bike and then sell it before leaving the country, it does make sense though if you are planning to stay longer. Thanks, that gave me food for thoughts! :)

  • Great tips! I can particularly agree with you advise regarding the Costa Rican eateries known as sodas. Overall I found things to be relatively expensive in Costa when compared to other countries in Central America, but I thought the sodas there were great value! We could usually find a pretty good meal for about $5 or so. On our budget, that would even allow us to kick back a few Imperials in addition to our meal ;-) Cheers!

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