How expensive is Costa Rica? Can you travel around on a smaller budget or do you need to bring a bag of money?
Costa Rica mainly has an expensive image. And to some extent that is certainly true. National Parks and activities are easily €20 or more, and eating in a restaurant can also quickly add up. Yet it can certainly be done more cheaply. Traveling around Costa Rica can be quite inexpensive, it’s mainly about the choices you make. Below, we provide an overview of the possible costs you can expect. A distinction is made between the basic backpacker and the backpacker+ for whom everything can be a bit more luxurious. These are prices per person unless otherwise stated.
In Costa Rica, payment is made with the Costa Rica Colon. The exchange rate will be approximately 660 Colon for 1 Euro, where you can easily find the current exchange rate online. The US dollar is also a common means of payment. Especially if you travel across national borders, you sometimes have to pay in US Dollars. It is useful to bring some US Dollars with you.
Staying in Costa Rica can be as expensive as you like. Still, Costa Rica does have plenty of accommodations available for all budgets. It is good to take into account the high season (December – April). During this period, prices can rise and/or the cheaper ho(s)tels are more likely to be booked up. Planning your trip a bit in advance and booking some hotels in advance can help keep prices down. In terms of average prices you can think of €20 for a bed in a dorm, €30 for a 2 – person room with (shared) bathroom, €60 a 2 – person room in a lodge per night. You can really find plenty of options to sleep cheaper.
Food and drink
Costa Rica has many trendy restaurants and bars and the prices are accordingly. A coffee in a café costs on average €3, a beer €2.50, a lunch €10 and a dinner €15 on average. Fortunately, many ho(s)tels have kitchens and if you cook yourself or get street food you will be much cheaper. In addition, Costa Rica has the so-called Sodas. These are eateries that serve local dishes, for between €5 – €8 for a main course.
If you cook a lot yourself and occasionally eat out with a coffee or beer on the terrace, you can count on €15 on average per day. If you like to eat out and it can be a bit more luxurious, then you can take into account €50 per day.
Activities are probably one of the biggest expenses you’ll incur in Costa Rica. For almost all National Parks you pay an entrance fee and for the activities in Monteverde and La Fortuna you lay down quite a lot of money. For ziplining you have to pay €50, a night tour or visiting the hanging bridges costs €25 per person and the entrance fee to a national park can also cost a few tens of euros. If you visit a National Park for several days, such as a tour in Tortuguero or Corcovado you can easily expect to pay €100 per person per day. Depending on how many tours and activities you are going to do, determine your budget. We assume here an average for 3 weeks.
For many people, renting a car is the ultimate way to travel around Costa Rica. And it’s also definitely an easy way to get from A to B. In addition, you can get to many more places that public transportation would otherwise not allow you to get to, or would make it more difficult. However, there is a price tag for renting the car. And since the pandemic, the prices for renting a car have gone up. It pays to book well in advance, then the cost will be lower. But it is good to think of an average price of €1500 for renting a car (SUV/4×4) for about 3 weeks, where it also depends very much in which period you rent a car (high season or not). Also, a car with a rooftop tent is often chosen; these prices are higher.
Another good option is to take public transportation. Not nearly as flexible as your own transportation, but it makes a huge difference in costs. A short bus ride costs a few euros and for longer bus rides of a few hours you will spend an average of €6 – €8.
For a cab, it is good to agree on a price in advance. Keep in mind that cabs charge high prices, even for relatively short distances.
A final, and frequently used, option for getting from A to B in Costa Rica is to use shuttles. These run on many routes between known destinations and are often much faster than the public bus. However, the price is also comparatively very high. Since you pay €6 for the 5 o’clock bus, you will easily pay €50 for the shuttle.
Other other expenses include laundry, bank transaction fees, a SIM card with data and souvenirs. For this we charge €100 per person.
And what is the total cost of all that?
The basic backpacker
Average per night €25 (dorm and private room alternated)
Food and drink per day €15
Activities total €175
Transport total from and between the larger cities by public transport €100
Total for 3 weeks €1215, an average of €57.85 per day (calculated generously)
Average per night €60 (private room with private bathroom)
Food and drink per day €50
Activities total €250
Transportation total with car rental average €1500 (total)
Total for 3 weeks €2780 per person, average €132.38 per day