How mucH does it cost to travel in Costa Rica

 

This section includes categories describing what you can expect to find traveling in Costa Rica in each of the following budget ranges,

  • super budget travel: less than US$15 per person per day
  • low cost: travel US$20 to US$35 per person per day
  • moderate cost: travel US$35 to US$55 per person per day
  • Expensive: more than US$65 per person per day
  • Tours/Luxury: generally at least US$200 per person per day plus airfare

as well as tips on how to carry your money

How 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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

 

  • super 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.

    • Lodging:You 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.
    • Transportation: 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 options.
    • 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: 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

A 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 is US$180.

    • Lodging: 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.
    • Transportation: 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 category
    • 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.
    • Activities: 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 immensely.

     

     

  • 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

    • Lodging: 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.
    • Transportation: This is probably the minimum budget range if you want to use rental cars for more than a day or two.
    • Activities: Some of the activities that are probably only possible in this or a higher budget category are, scuba diving, deep sea or game fishing, 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 resort development.

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.


 

How 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 couple 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 least a little cash, even if you 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 checks.
    • 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.

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