Is Costa Rica Expensive? | A Cost Breakdown Guide for Tourists!

Whether you’re from the San Francisco Bay Area in California or anywhere in Europe, you might be surprised to find out that the cost of living in Costa Rica feels about the same and, in some cases, even higher.

When you first arrive in the country, its beauty, exotic culinary delights, and adventurous activities will captivate your senses and distract you from the potential expenses.

Is Costa Rica Expensive

While being in vacation mode has its perks, you’ll soon find out that the United States dollar (USD) won’t go as far as you would think, prompting you to reevaluate your lifestyle.

How much does it cost to go to Costa Rica? Is Costa Rica Expensive? This guide will answer these questions and more. We will cover the major costs involved, including flights, accommodation, transportation, tours, and more, to give you an idea of what to expect when you’re in this Latin American country. Let’s get started!

Is Costa Rica Expensive for Tourists?

When people discover that Costa Rica is part of Central America, it creates this misconception that the country is cheap. However, the reality is far from it.

One major reason this Latin American country has the highest cost of living in the region is that the Costa Rican government has introduced social welfare programs for its people. These include free meals for the poor, a monthly educational stipend for older children, and pensions for the elderly.

The collected tax money goes towards paying for the social programs and other initiatives launched by the Costa Rican government. This makes the country relatively more expensive than its neighbors.

If you’re a tourist planning to visit Costa Rica for more than three months, you’ll soon find out that living, traveling, and eating in this part of Latin America can be expensive.

Is Costa Rica Cheap?

Due to its booming economy and well-developed tourist sector, Costa Rica is no longer cheap; some travelers have to experience living like locals to save money and avoid incurring unnecessary expenses.

How Much Does It Cost to Go to Costa Rica?

Many airlines, including Air Canada, Aeromexico, American Airlines, British Airways, JetBlue, Frontier, and more, fly to the country, so you can expect flights at competitive prices.

What’s great about this Central American country is its two international airports (Juan Santamaria International and Daniel Oduber International), providing tourists with enough flight options.

Depending on where you’re traveling from and the time of year, you can expect round-trip flights to cost between $500 and $900. Traveling from Seattle to Liberia with Alaska Airlines will set you back $650 to $800 during the dry season (December to April).

You may be able to find tickets as low as $450 for the other months. The cheapest flights are typically during the off-season.

Tips for Finding the Lowest Airfare to Costa Rica

Lowest Airfare to Costa Rica

Here are some tips that you should follow to find the lowest airfare to this beautiful Central American country:

  • Tickets are much cheaper during the off-season than in the dry months, as there are very few tourists traveling to the country. A great way to find lower airfares is to subscribe to Google Flights.
  • When searching for flights, always check the prices for both Juan Santamaria International and Daniel Oduber International. While the former is often cheaper, that’s not always the case, which is why you should do your research and comparison shop to save money.
  • Many platforms like Dollar Flight Club and Going deliver cheap flight alerts to their members. Sign up for these websites for mistaken fares.
  • Save money and opt for basic economy class. While it offers the cheapest fare, there are some limitations when it comes to luggage weight, boarding, and choosing seats.

Breakdown of the Travel Expenses: Accommodation Options in Costa Rica

If you’re wondering, “Is Costa Rica cheap?” you should remember that accommodation will always be one of the biggest expenses of your trip. However, depending on where you stay and your living preferences, you may be able to find reasonably priced places.

Budget travelers can find a bed at a dormitory for as low as $25 per night per person. For a luxurious stay at an all-inclusive resort, expect to pay up to $500.

What Are the Average Prices of Hotels in Costa Rica?

The following are the average prices per night of the different types of accommodations in Costa Rica:

  • Hostels: You can expect a bed at a standard dormitory for around $20 to $25. This price range may not include breakfast, a hot shower, or an air-conditioner.  Here’s Pete’s list of the top ones in CR.
  • Budget-friendly hotel: For around $75, you can get a decent-sized private room with an air conditioner and an en-suite bathroom. If you’re traveling with a friend, you can split this cost, as this option can sleep two people.
  • Boutique hotel: Those looking for more amenities should opt for mid-range hotels, which can cost anywhere between $90 and $150. Typically, this rate encompasses a complimentary breakfast, while each room may offer amenities such as hot water, Wi-Fi, cable television, a mini-refrigerator, and a coffee maker.
  • Luxury hotel: Starting at $250 per person, high-range hotels are an excellent option for those who want to enjoy a great view during their stay. At this price, tourists can expect an on-site restaurant, infinity pool, breakfast, bathroom amenities, hot water, and much more.
  • All-inclusive resorts: If you’re in vacation mode and don’t have any budgetary constraints, you can choose to stay at an all-inclusive resort. Starting at $250 per person, these places offer everything you need for a pleasant and relaxing experience. Buffets, ala carte restaurants, pools, gyms, and activities are some of the amenities that you can expect at this type of accommodation.
  • One-week surf camp: Are you looking for the ultimate tropical surfing experience at a pristine beach surrounded by lush tropical forests? A one-week surf camp will set you back anywhere between $1,000 and $8,000 per person. Don’t worry about additional costs, as this price includes everything, from meals to transportation, food, activities, and more.

Tips to Help You Save Money on Accommodation

Now that we’ve discussed the average prices that you can expect across a wide range of accommodation options, here are a few tips to help you save money on your stay:

  • Basic or standard hotel rooms come with a free breakfast buffet or a hot meal. While these may be more expensive than staying at dorms, you can save some money on food.
  • Try to schedule your trip during the off-season from May to November. However, keep in mind that the first two weeks of July can be expensive, as school children are on a mid-summer break. September to October are perfect months to visit Costa Rica, as there are few tourists.
  • Always check for promotions on the social media pages of the hotels in Costa Rica. They may post special offers or price savings on their Facebook or Instagram during the low season to attract more visitors.
  • Consider booking a room, condo, or apartment on VRBO or Airbnb. They are similarly priced or, in some cases, even cheaper than hotels, and you can save money on food expenses by cooking your own meals instead of eating out.

Save Money on Accommodation

The Best Hotel Booking Sites to Explore

There are many different platforms that you can visit to compare prices, some of which include, Agoda, and KAYAK. They may offer special deals and discounts, saving you money on accommodation.

Another great way to book a room in Costa Rica is to visit the hotels’ official websites. Sometimes, you might receive exclusive discounts if you book directly with them.

You can call the hotel directly and ask about the available rooms. They may offer a better price or favorable terms and conditions.

One thing to remember is that while Costa Rica has many hotels, not all of them are listed on third-party booking platforms.

Take the time to determine the area you want to stay in and browse the available options on Google Maps. You might find some hidden gems that offer unique experiences at reasonable prices.

Costs of Transportation in Costa Rica: Budgeting Your Travel Costs

Known for its incredible national parks, stunning beaches, and luscious mountainous regions, Costa Rica offers natural beauty like none other. While there are many things to do in the country, you may have to travel a lot.

Fortunately, there are many different transportation options to help you get to your destination. These include the following:

  • Public transportation: While public buses are pocket-friendly, they are not always a convenient option. If you’re on a budget, this might be the best way to travel across Costa Rica. It can cost you around $1 to move within a town or city and up to $10 for a trip to another part of the country.
  • Taxis: Whether you want to head over to the Central Valley for stunning natural views or explore the bustling streets of San Jose, taxis are a common transportation option for locals and tourists. While we don’t recommend these for long distances, they’re great for short travels. Always opt for the red-colored official metered taxis that have a yellow triangle on their door.
  • Uber: Ride-sharing apps like Uber, Didi, and InDriver are common in most major cities, including San Jose, Alajuela, Heredia, and Cartago. Unlike unofficial private taxis in Costa Rica, the prices are reasonable, and you know what to expect.  I wrote a guide to using Uber in Costa Rica, and if you are used to relying on Uber, know that it’s only in certain areas.
  • Shuttle: If you’re looking to travel between different cities, you can always opt for a shared shuttle, an airconditioned vehicle that can accommodate up to 15 people. Most major three-hour routes can cost between $58 and $65 per person. Expect to pay more for longer routes like San Jose to Montezuma. Alternatively, consider a private shuttle if you’re traveling in a group.
  • Car rental: While renting a car is expensive, you can do your research to compare rental prices across different companies to get the best price. You’ll be asked to put down a hefty deposit and purchase mandatory insurance. Prices for car rentals can vary depending on the type of vehicle and time of year. A four-door automatic sedan and a five-passenger SUV would set you back $500 and $1,100 per week, respectively.
  • Airplane: If you want to reduce travel time between cities, taking a flight is the fastest way to reach your destination. However, it is the most expensive form of transportation and will cost you between $140 and $500 per person for round-trip tickets.

For me, there is no better option than Discover Cars!  They are a one stop shop that offers recent reviews of all agencies in any pick-up location, as well as the best prices from all major and local agencies.

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Cut Your Costs of Transportation with These Tips

While there is not a lot you can do to save money on transportation in Costa Rica, here are a couple of tips to reduce your traveling expenditure:

  • Combine different methods of transportation. You can use the public buses for short and long trips. However, if you plan to stay in Costa Rica for a couple of days, it’s best to get a car rental or use taxis to save time. Careful planning is essential.
  • Renting out a car is expensive, as you need to pay for the insurance. There are many different policies, but we only recommend purchasing the mandatory one, as your credit card company may cover the others. Stick with manual transmission; they’re cheaper than automatic vehicles.
  • Search for discounts and deals on the internet. Sometimes, ride-sharing apps may provide coupons for first-time users. If you’ve never visited Costa Rica before, consider using Uber, DiDi, or other applications for short trips within the city.
  • Choose an accommodation that is near most major landmarks, grocery stores, and other attractions in San Jose or any other city you’re visiting. This will help you save money on transportation costs.

Exploring Costa Rica’s Tours: A Breakdown of Excursion Expenses

Costa Rica is a haven for all those tourists looking to embark on thrilling adventures, such as zip lining through lush rainforests, surfing on world-renowned beaches, or exploring volcanic landscapes. While these can be exhilarating, they are expensive.

We recommend skipping tours if you’re on a tight budget, but your trip won’t be as much fun. It’s best to do at least one of the exhilarating activities Costa Rica has to offer before leaving the country.

Costa Rica Tour Expenses: What to Expect on Average

Most half-day tours include roundtrip transportation, entrance fees, and a guide who can speak multiple languages. Meals are typically provided with full-day activities.

Here are the average costs of major tours per person in Costa Rica:

  • Zip lining: Tourists can expect to pay between $70 and $100.
  • One-day white water rafting: This activity could cost between $85 and $130. Prices can vary by group size and also include lunch.
  • Sunset sailing: For a half-day sunset sailing tour, tickets are around $75 to $115. The cost covers lunch, snacks, beverages, and snorkeling gear.
  • Half-day sport fishing: These are more expensive than sailing tours and can cost $500 or more, depending on the type of boat you rent.
  • Two-tank certified dive: Tourists can expect to pay around $120 for a certified dive.
  • All-inclusive tours (zip lining, horse riding, mudbaths, and more): Bundled-up activities with transportation and a multilingual tour guide will set you back $160 to $185.
  • Canyoning (waterfall rappel): This Costa Rican tourist activity will cost you $120.
  • National Park: There are many national parks that you can explore in Costa Rica, and the entrance ticket prices may vary. Depending on the tour, a foreign adult fee is around $6 to $18. Also, the Cahuita National Park is free, so make sure to explore that!
  • Guided hike: Hikes can typically cost $65. The price depends on the location and includes a multilingual tour guide.
  • Two-hour group surfing lessons: You can learn how to surf for $60. This consists of a two-hour session and board rental.
  • Horseback riding: Depending on how long the horseback ride is, it can set you back anywhere between $60 and $90.

Tips to Help You Save on Tours in Costa Rica

Tours in Costa Rica

If you’re traveling in a group with more than six people, ask for a discount on the tour. 

You can also save a lot of money if you have your own transportation. Simply travel to the Rincon de la Vieja National Park, pay the entrance fee, and enjoy a self-guided hike to the waterfall.

Budgeting for Food Expenses While in Costa Rica

Another major cost of living in Costa Rica is the food. Eating out at tourist spots or international chains can be expensive. 

We highly recommend checking out “sodas”. These are local establishments where Costa Ricans come for a quick, hot meal.

A lunch or dinner with a beverage at a soda in a tourist beach town can cost $10, including taxes. Eating out at these local establishments in cities or rural areas is much cheaper.  Here’s what people eat in Costa Rica, in case you are a noob and wanted to see what that will entail.  

Food Price Guide: The Average Cost of Eating Out in Costa Rica

Here are the average prices of different types of food and beverages you can enjoy at sodas:

  • A typical smoothie can cost $1.5, while a milkshake is generally more expensive.
  • The prices of traditional breakfast and lunch are around $5.50 and $8.50, respectively.
  • If you like to drink beer, local options are cheaper and come at $2.50 each, while craft beer is much more expensive and will set you back $7.
  • A bottle of water (1,750 ml) can cost $2.20.

Cost-cutting Tips for Dining in Costa Rica

Preparing and cooking your own meals can save you money on food. Head over to the local market for grocery shopping. Make sure you choose Costa Rican brands over international ones, as they are much cheaper.

In addition to sodas, you can grab a quick bite at any of the local bakeries. Empanadas, enchiladas, and sandwiches can fill your tummy for $1 to $2.

Since bottled water during your trip can rack up a hefty bill, consider drinking from the tap, as it’s safe in most locations. However, before you do that, confirm it with your host, as some places do not have drinkable water.

Souvenir Expenses in Costa Rica: What to Expect

There are many stores across Costa Rica selling souvenirs, such as T-shirts ($25), painted cups ($15), and trinkets ($15). It’s best to get a couple of items from the same shop and ask for a discount. Some vendors may offer 10% off on cash payments.

To save money on Costa Rica souvenirs, you can opt for local supermarkets like Maxi Pali. They have a small section where you can buy various gifts and accessories. Make sure to buy locally made products to support Costa Rica and its hardworking people.

Tipping Etiquette in Costa Rica: Is It a Must?

While tipping is not a part of the Costa Rican culture, it’s widely appreciated, especially as the country has become much more expensive in recent years. 

By paying a bit more than your actual bill (typically 10% extra), you are supporting the locals and contributing to their livelihoods.

An Overview of the Overall Costs of a Trip to Costa Rica

Let’s take airfare out of the total cost of a Costa Rican trip to give you an idea of what you could expect. Here are the different price points per person and the activities you can indulge in:

  • $50 a day: This is a shoestring budget and will only get you so far in terms of what you can do in Costa Rica. Daily dorm accommodation, eating at sodas, and walks on the beach are what you can expect for $50.
  • $75 to $100 a day: In this budget, you can get upgraded to a private room in a decent hostel, a few local beers, and a reasonably priced tour.
  • $150 to $175 a day: This budget gives you enough wiggle room. You can stay at a nice mid-range hotel, embark on a couple of tours, and rent a car. At this price point, expect to eat at proper restaurants (not sodas) and drink craft beer.
  • $200 to $375 a day: In this budget, you’re looking at a stay at a resort, several guided tours, a private car or shuttle, and dinners at upscale restaurants.
  • $400 or more a day: Costa Rica can be a heavenly place for people with this kind of budget. It includes a stay at an all-inclusive resort, nice dinners, and private guided tours.

Navigating Currency Conversions in Costa Rica

Named after Christopher Columbus, the Costa Rican currency is commonly referred to as colon or colones (plural). Since the exchange rate fluctuates daily, it can make it difficult for foreigners to convert their money. Fortunately, most shops, vendors, hotels, and restaurants in tourist destinations accept USD.

When you come to Costa Rica, make sure you carry five, 10, and 20 bills. It may be challenging to convert $50 or $100 unless you go to a bank or a casino.

While you can exchange currency at any of the two international airports, financial institutions offer the best rates. Make sure to travel with perfect bills, as most shops won’t accept paper money with signs of wear and tear.

We recommend bringing at least $300 per week in cash. Convert $100 immediately into colones for paying at places that only accept local currency. If you run low on money, there are ATMs across the country, and many shops accept credit card payments.

Heres some additional links for budget travel in Costa Rica:

Final Thoughts: Is Costa Rica Expensive?

We hope that our guide addresses the question, “How much does a trip to Costa Rica cost?” and gives you a better idea of what to expect when planning your visit to this vibrant Latin American country.

While it has become more expensive for foreign tourists, with proper planning, a few sacrifices, and following our tips for saving money, you can explore Costa Rica’s vast, rugged terrains, local cuisine, and thrilling adventures like never before without breaking the bank!

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Tim Schmidt is a 20+ year Entrepreneur and Digital Marketer. A Fort Lauderdale-based "Digital Nomad," he enjoys traveling as much as possible with family and friends. AllWorld is his escape to document all of his adventures, including being a hardcore "foodie." He has property in Costa Rica and visits several times each year and is happy to offer his expert advice for planning your trip.

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