Costa Rica is considered the most expensive country in Central America, and rightly so! But traveling to Costa Rica does not have to be expensive. Based on our experience, here’s the best tips for traveling on a small budget in Costa Rica. We backpacked in Costa Rica for two weeks during a trip to Central America. Despite our preconceptions (an expensive, Americanised country), we still wanted to visit it for its incredible wildlife and we definitely didn’t regret it!
We travelled in Costa Rica for two weeks. If you want to check our 2-week itinerary, click here!
Enjoy the local experience to travel on a budget in Costa Rica
First of all, it’s good to remind that the cost of living for locals in Costa Rica is not so expensive. So it goes without saying but to live like a local is the best tips for traveling on a small budget. But this advice goes for all your travels. Trust me, you’ll save money and experience culture up close. This is something you won’t experience from a fancy hotel or all inclusive resorts.
Where to eat when you’re on a small budget in Costa Rica ?
The first idea that comes to mind is to avoid to eat in restaurants as much as possible. Most of the restaurants are sharing their prices in dollars and will be super expensive. So yes indeed, doing the groceries and cooking at your place is one of the most effective way to save money. When booking our accomodations, we always paid attention to have access to a kitchen and to be close to a supermarket.
If traveling on a small budget in Costa Rica means avoiding touristy restaurant, you can however go where the locals eat. Ask to the reception of your hostels for instance to have recommandations. There are many advantages as you will pay in the local currency, at a fair price, and most of all, you will be sure to taste the local specialties.
Accomodation : a key factor for small budget in Costa Rica
You can easily find cheap options if you search for hostels or Airbnb apartments. As we were two, renting a room in a shared apartment is most of the time cheaper than two beds in an hostel. So that’s what we did, looking on Airbnb or Booking.com.
In any case, we were always able to find affordable places in the different places we visited.
Budget-friendly transport in Costa Rica
Regarding transport, it is surprisingly the country that has cost us the least. There is a good public transport network that will help you to cross the country and reach the must-see places in Costa Rica. This is the cheapest option you can find.
The buses are frequent, mostly comfortable and fairly fast. The only drawback is that you always have to pass through San Jose to get to your next destination. So we often made a one-night stop in the capital, unwillingly, because it wasn’t very pleasant.
Here are the prices of the buses we took (price of May 2023) :
- San José – Quepos / Manuel Antonio: 4700 CRC (=about 8 euros in may 2023)
- San José – Monteverde : 3650 CRC (= about 6,40 euros in may 2023)
- San José – Cahuita : 6315 CRC (= about 11 euros in may 2023)
Traveling with public transport will definitely allows you to reduce costs and to travel on a small budget in Costa Rica. Renting a car is very expensive in the country.
Avoid Americanised places / areas
Costa Rica is well-known for being Americanised. Because of that, some areas can be more expensive than others.
For instance, if you want to visit Manuel Antonio on a small budget, you better look for an accomodation in Quepos, which is the closest town than Manuel Antonio itself. The accomodations and restaurants there are super expensive. You can find cheapest alternatives in Quepos. From Quepos, you have frequent buses going to Manuel Antonio, starting early in the morning which allow you to arrive at the opening of the park.
National Park : the big expense of the travel in Costa Rica
The entrance ticket of National Parks in Costa Rica are quite expensive. So it’s hard to save money on this one. The only thing you can do is to find cheapest alternative. For instance in Monteverde, there are several parks to visit. The “Monteverde Cloud Forest” is the most famous but also the most expensive one. There are cheapest alternatives and it can be a good option to avoid tourists. For instance, the Santa Elena reserve. We loved it and could observe many animals there.
In any case, we were prepared for this to be a big expense of our trip. But these parks are also the reason why we went to Costa Rica so we could not miss this.
Avoid tour operators and organize your trip yourself
Tour operators are super expensive in Costa Rica. I always avoid tour operators when possible. In Costa Rica, we were able to do everything by ourselves, using public transport. Of course, it demands more organisation, research and so on, but it’s a good way to save money! Plus, I think it’s nicer doing it by your own instead of being guided and supervised in terms of time.
Is it useful to plan in advance ?
It not necessarely useful to book everything in advance to travel on a small budget in Costa Rica. We only booked the accomodation two weeks earlier. The sooner you book the more you’ll have options.
Plus, not planning to much in advance allowed us being more flexible, so we could change our plans whenever we liked.
A sum up of our expenses
This budget match our two-week itinerary in Costa Rica. You can find all information about our itinerary here.
I hope you appreciated these tips for traveling on a small budget in Costa Rica. We had a great experience and were astonished by this wonderful wildlife and landscapes. So it’s definitely possible to enjoy Costa Rica on a budget. For more tips, follow me on Instagram !
Are you planning a trip to Central America ? Check our post about Guatemala!