Costa Rica had been on the top of our travel list for a long time. There’s amazing beaches, jungles, wildlife, adrenaline adventures, people and food! When doing my research, I noticed that Costa Rica was quite a bit more expensive than I had anticipated. A lot of the countries in Central America are very cheap, but Costa Rica is not one of them! A lot of blogs and forums suggested to skip Costa Rica because of its steep prices, but where there’s a will, there’s a way! So, I spent hours researching and planning to make a 2 week trip financially feasible.
Our itinerary included 4 stops: Arenal (La Fortuna), Monteverde, Manuel Antonio (Quepos) and Dominical. By the way, this was an AWESOME itinerary and you can check it out in more detail here!
Below, I’ll break down our Costa Rica budget and give you some good tips to make your Costa Rican vacation a reality!
This was a tough one for us. We love to get in a car and explore all of the small towns and secret spots of a country, but renting a car in Costa Rica is VERY expensive. After the fees and required special insurance, we’re talking $50-80 per day at minimum. Our car rental estimate was $1,080. For 2 people, that’s a steep price to pay, but it’s worth shopping around and considering your transportation costs if you’re traveling with a group. I’ve also heard stories of people getting pulled over for no reason and having to pay fines and getting their belongings stolen out of their cars (happened to my parents!), so we opted to not get a car and use other forms of transportation.
There are a ton of transportation companies in Costa Rica, providing both private and shared transport services. We went to 4 locations and used a variety of transport services.
From San Jose airport to Arenal, we had to arrange private transport because of our flight times. All of the shuttles and public buses left at 1pm and 3pm, but our flight got in at 3:10. We used the shuttle service offered by our resort, the Volcano Lodge and Springs. This was our steepest transport cost at $150, but we didn’t really have any other options. In Arenal, we used our hotel shuttle to get us around the area, which was $10/person round trip to get to most locations.
From Arenal to Monteverde, we used RideCR’s taxi-boat-taxi for $25/person and included accommodation pickup and drop-off. This included a 1 hour shuttle ride to Lake Arenal, a 1 hour boat ride on Lake Arenal and another 30 minute(ish) shuttle ride into Monteverde.
From Monteverde to Manuel Antonio, we used Gray Line Costa Rica. The fare was $62/person for a four-hour ride in an A/C van with WiFi. It stopped for about 45 minutes for lunch, making the total trip about 4.5 hours.
From Manuel Antonio to Dominical, we used Gray Line again because we were happy with the services. The fare for this leg was $39.
Finally, from Dominical back to San Jose, we used the public bus. We had a shuttle arranged and it would have cost us about $90/person, but we saw at our hostel that a public bus left early in the morning and only cost $7/person, so we opted for that choice. The buses aren’t air-conditioned and can get crowded, but it was worth it in our opinion since it saved us so much money.
There are tons of other transportation companies in Costa Rica, including Desafio, Interbus, and Anywhere Costa Rica. The prices are usually the same, but they may vary slightly between each company. Do a little research, but don’t spend too much time comparing prices.
Total cost for transport: $436
If you’ve read some of our other blog posts, you know that accommodation isn’t something we are very picky about. We use our hotel/hostel rooms to sleep in and not much more than that, so we usually go for cheap and basic. The more popular locations in Costa Rica, such as Tamarindo, Manuel Antonio and Arenal are more expensive, but there’s a wide variety of options in every location.
Examples of different types of accommodation include:
Backpacker Hostels: $9-$20 per night for dorm style beds. We stayed at Cool Vibes Beach Hostel in Dominical for $14/person/night. It was steps away from the beach and had a kitchen for us to cook our food and surfboard rentals.
Guest Houses/AirBnBs: $25-45 per night. We stayed at an AirBnB in Monteverde called the Hummingbird House for $41/night.
Mid-Range Hotels: $50-100 per night. In Manuel Antonio we stayed at El Faro Beach Hotel for $74/night. This was more expensive than we would normally pay for, but it had a great view and we decided to splurge for a couple of nights. We only stayed here for 2 nights because of the cost and then spent another 2 nights at Hotel Coco Beach for $38/night.
Resorts and 4-5 star hotels: $100-400/night. Nice resorts and hotels can get very expensive in Costa Rica. We wanted to take advantage of a hot spring resort in Arenal since that is what the area is known for. We stayed at The Volcano Lodge and Springs and couldn’t recommend it enough. For $95/night, it had its own private hot springs, free breakfast and beautiful rooms. Other hot springs resorts such as Baldi and Tabacon cost $200 or more per night. The Volcano Lodge and Springs was quiet, romantic and a steal for the price!
Total cost for accommodation (13 nights): $716
Rice and beans are a staple of Costa Rica, and you’ll find them in many of their dishes. Gallo pinto is a mixture of rice and black beans and is often served for breakfast with scrambled eggs and plantains. A “casado” is a typical Costa Rican dish and includes a large portion of meat (usually chicken or pork), rice and beans, plantains, and a small salad.
Casados are served in almost any restaurant and, while they have essentially the same ingredients, the prices can be drastically different! For example, at a popular restaurant in Manuel Antonio, you would find a casado on the menu for $12. Go down the street a little into the town of Quepos and eat at a soda, which is their family run restaurants, and you can get a huge casado plate for $4. We saved a lot on food by eating at sodas, cooking our own meals at our hostel and guesthouse and making sure that our hotels had breakfast included. A meal at a restaurant will typically start at $15/person, so be careful!
Total cost for food: We didn’t really keep an exact tab on this, but an estimate is about $600.
The rest of our budget was reserved for adrenaline/adventure activities, which is the main reason why we went to Costa Rica in the first place. Our activities included: canyoning, zip lining, white water rafting, parasailing, and surfing lessons. Seriously, go check out this itinerary! Since we went so crazy on adrenaline activities, it brought our total budget to around $4,000 for 14 days, flights included. Considering everything that we did, it was still a pretty low-budget trip!
There’s other ways to save money while you’re in Costa Rica:
- Skip the guides. All of the national parks will offer paid tour guides to teach you about the animals and flora. They are good at spotting animals you may miss, but they cost between $20-30/person. We went to the Arenal Hanging Bridges and the Manuel Antonio National Park and didn’t get guides in either place. Anytime we saw a group of tourists with their cameras out, we headed over to the hype to see what the guides had found.
- Buy your alcohol Duty Free after your flight. Alcohol is EXPENSIVE. Expect to pay about $8 for a glass of wine and $6 for a beer. You are allowed to bring 5 liters of alcohol per person into the country. We laughed when we heard that! We went to the Duty Free shop in San Jose and bought a couple of bottles of wine and rum and saved a ton of money that way (we certainly didn’t need 5 liters each!) Keep in mind you have to carry all that around! All is fair in love and cheap travel 😉
- Bargain! Do NOT pay full price for souvenirs or street clothing/jewelry. I was able to talk a street vendor down from $20 for one necklace to $10 for two! We also found out that a couple who paraglided after us bargained their price, which we didn’t know you could do. Never hurts to try!
- Don’t book day tours ahead of time. The planner in you will want to book tours before you arrive in the country, but you will have no problem finding tours a day or two in advance. Often times, the tour companies will have last-minute discount rates or you’ll get a discount through your hotel.
Don’t let the cost of Costa Rica scare you away from exploring this beautiful country! We had an incredible vacation and Costa Rica became one of our favorite countries after this trip!
Pura Vida, friends! Happy traveling!