Are you visiting Costa Rica on a budget? Although it is one of the most expensive countries in Central and South America, you can certainly save money traveling in Costa Rica. But you do need to do your research and be flexible to enjoy the country without inadvertently emptying your wallet.
If you’re traveling to Costa Rica on a budget, here are some tips for not breaking the bank. The best ways to save money traveling in Costa Rica is to visit during the off season, take the public bus, eat at bakeries, go to the free local spots and do self guided walks. And if you have them, use your travel points. I’ll talk more in details about these points below.
Post updated May 8, 2020.
How to Save Money Traveling in Costa Rica
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When Is the Best Time to Travel on a Budget in Costa Rica?
The cheapest time to visit Costa Rica is during the off season or rainy season
Tourism season generally follows the weather in Costa Rica since the influx of tourists coincide with the dry and rainy seasons. So dry season = more tourists and more expensive. Rainy season = less tourists, cheaper. So the cheapest time to visit Costa Rica is May, June, August – November. This is because these are the rainy months which are our low tourism months.
Although July is also in rainy season, there are a lot of Northern Hemisphere tourists because of summer vacation and the Costa Rican school’s have mid winter break. July gets more expensive and is more crowded. About mid-August, prices go back down since most of the influx of summer vacationers have left.
Come in May, September or October for the best time to save money traveling in Costa Rica. Enjoy hotel prices around $50-200 USD less and special offers at restaurants. Many tour companies throw promotions during this time as well, especially if you’re visiting in a large group. Although you will visit during the Costa Rican rainy season, it won’t be nearly as crowded as it is during dry season.
The most expensive times to visit Costa Rica are during Christmas, New Years and end of December to end of April
High tourism season is December to April with the weeks of Christmas, New Years and Easter as the busiest times of the year. It is very crowded and expensive during these holidays! Additionally, you need to book your hotels and car rentals at least a couple months in advance. February and March are also extremely busy and expensive, though not quite as expensive as the week of Christmas.
Read more about when is the best time to visit Costa Rica.
How to Save Money on Flights to Costa Rica
Airfare varies depending on the time of the year you are flying into Costa Rica and where you are flying from.
February, March, April, July and Christmastime are the most expensive times to fly to Costa Rica
For example, a flight from Seattle to Costa Rica in January – April and July is around $700-800 USD to both San Jose and Liberia Airport. Christmas and New Years is extremely expensive, usually around $800-1000 USD.
Dates outside of popular travel times are cheaper. September – about the 2nd week of December are much cheaper to fly into Costa Rica from North America. My parents have visited in September and beginning of December from Seattle and paid around $550 USD per person roundtrip with Alaska Airlines into Liberia International Airport.
Check both LIR and SJO airports
Generally, Liberia International Airport is a little bit more expensive than San Jose International Airport. Although prices may be around the same for some times of the year, it’s worth checking both international airports in Costa Rica to see the difference. It will also help you plan your trip to, knowing which airport you’ll fly into.
Book Budget Economy
Many airlines have implemented a “budget economy” option as their cheapest ticket. It varies among airlines but generally you are not allowed to choose seats and you board last among other things. But it is cheap.
We have flown budget economy with American Airlines from San Jose Airport to Miami and it was only around $250 USD including paying for a check in. If you are traveling solo with carry on only or your group doesn’t need to stay together, this is an excellent option.
Flight Hacking Websites
Many airlines are opening new routes to Costa Rica and because of this, you can find some great deals. I highly recommend signing up for a website called Scott’s Cheap Flights which alerts you of error fares and cheap fares. Dollar Flight Club is another great one.
I have seen tickets for $250 USD roundtrip from Chicago to Costa Rica, $300 CAD from Toronto to Costa Rica, $250 USD from LAX to SJO and many more. We personally use both of these services for airfare and have snatched cheap flight tickets to Iceland, Seattle, Madrid and Miami because of them!
Get a Travel Credit Card
Speaking of flight hacking, learn how to travel hack by using your credit card points. This works for hotels and flights!
There are so many credit cards nowadays and some which are specifically awesome for travel. I personally have the Chase Sapphire credit card which is great for travel. You get 60,000 points when you spend $4000 USD from initial account opening, 2x points on travel and dining and they also offer travel insurance for rental cars and trip delays. You can redeem your points for hotels, flights, flight upgrades and more. I’ve been saving up my points to one day fly business class!
Tips for Saving Money on Hotels in Costa Rica
Couchsurfing is the cheapest accommodation option but it doesn’t work or appeal to majority of visitors. Check out these other options for saving money in Costa Rica.
Use your credit card points
I have friends who used their credit card points to stay at some of the most luxurious hotels in Costa Rica. Great way to splurge and pamper yourself on vacation!
Create an account on hotel booking sites
Hotels.com offers a book 10 nights, get 1 free and Orbitz allows you to accumulate points to use for future travel. If you travel often and like to use one of those sites, sign up for an account. One of my friends got her expensive hotel in Tamarindo covered with her Orbitz points. They will also send you insider deals and promos.
Like and follow the Facebook page of a hotel or resort you’re interested in
Many of them use Facebook as their main promotion method and they’ll post offers and deals on there. Also check their Instagram.
Many hotels offer promotions if you book directly on their website.
Make sure to check the hotel website first before to the travel search engines. Many hotels, especially in the off season will give discounts or have a promotion only on their website.
However, check both travel search engine sites like Booking.com AND the direct website. We have found some hotels cheaper on Booking.com than the hotel’s own website! (this happened to us a lot in Monteverde)
Stay at vacation rentals and use sites like Airbnb
For alternative options, check out Airbnb (get $20 credit here). Vacation rentals can be a very economical option for groups and families since you will have a fully equipped kitchen to cook and save money on food.
Use our hotel discounts!
We have discounts for a few hotels in Costa Rica: Casitas Tenornio B&B in Bijagua, Oxygen Jungle Villas in Uvita, Adventure Inn in San Jose, Drift Away Eco Lodge in Avellanas, Rancho Pacifico in Uvita and Manoas Resort in Uvita. Check our deals page to get the promo codes!
Read more about finding accommodation in Costa Rica.
Saving Money in Costa Rica on Transportation
When it comes to getting around Costa Rica, you really need to weigh two factors: time vs money. The cheapest option, the public bus, takes the longest. The quickest option, flying, is the most expensive. The most comfortable and flexible option, renting a car, is expensive.
The public bus is the cheapest option
To save money traveling in Costa Rica, the best way to get around is to take public transportation. Bus tickets are cheap and you can travel half the country for ~$10 USD. However, the bus takes a much longer time with few direct routes. Therefore, if you’re short on time, you need to plan carefully if the bus is the best option for you.
If you rent a car, decline the insurance that is allowed
Renting a car in Costa Rica can get very expensive due to the insurance. There IS a mandatory car rental insurance that every renter must purchase in Costa Rica but there is also one that you can decline using your car rental insurance through a credit card. For example, my Chase Sapphire credit card offers car rental insurance and I can present a letter from my credit card company stating they will cover this insurance to the car rental agency and I don’t have to pay for it.
This can reduce your car rental by a good chunk!
Read all about about renting a car in Costa Rica and insurances here.
Use our discounts!
We have car rental discounts for our readers. Save on your Costa Rica car rental.
Costa Rica Money Saving Tips for Food
Eat at local restaurants called sodas
On-site hotel restaurants or ones in touristic places are much more expensive. Instead, head to the local town and look for sodas. Sodas are small Costa Rican restaurants that sells typical food and have local prices.
Ask the locals where their favorite soda is and you can find Costa Rican food for a good price. When we were staying in La Fortuna, we asked the taxi drivers and found cafes with breakfast for $4 USD and lunch for $5-7 USD.
Eat at the bakeries
Musmanni and Tutu are two of the most common bakeries in Costa Rica. They have cheap pastries and sandwiches and sometimes have pizza and drinks. Most pastries are about 500-1500 CRC (~.90 cents to $2.64 USD) and they’re usually pretty good.
Drink tap water or bring a filter
Although tap water is generally safe to drink in Costa Rica, many visitors decide to buy bottled water instead just in case. Buying bottled water gets expensive, not to mention the plastic isn’t great for the environment. Bring a reusable water bottle and a filter to save money on buying water and be environmentally friendly!
Costa Rica Money Saving Tips for Tours and Activities
If you’re coming in a big group, ask for a group discount
If you’re coming with a big group like 8+ adults, make sure to ask for a group discount which most companies are happy to give.
Do self-guided hikes
Although we do recommend to take at least one guided hike in Costa Rica, you don’t need to have a guide for all your activities, especially if you rented a car. For example, the Rio Celeste hike is very straightforward and easily done without a guide.
Same goes for certain activities. For example, the Hacienda Guachipelin one day adventure tour is $160 USD per adult from Tamarindo. The one day pass itself is $97 USD per adult. Since you already have a car, drive yourself there and pay just the day pass which is much less than the tour price.
Visit the free local spots instead
Instead of going to the tourist places, head to the local spots.
One example is La Fortuna which is famous for its hot springs. Many resorts have their own hot spring facilities but they charge big bucks for it. A day pass at Tabacon, the most luxurious hot spring resort in La Fortuna is around $99 USD per adult! That is not cheap and not all of us want to or can pay that much to soak in some hot water for a couple of hours.
But there is a free local spot on Tabacon river anyone can visit. It’s actually the exact same river as the Tabacon resort and is right across the street. There is a small parking area and an entrance where all the locals go to swim and bathe in the river. The river has a lot of rocks and spots to sit and lay in the water surrounded by the rainforest. It’s a really nice experience to mingle with locals and it’s completely free!
Use our Costa Rica tour discounts!
We have discounts for many tours in Costa Rica. We have a 10% La Fortuna and Arenal tour discount, a $10 USD Tortuga Island day cruise, a 10% Diamante Eco Adventure Park discount and more! You can check our Mytanfeet Costa Rica deals page to see all the discounts and promos we have for hotels, tours and transportation in Costa Rica.
How to Save Money on Souvenirs
Buy gifts at the the local supermarket, not the souvenir stores and gift shops
Several supermarkets have their own souvenir section and is much cheaper than the airport souvenir stores.
For example, coffee and the chorreador (Costa Rican coffee maker) are our favorite gifts (you can read our other favorite Costa Rican souvenirs here). If you go to the supermarket, a Costa Rican coffee maker can be around $5-10 USD. At a souvenir store, it can cost up to $30 USD and more. A bag of coffee at a souvenir store can be more than $10 USD and who knows how long it’s been sitting there! At the market you can find good coffee for $3-4 USD a bag.
We do the same with t shirts and other items. T-shirts with a Costa Rican design costs around $8 USD at the supermarket and the same shirt at a souvenir shop might cost $25 USD.
For artisanal items, you will need to spend a bit more though. The artisanal market in San Jose has many local vendors selling their own handmade products which is a nice souvenir. Sarchi is another great place for wooden souvenirs and trinkets. Souvenirs like these are not cheap but they are unique and you will be supporting the locals directly.
If anything, do not buy all your souvenirs at the Britt airport stores because it’s expensive. Set aside some time to shop during your trip to save some money.
General Money Handling Tip
If you use dollars, make sure to check the exchange rate
USD are readily accepted in Costa Ric but there’s a catch: the exchange rate. You can pay for most things with USD like tours, souvenirs, hotels, gas and groceries and they will give you your change back in Costa Rican currency. BUT you must pay attention to the exchange rate!
This is because the current exchange rate is around 570 to 1 and it changes daily. However, many locals and workers use the exchange rate of 500 to 1 since it’s easier to calculate. By using 500 to 1, you’re losing a little bit so don’t let anyone stiff you on your change! It really adds up over time and you will be losing out a lot if they keep using a 500 to 1 exchange rate.
The easiest way to pay is to use your credit card as they’ll calculate the correct exchange rate automatically and you don’t need to pull out your calculator each time.
Learn more about handling money in Costa Rica such as exchanging, currency and using USD in this article.
More Costa Rica Money Saving Tips
More Costa Rica travel tips here!
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