How Much Does It Cost to Travel To Costa Rica
Costa Rica is a stunning country with a lot to offer visitors from a wide range of wildlife to beautiful scenery, pristine beaches to countless adventure opportunities. It can be a bit of a tricky country to budget for, however. Despite being located in Central America, don’t expect prices like nearby countries like Nicaragua. Costa Rica has been a tourism darling for awhile now and prices often reflect their mature tourism industry and infrastructure. That being said, you can still find some great deals in the tropical paradise.
If you’ve been following me for any time, you’ll know that I’m a big advocate of swinging between scrimp and splurge. I don’t travel on a shoestring budget but I also don’t splash out cash unnecessarily. It’s all about balance.
I recently spent ten days in Costa Rica, flying into San Jose and then splitting my time between the mountain area of Monteverde and the surf town of Santa Teresa and I decided to track all of my expenses to find out exactly what it cost me to travel in Costa Rica.
Table of Contents
Track Travel Spending with Trail Wallet
On past trips I’ve written everything down in a notebook but this time I decided to try Trail Wallet*. The app lets you set up trips, budgets, and spending categories and then easily track as you go. The trip dashboard will show you your daily budget, how much you have left, and your running trip total. From there you can drill down to see a pie chart breakdown of each category or a day by day breakdown. Being the data nerd I am, I loved this. Since I always had my phone on me I found it easier to add a quick entry to the app after I bought something than my old notebook method.
*This isn’t sponsored by Trail Wallet. I discovered the app on my own and paid for the pro upgrade (you can only add 25 entries for free). I just really like it so I wanted to share my method for expense tracking.
Before You Go: Make sure you have your travel insurance sorted out. Trust me.
How much does it cost to travel to Costa Rica for 10 Days?
|Accommodations||$483.88||(hostels and AirBnB)|
|Transportation||$157.63||(taxis, shuttles, buses)|
|Food & Drink||$302.48||(restaurants, water, snacks, alcohol)|
|Activities||$342.31||(rentals, classes, tours, etc.)|
|Miscellaneous||$139.76||(souvenirs, SIM card & data)|
*Prices are listed in Canadian dollars
Overall: $1,426.06 / $142.61/day
Overall, I spent three nights in hostel dorms and six nights in private rooms/guest houses.
After my flight landed in San Jose I just needed a place to rest my head for a few hours before catching the morning bus to Monteverde. I stayed at the no-frills Alajuela Backpackers mainly because they had a free airport shuttle and were close to both the airport and highway bus stop. A bed in a 6-bed female dorm with ensuite was $19USD/night*.
I spent my two nights in Monteverde at the lovely Arco Iris Lodge right in Santa Elena. I’d stayed there six years ago and was happy to return. I stayed in a Budget Room which had a set of bunk beds and a private bathroom. As a single it was $33USD/night. For two in the room it would be $44USD/night*.
I spent my first two nights in Santa Teresa at hip and trendy Selina. There was no breakfast included but there was a nice big pool, constant club vibe, cool hangout spots, and activity and transportation booking guides on site. A bed in a 4-bed mixed form with ensuite was $24USD/night*.
After Selina I moved on to Hotel Raratonga, which was booked through AirBnB. I liked the quiet oasis vibe of this guesthouse with rooms opening on to balconies overlooking the pool. A Deluxe room (1 dbl bed, 1 twin) was $58USD/night*
For my last night in Costa Rica I booked a private room at the Selina San Jose. I admit I didn’t shop around much for this one. After staying in Santa Teresa I trusted the brand and they were walking distance from the main bus station. A private room with shared bathroom was $33USD/night*.
*13% sales tax not included.
Getting around Costa Rica can be quite affordable…or quite expensive, it all depends on the transportation method you choose.
Renting a Car
I’ve never personally rented a car in Costa Rica but I would consider it if I was travelling with another person and wanted to have more freedom to explore on our own schedule. There are just some places where buses and taxis won’t take you. Expect to pay about $50USD/day once all the fees and factored in. A lot of the roads in Costa Rica are paved and just fine but there are plenty of others (hello Monteverde!) that are just dirt roads and hilly so you’ll probably want to opt for a 4×4.
Hotel to Hotel Shuttle
On my first trip six years ago I went solely with Interbus hotel to hotel shuttles, which are one of the more expensive ways to get around at $40-$80USD a pop. What I really like about them though is the convenience. Since Costa Rica in 2012 was my very first international solo trip I liked knowing that someone was coming to pick me up and would deliver me right to the door of my next hotel. The vans also all have AC so you’ll have a comfortable trip, temperature-wise. They only pick-up/drop-off from their designated list of hotels so if yours isn’t on the list you’ll have to make your own way to one to use their service.
I took one Interbus shuttle on this trip, from Monteverde to Santa Teresa, because it was a bit of an unpopular route and I was having a hard time finding public buses that didn’t have me going all the way back to San Jose. I paid $64USD for the trip.
Tip: If you’re solo, try to get the front seat next to the driver, you get the best view and it’s the most comfortable. Otherwise, try for the first row, it has the most legroom – other seats are cramped and have very little legroom.
I’ve done a lot of travel in the six years since I was last in Costa Rica so I was now comfortable enough to try public buses. I was able to travel from Alajuela (the town near the San Jose airport) to Monteverde for $7 with Transmonteverde versus $54 with Interbus. Santa Teresa to San Jose cost me $17USD and I was able to book it in advance, and even reserve a seat, through LaTerminal.
Both public buses I used were the touring kind with comfortable seats and luggage stored in the hold. The second one didn’t have AC but with a good breeze coming in through the windows I didn’t mind. Chicken buses aren’t a thing in Costa Rica like they are in other Central American countries.
Taxis / Uber
If you don’t have your own car, there are times when you may need to take a taxi in Costa Rica. For instance, I needed one to get from Santa Elena to the Monteverde Cloud Forest since the public bus schedule didn’t work for me. Official taxis will always be a burgundy/red and have a yellow triangle sticker on their doors.
I didn’t try it in other places, but Uber exists in San Jose and is quite a bit cheaper than taxis so I’d recommend them for city travel. From Selina San Jose to the airport was just over $12USD, while the taxi was $20USD.
There are two airlines that fly domestic routes in Costa Rica: Sansa and Nature Air. These can save you a lot of time (25min flight from Tambor to San Jose instead of a 7 hour public bus) but also cost a lot more. Back in 2012 I took a Nature Air flight from Tamarindo to Liberia mainly for the experience and to save some time sitting in a shuttle van.
*Note: Nature Air had a fatal crash earlier this year (the very plane I’d flown in 2012 actually) and has since been cancelling many of their flights so have a backup plan if you book with them.
Meals were one of those areas where I found prices often drifted towards North American prices. Entrees in typical tourist-frequented restaurants were between $10-$15USD. Add a fruit smoothie 10% service charge and you’re looking at almost $20USD for dinner.
If you’re looking for a cheaper, more local alternative look for the sodas. A Costa Rican soda is place that serves typical Costa Rican food. A basic meal there is called a casado and typically contains rice, beans, salad, and a protein (meat, chicken, or fish are typical choices). Some sodas will add a few extras like potato, french fries, or fried sweet plantains. A casado at a soda will typically cost around $6USD.
FYI: beer at the grocery store will run you about 700 colones for a 355ml can and about 1400 colones at a restaurant.
Activities is the one area where I’m most likely to not scrimp. A big part of why I travel is for new experiences so I’m willing to pay if something sounds cool. During my 10 days in Costa Rica I went on two guided hikes, tried tree climbing, had a sunset horseback ride, two yoga classes, rented a bike for two days, and went on a full day snorkel trip. Each one of them was worth it. Expect activities to cost similar to what they might in North America.
My miscellaneous category consisted solely of a Kölbi SIM card and 2GB of data for $20USD and a few souvenirs, mainly 4lb of coffee and a few other small items.
As always, my trip could’ve been done for cheaper but my goal is always to balance budget with experience and I’m happy with how this trip turned out. While Costa Rica isn’t the cheapest place to travel in Central America you can still have amazing experiences without making your wallet cry, and I love that.
Book Your Trip to Costa Rica
Book Your Flight
Find a cheap flight by using Expedia. It's one of my favourite search engines because it allows you to search for and compare flights from multiple airlines.
Book Your Accommodations
You can book your hotel with Booking.com as they have the most comprehensive inventory so they are best for booking a hotel. If you want to stay in a vacation rental or cottage in Costa Rica, use VRBO to find the perfect place for the whole family.
Book Your Car Rental
You can enjoy Costa Rica without a car but if you want to travel on your own timelines, you'll want to rent something. Be sure to book your car rental with Discover Cars early to make sure you get your choice.
Book Your Travel Insurance
While Costa Rica is generally a safe country, you never know when something could happen. Be prepared with travel insurance from SafetyWing. Travel insurance has certainly saved my butt before.
March 20th, 2018 at 1:12 am (#)
Thanks for sharing all of your information on budgeting and travel in Costa Rica. I went with family, so it wasn’t as costly because we could split up costs, but I recall it being much more expensive than other Central American countries I had looked into. I like the Trail Wallet app, I’ll have to give it a shot for my next adventure!
March 24th, 2018 at 5:37 pm (#)
My roommate was supposed to go with me but, in the end, I wouldn’t have saved a ton of money if she’d been there since Arco Iris gave me a lower rate for being solo and 3 of the other nights were already priced per bed. I imagine travelling as a family you might be able to save even more though by booking apartments and renting cars.
March 24th, 2018 at 12:58 pm (#)
This post looks great! Thanks for sharing your tips and I may have to try this Trail Wallet app. Costa Rica looks stunning!
March 24th, 2018 at 1:09 pm (#)
I love how detailed your guide is to budgeting for a trip to Costa Rica. I will definitely be saving your post for my future trip!
March 24th, 2018 at 1:13 pm (#)
Your accommodation for 10 days was so cheap! I can’t believe that. I love the look of that pool at Selina as well.
March 24th, 2018 at 5:35 pm (#)
If I’d been up for dorm rooms the whole time I could’ve saved some more money but I’m happy I splurged where I did. Loved having some privacy and a pool pretty much to myself at Hotel Raratonga. I thought the private room at Selina San Jose was really reasonable as well. The private rooms at Selina Santa Teresa were quite $$.
March 24th, 2018 at 1:49 pm (#)
This is super helpful! And I think after reading this I’ll definitely check out trail wallet, I am so terrible at keeping up with my spendings…
March 24th, 2018 at 2:14 pm (#)
Love this! I need to get into travel wallet.
March 24th, 2018 at 2:58 pm (#)
Wow!! So detailed. I was thinking about taking a trip to Costa Rica but no other blog post that I’ve seen broke the cost down like this one! Thank you so much for creating this article!
March 24th, 2018 at 5:34 pm (#)
You’re welcome! I know that I always like to read budget posts from other people as well so I wanted to share my own trip.
March 24th, 2018 at 3:57 pm (#)
This is so detailed. Great post. I am planning a trip to Costa Rica for either this year or next year so this is really handy. I am sure downloading that app too. Much better than the trip it.
March 24th, 2018 at 5:33 pm (#)
I always used to just log things in a paper notebook but I love the app for categorizing things and giving me daily averages. This is so much better.
March 24th, 2018 at 4:11 pm (#)
Thanks for sharing! I am always interested in seeing others’ budgets as I always put one together for myself as well, both before and after we travel. Your budget for 10 days is actually pretty affordable in my opinion! It really depends how you like to travel like you say.
I am surprised that the food costs as much as it does, though. Even the local food seems a bit high.
Also, as a fellow Canadian, I love that you wrote your budget in CAD ;) and I love that pie chart visual!
March 24th, 2018 at 5:32 pm (#)
The most expensive meal I had was about $30 CAD which was two rolls (one special, one regular) and a beer at a Sushi place in Santa Teresa. My cheapest meal was $4.50 for two takeaway meat empanadas from a bakery in Santa Elena. In general, prices really are getting close to North American prices.
March 24th, 2018 at 7:42 pm (#)
We always love posts like this one. For a reason, it’s always very interesting to read about expenses, haha. Thanks for sharing!
March 24th, 2018 at 8:34 pm (#)
This is such an informative post! I didn’t know Costa Rica would be in this price range but this is good to know.
March 25th, 2018 at 9:47 pm (#)
I’d say it’s definitely a bit of an outlier for Central America.
March 24th, 2018 at 8:43 pm (#)
$142CAD is awesome, and it looks like you did a ton of stuff and ate well, too. Also, I was wondering how Uber was in San Jose. Good to know you had luck with it.
March 25th, 2018 at 9:48 pm (#)
I found it alright. Another blogger I know who lives in San Jose said he uses it all the time instead of taxis since it’s cheaper and he said the drivers have all been nice.
February 16th, 2019 at 5:02 am (#)
Can you recommend good (cheap) activity companies or are they all priced similarly. I would like to do a trip to Tortuga island and visit Cabo Blanco for hiking and tree top walks
February 26th, 2019 at 3:07 am (#)
Thank you for all of the information! I recently booked a shuttle from Monteverde to Santa Teresa but am left without a pick-up time / arrival time in my confirmation email. Did you have a similar experience?
February 27th, 2019 at 10:57 am (#)
I just had a look at my Interbus confirmation from last year and it doesn’t include the pick up time. Best bet is to call with your confirmation number to get the timeframe.