Camping in Costa Rica is a great way to get to out of the way places, and experience the fascinating night and very early morning hours in the tropical forests.
Camping is not necessarily a great way to travel around tourist destinations Costa Rica.
Twenty years ago, camping was permitted or at least tolerated on most of Costa Rica’s beaches. It was also relatively easy to find a spot far enough off the beaten path that you didn’t have to worry much about someone happening by and cleaning out your tent while you were out for a swim.
Now, camping is prohibited or at least strongly discouraged on developed and many protected (national parks and wildlife refuges) beaches. If you do find a place to camp and leave stuff in your tent it will probably be missing when you return.
In a few semi-developed beach areas (Nosara, Puerto Viejo, Uvita) where real estate prices haven’t gotten too high there are commercial campsites for backpackers and super budget travelers. Most provide tents and storage facilities for your valuables while you’re out hiking or surfing.
Camping Can Be More Expensive
Sometimes people choose to camp for economic reasons; thinking it’s cheaper than a motel. At times this may be true, but private campgrounds are in the $10 per person or $15 per site range.
At national parks you’ll pay even more with entry fees ranging from $10 to $18 per person and camping around $15 per person. For a couple that could be as much as $102 for one night (two days entry fees plus the camping fee) but probably averages $50-60 since many only charge one entry fee.
You can typically get a cheap a dorm bed or a clean simple cabina under $40 double. Even if you visit the national park one day and pay the additional $36 entry fee that’s only $76 total for two people.
If you can squeeze the extra few bucks out of your budget it’s nice to have lights, screens, hammocks on the lawn, not having to try to dry your tent out before packing it to prevent mold, bathrooms you don’t have to put your shoes on to get to…
Private camps are usually pretty social places because everyone is sharing the same space and they often have volleyball nets or a little cancha de futbal. You can usually rent or borrow snorkeling gear, boogie boards and other location appropriate equipment.
Where Camping Works
I’m definitely not saying “don’t camp,” although after trying it some do.
Bring your gear so you can visit places most other people don’t, and you’ll have some of the greatest experiences of your life.
Be ready for wet, muddy and buggy but if you enjoy backpacking there are some excellent treks in Costa Rica. Corcovado and Chirripó are the two most popular. For the truly adventurous the ten day trail across the Talamancas from the Caribbean coast to the Pacific was one of my favorite adventures ever.
A few of the national parks have campgrounds and especially in the dry season in Guanacaste it can be a great way to spend some time inside the park after everyone else has headed back to the resorts. Rincón de la Vieja Santa Maria Station has a particularly nice camping area and Santa Rosa has several.
Obviously you have to adjust this advice to your personal preferences. When I was 18, lathering up with DEET and crawling into a a depression in the dirt under a low hanging shrub was all I needed for a good night’s sleep. I might still be able to handle that in a pinch, but honestly, I’ve got a few more bucks now and I usually seek a roof when not seeking adventure.
There area also luxury tent camps in Costa Rica but the only thing that’s camping about them is that the rooms could be disassembled if necessary. Often the only reason that the screen walls are held up by tent poles rather than concrete and wood frames is because of building restrictions in the maritime zone withing 200 meters of the beach. They’re every bit as fancy as many luxury boutique hotels where building codes and zoning allow permanent construction and usually have the added attraction of a fantastic remote location.
Besides not having to rough it you’ll guess you’re not really camping when you see the price tags ranging from $150-$350 per person.