Budget-Friendly Tips for Traveling in Costa Rica

A surfer walks down the beach carrying her board with the setting sun behind her.

Photo © Christopher P. Baker.

With its diverse climate, awe-inspiring beaches, and wide array of seldom-seen wildlife, it’s no surprise that more than two million visitors headed to Costa Rica in 2010. This number is expected to rise this year, as an ever-increasing number of travel deals to this tropical destination continue to lure visitors in search of luxury on a budget.

To help travelers best experience Costa Rica’s beauty and diversity without breaking the bank, I’m happy to offer ten helpful tips for how to travel, dine, and explore Costa Rica on a budget.

1. Stay in a hostel. Costa Rica has some great budget hostels, some of which (in San José) are located in beautiful, restored Modernist mansions. There are also budget backpackers’ hostels all over the country.

2. Take a bus for long-distance travel. Almost everywhere in Costa Rica is accessible by bus, and it should never cost more than about $15 (USD) to get anywhere.

3. Eat like a local at sodas, street-side stalls selling traditional Costa Rican dishes, where travelers can get a fixed lunch (casado) for as little as $3 to $5 (USD).

4. Travel taxi smart. Establish the price of a taxi ride before getting in the cab. Waiting to get to your final destination to inquire about the fare almost ensures being charged considerably more.

5. Buy Costa Rican coffee in bulk. For example, Café Britt in Heredia will pay the shipping costs to the USA or Canada if visitors buy twenty-five bags of coffee, chocolates, nuts, or Britt cookies, and mixing and matching is encouraged.

6. Travel in “Green Season”. Green Season is the Costa Rican Tourist Board’s preferred term for low season (May-Oct), when prices are reduced at hotels and even car rental agencies.

7. If based in San José for any length of time, rent an aparthotel—a self-catering unit that charges cents on the dollar compared to a normal hotel. By the beach, rent a villa—if traveling with family or a group of friends, visitors will enjoy significant savings over a hotel room.

8. When hungry, look for a Spoon. This restaurant chain specializes in serving delicious sandwiches, set meals, and desserts, all at bargain prices.

9. Buy crafts and souvenirs at the source. Not only will shoppers save money, they’ll be doing good by putting money directly into the hands of the artisans—many of whom are relatively poor (and sometimes even impoverished) indigenous people.

10. Buy produce and food from local markets. Visitors will have fun shopping like a Costa Rican, and be saving money. The Mercado Central in San José is a must-visit, but roadside produce stands can be found throughout the country.

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