This section includes
categories describing what you can expect to find traveling in Costa Rica
in each of the following budget ranges,
budget travel: less than US$15 per person per day
cost: travel US$20 to US$35 per person per day
cost: travel US$35 to US$55 per person per day
more than US$65 per person per day
generally at least US$200 per person per day plus airfare
as well as tips on
how to carry your money
much money do you want to spend while you are in Costa Rica?
Budget travel in Costa
Rica is less expensive than the United States, Canada or Europe but it
is not as inexpensive as you might think for a Central American country.
There are a couple of ways to determine how much money you will spend
while visiting Costa Rica
- Look in your bank
account and see how much money is there, subtract US$400 - US$600 per
person for round-trip airfare and then divide by the number of days
of vacation you have accumulated. In other words, spend it all.
- Look over the descriptions
below of what to expect at each of the spending levels, decide which
category will make you most comfortable, multiply by the number of days
of vacation you have and add US$400 - US$600 per person for airfare
to get a total cost.
When looking at the
descriptions below of what you might expect if you are traveling within
a certain budget range, you can get more information on the transportation,
food, lodging and activity options by looking in those categories at the
top of this site.
budget travel: less than US$15 per person per day
This budget category
is available in Costa Rica but you will find it very difficult to push
down towards the US$5 per person per day that is possible in parts of
Asia, Africa and other parts of Central and South America.
will almost certainly have to have a travel partner to share lodging
costs. The cheapest places to stay range from US$10 - US$3 per person
per night depending on whether you are near a popular beach or National
Park or in a small agricultural village in the middle of nowhere.
Even at the very bottom of the lodging price range it is common to
find very clean, safe, and even charming habitaciones. Camping
is another option, especially if your Spanish is good enough to talk
to the locals about setting up your tent in their pasture. There is
no reason to consider making reservations for lodging in this price
range and you should almost never have trouble finding a room.
The local bus (all the way across the country is about seven hours
and US$7), a bicycle (you won't be able to afford to rent one, but
consider buying one and selling it before you leave), your thumb (hitchhiking
is relatively easy in Costa Rica as long as you look fairly clean
cut) and your feet (it is a pretty small country) are your transportation
- Food: Food
is sort of a good news bad news situation for super budget travelers.
The bad news is that shopping in grocery stores and preparing your
own meals won't save you much money. The prices are similar to North
America or Europe. The good news is that excellent meals are available
for under $3 all over in small family run restaurants called sodas.
Activities will mostly involve walking around, talking to people and
seeing what you can find. If you have never tried it before, offer
to help pick coffee, work on a fishing boat, round up cattle, or anything
else you see people working on where you might be useful. It will
certainly be an adventure, and I would be very surprised if you don't
learn something new, make a few friends and enjoy yourself immensely.
low cost travel: US$20 to US$35 per person per day
This is the budget
category where my wife and I are most comfortable traveling. You can do
anything you want, yet you are in contact with the local people and often
end up having unexpected adventures.
It may difficult to
travel in this price range if you have less than two weeks to explore
Costa Rica because it tends to cost more to travel fast. The strategy
described below still applies, just add an extra US$10 or US$20 a day
per person to increase your flexibility
good general strategy for this price range is to shoot for an equal mixture
of cheap days, average days and expensive days. For example, if your budget
is US$30 each a day for two people, then you have US$180 to spend each
three days. Instead of trying to spend exactly US$60 each day spend one
day in the super budget category, one day in the low cost category and
a day in the moderate or expensive category. Your super budget day might
be spent hiking to a waterfall in the rainforest or walking along the
beach and swimming, find a nice clean hotel that is 100 yards off the
beach, instead of right on it and you can probably get by on around US$25.
The next day, you could move to a hotel with a swimming pool and go to
the orchid gardens, on a coffee farm tour or rent some bicycles, spending
around US$50. On the third day, you can splurge and take a white water
rafting trip, hire a guide to go into the canals at tortugero, or ride
horses up a volcano. The last day costs US$105 and your three day total
It's much easier to stay within this budget range if you have a travel
companion to share lodging costs. low cost places to stay range from
US$30 - US$15 per person per night. You should expect a very clean,
safe room and you will often be able stay in prime locations on the
beach or within walking distance of a National Park, volcano or other
attraction. You might want to consider making reservations for a few
nights lodging in this price range if there is a particular place
you really want to stay, but you should almost never have trouble
finding a room.
The local bus (all the way across the country is about seven hours
and US$7) will probably be your main form of transportation. There
will be room in the budget for an occasional minibus (faster, more
comfortable, more convenient, and more likely to have an English speaking
driver), taxi, and even domestic airplane ride. If you are considering
using a rental car for more than one or two days, you will almost
certainly have to move up to the next budget
- Food: Most
of your breakfasts and lunches will be in small family run restaurants
called sodas, but there is room in the budget for a couple of beers
or a glass of wine with a nice dinner at a beachfront restaurant every
once in a while.
Most of what you do will involve walking. The only real way to see
the rainforests, cloud forests and tropical dry forests is to get
out and walk in them a lot. However, there is room in the budget for
guides, horseback rides, boat trips, tours of coffee farms, and entrance
fees to botanical gardens and private reserves. If you have never
tried it before, take a suggestion from the super budget category
and offer to help pick coffee, work on a fishing boat, round up cattle,
or anything else you see people working on where you might be useful.
It will certainly be an adventure, and I would be very surprised if
you don't learn something new, make a few friends and enjoy yourself
moderate cost travel: US$35 to US$65 per person per day
If you have less than
about three weeks to travel, then this may be the best category to to
try to shoot for.
Travel on a moderate
budget is is very similar to travel on a low budget and I would recommend
the same strategy of having cheap, average and
high budget days. When you move into this budget category, you can either
leave out some of the cheap days or add a few extra expensive days.
There are a few things
you can consider doing in this price range that wouldn't be possible on
a low budget
It is much easier to travel solo in this budget category than in the
lower price ranges. Hotels are the biggest cost for solo travelers
because the cost for a single room is generally about the same as
a double, and a triple or quad is usually not much more. A couple
traveling in this price range will probably spend around US$40 to
US$90 a night for lodging. In this price range it will be necessary
to make reservations during the high season and recommended to make
reservations during the green season.
This is probably the minimum budget range if you want to use rental
cars for more than a day or two.
Some of the activities that are probably only possible in this or
a higher budget category are, scuba diving, deep sea or game
helicopter sightseeing and golf.
Expensive: more than US$65 per person per day
This category has
been included separate from the tour/luxury category because you can plan
your own tour that exactly parallels one from a tour company, but do it
for 25 to 50% less than you would pay for a tour. Travel on US$65 to about
US$120 per person per day, you can pretty much pull out all the stops.
The main difference between the cost in this category and taking a tour
is the markup that the tour company adds. That's not to suggest that there
is no value derived from that markup. There are advatages
to taking a tour.
If you are interested
in traveling in this price range, but want to make your own arrangements
then a good starting point is to look at some tour
company web sites or go to your travel agent and get some brochures.
Pick the best of each tour and then copy shamelessly. Get on the net,
or on the phone and start making reservations. Reservations are absolutely
essential at all times for travel in this price range.
Tour/luxury travel: at least US$200 per person per day
Luxury travel in Costa
Rica costs almost exactly the same amount as luxury travel anywhere else.
Although your Tico golf caddy or busboy might be making less than one
fourth the US minimum wage, the resorts are owned by American, Canadian,
or European corporations who's executives and stockholders wouldn't accept
Costa Rican wages or returns on their investments.
There is currently
a lively debate in Costa Rica about the pros and cons of international
Your travel agent
or tour company web sites can give you a description
of what to expect when traveling in this budget category. If you would
like to save some money while traveling in this price range you should
consider a trip during the green season.
to carry and spend your money in Costa Rica
If you end up with
a budget of US$3000 for three weeks for two people it is worth your while
to consider how you will carry, exchange and spend that money. If you
can save 4% on exchange commissions and check cashing charges, you will
have US$120 left over at the end of your trip. It obviously won't make
or break you, but it would buy a pretty nice dinner or wild night out.
There are three basic choices.
- Cash: The
Costa Rican currency is the colone. Today's exchange rate is available
here. For anyone
traveling on under US$35 per person per day, cash is the way you will
probably pay for most things. You should have a plan for keeping some
on hand, while keeping most of it safe in a bank or as travelers checks
(see below). Because of inflation, there is a black market (exchange
outside the official banking system) for US dollars. You can get a
of percent better exchange from money changers at the airport and on
street corners in the larger cities, but we STRONGLY RECOMMEND
AGAINST IT (It is illegal, but the main problem is that it is
likely that you will get scammed or ripped off.
It's not worth the extra couple of bucks). Everyone should carry at
little cash, even
have an all inclusive tour package.
- Credit cards:
Even for super budget travelers, credit cards are a relatively good
choice for travel funds in Costa Rica. Although most small cabinas,
hotels or restaurants won't accept credit cards, VISA cards in particular
are a good way to get cash at a bank or automatic teller. It turns out
that cash from your credit card can be a better deal than travelers
- The exchange
rate that you get when using a credit card is better than cash or
travelers checks because the credit card companies exchange millions
of dollars at once and get preferential rates.
- There is no
commission on credit card exchanges
- minibanks or
ATMs can give you cash from your credit card (especially visa cards)
but can't be used to convert foreign currency or cash travelers
checks. You may be surprised at some of the amazingly out of the
way places that now have ATMs.
Of course the
above economic advantages can be more than offset by the charges that
your credit card company imposes on cash advances. The best technique
we have found is to choose a credit card that has no balance, and
make a prepayment (just send them a check) for the amount of
money you plan to spend in Costa Rica. This way you avoid the interest
payment and some of the fees and it may be more convenient and cheaper
than buying travelers checks.
- Travelers checks:
Travelers checks can be used almost anywhere in Costa Rica (as long
as you have small enough denominations... very few small places will
have change for a US$50, let alone a US$100). If you are on a tight
budget you should be aware that travelers checks can be an expensive
way to spend your money.
- travelers checks
usually cost 1% to buy
- the exchange
rate for travelers checks at banks is usually about the same as
for cash, but if you exchange them at hotels or shops the rate can
be considerably worse for travelers checks.