How to Travel to Costa Rica on a Small Budget

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.

volcano Costa Rica

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.

Budget Accommodations

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.

Costa Rica shuttle service

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.

Costa Rica crater lake

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 Destination, North America
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20 Comments
  1. Himanshu 4 weeks ago

    So great a post. Costa Rica looks to tempting. Would love to be there someday for sure.

    • Profile photo of Marie Nieves Author
      Marie Nieves 4 weeks ago

      Thanks Himanshu. You definitely should visit it in your Lifetime.

  2. Jennifer 4 weeks ago

    I did an exchange program with my high school in Costa Rica in 1997. It was hardly developed back then. There was one hotel on Jaco Beach. I’d kind of like to revisit as an adult, but on the other hand I think I’d be massively disappointed to see how touristy it has become. I’ve seen photos of Jaco Beach now and it’s a strip of hotels like Atlantic City. For now, I think I’ll remember the pura vida of dirt roads and virtually no one outside of San Jose.

  3. Rosemary 4 weeks ago

    This really is a beautiful place and one that I need to visit soon. We’ve been talking with friends about taking a trip together to Costa Rica and this post is perfect to send to our friends so that we can actually pin down dates!! Beautiful pictures!! Thanks for sharing the budget conscious options!

    • Profile photo of Marie Nieves Author
      Marie Nieves 4 weeks ago

      Thank you so much for your comment Rosemary! I’m so glad that you like it.

  4. Vicky and Buddy 4 weeks ago

    Costa Rica is such a beautiful country with really friendly people. I traveled there earlier this year, but as part of a package so I didn’t have to worry too much about researching costs. I have heard that it is getting more expensive though. But like you said, with research and the right attitude, budget travel is usually possible.

    • Profile photo of Marie Nieves Author
      Marie Nieves 3 weeks ago

      Thank you for your comment. With some help from Internet Friend and a proper research, everything is possible. 🙂

  5. Indrani 4 weeks ago

    It is great that such a budget stay is possible there. I need to look out for some deals in flights so that getting there is possible on a budget.
    Love Cost Rica more for its wild colorful look.

    • Profile photo of Marie Nieves Author
      Marie Nieves 4 weeks ago

      Thanks Indrani. It certainly is a Must See Once in Life place. 🙂

  6. Jenna 3 weeks ago

    Thanks for the great tips! I’ve always considered Costa Rica a more expensive destination, so it’s nice to be reminded it can be done on a budget as well. There are so many spots I want to see and explore on the island, and now I’m really thinking we need to plan a trip there! Renting a house would be a fun option especially since it can be cheaper than a hotel!

    • Profile photo of Marie Nieves Author
      Marie Nieves 3 weeks ago

      You are welcome, Jenna. I do like sharing my experiences with others.

  7. Veronika Tomanova 3 weeks ago

    Wow, you tips will save me some serious $$$. I never considered Costa Rica really a budget destination, but I think with your hints it is easy to visit even on low budget. I mean, camping for 5$ – it can’t get any cheaper than that!

    • Profile photo of Marie Nieves Author
      Marie Nieves 3 weeks ago

      No, you can’t Veronika. 🙂 There’s always another option for everything.

  8. Trisha Velarmino 3 weeks ago

    great insight about Costa Rica! You can not go wrong with this place. It has a lot to offer and the nature is so gorgeous! Cheers xx

    • Profile photo of Marie Nieves Author
      Marie Nieves 3 weeks ago

      Thanks Trisha, I’m so glad that you like it. Cheers!

  9. Elaine J Masters 3 weeks ago

    So glad to hear that Costa Rica stepped up and started preserving their natural treasures well before it became trendy. Glad to hear also that it’s still possible to travel on a meager budget – one of the big pluses I’ve heard of. I long to venture into the jungles for wildlife and canopy tours.

    • Profile photo of Marie Nieves Author
      Marie Nieves 3 weeks ago

      Thank you for lefting a comment Elaine. I appreciate it.

  10. Megan 3 weeks ago

    A great post laying out the costs of traveling in Costa Rica. I travel above what most would call “budget” travel but that doesn’t me I don’t love tips for how to save.

    • Profile photo of Marie Nieves Author
      Marie Nieves 2 weeks ago

      Thanks Megan. I think it’s good to know where and how you can save on a specific destination.

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