What does a vacation in Costa Rica cost?? When planning a trip to Central America, you will almost automatically come across this question. Costa Rica has the reputation of being quite expensive.
Compared to the really cheap neighboring countries and to the rest of Central and South America this is true – the prices in Costa Rica are at the top in almost every area.
The costs of a trip in Costa Rica are rather comparable with the vacation costs in Europe. Overnight stays, restaurant visits and many products of the daily life cost similarly much as we are used to it from Germany.
During my six-week trip through all of Costa Rica, I of course always kept an eye on the costs and paid quite close attention to what I spent.
In this article I will now tell you the expenses and prices you have to reckon with on your Costa Rica vacation. I also give tips on how to save money during the trip.
Colones and Dollar – General information about currency
Photo: Banknote / Shutterstock
During your Costa Rica vacation you pay with Colones – and with the perhaps most beautiful banknotes of the world.
The brightly colored banknotes make Costa Rica’s extraordinary biodiversity their theme and show various animal inhabitants of the country: Dolphins, sloths, butterflies and hummingbirds, among others, are printed on them.
One Colon is once again divided into 100 Centimos. Centimos are always given out as change, but they have no de facto purpose other than to weigh down your wallet. 600 Colones are worth about one Euro – for 50 Centimos you can’t buy anything.
In Costa Rica you can pay almost everywhere with US dollars, most of the time this is even very welcome. Even most ATMs will dispense dollars as well as colones if you wish. The change you get when paying in Colones – the exchange rate is usually not very advantageous.
In many, especially smaller places in Costa Rica there are no ATMs, so you should always have cash with you for the next two to three days. Credit card payments are not accepted everywhere, even in touristic places.
You can exchange money in Costa Rica’s banks – but with Euros it can sometimes be difficult. Better to have dollars with you. However, the most practical and cheapest way to get cash is to use an ATM.
All major credit cards (Visa, Master, American Express) are accepted there. Often the simple EC card also works. However, the European EC system is not as widespread in Costa Rica as it is in Germany, so I would definitely bring a credit card.
Like many other frequent travelers, I have had only good experiences with the travel credit card of the DKB bank in recent years. Current account including Visa card are free of charge, furthermore you don’t have to pay for cash withdrawals at ATMs worldwide.
Travel: This is what flights to Costa Rica cost
Usually you fly to the biggest international airport of Costa Rica in San Jose. For a roundtrip flight from Germany to Costa Rica you have to calculate with about 600-800 Euro. If you are very flexible with your schedule, can put up with several connecting airports, and are also lucky, you can occasionally find flights for 500-600 euros.
Especially cheap flight offers from Germany to Costa Rica can often be found with Condor. Otherwise I prefer to use the flight search engines of Skyscanner or Kayak.
The airport is called "Juan SantamarIa" and, strictly speaking, is not in the capital, but about 20 kilometers away in the town of Alajuela. Depending on the traffic, it takes about half an hour by bus to get to the center of San Jose, and you pay about 600 colones (about one euro).
By cab it is a bit faster and more comfortable, but it also costs a lot more: you have to calculate with 10-15 thousand Colones (16-25Euro). Here you can already start to save money.
After arriving at the airport, many travelers save the trip to San Jose completely. The capital itself is not one of the highlights of the country and all buses to the Pacific coast also stop in Alajuela.
Traveling within Costa Rica
Costa Rica has the great advantage for travelers of being a fairly small country. The distances you want to cover are therefore usually relatively short. However, this advantage is taken away by the poor infrastructure.
Actually there are only around San Jose well developed roads as we are used to in Germany. Besides that only the biggest cities are connected. Even tourist highlights can only be reached by unpaved roads, other places (for example Tortuguero) are located so deep in the jungle that they can only be reached by boat or plane.
As long as you are not traveling by domestic plane, you should allow for much longer travel times per kilometer than is usual in Europe.
Cheapest: Travel by bus
The cheapest means of transportation in Costa Rica are buses. They drive on the common routes quite often and, especially for South American conditions, also very punctual. For many routes you have to go through San Jose, which is a kind of hub for bus connections.
The most expensive bus connection from San Jose still costs less than 20 Euro, many connections are available for less than ten Euro.
Besides the regular buses, there are shuttle buses between the major tourist centers. Larger hotels are the stops here – but these shuttles cost many times more.
More expensive, but freer: Road trips with a rental car
If you have more money available, you should think about a rental car. Road trips through Costa Rica with rented cars are very popular, although often an adventure in itself due to the bad roads – but that doesn’t have to be much different with the buses.
When booking a rental car, it is important to choose a vehicle with four-wheel drive – many car rental companies do not offer cars without four-wheel drive.
The cheapest cars of this class in Costa Rica cost about 25 – 30 Euro per day. Here you can check the latest offers. The price of gasoline in Costa Rica is usually between 550 and 600 Colones, just under one Euro per liter. Diesel costs between 420 and 480 Colones per liter (70-85 cents).
If you want/need to save time, domestic flights can also be worthwhile. Flights within Costa Rica never take more than an hour and a half and can be had for 60 to 100 Euros, depending on the season and destination.
The two biggest airlines for domestic flights in Costa Rica are Sansa and NatureAir. They fly to every major city in the country. Often the flights take place with rather small propeller planes with only 20 or 30 seats. A flight at low altitude over the coasts and the jungle can be a real highlight!
Hitchhiking: Even if the Ticos themselves do not hitchhike longer distances, hitchhiking in Costa Rica is not difficult. Waiting times are shorter in remote areas, where even the local population gives a thumbs up. I hitchhiked more often on the surf beaches of the pacific coast, there it is especially easy.
Accommodation in Costa Rica
Clearly hostels are the cheapest way to stay in Costa Rica. One night in a shared room can be bought occasionally for 3500 Colones (
6 Euro), usually you pay 5000-7000 Colones (8-12Euro).
Double rooms in hostels go at about 10.000 Colones (17 Euro), more realistic is 15.000 (26 Euro) and more. Since hostels rarely have real single rooms, if you want to stay in a "private room" you will have to pay the same price as a single traveler.
For the search for hostels I mostly use Booking.com, which also has a very handy app for on the go.
Throughout Costa Rica you can find very good deals on Airbnb for private rooms and apartments. Single rooms are available from 15-20 Euros, whole apartments from 40 Euros and for larger groups from 60 Euros.
Secure 35 euros Airbnb startup credit: Book through this link and get 35 euros off your first Airbnb stay!
If you like to meet locals: There are of course also a lot of couchsurfers in Costa Rica! I stayed one night in San Jose with the host Esteban: Met a cool guy from the city, went to a student party with him and some buddies – full marks in fun factor, cost zero euros.
If you want to travel as cheaply as possible, you should avoid too many restaurant visits in Costa Rica. Casado, the national dish of Costa Rica (beans with rice and plantain, served with either chicken, pork or fish) costs 5 to 9 euros in a normal restaurant. International dishes like pizza, pasta or burgers cost even more.
If you want to save money, cook for yourself. On the other hand, most hostels have shared kitchens. In the supermarket you should go for local dishes – everything imported costs right. For example, half a kilo of noodles can cost more than two euros. Very cheap is rice, a real dream are the many local fruits: melons, bananas, pineapple, papaya – super fresh, super tasty, super healthy and also really cheap.
A compromise between "restaurant" and "cooking yourself" are the so-called sodas. A soda is a typical Costa Rican snack, you can also find them in smaller villages and in cities on every street corner.
The offer is limited: Mostly there is not much more than Casados for lunch and dinner, for breakfast the other national dish of Costa Rica, Gallo Pinto (again beans with rice, this time with fried or scrambled eggs). Alcohol is not available, but the sodas are subsidized by the government and can offer a main meal for two to three thousand colones (3-5 euros).
By the way, you should drink coffee in Costa Rica: It is grown here and exported all over the world. My impression was that they keep the best part of the harvest here and drink it themselves – I have never had better coffee than here. The good thing is that you don’t have to go to a fancy coffee shop, the coffee tastes great everywhere! You usually pay about one euro for a cup.
For the sake of completeness: If you go to bars in the evening, you pay just under two euros for a beer (mostly Impereal or Pilsen), cocktails (with the fresh fruit!) cost about double.
Activities, Action& Adventure
Action-wise, Costa Rica is one highlight after the other: Surfing, diving, kayak paddling, canopy tours, white water rafting, wildlife watching – it’s definitely not boring here! However, you should have the necessary small change with you, because the tours and adventure excursions are not cheap.
My white water rafting adventure, for example, cost 80 euros for a full day. Transportation, a meal, an additional snack, all instructors and all equipment were included – nevertheless the.
A surf course starts at about 50 Euro (for 3 hours). If you don’t need the course, but want to rent a surfboard and wetsuit, you’ll have to put down 8 to 15 euros for a day. Canopy/Ziplining tours cost 60 to 80 euros. You have to pay about 80 Euro for a full day diving trip with two dives.
Tips to save money
The best way to save money is certainly to avoid the main travel season (December – April). Although this is the dry season and one travels pretty sure completely rain-free. However, this is also the busiest place in the country, hostels and hotels are fully booked and the cost of accommodation and activities is generally more expensive and non-negotiable.
On the other hand, it is much emptier during the rainy season and you can also haggle a bit or bargain for special offers such as weekly prices in hostels.
I was in Costa Rica during the rainy season in October and didn’t find it bad at all: the weather was gorgeous all day long and was only interrupted by a heavy rain shower every day in the afternoon. Sometimes it was already so hot at noon that I was almost looking forward to this cooling off.
By the way, the Ticos call the rainy season the green time – on wildlife tours you even get to see the most animals at this time and the rainforest is most impressive!
The only real downside to the rainy season is that some of the dirt roads are impassable and many hiking trails are blocked.
This is how expensive Costa Rica is:
Costa Rica is by no means a cheap travel destination. Even if you are a very thrifty traveler, you have to expect a daily budget of at least 25-30 Euros. Depending on what and how many activities you want to take on the road so it can also be quite expensive.
For your Costa Rican experiences, more money saving tips or questions, hit the comments – I’m happy to hear from everyone!