Two decades ago, Costa Rica was considered an eco-nightmare, going through massive development, without much concern for its lush rainforests, nor for the multitude of wildlife that found refuge within. At the time, Costa Rica was a backpacker’s paradise. Most of the tourists were comprised of environmentalists, PhD students of botany and zoology, and surfers, who always had a soft spot for the point breaks at the “rich coast”. As luck would have it by the beginning of the new millennium, the entire country realized what had drawn the backpackers, all those years, and gained newfound respect for its most precious resource – the rainforest.
During that time, Costa Rica’s government initiated the most extensive reforestation effort on the entire continent, and started marketing themselves as an “eco-friendly” destination. This, of course, opened the country to a surge of tourists. This year, Costa Rica is expected to host almost 2 million visitors at its luxury resorts, opulent coastal hotels, and 400$-a-night rainforest eco-lodges.
Still, the country will always have a warm place in its heart for backpackers and globetrotters looking to experience the beauty and color of the rainforest, and there remain ways to travel to Costa Rica on a small budget.
Cheap Travel to Costa Rica
With tourism on the rise, Costa Rica is now home to three international airports. Apart from the old capital airport in San Jose, the airports in Liberia and Limon are both equipped to accommodate international flights. The increase in tourism also means there are more airline companies to choose from. Explore all the options. If you have a date in mind, book your flight in advance. According to a study, booking 54 days ahead of your trip is the best time to score the best price, but you can also find great last-minute deals, especially during the off season.
The splurge of high-end hotels and luxury resorts Costa Rica’s visitors are now accustomed to, doesn’t mean there are no cheap accommodations to choose from. Houses for rent are the ultimate money saver in heavily-populated areas, like San Jose and Cartago, especially for longer visits. As for the Pacific Coast, stay away from tourist traps in Tamarindo, Papagayo and Playa Flamingo, and instead choose lesser known towns like Samara and Jicaral.
Budget Transport in Costa Rica
Although Costa Rica is among the most developed countries in Central America, its network of roads doesn’t account for that. Although major tourist destinations, like Monteverde Cloud Forest or Arenal volcano, are well-connected to nearby towns, via dirt roads, the dense rainforest has made it impossible to lay asphalt. Still, the public transport service is more than able to provide safe travel across the country, as a cheaper alternative to renting an all-terrain vehicle.
Eating on a Budget
When it comes to food, most of the best cuisine is located in the major cities, where high-end dining is just starting to bloom. Still, food is generally cheap, while the cheapest meals are located at street vendors and hidden dinners in San Jose, Liberia and Limon. There, you can try amazing national dishes, like Casado, Sopa de Mariscos or Gallo Pinto, for under 5$, while the markets provide an array of fresh and cheap fruit and veg native to the region.
Finding Cheap Entrance Fees
From the Monteverde Cloud Forest, Arenal and Poás Volcanoes, Tortuguero and Santa Rosa National Parks, Papagayo Gulf or Playa Tamarindo beaches, or Reventazón and Pacuare rivers, there is a plethora of natural wealth to explore in Costa Rica. Even though you might be inclined to spend up to 90$ on a canopy, zip-line, or rafting tour, the cheapest option remains camping. For as little as 5$ a night (without tents and equipment), you can camp at often gorgeous locations, while entrance fees for the sights are sometimes even included into the price.
All in all, despite the major influx of tourists in recent years, there is still room to visit Costa Rica on a backpacker’s budget. Spending no more than 30$ a day might prove to be a bit challenging, but with some research and a money-saving attitude it is achievable. Combined with all the places you can visit with a money saved, travelling to Costa Rica on a small budget might prove to be the best jungle experience there is.Published in