How to Save Money when Travelling to Costa Rica

Millions of visitors per year flock to Costa Rica and with good reason. The word is out about the pristine beaches, virgin rainforests and unique wildlife, not to mention the friendliest people and a an economy built on eco tourism rather than zoo’s and artificial attractions. If you have been before you will know how addicting this country can be and if you haven’t then make sure you put it on your bucket list soon.

With people from all over the world now recognising how unique and amazing a country Costa Rica is it was only time before the price of visiting started to increase. Now this small central American country has a reputation for being the most expensive in the area however you shouldn’t let that put you off visiting. Here are some money saving tips to ensure this country remains accessible for everyone and not just the rich and famous –

How to Save Money when Travelling to Costa Rica

1.Stay out of town
While everyone wants the beach front property with the ocean views from the bedroom these come at a price. And a very good price at that! Try booking a hotel a few blocks back from the beach as even just a 5 or 10 minute walk will potentially save your hundreds on your accommodation cost. Better still – If you have your own car try a smaller village or town slightly inland or further along the coast away from the main tourist areas as these will also be cheaper.

2. Drink the water
The water quality in Costa Rica is great so save the environment and your wallet and bring your own refillable drink bottle.

3. Eat at Sodas instead of resort restaurants
This does involve an element of trust since this type of restaurant is often not listed on TripAdvisor but it will be worth it. Sure the resort restaurants are close by and offer food you are familiar with but they come at a price. Eat like the locals and visit small family run restaurants called Soda’s for a satisfying plate of Gallo Pinto. Just look for the busiest place full of locals and you know the food will be great.

4. Book in the off season
This will typically be called the “Green” or “Rainy” season and is generally between May and November. Be prepared for afternoon thunderstorms and more shades of green than you ever knew existed but it does mean cheaper accommodation and tour rates since there will be less people visiting.

5. Don’t come for Christmas, New Years or Easter
High season (November-April) is generally when most North Americans are trying to escape their winter and so flock to the warm temperatures and the beaches of Costa Rica. If you do decide to come during this season then be prepared to pay top dollar, book ahead and don’t come for the big holidays. The local Costa Ricans also get these periods off and between the higher than normal influx of tourists and the locals on holiday it can make for some extremely expensive and crowded tourist localations.

6. Don’t hire a car
It can be tempting as the average daily rates to hire a car can seem reasonable but once you book you can then expect to pay for insurance (+$20/day), gas, airport pick up and drop off fees (as much as 13% of the cost) and of course a GPS ($8-12/day) as roads are not well signed in this country. That can all start to add up and get expensive in a hurry. As an alternative catch the many and varied shuttles, get a local bus, hire a local tour at your destination or better yet – hire a bike.

7. Book a hotel with benefits
Double check what services your hotel actually offers. A complimentary airport pickup might save you $50 per person and by having a hot spring attached to the hotel in Arenal it could save you even more. With the price of the Arenal hot springs ranging from free to $90 for a 2-4 hr experience having one attached to your hotel and included in price could save you heaps.

8. Shop around and ask for a discount
As a general rule the closer it is to the beach or to the main tourist areas the more expensive it will be. Want to try surfing in Tamarindo? Stay away from the big shops with lots of advertising and try one of the smaller surf shops a block or so back from the beach. They will have more competitive rates and be more likely to negotiate a better price when asked. This also goes for restaurants and when booking tours – walk away from the hotel or resort and find a smaller, local provider for a similar experience at a more affordable price.

9. Head East
When most people research places to visit in Costa Rica it is usually on the Pacific side of the country or in the middle like Arenal and Monteverde. The Caribbean side often gets forgotten about and is therefore less touristy and cheaper but is also less developed meaning a more local experience.

10. All inclusives aren’t necessarily all inclusive
While everyone loves the idea of all the details being taken care of so you can sit back, relax and enjoy your holiday do your research before booking an all inclusive. They can come with some hidden costs that soon add up to a more expensive than planned vacation. For example – drinking imported beer instead of local, drinking the bottled water in the hotel room, using wifi, eating meals off the menu instead of a la cate and booking tours through the hotel booking desk can all add up to a rather expensive week long vacation instead of booking it yourself.

11 .BYO Sunscreen and insect repellent
Some things cost MUCH more in Costa Rica and sunscreen and bug spray are top of the list. Even a small bottle of sunscreen can cost $25USD and bug spray $8USD.  Here is a short video on how to pack toiletries such as sunscreen without them exploding all over your luggage.

12. Buy souvenirs at the Supermarket
I know this doesn’t sound very appealing to most people as they like to buy quality gifts for friends and family back home but it’s the same crappy souvenirs no matter where you buy them. Paying $12 for the same T-shirt in a supermarket instead of $25 in a souvenir store just makes sense and even more so when the gift is coffee or food related products such as hot sauce.
Planning a trip to Costa Rica? Here are some articles to get you ready –

First Costa Rica Vacation – Your Guide to the best places to visit

Rincon de la Viaja National Park

Border Crossing – Costa Rica to Nicaragua and back

Carry On,

For more ways to save money and optimise your vacation contact me, Anna Kernohan, an Adventure Consultant for Carry On Wandering. Simply use this link to ask me your travel questions or sign up for my newsletter to never miss an exclusive offer.