The Cost of Traveling Costa Rica

la fortuna waterfallCosta Rica is one of the most expensive countries in Central America. The whole country is a giant tourist trail, and older Americans and retirees have driven up prices over the years. Many budget travelers simply skip the country all together because they feel it’ll be too expensive. Since it’s a hugely popular destination, I was skeptical I could do Costa Rica on the cheap. But I also wanted to prove to other travelers that, while expensive, Costa Rica can still be affordable. My budget goal was $35 USD per day, with a max of $40 USD.

How Much Did I Spend?

In total, I was in Costa Rica for 20 days and I spent 424,660 colones or $849.32 USD. (The exchange rate is about $1 USD = 500 colones). That works out to be an average of $42.46 USD per day. So, like in Panama, I went over my budget. However, I often set my budgets low simply as motivation not to spend a lot of money. There’s many reasons why I went over my budget, but let me break down my expenses first:

Food: 150,755 colones or $301.51 USD
Alcohol: 16,740 colones or $33.48 USD
Bottled water: 9,150 colones or $18.30 USD
Accommodation: 89,530 colones or $179.06 USD
Activities: 17,500 colones or $35 USD
Local buses: 9,105 colones or $18.21 USD
Cabs: 98,000 colones or $196 USD
Miscellaneous: 33,880 colones or $67.76 USD

My miscellaneous expenses were things like laundry, sunscreen, a poncho, and the departure tax. I didn’t factor these costs into my original budget plans. Moreover, I took a lot of taxis, because sometimes they were the fastest and most convenient way to go—but they were certainly not the cheapest. I overspent on food simply because I did eat a lot of nice seafood dinners on the coast as well as have some Western meals. Also, in many touristy areas a cheap meal can still cost 4,000 colones ($6 USD).

palm tree in manuel antonio

Can You Do it Cheaper?

Yes, but it won’t be fun. If you simply account for food, room, and buses, you can probably get by on a bare-bones of $30 USD per day. But you won’t enjoy it. That budget has no activities included, and the fun, adventure activities like zip lining, surfing, diving, and jungle trekking are what make this country as amazing as it is. It’s not a budget I would recommend.

On my budget of $43 USD a day, you’ll be staying in cheap rooms, eating mostly local food and some Western meals, going out, and affording many activities. If you avoid the taxis, you can have even more money for fun adventure activities. I didn’t do a lot of adventure tours this time, since I did them the first time I was in Costa Rica. I never felt I was missing out on anything with my budget, and though it’s more than you might spend in Nicaragua or El Salvador, $43 USD shouldn’t be high enough to scare you away from the country.

Ways to Save Money

palm tree in manuel antonio

There’s plenty of ways to save money in Costa Rica. And if you don’t at least try to do some inexpensive things while here, your budget will go through the roof.

Don’t drink.
Drinking in bars in Costa Rica can be quite expensive. Local beer is typically 1,200 colones ($2.50 USD). Sometimes you can find it for around 900 colones, but that’s very rare and usually during a happy hour. I avoided drinking here simply because it was too expensive.

Eat at the sodas. The “sodas” are the local Tico restaurants and a great bargain. You can usually find the casado, the typical local dish, for around 2,000 colones (about 1/2 the price of tourist restaurants). In many of the towns on the Caribbean, you can find meals for under 1,000 colones. I found the empanadas the best value for money. For 500 colones, I could get a filling snack/light meal.

Eat at Musmanni. Musmanni is a bakery found all over the country. They offer a great lunch special. For 1,000 colones, you can get a sandwich and a soda. Most of their pastries are only 300 colones. I ate at this place whenever I found one, because it helped keep my food costs down.

Stay in dorms. Accommodation in Costa Rica isn’t cheap. I stayed at a few budget hotels and they were around 15,000 colones ($30 USD) per night. Dorm rooms offer the best value as they cost only 5,000 colones ($10 USD) per night. On the Caribbean coast, you can find them for around $8 USD.

Couchsurf. Don’t like dorms? Use the site Couchsurfing, which can connect you will locals who will let you stay at their house for free. It’s a great way to meet locals and cut down your accommodation costs.

Drink the water. Though I spent 9,150 colones on bottled water, the water in Costa Rica is safe to drink. I would always lose my water bottle and have to replace it, but if you can remember to keep yours, refill it from the tap and avoid spending money on water.

For more travel tips on Costa Rica, take a look at my guide to Costa Rica travel.

  1. great post. its a shame costa rica is so expensive. can be a deterrent for going and its SUCH an incredible country! i loved eating at the sodas and musmanni too!pura vida para siempre…

    • Matt Ryan

      Costa Rica? Expensive? I take it that this is the only place you’ve ever visited. Try the UK. That will change your mind about the definition of expensive.

      • Tom C

        a group of young seniors are looking to go to costa rica and stay at an all inclusive, we are looking at flying into san jose an traveling to the pacific side, i have googled the 3d map and the suggested travel looks pretty good, however when you read the travel advisories it causes concerns about the safety, what can you say about the trip from san jose to liberia area and coast line

        • It is not cheap for sure, however, if you you still want to visit Costa Rica, take into consideration the following: travel in the green season and bargain as much as you can, try local food avoiding turistic places and plan your trip with a couple of friends to split certain costs.

          • Ross

            Don’t do the all inclusive it is way easyer and cheaper to do it yourself! All inclusives are made for people that don’t know how to travel! Fly to San Jose take the bus to jaco then take the water taxi to Montezuma. You will not be disappointed! About safety, CR is safe just be smart and you will be fine. It much safer than any big city in the states. Good luck

        • Do you think two seniors 70 and 80 would be safe to travel alone? It’s the heart’s desire of the 80-year old to go to Costa Rica however she is very thrifty. If we went for a week what are the main attractions to not miss. We don’t care about zip lining, surfing, kayaking. We just want to see the natural flora and fauna.

          • bryan orr

            My wife (age 68) and I (age 67) just came home from a 21 day trip in Costa Rica. If you’d like a detailed answer to your question, please send me an e mail…Otherwise CR is safe, easily navigated (we rented a car and did about 2400 kilometers on mostly great roads) and affordable. Must sees are Playa Flamingo, Uruzu Vocano, Zacera, Avenida Central in San Jose, Manuel San Antonio National Park, the Arenal area and Montezuma. With airfare from FT Lauderdale, reserved hotels, car rental, meals and all entrance fees, the trip cost was a bit less than $3400. And it was a great adventure for mature, independent, adventurous and experienced travelers.

  2. Hey Matt!
    Your tips are super spot on — and this is unfortunately an all too true account of how expensive it is to travel in Costa Rica. After living there for about 4 months I ended up spending something like $2,000 USD (food and accommodation was taken care of through a volunteer program) but saved a lot of money when traveling around by camping, sometimes on people’s lawns, ($2-6 per night), and doing DIY hikes (check with park rangers first though…) People were also pretty nice about giving my friends and I lifts in the more remote parts of the Interamericana, which made DIY tours a lot more feasible.

    Hope you don’t mind me adding my 2 cents, and keep up the good work :)

    • Patrick

      Jesse, can you tell me more about the “camping” that you experienced? This was one way I was planning on cutting costs and came to this site just for this info. People let you stay on their lawns? I guess I was planning to stay on the beach a lot and was curious if that’s what you did. Thanks!

  3. I admit to not being a budget traveler like you are, but I just returned from Costa Rica and have a few thoughts of my own. I definitely advise, as you have, that travelers build in an activities budget. The activities are expensive, but it’s so worth paying for them (and paying more for the guided opportunities versus doing them on your own). I spent *at least* $35/day on activities. Regarding water, I didn’t pay anything because I drank out of the tap. That’s a quick and cheap way to save a few bucks. Also, the hostels are expensive, and just because they’re more expensive, doesn’t mean they’re better. Pack ear plugs, especially for travel to La Fortuna!

  4. Great post on costs for Costa Rica – we also think it’s a shame that so many travelers bypass the country based on rumors of it being too expensive. You’re right about the ways to keep costs down, and looking for food deals – we know you loved the Musmanni deal :-) Costa Rica just requires research if you want to keep your budget down. We stayed at a place in Monteverde for $20 a night (for two) with wi-fi, free breakfast, free coffee and kitchen, just 1 minute from a supermarket, and we paid between $20 – 30 for double rooms the whole time. I’d also really advise taking part in the activities, because Costa Rica has great tours that are rarely a rip-off. Just cut down on the beer (you’re totally right about that) and drink tap water, and research budget hotels/hostels before you move to a new destination. Great post, I miss Costa Rica already :-)

  5. Brandon Pearce

    Wow, you really covered everything well. After reading your list, I wanted to tell you that you can drink the water, but it looks like you caught that on your last point. I’ve been living in Costa Rica for over a year with my wife and kids, and it’s been awesome! We have traveled to most of the country, as well as neighboring countries, and it’s definitely the most expensive country in the area. But it’s also the most developed and comfortable for tourists who like a little more pampering.

    The only other way I can think of to save money is to hit the smaller, less touristy towns and do more local activities. Food, lodging and activities are usually much cheaper that way. There are places in Grecia and San Carlos, for example, where you can zip line for 1/3 the price you’d pay at Monteverde. You can also hit locals beaches rather than the big names. Sure, it’s not quite as spectacular, and you may not find any English speakers, but you’re still out in the beautiful nature, and are having a little more authentic Costa Rican experience.

    • Monica Eisenman

      Hello Matt,

      For my 9 year old daughters Christmas Present this year I am taking us to Costa RIca for the month of January. This gift is a huge financial savings for me to prepare for but I’m ready to take the “City” out of my kid and shed a little budget on her. I have a lot of questions, sincerely hope you don’t mind answering them. I came across your Traveling Costs and felt some relief. But of course as a single mother I want to make certain I will have enough when I get there.
      I want to go bare bones, travel with backpacks and a tent, possibly stay with local families, in hostels or dorms (as long as they are safe). I’m a pretty down to earth woman and can handle sleeping on the ground, don’t care so much for snakes but love adventure. I DO NOT want a Disney World Vacation with my daughter. Been there, had sensory overload, done that! What I do want is for her to be enriched by, a more simplistic lifestyle, incredible wildlife, breathtaking activities and for her to have the desire to crack open her book instead of playing with electronics. It would be awesome if I could connect with some sort of volunteering project while we are there so that I can instill some “hard work=feels good” in my daughter as well. I want her to visit a local elementary school and possibly attend for the day to see how the local children in Costa Rica are learning. My whole goal for this trip is to obviously enjoy our time while there but I don’t care to spend an arm and a leg while staying there. Lavish hotels and with sparkling pools isn’t the goal here. I would even be keen on finding a ‘shack’ near the beach for the month with the ability to cook most of our meals and just shop at local farmers markets. I do want this experience to mainly be foot travel, bikes and buses. Again, I’m trying to take the “City” out of my daughter. Do you recommend the Caribbean Coast or Pacific Coast? After looking at my map I’ve noticed the Caribbean Coast is less populated which to mean seems more like what im looking for. But is the Pacific Coast more populated because the beaches are easier to swim in? I work in the service industry in the states, most people tip 20% or more. Is this a common practice while in CR? Do you recommend being vaccinated before going, or is it even necessary? What did you not pack for your trip that you wish you would have had so you wouldn’t have to spend the money on it while there? Thank you in advance for responding!! And also thank you for your useful blog, I have enjoyed reading it!!

      • Anne

        If I were you, I would definitely wait until your daughter is in her teens at least until taking her on a trip. My parents took me to belize when I was 10, and I barely remember anything. She’ll appreciate it more when she’s older too.

  6. Thanks for all the practical information, Matt. I have never been to Costa Rica, and it’s on my list…as is all of Central America. If I could only spend a month, say in Central America where would you suggest going? Does one country come to mind that may be more off the beaten path than Costa Rica? I’m just looking to relax in nature…

  7. Thank you for this! We are going to CR for the first time this November and are also seriously considering moving there in about 3 years. Logistically it sounds right, now we just have to go and make sure we like it 😉

    (i have a feeling that won’t be a problem!)

  8. Good suggestion to drink the water. Some countries you should watch out for, but I find that if I do a little research before heading out, I can avoid needlessly spending money over false worries.
    What countries have you been to that don’t have drinkable water?

  9. Bob

    Like how you break this down.

    Met a lady in Sei Lanka who brings water purification tablets. Could save a bundle and guess you did y drink much beer but ibviously enjoy drinking as iy was like 1/4 of costs lol

      • Julie

        It depends where in Costa Rica. I lived in Drake Bay for a period and even the locals don’t drink the water there. It’s often mud brown when it comes out of your tap!

  10. There’s an easy way to drink in Costa Rica without spending much: drink rum instead of beer. For what you spend on 4 beers, you can get a bottle of 5-year rum. Spend $15 and you can get something that would cost $60 at home.

    Plus going to Costa Rica and skipping the adventure activities is like going to Peru and skipping the Inca sites. You said you had done all that before, but for anyone going the first time, that’s the main reason to visit.

    I agree wholeheartedly though that this is the most expensive destination in Central America and you can get a much better value in neighboring countries. But in none of them can you drink the water and only in Belize can you get away so easily with only speaking English. Costa Rica has a far more educated workforce. Less garbage and pollution too!

    • NomadicMatt


      If you use my overpriced food budget as well as my taxi budget, I still believe that the cost would work out that same. National parks are cheap to visit, surfing lessons aren’t that expensive, and zip lining or doing a coffee tour once won’t destroy your budget!

      Even with tours, I think the cost is around $40-45 dollars per day!

      • Terilyn

        Thanks for the helpful tips. I am traveling to Costa Rica in Nov and would like to purchase a land-only tour package. Does anyone know of inexpensive local travel agencies in San Jose? The tour packages online in the US start at $900 for 9 days which includes transportation, hotel, breakfast, Arenal Volcano, Monteverde, and Manual Antonio.

  11. Kaylee

    Hey Matt, thanks for the info! Looking to make a trip to Costa Rica in September with a strict budget, so this will help me a lot! I have a typical “chic” question for you… How bad are the bugs? My friends and I don’t want to stay in dorms, so we’re going to splurge on hotels. Any advice? Thanks!!

    • Juan Eduardos

      I can tell you that it is very expensive to vacation in Costa Rica, but then again as Canadian’s we might have been spoiled with the all inclusive vacation packages to Cuba over the years. The cost of tours in Costa Rica are very high, considering the fact that the guides we talked to were only earning about $4.US per hour. The cost of restaurants was about the same as in Canada, groceries and electronic items were much more expensive. Costa Rica is a nice place to visit “once” unless you are rich, and also remember to stay clear of San Jose, don’t even consider driving there.

  12. great post…. its really worth sharing..
    my hobby is travel… i have traveled many parts of North America… Costarica is one of my favorite places… And whenever I visit here I prefer for cheap and luxury accommodation…

  13. Grafton Reed

    I lived in San Jose for a year. That poor little country is pricing itself out of the tourism industry. It’s very expensive and the quality is poor. Food is never a culinary delight, rooms are lacking in maintenance, and customer service is slow. At Hipper Mas, I will stand in line at check out for an hour. The prices are higher than the USA at much lower quality. If you want to live like a Tico, and shop at the open air farmers markets it can be bearable. I could elaborate about the cause. A poorly structured and enforced taxation system. That’s why they duty all imports at 50%. Food is lame because flavor is just not in their culture. They don’t really care. My advice, go to Dominica or Nicaragua. If I had it to do over again, I would have went to Brazil to spend my year abroad. Costa Rica is headed for some really hard times in the very near future. They know it too. But like typical Ticos, they bury there head in the sand and pretend. It’s a beautiful country, but lots of littering, plastic bags and bottles. I like the people, my CR family was very nice and warm. They just don’t get it. It doesn’t have to be this way.

  14. Yes it was cheaper but more everything is more high. It’s a shame for a poor country to be too expensives. The gov from here wants to do USA system because Laura Chinchilla it’s. an American lover. She fucked up this country with Oscar Arias. Abel pacheco Jose Maria figueres . Now they want money for everything , we work to support the last gov from Costa Rica So pleaseTourist dont come alot to this country because affect all the people who live here.

  15. Melanie

    Here’s part of a letter I just sent to my travel agent concerning my recent trip to Costa Rica – and yes, it’s one of the most expensive places I’ve been – but that wasn’t the only adventure:

    Major complaints:
    • Was not informed that our first night hotel (Mountain Paradise) was a 3 hour drive from the SJO airport – we arrived at the rental car agency at 8.30 pm and were told that the hotel’s front desk closed at 10 pm – luckily the rental car agent contacted them so the hotel staff were waiting for us at 2 am when we finally arrived. It was also an extremely dangerous drive, at night in heavy fog on really bad mountain roads…
    • It was a good thing my travel agent screwed up the car reservation – turns out we needed an SUV on this trip, as the roads were so bad we bottomed out the SUV in potholes (and we weren’t driving more than a few mph!) and had to pay $100 in damages on the SUV – the pothole situation would have been nice to know beforehand! I really had no idea how bad the infrastructure was there…
    • The tour through the rain forest was interesting, and we did see some fun wild life, but the conditions were so muddy and nasty I started calling it the Bataan Death March (no disrespect meant to Filipinos) – I thought I was going to die in the jungle…or get trench foot.
    • Travel between hotels was very arduous – because of the road conditions, it took a day (5-6 hours minimum) to travel between hotels, cutting down significantly on our sightseeing times. Since there are only 12 hours of daylight every day (5.30 am – 5.30 pm), it’s not easy to get somewhere before dark unless you leave VERY early. We completely missed the La Paz Waterfall “freebie” that was part of our vacation package because we didn’t arrive at our final hotel until 3 pm (after traveling since 9 am in the morning), and were told the La Paz Waterfall was another 2 hours away and closed at 5 pm! ? Some freebie that was!
    • We had to cancel a white water rafting trip we had pre-booked – who gets up at 2 am to raft, particularly when you have to drive down a pothole filled mountain road with no guardrails in the dark and fog??? There’s a reason it’s called the Cloud Forest after all – couldn’t someone have warned us that we would never make it to the 6am tour on time before we bought the tickets? Could they have told us it was at 6am in the first place?
    • The restaurant service at Hotel Mountain Paradise and the Playa Flamingo Beach Resort was terrible beyond words – we had to chase down waiters for our food. The only decent and attentive service overall was at Villa Blanca Cloud Forest Nature Preserve.
    • A cop pulled us over for speeding at one point – he was looking for foreigners in rental cars (speed trap) – he tried to charge us $700 for speeding, but he settled for everything that was in our wallets (about $115). Corruption is rampant in the police force apparently – our car rental agent said as much.
    Anyway – if you are not up for adventure and major expenditures for substandard food, I wouldn’t go to Costa Rica. I almost think Hawaii would have been more my speed, and I’m a pretty experienced traveler, and have been to countries that are much poorer than Costa Rica (but they had better service and better infrastructure – go figure!).

  16. anthony

    Would it be okay if I called you? I am planning a trip to your country and I thought who better to answer my questions than a person from the area. Thanks. I am currently in Italy and plan on being there this coming week. I am originally from the Boston USA area.

  17. Hello Nomadic Matt

    I really enjoyed your post and I think it was right about most things. Costa Rica has so much to do and see! The country has been able to allow the development of options for all kinds of travelers, including the budget-minded. We like and respect these tourists. They typically show a great deal of respect for the environment and biodiversity, which keep Costa Rica unique and amazing as a destination.

    All matters considered, 20 days in paradise for $850.00 is a great deal and a great result for a well-planned spending strategy. I think one good last piece of advice for any traveler, regardless of the budget, would be to do lots of research prior to their trip, don’t you think? Distances, services, do’s and don’ts… that will surely help you make good decisions and enjoy your trip even more.

  18. Hey Matt,
    I love your blog! I’m new to the blog world, but I will be visiting Costa Rica next week. I currently have no itinerary other than a flight to la fortuna to see the volcano. I was planning on checking the weather when I arrive in San Jose on Oct 16th, I fly to la fortuna the next morning and after that I’m just playing it by ear for 2 weeks. Any suggestions for this time of year?

  19. Donna Simmons

    Going to Costa Rica at the end of March and doing some research regarding vaccinations. I went to Lima last March with only a tetanus, but stayed away from tap water completely and did fine. Is the water really safe to drink in Costa Rico? Thinking I should probably get the typhoid! Any thoughts?

  20. Morgan

    What kind of luggage did you carry around for the month you were in Costa Rica? Did you stick with a backpack or did you have rolling luggage? Any suggestions?

  21. Jennifer

    I am planning a trip to the beautiful Costa Rica and have found your site, Matt, to be incredibly helpful. Went to Nica last year and that was amazingly affordable. I do have a question, how safe is it to just camp wherever? Is there any advice? Also, I am a little uneasy to go to Rica without any planned lodging. I need some reassurance, please. Thanks again! Cannot wait :)

  22. Bailey

    When I went to CR a couple of years ago, I took public transit everywhere.

    It took about 4.5 hours to get from San Jose to Quepos. The bus was hot and crowded (luckily I made it in time to get a seat – people that came later had to stand!). I travelled this way throughout CR.
    And then on the way back to San Jose, I met another traveller and he told me you can buy tickets at the bus depot for direct buses. It only cost around $15 USD. Nobody had to stand, the bus was nearly as hot and stinky, and we didn’t have to make a hundred stops on the way!
    I definitely wish I’d have known that before. Although regular public transit is cheap and gets you where you need to go, for longer journeys I found it is worth it to take a direct bus.

  23. ellen

    Thanks man!

    But I’ve got a question… only spend 35 USD on activities….how is that possible? Did you dive at all? Did u go rafting, canyoning, visiting a national park?
    Those activities are a lot more expensive I guess.

    • NomadicMatt

      I didn’t dive when I was there and I just paid the entrance fees for the national parks and hiked on my own.

  24. Panama is way cheaper than Costa Rica, I own the bambu hostel in david panama, and for $10 a night we offer orthopedic mattresses and an inground pool..wifi kitchen and expansive gardens and bar..

    beers in Panama are .60 vs $2 in costa rica..and the natural beauty and beaches are amazing too..come to panama.

    • Donna Watridge

      Sounds interesting! What’s the weather like in Panama in February and March? Activities available? Do you have any private rooms available?

  25. Valerie

    Hi Matt,
    My girlfriend and I are both going to Costa Rica in mid September and after reading the blogs that you have posted I’m a little concerned a bit. I was going to budget $700 including some of the activity, but that seems like I was budgeting too low since there maybe some added expenses as mention on top by tourist traps and scams. Matt when we get to Costa Rica where do you recommend is a good place to book the activities with? should we book a group activities with other tourist to get a cheaper price? I’m a true newbie when it come to traveling is this part of the world.



  26. francis

    Hi, I’m going to costa rica in 1 month and I was wondering what activities did you do? since you only spent 35 $ on activities …

  27. Viktoria

    Hey Matt! I found this post to be extremely helpful but can you recommended any cheap tour operators in arenal or Manuel Antonio? We are traveling in November and so far I’m ok with the pricing of accomadation and transport but from what I’ve seen online the excursions are super expensive! Thanks

  28. Aaron

    Hey Matt,

    Thank you for all the great info you posted, as everyone else has already stated. Not sure how often you check this still but I figured I would give it a shot. My buddy and I are planning a 3 month trip leaving mid-September staying until mid-December (3 months with no VISA).

    Couple things, just wondering how much the average price is for a hostel in your experience. I’m planning on a budget of $50/day, and we both like to party quite a bit. Not really trying to stay in the nicest places, just looking to meet fun people and indulge in the nightlife a little bit.

    Planning on flying into and out of San Jose, but also looking to explore neighboring Countries. What do you think the best way to travel between Countries would be?

    Also, I’ve heard that a yellow fever vaccine might be a good choice before heading down. Any insight on that whatsoever?

    Any advice would be much appreciated man! Cheers.


  29. Emma

    Hi Matt, I’m going to costa rica for about 6 days. Ive never been so I was wondering if you could give me some tips on where to go. I’m looking to travel very cheaply but also do fun, outdoorsy stuff like zip-lining, visiting the volcano and possibly beaches. I

    I know nothing about CR so ANY advice on must see attractions would be super helpful as well as cheap hostels in La Fortuna and Monteverde, if any. Thanks so much!

  30. Juan Eduardo

    As a person who lives in LaPalma Costa Rica, I can tell you that numerous Expats in developments around is have thrown in the towel and returned to wherever they came from.
    The main reason is the cost of survival has skyrocketed. Groceries cost the same as in North America, and the selection of goods are poor. The cost of electrical power (for those who need air condtioning) is astronomical. Car prices might be the highest in the world, and import taxes on almost everything is outrageously high. For example: Import taxes on a refrigerator is over 80%, according to the salesman at the Monge appliance store in Parrita.

    If you are a Canadian, stick with the low cost all inclusive vacation packages to Cuba, which will cost you less than just air fare to Costa Rica. In Cuba there is absolutely no crime against tourists, where here we don’t live a week without hearing about yet another car break in or mugging of a Gringo.

  31. Calan koopmann

    Its ridiculous how expensive CR is, i always recommend people to go to Panama and Nicaragua instead or both ,its a nice country though but give me a break some things are more expensive than in Scandinavia that is way too much, and the food and quality in general is not the best! on the other hand neighboring countries like Panama and Nicaragua have awesome things good food and alcohol at a really good price

  32. Mitchel Sanchez

    If this is true I personally don’t believe this to be expensive. I’m living in the U.S right now and any tourist place in the U.S is twice as much for half the time. You’d be lucky to find a $3 beer during happy hour. On top of that it’d be a nasty American brewed beer.
    Lets not even discuss an activity budget in America It’d be ridiculous.
    I was kind of worried considering the budget I had planned for Costa Rica, but now I have a different outlook. Thanks for the information either way.

  33. Jasmine

    I am planning a trip for november and I am not sure of how I should go about purchasing the activities. Is it cheaper to buy tickets through sites like trip advisor or should I just wait until I get there? I am considering Tropical Bungee and white water rafting.

  34. Cool post!

    I do agree with most of the comments above… Costa Rica is expensive.. for travellers anyway… and for some expats who haven’t adjusted to the local life. I’ve lived here for a year and the only expense that dents is stepping out of the country to renew our visas, but have been going to nicaragua lately to do this, instead of the states, so it has been drastically cheaper and more fun! Everything else, since we go local and organic, and a lot less packaged foods, drink rum instead of beer, drink boiled tap water, don’t drive but walk everywhere… its actually very cheap.

    But for traveling, its just not. You might save, if you know people that live here and show you exactly where to go.

    thanks for the detailed breakdown! I know theres people that come here and get upset that the prices are just like at home lol

    • I have enjoyed your report and many of the comments and queries that followed. I will be three days in Panama in early Jan, then flying in to San Jose to join a nine day tour. After that I will be on my own. Then I travel 5 and a half hours from San Jose by bus which I hope I will have no trouble arranging, to Samara where I have booked three nights at a B&B. After that I will have nine days before return home to snow in Canada. I would like to make my way up to Nicaragua to see a volcanic site, the city of Granada, perhaps something else. Do you have any suggestions or help re my days after my tour finishes. I am a senior woman travelling on my own and budget is a concern. Thank you very much

      • Sue

        Hi, planning on travelling thru CR next Xmas for two weeks with two families, my kids are teens/20’s and obviously looking for adventure and kept busy. After reading the posts I am considering swapping it out for a 2 week adventure tourism trip to Panama or Nicaragua but I am unsure what to do. We want to experience it all but with a family of five I am petrified at what this may cost. Can we do the same hot springs, volcanoes, zip lining and the “safe-ness” of CR in Panama and Nicaragua as well? I have been to CR before and wanted to share with the family, but not if I cannot do it properly. What would you suggest?

  35. Neil

    Just had a quick read over your bloggers comments.Just returned a month ago from Belize(I would move there but not the wife)We are heading to C.R July 2014.Some of the people here are complaining about the prices of beer and food from what I’ve seen on the internet its not as bad as Canada or the US. One question I have been trying to find a good web site for bus travel prices and no such luck,can you help??

  36. Just left CR and on to Panama where the prices are back to normal for Central American Standards! Its unfortunate, but Costa Rica is a total budget buster and is almost becoming impossible for the true budget backpacker. I could barely afford to drink enough water, even buying the largest size in the stores would set you back $5 USD per gallon! Gasoline was cheaper!

    Everyone’s comments above about it being cheaper or on par with US/Canada/Etc. yes it is but compared with the rest of Central America it is at least 3x more expensive for nearly everything, somethings maybe more. I left CR wondering what effect does the drastic and rapid price changes do to the local people not involved in tourism? It has to be leaving them very short on money.

  37. As I understand, the most expensive in Costa Rica – it to eat. So you spent $301.51 for food and only $179.06 for accomodation. It is a very strange country. But who are the owners of bars and restaurants in Costa Rica? May be not the local people?

  38. Tali

    Hi- I’m planning to go to Costa Rica this Feb. and have been hearing different opinions on whether or not I need to get vaccines (ie; Hep A, Typhoid, Malaria). Thoughts?

  39. Hello!

    Awesome post, thanks!

    I’m heading to CR in February for the 2014 Envision Festival. I was planning on taking $2000 CAD with me (not in cash) but you are all saying $700 is reasonable or so.

    I will be in CR for about 10 days, so still going to budget $200 daily. Do you all really think this is too much? I’m looking to get a big experience — travel on budget, hostiles, etc.

    Any advice on vaccinations before departure?

    I’m looking to become one with nature, but stoked for any advice you guys can offer.

    Yours in travel,


  40. Liz mason

    Is it possible to take taxis for 2-3 hour trips, for example, from Sardinal to Atenal? Is it easy to find the taxis and safe?

  41. Michaela

    Is it still a good backpacking experience to travel Costa Rica or has it gone to mainstream? I´ve travelled Central America 10 years ago and loved it, so I´m thinking of going back to Costa Rica.
    It´s gotten so popular and apparently expensive, though, that I´m wondering if it still feels authentic or if I´d be disappointed if I return.
    thanks for opinions :-)

  42. tom blair

    I was in costa rica this past winter, I love to hike in pristine, remote areas on my own terms inexpensively. This is very hard to do in costa rica with the high daily entrance fees to national parks and nature reserves. The new requirement for a local guide at Corcovado NP adds another 50-125 US dollars to a simple walk in the park per day. The Costa Rican people are using what’s left of their natural legacy to fleece foreigners.

  43. Gordo

    Hi there Nomadic Matt.


    I had a question for you if that’s okay.

    Um, see I’m planning on going to Costa Rica to get rhinoplasty, which ranges from $2,800 – $4,500 in US dollars.

    And, yeah that’s pretty much the only reason I’m going. I’m not gonna vacation there, or sight see, or spend money on things other than food, water, hotel or motel, and taxis and anything else that is ESSENTIAL that I’m forgetting. To my knowledge, rhinoplasty patients only need to be near their doctors for about a week. Once the weeks over I’m out of there as soon as possible. And also to my knowledge, many Costa Rican doctors (not just rhinoplasty surgeons) set up hotel reservations for their American patients and point out the nearest restaurants to their office like McDonalds.

    So yeah, I just wanted to ask you how much you think I should save (aside from the already $2,800 – $4,500) before I head out there to Costa Rica.

    Please factor in…

    – the flight TO and BACK from Costa Rica

    – food

    – water

    – hotel stay

    – taxis

    and any other essentials I’m missing but PLEASE IGNORE FUN STUFF like gas for sightseeing. I’m poor, I’m used to being entertainment-less, haha. 😀

    I’d REALLY, REALLY appreciate it if you help me with this. Just give me a ballpark estimate please. I’m desperate for an answer.

    If it helps, I live in Corpus Christi, Texas.

    Thank you very much and I hope to hear from you.


    PS: I LOVE this article. It is very helpful. And I like your little nomadic man logo as well, haha. 😀

  44. Teacher Tony

    What’s the best sort of place to eat breakfast in downtown San Jose? I’m there for a conference in June.

  45. Juan Eduardos

    Although I hate to admit it because I live here; Costa Rica has become the most expensive Central American country to live and vacation in, mostly due to the very high import taxes which are imposed by government. Cars are more expensive in Costa Rica than anywhere else in the world, groceries cost the same as in North America, and with a lot less selection.
    The monthly premiums for government health care has increased by 45%, and electricity rates are so high that many expats can no longer afford to operate their air conditioners.
    We pray that Costa Rica will recover but it’s not looking good. Many school teachers have not been paid for six months. To lease a car down here is $700. per month with insurance, and that’s the smallest car on the road. In North American you can rent a new small Nissan car for about $150. per month. This shows you how the import taxes down here are killing us.

  46. Chris

    Hi Matt! Thanks for your super informative blog. I’m travelling to Montezuma for the month of March and I’m planning on camping. I’m having a really difficult time finding info on camping in the area. Is pitching a tent on the beach prohibited in most areas? Do you know of any designated camping areas? I’m really trying to keep cost of accomodation low and I’d really love to tent it. Also, from what I’ve researched so far it seems like Montezuma has a lot of budget friendly nature activities like hiking, swimming, forest, waterfalls. Hopefully I can stay under budget! Thanks!

  47. Christophe

    Been in Tamarindo for 2 months now, Found a 1 bedroom with a kitchen, 1 month rent in high season is about 900-1200 a month (about 30-$40 a night) I do my own cooking that includes Fresh Tuna at least 2 times a week from Pedro the fisherman, Apart from the apartment, I live on $25 a day and that includes $5.00 for half day surfboard rental and a beer or 2 at Vaquero Happy hour. For me the big saving is cooking your own meals, HUGE savings. Pura Vida. Also best not to rent from internet, just show up in Tama and start talking to people everywhere, within 24 hours someone new someone who new someone….

  48. Daniela

    I’m having a hard time figuring out the local buses from Alajuela to Manuel Antonio National Park…

    Anyone have tips?

  49. Matt, you make excellent points. The first time I went to the northwestern side and the 2nd trip was the southeastern side. Finding a rental car after we were already there was close to impossible and the taxis, while certainly cheaper than the states, were still expensive. I also found that buying groceries was a lot more expensive than I expected. Cheese and meat, two staples of my diet, were way more expensive than stateside. The beef didn’t taste quite like beef and we ended up living on green beans and coke for part of the trip to save money.

    The homes for rent on a longer basis that had AC and amenities we were used to were stateside prices. I was certainly disappointed in that fact.

    So while there were a few negatives, the country itself is beautiful and the people are friendly. The beaches are quite nice and the southeast added a cool Rastafarian culture to the mix. I enjoyed the experience & certainly recommend taking the trip!

    Thanks for sharing!
    Jill Charpia

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