Costa Rica is one of the nicest places to visit in the world, with breathtakingly beautiful nature, pristine beaches, and activities for the whole family. But it’s also not the least expensive place to visit…unless you know what to look for and how to save. Here are 10 tips for saving money on your next vacation to Costa Rica:
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As you get closer to peak times like Christmas, New Years, Samana Santa (Easter week) or spring break weeks, the beach towns, hotels, and resorts get insanely crowded – and expensive. So, if you plan on visiting Costa Rica during those times, you should plan on booking very early to ensure A) you can get a room, and B) you won’t have to pay exhorbitant, last minute-prices for that room. How early is early enough? I recommend at least nine months in advance but maybe even a year or more if it’s during those busiest holiday times!
Look for the important freebies
When you book any hotel or resort, there are a few things to look for that can make your stay more enjoyable as well as a whole lot less expensive. For one, try to find accommodation that offers free breakfast, which will save you (and the family) on paying for one meal per day. Some resorts are also isolated so you’ll have little choice to pay for their expensive breakfast or coffee in the morning. Likewise, check to see if your hotel offers free airport transfer. Some do, or they may offer a price for airport trips that ranges from fair to ludicrous, so do your research if you can’t get a free shuttle. They may also offer a shuttle to nearby beaches and amenities for free, which makes your Costa Rican vacation a lot easier!
Fly into Liberia or San Jose?
Many people don’t realize that Costa Rica has two major international airports, located right outside the main city of San Jose and also in the smaller city of Liberia in the northwestern region of Guanacaste. Depending on where you are coming from, your airline, the time of year, etc., it may be cheaper to fly into Liberia, especially if you are visiting Tamarindo or somewhere in that region. However, San Jose may offer better pricing and a shorter route to your final destination, but shop around for flights to both destinations and compare prices.
Ask locals for prices on activities – don’t pay the resort price
Do you want to go kayaking, horse back riding, or take a surfing lesson? Signing up for those fun activities at your swanky resort may be convenient, but you’ll probably pay 150%-300% more for the exact same thing as if you got a “local” price. Don’t be afraid to walk around a little outside of your resort, popping your head into smaller shops, business, and even asking friendly locals. You’ll probably make new friends AND save money!
Rent a car
If you need to get from Point A to Point B between beaches, cities, or just from your resort to town, taxis can run a small fortune if you’re not in easy walking distance. Just to and from the airport could easily run you $200 (total) from coastal towns! So, consider renting a car, which they make easy and cost effective right outside the airports.
Best Place to Rent Cars: DiscoverCars.com
Airline miles and reward credit card
I recommend getting a great credit card that offers airline rewards, frequent flyer points, or cash back and using it to book your airline ticket, hotel or resort, and other major purchases. Not only will you get upgrades or save a few bucks, but it will add another level of protection in case of trip cancellation or medical emergency.
Our Recommended Travel Card: Marriott Bonvoy
Move off the beach
It’s SO beautiful right on the beach in Costa Rica! But, it’s also more expensive. In fact, resorts and hotels right on the waterfront may be double what you’d pay for a similar properties only a block or two off the beach. The same goes for restaurants and just about any shop or activity.
Eat like a local!
Sure, you’ll want to enjoy grand feasts at fancy restaurants as the sun goes down, but mix it up with a few visits to local eateries. Called sodas, they’re like cafaterias for local Ticos, but the food is REALLY good and REALLY cheap! Try the plato tipico!
Airbnb/condo instead of hotel
If you are bringing the family down to Costa Rica, a group for work, or a wedding party, booking that many hotel rooms can get incredibly pricey. Instead, consider a condo or apartment through Airbnb, or it may be more cost effective to rent a whole huge house for the week!
When you’re booking a hotel, activity, or buying anything of significant value, I like to first negotiate a price and THEN ask for a discount if I pay cash. The worse they can say is no, but they might just hit you with a little discount of 10% or more. Why not ask?
Know the exchange rate
You may think you’re getting a good price, but hotel booking sites, rental agencies, and even credit cards or debit cards may be raking you over the coals when it comes to the exchange rate. Know an approximate exchange rate and insist on a reasonable rate – or pay in cash!
Of course, most people can make the trip south to Costa Rica during their vacations from work or school, but those are also the busiest – and most expensive – times to go. Instead, try your best to book off-season, whether that means avoiding holiday weeks or even going during the Green (rainy) Season. Costa Rica will still be enjoyable and your money will go twice as far – or, you can stay twice as long!