Costa Rica is one of the most expensive countries in Central America. While still cheaper than the U.S., there were times on our trip when Yuting and I still felt like we were in the U.S. For one, many of the hostels, restaurants, and tours we encountered were comfortable dealing in dollars. This was a major red flag for us, as that’s usually a sign we’re in an area which is too touristy…Still, Yuting and I did our best to save money, while making sure not to miss out on all fun.
In this post, is a rough estimate of what we spent over the course of nine days in Costa Rica. Since we visited Costa Rica during the high season though, the prices I’ve included are likely a little higher than they would in the off-season. For reference, Costa Rica’s high season runs from mid-November to April, with the peak being Christmas and New Year’s (when we were there).
I’ve also included the costs of a backpacking couple Yuting and I met in La Fortuna. Their names are Andy and Felicia and they were traveling through Mexico and Central America. Andy and Felicia were on a 4-5 month backpacking adventure, and were more budget-conscious than Yuting and I were. I always like to know how cheaply one can travel a country and feel like their costs give a second insight into how much it costs to travel Costa Rica.
Considering we visited Costa Rica during the high season, Yuting and I did well finding budget accommodation. Over the course of our nine day stay, we only spent $200 total. That’s an average of $12.50/night/person. Room wise, we booked a mix of hostel dorm beds and private rooms throughout the trip.
We spent: $200 for 8 nights. About $12.50/night/person
Our backpacker friends spent: $435 for 18 nights. About $12/night/person.
The hostel we stayed at in La Fortuna cost us about $18/person/night. Two of the nights we were there, we were able to save money by sharing a bunk. Not the most roomy two nights of sleep, but definitely cheap!
$20 - 50 USD
As you can see from the price range, some private rooms come out to about the same price as a dorm bed in a hostel. When you’re splitting the costs with someone else, booking a cheap private room could help you save money.
$150 - 400+ USD
We didn’t stay in any hotels or resorts while we were in Costa Rica, but two people we met did. For a last minute room at the Hilton in Liberia, they paid about $150. Online, a room at the Tabacon resort in La Fortuna starts at around $370.
Food and Drinks
Food and drinks made up most of our spending. Over the course of nine days in Costa Rica, Yuting and I spent about $400 total on food and drinks. On average, that comes out to about $22/day/person. We spent that amount by eating at a mix of local restaurants and touristy restaurants and spoiling ourselves with snacks from the grocery store now and then.
Had we been on a tighter budget, we could’ve brought our daily food spending down by avoiding those pricier restaurants. Not going to lie though, I got tired of eating Casado quickly and started craving things like burgers and pizza…oops.
We spent: $400 for 9 days. About $22/day/person.
Our backpacker friends spent: $650 for 19 days. About $17/day/person.
$4 - 7 USD
Casado is a traditional Costa Rican dish served at all of the local ‘sodas.’ It usually includes some type of meat, rice, beans, salad, and plantains. ‘Soda’ is what the local restaurants are called. Here is where you’ll find the cheapest eats in Costa Rica.
$2 - 5 USD
I definitely recommend ordering a fresh juice over the smoothies in Costa Rica. The smoothies we got were usually made from a mix, whereas the fresh juices were made from local fruits like passion fruit and tamarind. So yummy!
$8 - 15+
By tourist food, I’m talking about the restaurants in Costa Rica which are geared specifically towards foreigners. At these restaurants, the prices are usually in dollars and the meals cost about the same as they would in the U.S.
When we first decided to visit Costa Rica, Yuting and I really wanted to rent a car. With only nine days to explore the country, we didn’t want to waste valuable time waiting for the bus or calling a taxi. Unfortunately, booking a last-minute trip to Costa Rica during the high season means no rental cars (or at least no rental cars within a reasonable price point).
Having no rental car meant the next best option for us would’ve been taking a shuttle. However, shuttle prices in Costa Rica are insane. To go from Liberia to La Fortuna, a 2.5-hour car ride, we were quoted $45/person by our hostel! No way were we paying $90…Like the backpackers we are, we dug up information about the local buses in Costa Rica. In the end, we took a series of three buses to La Fortuna and only spent $8.50 per person.
While we were in La Fortuna, we started off by taking taxis to and from wherever we needed to go. Then we got smart and rented a scooter for the day. The scooter rental cost us $30 for 12 hours but gave us total freedom.
We spent: $100 for 9 days. About $5.50/day/person.
Our backpacker friends spent: $88 for 19 days. About $2.30/day/person
$1 - 4+ USD
The local buses are cheap and reliable in Costa Rica. Every time we were waiting for the bus, it arrived right on schedule. The only downside to riding the bus is it can eat up an entire day if you have a long distance to go (traveling from Liberia to La Fortuna took an entire day).
$25 - 35 USD
Renting a scooter for the day was one of the best decisions we made in Costa Rica. It gave us total freedom and saved us from having to constantly call a taxi. Riding a scooter is also a lot of fun. I got hooked on them in Southeast Asia and am totally going to own one someday.
$25 - 50+ USD
We didn’t take any shuttles in Costa Rica because they were simply too expensive. If money is less of a concern for you though, a shuttle can save you a lot of time compared to catching a local bus. To book a shuttle, try asking the staff at your hotel/hostel.
Tours / Entertainment
Over the course of nine days in Costa Rica, Yuting and I spent about $300 total on tours and entertainment. On average, that comes out to almost $17/day/person.
Compared to other countries we’ve visited, we felt like the tour companies we encountered were unwilling to negotiate prices. After speaking to a local Costa Rican about this, I learned there are simply too many tourists around the holidays. Since every tour is getting plenty of business, they can afford to stand strong on their prices. According to the people who worked at our hostel, tour companies often raise their prices during the high season as well.
We spent: $300 for 9 days. About $17/day/person.
Our backpacker friends spent: $190 for 19 days. About $5/day/person.
La Fortuna Waterfall is one of the most well known waterfalls in Costa Rica. It currently costs $15 per person to hike down to it. I also learned the waterfall used to be free to visit, but now costs money due to its growing popularity.
$55 - 65 USD
Activities such as rafting will cost more during the high season. Tour companies are also fairly unwilling to negotiate the price. We were able to get our rafting tour down to $55 though, after initially being quoted $65.
$45 - 55 USD
We wouldn’t normally book a zip line tour abroad, but ended up having a really good time. Our tour group got along well and ended up hanging out after the tour was over. A few of us even traveled to Tamarindo together to celebrate the new year.
Total trip cost
In total, Yuting and I spent about $1000 over the course of nine days in Costa Rica. That comes out to a little over $55/day/person. Our budget backpacker friends, Felicia and Andy, spent a total of $1435 over the course of 19 days in Costa Rica. That’s approximately $38/day/person.
For an interesting comparison, check out how much we spent in Morocco in during the exact same time of year in 2017.
Tips for saving money in Costa Rica
Book accommodation ahead of time. Most of the cheap places with decent reviews tend to disappear quickly during the high season.
Eat at the sodas. Sodas are what local restaurants are called. This is where you’ll often find the cheapest food in Costa Rica.
Entertain yourself with free activities. In La Fortuna, this means swinging off a rope swing at El Salto, looking for sloths along the road, and visiting the free hot springs. Read more about adventurous things to do in La Fortuna.
Travel with a friend. You can split things like taxis, a scooter rental, and accommodation.
Take local transportation. We saved a lot of money in Costa Rica by taking local buses instead of shuttles.
Travel during the low season. There’s no doubt that tours, accommodation, and even food and drinks are more expensive during the high season. Costa Rica’s high season runs from mid-November to April.
Visit Costa Rica’s less touristy areas. Monteverde for example, is touristy, yet way less touristy than La Fortuna. As a consequence, the hostels in Monteverde run about $10 cheaper than the hostels in La Fortuna - and they include breakfast.
Shout out to Andy and Felicia for letting me include their trip costs in my post! If you’d like to read more about their backpacking adventure through Mexico and Central America, check out their travel blog: AndyandFelicia.com.