How Much Does It Cost to Travel To Costa Rica
Costa Rica is a stunning country with a lot to offer visitors from a wide range of wildlife to beautiful scenery, pristine beaches to countless adventure opportunities. It can be a bit of a tricky country to budget for, however. Despite being located in Central America, don’t expect prices like nearby countries like Nicaragua. Costa Rica has been a tourism darling for awhile now and prices often reflect their mature tourism industry and infrastructure. That being said, you can still find some great deals in the tropical paradise.
If you’ve been following me for any time, you’ll know that I’m a big advocate of swinging between scrimp and splurge. I don’t travel on a shoestring budget but I also don’t splash out cash unnecessarily. It’s all about balance.
I recently spent ten days in Costa Rica, flying into San Jose and then splitting my time between the mountain area of Monteverde and the surf town of Santa Teresa and I decided to track all of my expenses to find out exactly what it cost me to travel in Costa Rica.
Track Travel Spending with Trail Wallet
On past trips I’ve written everything down in a notebook but this time I decided to try Trail Wallet*. The app lets you set up trips, budgets, and spending categories and then easily track as you go. The trip dashboard will show you your daily budget, how much you have left, and your running trip total. From there you can drill down to see a pie chart breakdown of each category or a day by day breakdown. Being the data nerd I am, I loved this. Since I always had my phone on me I found it easier to add a quick entry to the app after I bought something than my old notebook method.
*This isn’t sponsored by Trail Wallet. I discovered the app on my own and paid for the pro upgrade (you can only add 25 entries for free). I just really like it so I wanted to share my method for expense tracking.
Before You Go: Make sure you have your travel insurance sorted out. Trust me.
How much does it cost to travel to Costa Rica for 10 Days?
|Accommodations||$483.88||(hostels and AirBnB)|
|Transportation||$157.63||(taxis, shuttles, buses)|
|Food & Drink||$302.48||(restaurants, water, snacks, alcohol)|
|Activities||$342.31||(rentals, classes, tours, etc.)|
|Miscellaneous||$139.76||(souvenirs, SIM card & data)|
*Prices are listed in Canadian dollars
Overall: $1,426.06 / $142.61/day
Overall, I spent three nights in hostel dorms and six nights in private rooms/guest houses.
After my flight landed in San Jose I just needed a place to rest my head for a few hours before catching the morning bus to Monteverde. I stayed at the no-frills Alajuela Backpackers mainly because they had a free airport shuttle and were close to both the airport and highway bus stop. A bed in a 6-bed female dorm with ensuite was $19USD/night*.
I spent my two nights in Monteverde at the lovely Arco Iris Lodge right in Santa Elena. I’d stayed there six years ago and was happy to return. I stayed in a Budget Room which had a set of bunk beds and a private bathroom. As a single it was $33USD/night. For two in the room it would be $44USD/night*.
I spent my first two nights in Santa Teresa at hip and trendy Selina. There was no breakfast included but there was a nice big pool, constant club vibe, cool hangout spots, and activity and transportation booking guides on site. A bed in a 4-bed mixed form with ensuite was $24USD/night*.
After Selina I moved on to Hotel Raratonga, which was booked through AirBnB. I liked the quiet oasis vibe of this guesthouse with rooms opening on to balconies overlooking the pool. A Deluxe room (1 dbl bed, 1 twin) was $58USD/night*
For my last night in Costa Rica I booked a private room at the Selina San Jose. I admit I didn’t shop around much for this one. After staying in Santa Teresa I trusted the brand and they were walking distance from the main bus station. A private room with shared bathroom was $33USD/night*.
*13% sales tax not included.
Getting around Costa Rica can be quite affordable…or quite expensive, it all depends on the transportation method you choose.
Renting a Car
I’ve never personally rented a car in Costa Rica but I would consider it if I was travelling with another person and wanted to have more freedom to explore on our own schedule. There are just some places where buses and taxis won’t take you. Expect to pay about $50USD/day once all the fees and factored in. A lot of the roads in Costa Rica are paved and just fine but there are plenty of others (hello Monteverde!) that are just dirt roads and hilly so you’ll probably want to opt for a 4×4.
Hotel to Hotel Shuttle
On my first trip six years ago I went solely with Interbus hotel to hotel shuttles, which are one of the more expensive ways to get around at $40-$80USD a pop. What I really like about them though is the convenience. Since Costa Rica in 2012 was my very first international solo trip I liked knowing that someone was coming to pick me up and would deliver me right to the door of my next hotel. The vans also all have AC so you’ll have a comfortable trip, temperature-wise. They only pick-up/drop-off from their designated list of hotels so if yours isn’t on the list you’ll have to make your own way to one to use their service.
I took one Interbus shuttle on this trip, from Monteverde to Santa Teresa, because it was a bit of an unpopular route and I was having a hard time finding public buses that didn’t have me going all the way back to San Jose. I paid $64USD for the trip.
Tip: If you’re solo, try to get the front seat next to the driver, you get the best view and it’s the most comfortable. Otherwise, try for the first row, it has the most legroom – other seats are cramped and have very little legroom.
I’ve done a lot of travel in the six years since I was last in Costa Rica so I was now comfortable enough to try public buses. I was able to travel from Alajuela (the town near the San Jose airport) to Monteverde for $7 with Transmonteverde versus $54 with Interbus. Santa Teresa to San Jose cost me $17USD and I was able to book it in advance, and even reserve a seat, through LaTerminal.
Both public buses I used were the touring kind with comfortable seats and luggage stored in the hold. The second one didn’t have AC but with a good breeze coming in through the windows I didn’t mind. Chicken buses aren’t a thing in Costa Rica like they are in other Central American countries.
Taxis / Uber
If you don’t have your own car, there are times when you may need to take a taxi in Costa Rica. For instance, I needed one to get from Santa Elena to the Monteverde Cloud Forest since the public bus schedule didn’t work for me. Official taxis will always be a burgundy/red and have a yellow triangle sticker on their doors.
I didn’t try it in other places, but Uber exists in San Jose and is quite a bit cheaper than taxis so I’d recommend them for city travel. From Selina San Jose to the airport was just over $12USD, while the taxi was $20USD.
There are two airlines that fly domestic routes in Costa Rica: Sansa and Nature Air. These can save you a lot of time (25min flight from Tambor to San Jose instead of a 7 hour public bus) but also cost a lot more. Back in 2012 I took a Nature Air flight from Tamarindo to Liberia mainly for the experience and to save some time sitting in a shuttle van.
*Note: Nature Air had a fatal crash earlier this year (the very plane I’d flown in 2012 actually) and has since been cancelling many of their flights so have a backup plan if you book with them.
Meals were one of those areas where I found prices often drifted towards North American prices. Entrees in typical tourist-frequented restaurants were between $10-$15USD. Add a fruit smoothie 10% service charge and you’re looking at almost $20USD for dinner.
If you’re looking for a cheaper, more local alternative look for the sodas. A Costa Rican soda is place that serves typical Costa Rican food. A basic meal there is called a casado and typically contains rice, beans, salad, and a protein (meat, chicken, or fish are typical choices). Some sodas will add a few extras like potato, french fries, or fried sweet plantains. A casado at a soda will typically cost around $6USD.
FYI: beer at the grocery store will run you about 700 colones for a 355ml can and about 1400 colones at a restaurant.
Activities is the one area where I’m most likely to not scrimp. A big part of why I travel is for new experiences so I’m willing to pay if something sounds cool. During my 10 days in Costa Rica I went on two guided hikes, tried tree climbing, had a sunset horseback ride, two yoga classes, rented a bike for two days, and went on a full day snorkel trip. Each one of them was worth it. Expect activities to cost similar to what they might in North America.
My miscellaneous category consisted solely of a Kölbi SIM card and 2GB of data for $20USD and a few souvenirs, mainly 4lb of coffee and a few other small items.
As always, my trip could’ve been done for cheaper but my goal is always to balance budget with experience and I’m happy with how this trip turned out. While Costa Rica isn’t the cheapest place to travel in Central America you can still have amazing experiences without making your wallet cry, and I love that.