Many people believe that Costa Rica is a developing country and therefore a budget travel destination. While cheap dorm beds and public buses are very economical for backpackers, the average traveler spends a bit more for convenience, amenities, and comfort.
Use the average 2016/2017 costs listed below to get an idea of what you’ll spend on tours, activities, transportation and lodging then check our food & drink guide and tips on getting the best airfare to Costa Rica to estimate your total expenditures.
Tour & Activity Prices
You generally get what you pay for. A $45 canopy zip-line might include 8 platforms and cables while a $85 canopy tour will have twice as many and/or twice as long with a waterfall rappel and tarzan swing thrown in along the way.
- Canopy zip-lines range from $45-$90 per person
- Canyoneering canyoning and waterfall rappels run around $80 per person
- Guided Walk/Hike from $20 to $75 per person (depends a lot on group size)
- Fishing boats run anywhere from $125 half $175 full for a panga (outboard) to $800 to $3,000 for deep sea sailfishing for 3-5
- Hanging Bridges from $15 to $60 depending on guide, transportation and lunch
- Hot Springs & Spas from $45 up to $200 or more per person with dinner and spa services
- Hummingbird/Butterfly/Frog Nature Gardens entrance fees from $5-$55 per person
- Mountain Biking with bike rental and a guide in a group $45-$85 per person
- National Park Trails entrance fees range from $10-$18 per person per day (children 10 and under are usually free)
- Private Reserves entrance fees range from $10-$35 per person per day
- Snorkeling from a Boat is around $45-$70 per person. Gear rental is around $10-$20 per day but sometimes included at lodges where you can snorkel from the beach
- White-Water Rafting ranges from $50-$95 per person with overnight trips starting at around $320
Transportation Costs Around Costa Rica
Transportation costs vary a great deal depending on the number of people in your party but you should be able to get a good idea of the transportation budget for your group from these numbers.
Rental Car or SUV
A tiny (two people with gear) rental SUV will cost about $55 per day, a more comfortable 4WD (three, maybe four people) around $75 per day, and a full size SUV (five to six people) around $110. Browsing the internet you’ll see some lower prices but they will add mandatory insurance and other charges until the price is at least this much in high season and maybe a bit lower in the off season. If you’re staying on pavement you might get away with a small car for around $30 a day.
Prices can go up a lot when inventory gets low and we’ve seen full size SUVs over $400 a day around Christmas and Easter. If you’re traveling late December, early January or Semana Santa book at least 8-10 months in advance because they do run out of vehicles.
Gas is roughly $5 a gallon (usually just under double the U.S. price), toll roads cost $0.50 to $5, and secure parking about $15 a day.
Shared Tourist Transfers
Small shuttle vans with door to door service travel between the major tourist destinations every day. They generally hold 6-10 passengers and may make one or two stops to pick up other people before driving to the destination and dropping each passenger at their hotel. Prices run between $30 and $75 per person per transfer.
Small shuttle vans are available for private door to door service and cost between $160 and $350 per transfer regardless of the number of passengers. Most carry 6-8 passengers with luggage.
Public buses are by far the cheapest way to get around at $2-$12 from San José to anywhere in the country.
Costa Rica used to be a bargain destination and although costs have risen considerably over the last decade maybe it still is.
When you consider a Holiday Inn Express off the New Jersey turnpike at $169 a night paying a bit more for a Junior suite at Arenal Springs Eco Resort with a terrace looking over the gardens next to the natural hot-springs below the imposing view of the volcanic cone is an amazing bargain by comparison.
You can move up the luxury scale to lodging priced over $500 a night if you’d like, but there are clean comfortable stylish options with the amenities you’re looking for under $200 a night all over Costa Rica.
One of the most delightful aspects of the hotels and lodges in Costa Rica is their unique character. Most are independent and many are family owned. You can enjoy traditional handcrafted lodges or chic one of a kind designs with original artwork for about the same price as a cookie cutter chain elsewhere.
- Backpacker’s Dormitories are a great option if you’re traveling solo. A bed for the night will run anywhere from $12-$20. If there are two of you then an economical cabina or double room in a budget hotel can often be found for around double the solo price and you’ll have much more privacy and security.
- Cabinas & Economical Hotels start at around $35 a night double and creep up towards $80 as you add amenities like a ceiling fan or a real mattress instead of a foam pad. Location also comes into play and the closer you are to the beach or cloud forest entrance the more you’ll pay.
- Standard Hotels & Lodges add features like swimming pools, air-conditioning and televisions for prices ranging from $55 to around $150 a night double occupancy.
- Ecological-Lodges, Tent Camps & Rustic Resorts probably don’t have a swimming pool or air-conditioning but here the price depends more on the setting than the amenities. The prices vary widely from around $60 double to several hundred dollars. It may seem expensive until you consider that food may be included in isolated locations and most have trails, hanging bridges, kayaks, snorkeling gear or other activities available to their guests. Even sleeping in a tent might run you $260 per person per night.
- Boutique Lodges, B&Bs & Resorts start around $160 a night and most are in the mid $200s for a double room. Smaller, unique and often family owned this class of lodging is a real highlight of traveling in Costa Rica. Each has been designed and built to take the best advantage of a special location or setting and many have owner operators who really know how to make sure the guests are treated right.
- Luxury Hotels & International Chain Resorts fill out the top end of the price range with double rooms starting at around $200 and climbing to $800 or more for suites and the best views. All-inclusive options range from $170-$450 per person per night again depending on room style and desirability. There are a few super budget all-inclusive resorts in Costa Rica for under $100 per person but unless you really plan to lay by the pool and guzzle draft Imperial beer until you pass out they aren’t really much of a bargain.
Costa Rica has a lodging tax of 13% so make sure the prices you’re looking at include that. Online booking sites like TripAdvisor, Travelocity and Expedia add convenience fees of 8%-25% to their posted prices. Credit card acceptance fees of 5-8% and international use fees of 2-3% can also add to the bottom line if you don’t pay cash.
Double Up or Try Some Family Togetherness to Save Money
Single supplements may double lodging costs if you’re traveling on your own. A good agent can arrange for shared transportation so you don’t have to foot the whole bill for a rental car and tours typically include pick-up and drop-off at your lodge at no extra charge.
If you’re traveling with more than two people triple or quadruple occupancy can reduce your cost. Many accommodations in Costa Rica also have family rooms which generally give you more space and sometimes a bed or two segregated from the others. You’ll have to share a bathroom, but at least you won’t be tripping over each other as often and you can keep an eye on young kids.
Other Costa Rica Travel Costs and Estimates
You can also take a look at the total budget by travel category where we’ve estimated the all in per person cost of seven to ten day trips for categories ranging from rock bottom backpackers through economical and superior all the way up to luxury.