Costa Rica is expensive. There’s no hiding that fact and it’s something most people are surprised about as they assume since it’s in Central America, that automatically equals cheap. Unfortunately that’s not the case and it’s one of the things you must know about Costa Rica before visiting.
However, that doesn’t mean you won’t be able to enjoy Costa Rica on a budget. There are a handful of fun and cheap things to do in Costa Rica!
All prices are in USD. Post updated June 2020.
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Here is a map of the places I mention below.
Visit National Parks
With over 20 national parks in the country, visiting any one of them is a must. Each national park has something special whether it’s a volcano, beach, waterfall or something else. Visiting national parks is one of the best cheap things to do in Costa Rica! Entrance fees vary for each park but they are relatively inexpensive.
Cahuita National Park is actually free, Marino Ballena National Park is $6, Tenorio Volcano National Park where Rio Celeste is costs $12, Rincon de la Vieja National Park is $15 and Arenal Volcano National Park is $15. (All adult prices).
Some of the private reserves are a bit more than national parks. For example, Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve is $25 per adult but it’s not too bad.
Hike On Your Own
Guided walks are more expensive since you have to pay for the guide and transportation but if you rented a car, you can go to the park and hike on your own.
For example, a guided walk at Manuel Antonio National Park is around $60 per person (transportation, national park ticket and guide included). You can arrive at the park on your own by bus or car, pay the $16 entrance fee and walk through the park on your own.
However, we do recommend to do at least one guided walk during your time in Costa Rica since it is a very interesting experience. Additionally, if you want to see and learn more about the flora and fauna, a guide will point out animals with their binoculars and telescope, show you native plants and share more information about the area.
Read more about hiring guides in Costa Rica.
Visit local waterfalls
Many waterfalls in Costa Rica are on private property so owners charge a small entrance fee. Llanos de Cortes in Guanacaste is $7. Uvita waterfall is $2, Nauyaca waterfalls in Dominical is $9 for the hike, Catarata del Toro inBajos del Toro is $14 and Cascada El Pavon in Ojochal is free.
Another tip is to check out the hotel you’re staying at since some of them have an on-site waterfall such as Arenal Observatory Lodge, Oxygen Jungle Villas in Uvita and Villas Escondidas in Grecia. You can read this post for more about the best waterfalls in Costa Rica.
San Jose may not be a top tourist destination in Costa Rica but this capital city has some excellent museums. I highly recommend visiting one if you have a day or two in the city.
The Jade Musuem is $15, Gold Museum is $11 and the National Museum is $9. The Jade Museum is incredible, it opened in 2014 and is in our opinion, the best museum in Costa Rica with really nice exhibits. Another great place to visit is the National Theater.
Rent a surfboard or boogie board
You can only spend so many hours laying on the beach dozing or reading a book. Add some excitement to your beach days by renting kayaks, snorkel gear, boogie boards or surf boards.
Surf board rentals are around $20 for 24 hours, boogie board rentals are $5 for 2 hours. But if you don’t know how to surf, I highly recommend taking a lesson instead of renting a board and trying to go out on your own. It’s safer and more fun to take a lesson.
Surf lessons are around $45 per person for a 2 hour lesson with surfboard, rash guard and instructor.
Visit the local spots
Many local spots are either free or cheaper than the park or resort entrance.
For example, the La Paz waterfall garden nature park. The entrance fee to La Paz waterfall gardens is now around $63 per person with lunch which allows you to see their zoo and 5 waterfalls. However, if you don’t want to pay that much, you can see the main waterfall for free by the side of the road. Granted, you don’t see the other 4 waterfalls but if you’re on a budget, the one by the side of the road is actually pretty awesome.
Another one is the Tabacon hot springs in Arenal. It has a hefty price tag of $94 per person for a day pass and lunch. Though Tabacon is very nice, that is expensive. If you’re on a budget, visit the free hot spring instead. The free hot spring in La Fortuna is actually the exact same river as the one that runs through the Tabacon resort! There are spots to sit and lay in the river and it’s 100% natural. If you go on the weekends, you will also get to see a lot of local families which is a nice experience.
There is also a local hangout spot at the Fortuna river with a rope swing which locals like to go to instead of paying $18 to La Fortuna waterfall.
So if you go where the locals go, that’s a great way to save some money and not be around tons of tourists. Having your own transportation is key since most of these places don’t have buses and they are only reachable by car.
Happy hour on the beach
Can you imagine a better way to end the day than cheap beer and drinks while watching the sunset on the beach? I can’t! Many restaurants and bars offer happy hour which is a great bargain. Nogui’s in Tamarindo offers 2×1 beer from 4:30 PM to 5:30 PM, Zi Lounge in Coco has what we like to call, Happy Day because their Happy hour is 11 AM – 7 PM.
Bars in Costa Rica definitely want their guests to have a good time. Many of them have karaoke night (free shot every time you sing), kids specials, discounts on pizza night and other events.
Visit the feria (Farmer’s market)
Many towns set up ferias, (Costa Rican farmers market) on the weekend and it’s fun to visit. Ferias at the local villages and towns usually sell only produce but the ferias in touristic areas usually offer artisan jewelry, organic products or homemade items from the expats that live there. It’s a nice way to spend a leisurely morning mingling with locals and other tourists and sampling local treats.
Rent a bike
This is one of my favorite cheap things to do in Costa Rica. We love riding our bikes through town and on the beach! You get to enjoy beautiful views and feel like a local. Fun way to explore the beaches!
You can rent a bike as cheap as $5 a day in Puerto Viejo and bike all the way to Cahuita National Park or down to Playa Chiquita or Punta Uva. All beach towns offer bike rentals and it’s an awesome way to get around for cheap if you’re not renting a car.