The first time I ever went to Costa Rica was the first time I ever travelled alone. I was in uni on a very limited student budget, looking to see and do as much as possible for the lowest cost.
So I set myself a challenge: Spend no more than $1,000USD on the whole trip. I was going to be there for a month. I was including flight costs into that maximum allowance. I wasn’t receiving any financial assistance from outside sources that would help me cut my costs.
And you know what? I did it. Not only did I budget the trip within my goal, but I also spent significantly less than I had planned! So I’m sure you’re wondering, how did I manage to spend a whole month in Costa Rica for just $750USD?
Let me break it down for you:
- I bought flights early. The earlier you book, the more you’re likely to save. Yes, flights to Costa Rica from the US are significantly cheaper than from Australia, but you can still find a good deal if you know where/when to look. My hot tips are to scour student fare sites, clear your cookies before you search (some say this does nothing but I think it helps), buy as early as possible, and look for flights to all destinations within the country rather, as some may be significantly cheaper to fly into than others. I believe I spent about $400USD on my flight from North Carolina to San Jose in January. While flights from Australia to San Jose are significantly more (about $1,500AUD on average), this will likely be the biggest expense of the trip by a long shot, so don’t worry too much.
- I worked in exchange for accommodation. There are lots of websites now that offer these sorts of arrangements, but Workaway is still one of my favourites. That’s how I discovered Rancho Delicious, an organic farm and yoga centre in the gorgeous Montezuma region. I volunteered about 4-5 hours a day in exchange for greatly reduced-price lodging (about $10USD per night) in the centre’s open-air eco-house. The cost included three delicious, organic meals per day as well as snacks, drinks and entertainment. The work was not too challenging and volunteers were given two free days per week to go off and explore the surrounding area.
- I ate at Sodas. No, it’s not a place that sells soft drinks. It’s the name for casual Costa Rican restaurants that sell typical fare at wallet-friendly prices. A plate of rice, beans, plantains and a fried egg is standard at these establishments. It’s delicious, filling and only about $5AUD a plate. Fruit stands are another great spot to frequent for a snack or light meal. For just a few dollars, you can get an abundance of tropical and refreshing fruit, coconut and freshly-squeezed juices.
- I booked transportation in advance. It’s not unheard of for tourists to get scammed in Costa Rica – Especially if you don’t speak Spanish and if you’re spending your time in big cities like San Jose. To avoid getting overcharged by a sneaky cab driver, illegitimate tour company or dodgy car rental company, I recommend you book your transportation online if possible. The same goes for accommodation, as some hotel managers manipulate the cost of lodging for unknowing walk-in customers.
- I entertained myself with cheap and free activities. Costa Rica is a nature-lovers dream and as we all know, nature is free! (Or at least it should be.) Costa Rica has a law that all beaches must have public access, meaning you can visit any of them for absolutely no cost. The area is also known for its abundance of wildlife, waterfalls, forests and mountains, most of which are also quite accessible and low-cost to see. That being said, if you’d prefer to explore this unknown terrain with the assistance of a local expert, we offer plenty of budget-friendly tours in Costa Rica. Local markets and festivals are another fun activity to check out without having to spend much cash.
If you don’t count flights, I would say it’s very possible for you, too, to spend less than $1,000 over a month in this tropical paradise if you follow these tips. Costa Rica is generally a very affordable country where your dollar can go quite far if you want it to.
Have you been to Costa Rica? What are some ways you’ve saved while there?