Costa Rica traveling on less than $20 per day.
COSTA RICA, IN THIS ENTRY:
Costa Rica travel budget. For years I have been hearing amazing stories about Costa Rica from live volcanoes to wild jungles in one of the most biodiverse countries in the world. We explored Costa Rica for a month. The cloud forests of Monteverde, the amazing coast around Montezuma, the surf beaches of Jaco and Dominical, the wild life of Manuel Antonio national park and staying in the jungles of Corcovado. National Geographic labelled Corcovado ‘the most biologically intense place on the planet’. Our accommodation, budget, activities, transport, food, tips and some thoughts on Costa Rica.
COSTA RICA TRAVEL BUDGET:
$512 (270 479 CRC) in 26 days, thus $19.69 (10 400 CRC) per day, including accommodation, food, transport and activities. Talking to other travelers and reading travel blogs, one complaint kept sticking its head out, ‘Costa Rica is so expensive!’ The bad news is luxuries such as alcohol, tours, activities, taxis and eating in restaurants are very expensive. The good news is Costa Rica can be done on a traveler’s budget and we still had an amazing time doing it!
Transport: CRC 29 377 ($55) avg CRC 1129 ($ 2.11) per day
Food (shopping): CRC 71 850 ($135) avg CRC 2763 ($5.20) per day
Accomodation: CRC 146 886 ($276) avg CRC 5321 ($10) per day
LIKES: The fauna and flora was amazing, beautiful jungles and unusual animals, the birds and the frogs were my favourites here. The people were very friendly. Nice beaches and warm water. Costa Rica is much cleaner than Panama Guatemala.
DISLIKES: All luxuries (alcohol, taxis, and restaurants) are very expensive. From a tourist viewpoint the culture is not nearly as rich or interesting to experience as its Central American neighbours to the north.
ENTERING COSTA RICA
An exit ticket out of Costa Rica is required, even if you enter overland. The ticket has to be out of Costa Rica, a bus ticket is exceptable. We were forced to waste $25 on a bus ticket out of Costa Rica. See our ‘Book flights without paying’ article to book an exit ticket.
We entered Costa Rica through the Penas Blancas border post and Monte Verde was our first stop. Monteverde has become a major part of the Costa Rican tourist trail due to its acclaimed cloud forests, tourist numbers were boosted when National Geographic named these forests the best place to see the rare bird the quetzal and Monteverde was voted one of the “7 Wonders of Costa Rica”.
PARKS AND FREE HIKES
We only did one paid activity in Monteverde. The two famous parks to explore the cloud forests are The Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve ($17) and Reserva Santa Elena ($14). A cloud forest is a special kind of rain forest immersed in clouds with year-round relative humidity of almost 100%. Friends that went to both parks while we were there did not see much fauna, only the beautiful cloud forest and the odd monkey and one koati.
We decided since nobody seemed to see animals inside the park and the forest looked pretty similar outside the park, we were going to explore for forest where we could walk around for free. We walked to the Monteverde Park Forest entrance, there are many hummingbird feeders and there were more than twenty hummingbirds zooming around here, a spectacular sight.
Close to the park we found some trails with an animal crossing sign that enter the forest from the road, we started following this route and had a great free hike in dense forest for 2 or 3 hours. We found a massive hollow Ficus tree, that we climbed inside and afterwards saw companies in town offer climbing the same tree with some climbing gear.
THE FICUS TREES
These trees are also known as Strangler Figs the seeds are often dispersed somewhere in the canopy by birds, they are epiphytes surviving high up due to the high moisture content. An original support tree can sometimes die and decompose, leaving only the massive ficus tree with a hollow core, very nice for climbing inside!
Closer to town there are more big Ficus trees that you can walk to and climb for free, your hostel should have a map or be able to explain how to find a big tree, we just asked around for a well-known tree until we found it. The forest around here was nice for walking around in, the tree was enormous and you can climb out a bit to have an amazing view from the top.
We did another nice hike with no fee at Cerro Amigos starting near a gas station; it is a steep climb up a road for ATVs with a nice view from 1842m on a clear day. Since you hike up an open road, don’t expect many animals on the way.
Nightwalks are very popular in Monteverde. Most of the animals in the cloud forest are nocturnal and are only active at night. Tarantulas, silver fox, frogs, coatimundi, a variety of insects, and some sleeping birds are commonly seen. The tours generally go for about $23. We found a last minute space on a tour for $12. Our guide was very good. We saw many insects and some sleeping birds, including sleeping emerald tucans. Unfortunately none of the cool stuff, no mammals, spiders, snakes or frogs.
We stayed in 3 different places in Monteverde, the town is very touristy and only one or two nights were available in each.
Sleepers Sleep was a nice family run place, we got a very nice private double for CRC10680 ($20) per night including breakfast, the place seemed clean, with a good hot shower, unfortunately we were bitten by bed bugs and found a couple in our bed.
We moved to Mi Casa Tica hostel, a bargain at CRC3169 ($6) per night for a dorm bed, including breakfast. The hostel is owned by two young guys, it was very basic, but had a nice social vibe with everybody cooking, chatting and drinking coffee (or beer) at night.
The dorm was fully booked after two nights and we moved to Savegre In, a private double for CRC10680 ($20) per night including breakfast, we had an amazing view from our room, access to a kitchen and the staff were very friendly.
The hostels try very hard to sell tours to you, so when trying to find accommodation, if they ask if you are interested in activities, just say that you are interested in everything, otherwise they might say they are fully booked.
TRANSPORT PENAS BLANCAS TO MONTEVERDE we started of hitchhiking, but caught a passing bus half way through the winding mountains towards Monteverde CRC900 ($2).
This beach town is located on the pacific side of the Peninsula De Nacoya close to the well-known surf town Malpais. The water was a toasty 31C, making for awesome swimming on the beautiful beaches.
THE JUNGLE bordered on the beach and was brimming with life. Walking to go for a swim we saw thousands of purple and red land crabs running everywhere, howler monkeys sitting in the trees roaring like big gorillas, white faced capuchin monkeys running around, pelicans diving for fish and a snake crossing our path. It was at night when it felt like the whole place became alive, so many hermit crabs crawling all over the beach it was hard to walk without thinking you were committing crab genocide.
Some people staying with us in the hostel saw a turtle nesting on the beach laying eggs. We did the 10km walk through the forest and all the way down the long Playa Grande beach and back more than once, some nights in the rain, but were never lucky enough to see the nesting process. We did however see many fire flies, crabs, an anteater and other creatures. There is a nice waterfall close to town that you can walk to.
We walked to Playa Grande a couple of times, but the waves were small and closed out very quickly with surf instructors pushing their students in the white water. Unfortunately we only walked the opposite way to Playa Cedros on our last day, the swell was small but there were awesome little clean waves about 3km walk from town.
We stayed at Lucy’s Hotel in a private double room for CRC 10680 ($20) per night. We had such a great time that we ended up staying here for a week. Our room was right on the beach on the upper floor with waves breaking below our window at night, our view was amazing. Lucy’s is a little bit out of town which is fantastic and the kitchen, hammocks and other facilities were great. There were not many people, but when it started to fill up it did get a bit cramped and noisy.
TRANSPORT MONTEVERDE TO MONTEZUMA
Bus Monteverde to Puntarenas CRC1585 ($3), Ferry Puntarenas to Paquera CRC790 ($1.50), Bus Paquera to Motezuma CRC1585 ($3)
For some reason we expected a small surfing town, we were however greeted by a very touristy big town/small city with a Kuta Bali feel, just not as cool as Kuta. The beach was however really nice, a long white sand beach and running up and down the beach made for about a 10km run. There were not many people surfing when we were there, but apparently Playa Hermosa has good waves and is not a very long drive from Jaco.
from the bridge you can see many big crocodiles basking on the sand bank below, they are close enough to take good photos without a big zoom lens. We also saw many Macaws from the bridge and on the bus ride back. There are tours available from Jaco that takes you to the crocodiles by boat. The bridge is about 30 min by bus in the direction of Puntarenas CRC1050 ($2) one way and comes by about every 2 hours.
MANUEL ANTONIO NATIONAL PARK ($16)
We went to the park on a day trip from Jaco. The park was very touristy, but we still had a great time and saw many animals; howler monkeys, capuchin monkeys, sloths, a koati, raccoons, deer, iguanas, macaws and a variety of tropical birds. Many people come to the park only to visit the beach. Once past the beach the amount of people on the trails decrease exponentially. A bus ticket from Jaco to Manuel Antonio town was CRC1320 ($2.50).
Riva Jaco, a nice, new, small hostel close to the beach. CRC6340 ($12) for a dorm bed. It was a nice place, but the dorm is small and can be very cramped if it is full.
TRANSPORT FROM MONTEZUMA TO JACO
Bus from Montezuma to Paquera CRC1585 ($3), ferry from Paquera to Puntarenas CRC1050 ($2), bus Punarenas to Jaco CRC1320 ($2.50).
The town is known for surfing and chilling out. We stayed in Cool Vibes Hostel for CRC6340 ($12) for a dorm bed. It is ‘a big fancy shack with some hammocks’. There are a couple of rooms, a nice kitchen and some surfboards to rent. The place was clean with a nice atmosphere, a good kitchen and good Wi-Fi .
There is not much to do around here other than surfing or swinging in the hammocks. Transport from Jaco to Dominical by bus for CRC2640 ($5).
CORCOVADO NATIONAL PARK
This is another place made famous by National Geographic, being the last bastion for many endangered species including the largest population of Scarlet Macaws in Costa Rica; we ended our travels through Costa Rica with a highlight in Corcovado. A guide is compulsory when walking in Corcovado, making this an expensive excursion at CRC 7924 ($15) entrance and CRC 39 625 ($75) per person for your guide, CRC 34 341 ($65) per person if your group is bigger than five.
DOING IT CHEAP AND AWESOME, Stingy Nomads Style!
We stayed in Bolita Eco Hostel bordering the park CRC6340 ($12) for a dorm bed or per person sharing a doubleroom, getting here was a mission, but so worth it. The private rooms are still under construction, giving you a double bed in a room missing a wall facing an amazing view (I think the fourth wall is still being built).
We had an amazing time next to Corcovado walking many trails being surrounded by an unreal variety of plant and animal life. See our ‘Corcovado park for backpackers. Eco hostel Bolita’ article.
I think many people that have a budget shock in Costa Rica spend a lot of money on food, restaurants are expensive.
Average price of a main was $15 to $20, a pizza was about $15. Eating at the local restaurants called ‘The Sodas’, are cheaper with a casado (rice, beans, plantain and cabbage) going for about CRC 2670 ($5).
Local markets are not common and supermarkets are not cheap, but we found porridge for breakfast, baguette with cheese, pasta with cheese tomato and tuna, potato with tuna, cut fruit and different variations of these to work out the cheapest.
Here is a typical shopping list:
200g coffee CRC 732 ($1.4), 1L milk CRC 575 ($1.10), baguette CRC 550 ($1), 250g spaghetti CRC 255 ($0.5), tuna CRC 680 ($1.30), tomato puree CRC 511 ($0,95), tomato CRC 250 ($0.50) (CRC 1000 p/kg), rice CRC 1000 p/kg, chilli sauce CRC 610 ($1.15), 300g local cheese CRC 1100 ($2) x6 eggs CRC 700 ($1.35), porridge CRC 1200 ($2.30). So if you cook from this shopping bag you would spend more or less the following:
BREAKFAST: porridge 1200/4=CRC 300, fruit CRC 300, coffee 732/15=CRC 50 TOTAL: CRC 650 ($1.20)
LUNCH: Baguette 550/2=CRC 275, x2 egg CRC 285, cheese CRC 180, tomato CRC 250 TOTAL: CRC 990 ($1.90)
DINNER spaghetti 255/2=CRC127, tomato puree 511/2=CRC 255, tomato CRC 250, tuna 680/2=CRC340, cheese 1100/6=CRC 205 TOTAL: CRC 1177 ($2.20)
DAILY FOOD COST: $1.20+$1.90+$2.20= $5.30 (CRC 2795)
Costa Rica is an amazing country with rare wild life, lush jungles and beautiful jungle fringed beaches. It is a close race between Costa Rica and Panama for the most expensive country in Central America. You can travel here for cheap if you do it without luxuries. Doing it on our budget is more for long term travelers that keep accommodation, transport and food costs to a minimum and don’t do adventure activities in every country. We loved Costa Rica!!!
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