The Ultimate Budget Travel Guide for Costa Rica

corcovado-bolita-jungle
The awesome, prehestoric looking jungle walking from Bolita Rainforest Hostel.

Is low cost travel in Costa Rica possible? We heard many rumors about Costa Rica being very expensive and this was our biggest question heading there. You can see everything from wild jungles to active volcanoes in what National Geographic describe as ‘the most biologically intense place on the planet’ while exploring this amazing country. We traveled around Costa Rica for a month, it is quite expensive for a country in Central America, still managing to travel on less than $20 a day each. It is possible and still have a great time, we explored forests, jungles beaches and national parks including Manuel Antonio and Corcovado.

The Cost of Traveling in Costa rica

Our Travel Budget was $512 (270 479 CRC) for 26 days, thus $19.69 (10 400 CRC) per day, including accommodation, food, transport and activities.

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 backpacker’s budget and we still had an amazing time doing it!

  • $20 per day – Stay in hostels dormitories if available, cook all your own meals, public transport, avoid alcohol and tours
  • $30 per day- Eat cheap local sodas and cook for yourself, drink the odd beer
  • $50 per day – Stay in private rooms, take some taxis, eat in local restaurants, do organised activities and tours

Our Budget

  • 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
beach meeting jungle Montezuma
It is amazing where beach and jungles come together in Montezuma.

Passports, visas and other entry requirements for Costa Rica

  • Citizens of US, South Africa and most European countries do not need a visa to enter Costa Rica.
  • 90 days visa on arrival
  • Require a current valid passport and a return ticket to exit Costa Rica. (Either to return to your country or to go to another country).
  • 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 acceptable. 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.
Ficus-tree-Monteverde
Alya inside a huge Ficus tree near Monteverde, exploring the forest and climbing these incredible trees is free.

Food in Costa Rica

I think many people that have a budget shock in Costa Rica spend a lot of money on food, restaurants are expensive.

  • $15 to $20 for a meal in a restaurant, a pizza was about $15.
  • $5 for typical meal called casado (rice, beans, plantain and cabbage) at ‘Sodas’ the local restaurants
  • $2 per meal cooking ourselves

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.

Typical meals and cost cooking for ourselves

  • 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)

Accommodation in Costa Rica

There is plenty of accommodation starting at about the prices listed here. Book your accommodation by searching from our links, we get a couple of cents, no extra cost to you, so please support us by booking here! Never underestimate airbnb, if you do not really want to mingle with the hosts just check where you book an ‘entire apartment’. Book a fancy place! Use our voucher in the sidebar and get $44 discount when you book a place of over $85!

  • Airbnb $25
  • Dormitory $8
  • Double Room Hostel $20
  • Mid Range Hotel $50
  • Guesthouse $40

Places to travel in Costa Rica

Monteverde

We entered Costa Rica through the Penas Blancas border post and Monte Verde was our first stop.

  • National Georgraphic voted Monteverde as one of the ‘7 Wonders of Costa Rica‘.
  • Famous for its acclaimed cloud forests
  •  The best place to see the rare bird the quetzal

Things to do around 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.

monteverde-forest
Exploring the cloud forest around Monteverde.

The Ficus Trees

What are these strange trees? The forests around Monteverde is well known for the enormous Ficus trees that you can climb very high inside the 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!

climbing-ficus-tree-monteverde
Alya climbing high inside a Ficus tree close to. Monteverde.

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.

Night walks

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.

Accommodation in Monteverde

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, but had bed bugs.

We enjoyed staying in

Mi Cas Tica hostel a bargain at $8 for a dorm and $20 for a double – including breakfast and coffee

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.

Savegre In, a private double for $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). Public transport is cheap so not worth hitchhiking.

Montezuma

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.

montezuma crab
There are thousands of these land crabs running all over the jungle in Montezuma

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.

Turtles

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.

Surfing

We saw board rentals and lessons in shops around town.

  • surf lessons $40
  • surfboard rentals $20

Surf spots

  • Playa Grande small waves that close out quickly, there are many surf instructors pushing their students in the white water.
  • Playa Cedros Swell was small, some awesome little clean waves about 3km walk from town.
montezuma hammock
Alya chilling outside Lucy’s Hotel in Montezuma, we loved drinking the coconuts we picked up!

Accommodation in Montezuma

We stayed at Lucy’s Hotel in a private double room for about $20 per night. We had such a great time that we ended up staying here for a week. It is a nice place for budget backpackers. 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 from Monteverde to Montezuma

Bus Monteverde to Puntarenas $3, Ferry Puntarenas to Paquera $1.50, Bus Paquera to Motezuma $3

Jaco

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.

Crocodile Bridge

From the bridge you can see many big crocodiles basking on the sand bank below, they are close enough to take photos. 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.

Crocodile Bridge outside Jaco.
Taken from the Crocodile Bridge outside Jaco.

Manuel Antonio National Park

  • Entrance Fee $16
  • Bus ticket from Jaco to Manuel Antonio town was $2.50.
  • 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.

Accommodation in Jaco

Jaco is an expensive town, there were no cheap accommodation available. Riva Jaco, a nice, new, small hostel close to the beach. We paid about $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 $4, ferry from Paquera to Puntarenas $2, bus Punarenas to Jaco $2.50.

Dominical

The town is known for surfing and chilling out. We stayed in Cool Vibes Hostel for $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 $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
  • Cost $15 entrance and $75 per person for your guide, $65 per person if your group is bigger than five.

Poison arrow frog that lived in our shower at Bolita Eco Hostel.

Red Eye Tree Frog at Bolita Rainforest Lodge

How to go to Corcovado National Park on a Budget

  • Bolita Rainforest Hostel borders Corcovado National park, there is no fences seperating Bolita and Corcovado. Staying here doing the selfguided hikes is similar to the park, you can even wander into the park and no guide is needed.
  • We stayed in Bolita Eco Hostel  at $12 for a dorm bed or per person sharing a doubleroom
  • Getting to the hostel is quite a hike, but so worth it!
  • Book Bolita here through AirBnB and get our $44 discount coupon!

view bolita

View from our bed, awesome way to wake up every morning! Costa Rica travel budget

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.

Final Thoughts

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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