The ultimate guide to backpacking Costa Rica

The ultimate guide to backpacking Costa Rica

It’s not hard to see why Costa Rica is so many people’s first choice when it comes to exploring Central America for the first time, or even when it comes to their first time backpacking. Beautiful, friendly, accessible and inexpensive, it has all the markings of a dreamy backpacking destination. Costa Rica is especially perfect for the adventurous traveller, with countless options for ziplining, rafting, kayaking, cycling, hiking and surfing. If a local tells you that you can travel across half the country on a zipline, they’re only half joking! But Costa Rica truly shines when it comes to its nature and wildlife. With about 25% of the country being a designated national park, and its status as one the most biodiverse nations in the world, Costa Rica is the ultimate nature lover’s paradise.

Jump straight to:

  1. Best time to visit Costa Rica
  2. Costa Rica visa
  3. Best places to visit in Costa Rica
  4. Best beaches in Costa Rica
  5. Costa Rica itineraries
  6. Costa Rica hostels
  7. Getting around Costa Rica
  8. Costa Rican food
  9. Costa Rican culture and customs
  10. Costa Rica travel safety
  11. Is Costa Rica safe for solo female travellers?
  12. Costa Rica travel advice
  13. Vaccinations for Costa Rica
  14. Backpacking Costa Rica budget

backpacking costa rica - playas del coco - view over land and sea

Playas del Coco

Best time to visit Costa Rica

While the ‘best’ time to visit Costa Rica is said to be from December to April, deciding when to go really depends on your priorities. If you want guaranteed sunshine and don’t mind larger crowds and more expensive accommodation, then you’ll want to visit in the dry season. December and January are beautiful months – the vegetation is still lush and green from the rain, and the rivers are at the perfect swell for rafting. If you do visit at this time of year it’s recommended that you book well in advance to get the best choice of accommodation, especially as some places will enforce minimum stays.

If you don’t mind some rainy days and the potential for muddy roads, the shoulder season is a good compromise between the high and low seasons; it sees better priced accommodation and more chances to have the beaches and sights to yourselves.

If you really can’t stand heat and crowds or are on a shoestring budget, the rainy season might be your best option. Just be aware that the heavy rain might make some roads totally impassable, and some accommodation will close entirely during this time, so plan ahead. The most important thing is to be flexible with your activities so that if you can’t do them on one day you can do them the next. Bear in mind that September and October are the rainiest months and could make doing any activities at all difficult.

If you have decided to visit Costa Rica during rainy season, remember that this does not necessarily mean it’s gonna rain every day of your trip; more likely that you will see sunny mornings and then heavy but passing downpours in the afternoons. Another bonus is that this is when Costa Rica’s rainforests are at their lushest and the waterfalls at their most beautiful.

These months also happen to be the driest on the Caribbean side, so if you do visit at this time of year be sure to check out Puerto Viejo and Tortuguero. Surfing conditions are also best during rainy season.

Weather in Costa Rica

So, it’s a week until your Costa Rica trip and the weather forecast is telling you that it’s downpouring every day – what do you do? The first thing is not to panic. Costa Rica’s steep mountain ranges and positioning between two oceans means that it has a myriad of microclimates, making weather prediction notoriously difficult. Being only 10 degrees north of the equator means that it’s likely you’re going to have beautiful, warm weather for at least part of your trip. If you’re visiting in the high season especially, you’ll be pretty much guaranteed blazing sunshine every day.

Costa Rica has two distinct seasons; wet and dry. These, of course, correspond to the low and high seasons. The wet season runs from August to October whereas the dry season runs from December to April. May, June, July and November are considered the shoulder seasons.

Weather in San Jose

The central valley has some of the most moderate and pleasant weather conditions in the country. It’s relatively dry, the climate mild and the coastal breeze steady. The rainy season here runs from May through November, though the heavy rains are normally seen September through October.

Weather in Tamarindo and Liberia

These Northwestern lowlands are hot and arid, and the weather here is some of the driest in Costa Rica. The beaches have a fairly mild and steady year-round temperature, hovering between 20-27 degrees celsius. The dry season here lasts longer than most of the other provinces, running from about November to June.

La Fortuna, which is slightly East of Guanacaste and closer to the Caribbean coast, has similar weather conditions but is slightly cooler and more humid.

Weather on the Caribbean coast (Puerto Viejo and Tortuguero)

These lowlands are hot, humid and have rainforests. Temperatures remain steady throughout the year, with average day time highs around 30 degrees and night time lows around 24. On the Caribbean Coast you can pretty much count on rain year-round, though often this is limited to early mornings and evenings. The driest months are February, March, September and October.

Weather in the Central Highlands (Monteverde, Turrialba, Tilarán)

With mountain ranges at varying elevations of 3,000 – 5,000 ft, this region is characterised by much cooler temperatures than the other provinces. The central highlands are also known for their cloud forests, the most famous being Monteverde Cloud Forest. Monteverde’s elevation and positioning at a crossroads between the Caribbean and Pacific means that it’s usually damp, rainy and covered in a thick, hazy mist. Unpredictable weather is common, with rain and windstorms sometimes lasting consecutive days. Generally, the best weather is experienced from December through April, then July and August.

backpacking costa rica - parrot flying near ocean

Image by Dan Hadfield

Costa Rica visa

Do you need a visa for Costa Rica?

Citizens of most countries don’t need a visa for Costa Rica for a visit of up to 90 days. If you’re not sure, check your country’s Costa Rica visa requirements.

Citizens of all countries must have a return ticket to exit Costa Rica (which must show entry and exit of the country). Most visitors must have passports valid for at least six or nine months on arrival. If you’re unsure where your country stands, check here for a full run-down. All passports must have a blank visa stamp page.

Best places to visit in Costa Rica

1. Monteverde

Named after its lush green mountains, Monteverde is made up of 70,000 acres of cool, highland jungle that’s shrouded in thick, perennial cloud.  Apart from being visually stunning, the forest is also famous for being home to over 2,500 plant species, 500 types of butterflies, 100 mammal species and 400 bird species, including the rare and exotically colourful quetzal. If you’re very lucky you might even spot the golden toad, which is said to only live in this area of the world. For those keen to mix thrills with the striking scenery, Monteverde’s canopy tours – a combination of trails, zip-lines and suspension bridges – is one of the most exciting ways to take in the forest scenery.

Although it’s possible to find budget accommodation within the Monteverde forest perimeter, many backpackers choose to stay in the livelier, more amenity-packed town of Santa Elena, located a short 5km from the forest.

2. Rincon de La Vieja National Park

Rincon de la Vieja National Park is just over 20km from Liberia and surrounds two volcanoes – Rincon, which is still active, and Santa Maria which is dormant. Rincon has pretty much everything a nature lover could want – rainforest, waterfalls, mudpools, volcanic fumaroles, hot springs, cloud forest and a myriad of unique wildlife, including pumas and jaguars. It’s also famous for having high concentrations of Costa Rica’s national flower – the purple orchid.

backpacking costa rica - red flower

3. Corcovado

As the largest and most pristine, Corcovado is thought to be the crowning glory of Costa Rica’s extensive national park system. National Geographic has dubbed Corcovado’s 103,000 acres as

‘the most biologically intense place on earth.’ You’ll find tapirs, jaguars, crocodiles, anteaters and sloths among countless other animals. It’s not just the size but the remoteness of the landscape which makes this park so attractive – it’s totally unspoilt. Corcovado is home to endless virgin rainforest and uninhabited beaches.

4. Tortuguero

It’s a testament to the beauty and uniqueness of Tortuguero National park that despite its remoteness, (there are no roads and you can only reach the park by boat or plane), it still remains one of the country’s most visited national parks. The best way to tour the park is to wind through on your own canoe, through the beautifully dense maze of jungle canals. Plan ahead as to when you want to visit, as Tortuguero is famous for having one of the world’s best sea turtle nesting sites – tortuga translates to turtle. Loggerheads and leatherbacks nest from October to March, and green and hawksbill turtles can be seen from July to October.

Because of its remoteness, expect to pay a bit more for accommodation than elsewhere in the country. Having said that, there are still plenty of hostels to choose from and if you have a tent you can camp anywhere along the coast for free.

5. Manuel Antonio

Despite being one of the smallest national parks in Costa Rica, Manuel Antonio spans several natural habitats and is home to a large number of endangered species, most famously the red squirrel monkey. Apart from its lush rainforest, Manuel Antonio is also famous for its white sandy beaches and stunning coral reef. Being blessed with beautiful beaches just a short distance from the capital of San Jose, it’s a popular and bustling town with a lively nightlife. Backpackers looking for the cheapest accommodation can try nearby Quepos. Only 15 minutes away by bus, Quepos is slightly more affordable for restaurants, nightlife and hostels.

6. Arenal Volcano

One of the best parts about visiting Arenal is the drive up to the volcano, as you watch it transform from a miniscule dot to this huge, imposing mountain. Though it hasn’t erupted since 2010 Arenal is still considered active – in fact, it’s still possible to see smoke from the eastern side. Apart from its perfectly conical shape that provides a dramatic visual backdrop for nearby towns La Fortuna and El Castillo, there’s a surreal majesty to Arenal that’s the reason for its unflagging popularity. At sunset dark clouds loom around it, giving it a fierce, burgundy glow, and the occasional underground rumble makes it feel like the land beneath is breathing.

The most popular activities in the Arenal region are trekking (the most popular trail being to La Fortuna waterfall) and visiting the natural hot springs.

While there are plenty of springs to choose from, Eco Termales is well-known for offering the most authentic, open-air experience. Its location among the trees and various cobble stone pools (each one has a slightly different temperature) can’t be beaten. Listen out for howler monkeys; they’re prevalent in this area so you won’t be able to miss their iconic screech!

backpacking costa rica - arenal volcano - trees and volcano

7. San Jose

Though San Jose is most often seen as a launchpad to other destinations, it’s a fun city in its own right. The best places to visit in San Jose include the Mercado Central and the lavish National Theatre and cafe in downtown. Restored colonial mansions are dotted around the city on quiet, dusty streets in the north, particularly in Barrio Amon, which is also where you’ll find lots of galleries, trendy cafés and colourful street art.

Best beaches in Costa Rica

backpacking costa rica - sunset over beach

Image by Kristendawn

1. Nicoya peninsula

Remote enough to be unspoilt by tourism and featuring some of the best surf breaks in the country, the beaches of the Nicoya peninsula are the most popular with backpackers. The nearest airport is in the town of Liberia, which is a perfect launchpad for the beautiful Nicoya beaches and Rincon de la Vieja National Park, as well as for backpackers continuing on to Nicaragua.

  • Mal País and Santa Teresa

At the very tip of the Nicoya peninsula you’ll find this isolated duo, which feature some of Costa Rica’s best surf. For those not into surfing, the beaches offer swimming, snorkelling, horseback riding and long walks on several hiking trails in the surrounding tropical jungle. While still relatively far-flung and hard to reach, increased tourism has brought improved travel options and better road access to both towns.

  • Samara

Considered Costa Rica’s best-kept secret, Samara’s white-sand beach offers picture-perfect scenery as well as kayaking, bird-watching, supping, snorkelling, scuba and sportfishing. The horseshoe shaped bay it’s nestled in also means that Samara is one of Costa Rica’s safest beaches, making it an ideal destination for mellow, low-key travel. Hurry up and visit though, as each year more and more tourists are discovering this water-lovers paradise.

  • Montezuma

Aside from its mangroves, tropical forest and beautiful coastline, Montezuma is most famous for its free-spirited, artsy vibe. Embrace your inner boho and attend a local yoga class, or a low-key film or poetry festival. Don’t be fooled by the laid-back vibe however, as Montezuma knows how to throw a party once the sun goes down, boasting some of the best nightlife of all the Nicoya beaches.

The village itself sits within high cliffs and a jungle which features some of the most famous waterfalls in the country – Montezuma falls.

  • Conchal

Just north of Tamarindo is the stunningly picturesque Conchal beach, one of the most beautiful beaches in the country. Brilliant white sand and millions of tiny seashells sprinkle the palm-fringed shoreline of the beach – hence the name conchal (concha translates to shell in Spanish). The turquoise and emerald waters are a rarity on the pacific coast and make snorkelling here a must. The beach is almost always serenely quiet as tourists head to more developed nearby beaches.

  • Tamarindo

While all the beach towns in Costa Rica can fairly be described as chilled-out, Tamarindo is not quite the hippy mecca that Montezuma is – having earned itself something of a party rep and being better for beer, burgers and surf than smoothies, kale and yoga (though the latter is available wherever you go in CR). As the most accessible and arguably the best surfing spot (even for novices), Tamarindo beach remains as popular as ever. The beach is also famous for being part of Las Baulas de Guanacaste Marine National Park, a protected area that serves as a safe place for the leatherback sea turtle population.

backpacking costa rica - tamarindo beach sunset

Tamarindo

2. South Pacific

  •  Dominical

Another popular, laid-back surfer’s paradise, Dominical beach is flanked by lush green landscapes on one side and deep blue ocean on the other. The waves here can reach up to 10 feet – tall enough to please even the most hard-core thrill-seekers. Though not what you’d typically call #beachgoals with its dark, rocky sand, the sunsets here do not disappoint. Neither does the company – Dominical’s popularity with surfers and backpackers means that it’s managed to retain an authentically chilled, coastal vibe.

  • Jaco

While Dominical is chilled out, it’s fair to say that Jaco is the opposite. It’s still a carefree surfer town, but the focus here is more on partying than napping in your hammock. Lively, bustling and with great dining and nightlife, Jaco is the perfect place to let loose on the way to or from nearby San Jose and Manuel Antonio National Park.

 

3. Southern Caribbean Coast (Limon Province)

 Over on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica are the tropical, world-renowned surfer beaches of Limon province.

  • Puerto Viejo de Talamanca

Once only a far-flung destination for intrepid surfers, Puerto Viejo is becoming increasingly popular with backpackers attracted to the laid-back easy charm of its surfer lifestyle and authentic local scene, not to mention the unique volcanic-sand beaches and proximity to national parks. Despite its increasing popularity, Puerto Viejo is still rarely crowded (particularly in the rainy season when some of the best surf is to be found) and still has a very chilled out, sleepy vibe. Explore the quiet backstreets and the colourful Caribbean houses that line them. Unlike some other popular Costa Rica beaches, cheap food, accommodation and nightlife is easy to come by.

  • Punta Uva/Playa Evita

Quiet Punta Uva beach boasts golden sands, coral reefs and crystal-clear waters, all backed by the dense jungle of the Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge, where you’ll find monkeys, sloths, parrots and the great green macaw. The coral reef located just offshore also makes Punta Uva a fantastic snorkel beach.

  • Manzanillo

Also located in Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife and Marine Refuge is the small, quiet fishing village of Manzanillo. Much like Punta Uva, the main attraction of this tiny town is its palm-fringed golden sand and its warm and fabulously turquoise Caribbean waters that are exceptional for snorkelling.

You can also dive, explore by kayak or even take a ‘dolphin tour’ of the coast to catch a glimpse of the three species of dolphins that make this their home. Located at the very end of the coastal road from Puerto Viejo, from Manzanillo you can take one of the several dirt road tracks that lead straight into the tropical jungle, making it feel like the final pitstop on a journey through paradise.

Many of Costa Rica’s most beautiful beaches are to be found, unsurprisingly, it its national parks. Not only are they utterly unspoilt, they’re also guaranteed to offer glimpses of Costa Rica’s famous wildlife. Make a short trek from the entrance of Manuel Antonio National Park and you’ll come to a stunningly white, palm-fringed beach which hundreds of capuchin monkeys have decided to call home.

The main draw of the remote Tortuguero beaches is turtle-nesting season. Watch green sea turtles, leatherbacks, hawksbills and more nesting on the beaches in the park from July to October and February to April.

backpacking costa rica - two capuchin monkeys in tree

Costa Rica itineraries

Costa Rica 2-week itineraries

The generalist:

Day 1 – San Jose

Day 2-4 – La Fortuna/Arenal

Day 5-8 – Manuel Antonio National Park

Day – 9-10 Dominical

Day 10-11 Playa Uvita

Day 11-13 Corcovado National Park

 

The nature lover:

Day 1 – San Jose

Day 2- 5 Tortuguero National Park

Day 5 – 8 La Fortuna/Arenal

Day 8- 11 Monteverde Cloud Forest

Day 11- 13 Manuel Antonio National Park

backpacking costa rica - Manuel Antonio National Park - view overlooking sea

Manuel Antonio National Park

The beach bum:

Day 1 – San Jose

Day 2-5- Manuel Antonio National Park

Day 5 – 7 Jaco

Day 8 – Liberia

Day 9 – 11 Tamarindo

Day 11-13 Samara

Costa Rica 3-week itineraries

The generalist:

Day 1 – San Jose

Day 2-5 La Fortuna/Arenal

Day 5-8 Monteverde Cloud Forest

Day 8-11 Jaco

Day 11-14 Tortuguero National Park

Day 14-17 Puerto Viejo de Talamanca (Including Punta Cocles, Punta Uva and Manzanillo

beaches)

Day 17-20 Manuel Antonio National Park

The nature lover:

Day 1 – San Jose

Day 2-5 La Fortuna/Arenal

Day 5-8 Monteverde Cloud Forest

Day 9 Liberia

Day 10 – 13 Rincon de la Vieja National Park

Day 13-16 Tortuguero National Park

Day 16-18 Manuel Antonio National Park

Day 18-20 Corcovado

backpacking costa rica - La Fortuna waterfall

La Fortuna waterfall

The beach bum:

Day 1 San Jose

Day 2-4 Manuel Antonio National Park

Day 4-7 Jaco

Day 8 Liberia

Day 9-11 Tamarindo

Day 11- 13 Samara

Day 13-16 Santa Teresa/Malpais

Day 16-20 Puerto Viejo de Salamanca (Including Punta Cocles, Punta Uva and Manzanillo

beaches)

Costa Rica hostels

Hostels in Monteverde

Most of the affordable accommodation to be found in Monteverde is in nearby Santa Elena. Hammock House is a typical Costa Rican family home with a good location and very affordable dorms, starting from £6, as well as private rooms. Breakfast is included and the friendly owner is more than happy to help with questions. Slightly more expensive but right in the middle of town is Monteverde Backpackers, which has a chilled out common area and social vibe, and is only a minute’s walk from the town centre. Breakfast is DIY style and free. Beds start at £9.

If you have a slightly higher budget, Camino Verde Hostel has comfortable private rooms and stunning views of the surrounding countryside from its balcony area. It’s just a short walk from town and includes a very good free breakfast.

backpacking costa rica - Camino Verde Hostel - rooftop view

Camino Verde Hostel

Hostels in Corcovado National Park

Only reachable by boat, Corcovado is not the easiest place to find affordable accommodation, but Martina’s Place on beautiful Drake’s Bay offers clean, affordable rooms just 200m from the beach. It’s also close to amenities and has free Wi-Fi and coffee. Rooms start at £10.

Hostels in Tortuguero National Park

Aracari Garden Hostel offers beautiful hammock-filled gardens, cosy common areas and clean rooms, with dorms starting at £10 and just £23 for a private.

Hostels in Manuel Antonio

Views from hostels don’t get much better than at Vista Serena. Perched on a mountain, Vista Serena looks out over lush jungle and sweeping views of the Pacific. Hammocks are dotted everywhere and free amenities include Wi-Fi, coffee and toast. Beds start from around £9.

Hostels in San Jose

The ever-popular Costa Rica Backpackers offers cool accommodation at very reasonable prices.  Dorms start from £6.50, which includes free tea and coffee, Wi-Fi and luggage storage. The rooms open out to a large garden full of hammocks and a communal pool where the tunes are always banging. There are two bars on site as well as a reasonably priced restaurant.

It doesn’t get much more chic than Capital Hostel La Ciudad. Stylish and modern, the dorms are pod-style and the communal areas are luxurious. The whole hostel is spotlessly clean, the large breakfast is complimentary, and the vibe is peaceful and laid-back. Can you believe you can get all this from just £12 per night?

An old manor-style house with a large beautiful garden, Hostel Casa del Parque is a good budget option with dorms starting at £8. The location is one of the hostel’s biggest draws, being right in the centre of San Jose and close to all amenities. Freebies include Wi-Fi and tea and coffee.

backpacking costa rica - Hostel Casa del Parque

Hostel Casa del Parque

Hostels in Arenal, La Fortuna

You know you’ve spotted a good deal when the hostel is not only the most affordable, but also has outstanding reviews. Small but right in the centre of town, hip Arenal Container Hostel provides clean dorms set up in old shipping containers. Funky murals decorate the outdoor, hammock-lined communal areas. The staff are incredibly friendly and knowledgeable and will help you organise tours and answer any questions. Dorms start from £8.

Hostels in Nicoya Peninsula

If you’re headed pretty much anywhere in the Nicoya Peninsula (or on your way to or from Nicaragua) you’re bound to spend at least a night in Liberia, the launchpad to the best destinations in the area, including Rincon de La Vieja National Park.

Hospedaje Dodero Hostel is extremely popular – it’s cheap and ticks all the boxes. The rooms are spotlessly clean and the service is friendly, but the main draw is the location just 100m from Liberia’s main market, where you’ll find endless food options. It has a communal kitchen and free Wi-Fi Private rooms start from £13 – book in advance if you want one with air con!

Congos Hostal Liberia has wood-panelled rooms starting at £7, some with a patio area. It also offers barbecue facilities, a large garden with hammocks, a shared lounge, free Wi-Fi, hot drinks and a communal kitchen.

Hostels in Mal Pais and Santa Teresa

Hostel Dos Monos South has clean, air-conditioned rooms and is located right at the intersection of Mal Pais and Santa Teresa beaches, just metres away from bars, restaurants and grocery stores. The atmosphere is social and breakfast and Wi-Fi are free, not to mention that the hostel also offers surfing lessons! Dorms start at £6 a night.

Hostels in Samara

Colourful Matilori offers cosy, cheerfully decorated dorm rooms starting at a very reasonable £8. The location is excellent – close to the beach and restaurants – and the atmosphere is very social, with two open communal kitchens and a large shared area with tables and hammocks. The staff are awesome, and always happy to help.

Hostels in Montezuma

Hostel locations don’t get much better than this. Proyecto Montezuma is a TEFL, surf and Spanish school which also provides accommodation with incredible views from its rooms, garden and own stretch of beach. It’s also very reasonably priced, especially for Montezuma which is one of Costa Rica’s pricier spots. The hostel is a ten minute walk from town and a two minute walk to the famous Montezuma waterfalls. Amenities include a communal kitchen, BBQ facilities and free Wi-Fi, with dorms starting at £9.

Hostels in Tamarindo

Modern, centrally located and with AC in every room (this is pretty important in Tamarindo), Blue Trailz Hostel and Surfcamp is especially popular with the surfing crowd. Guests get discounts on boards, lessons, tours and bikes from their shop out front. Enjoy a cosy communal area, guest kitchen and free Wi-Fi, with dorms starting at £8.

Hostels in Puerto Viejo

Quiet, cosy and right in the middle of town is Roots Family. Lovingly decorated and made entirely out of bamboo, this is one pretty hostel. The staff are friendly and helpful and the vibe is very social but chilled. The location is a 100m walk to the beach and five minutes to the town’s restaurants and bars. It’s also 300m from the bus stop, where you can catch a ride to the beautiful nearby beaches all the way down the coast. Dorms start from £9.

Hostels in Jaco

Room2board is popular for a reason – it has everything we love in a hostel. Clean, modern, spacious, fun – and to top it off, it has a huge outdoor pool/social space. Room2board also has a poolside movie screen, free yoga classes and perhaps best of all, a sunset-facing rooftop decked out with hammocks. When the party is in your backyard it can be hard to leave the hostel! Dorms start at £12.50.

backpacking costa rica - Room2board hostel with pool

Hostels in Dominical

Not only is Cool Vibes Beach Hostel right on Dominical’s beautiful coastline, it’s also a minute’s walk from the bus stop and nearby shops – including one of the most popular cafes in town. Bonuses include a small pool, hammocks and a huge kitchen.

 

Getting around Costa Rica

The three most popular ways of getting around Costa Rica are by bus, shuttle (shared or private) or car rental. The choice comes down to whether you want to save time, or money!

Public bus transport in Costa Rica

Pros

  • It’s cheap

By far the cheapest way to get around Costa Rica is by local bus, either directivo (direct) or colectivo (with multiple stops). Short bus trips of three hours or less will cost around 2000 CRC (£3), whereas longer trips can cost up to 6000 CRC (£8). Local bus rides, for example within San Juan, cost about 200 colón (25p).

  • It’s an efficient and affordable way to travel between destinations

From San Jose, you can take the public bus to nearly every popular tourist destination. You can check specific routes here.

  • You can meet the locals and share stories with fellow backpackers

Public buses are a great way to experience local life, as well as share tips and stories with other travellers that are also heading to your destination.

  • You can sit back and relax

No having to navigate tricky roads for you my friend!

Cons

  • They can be slow

Though the public buses quite often leave late, the directivo routes (which go directly from one large town to another) won’t necessarily take that much longer than a shuttle bus or rental car. If you’re travelling from a smaller town where only the colectivos are available however, the various transfer stops in different towns can significantly increase your travel time.

One instance of this is the journey from La Fortuna to Manuel Antonio – which takes 4 buses and comes in at about 9 hours of travel instead of 4!

  • They can be tricky to navigate

Though it’s the biggest transportation hub in the country, San Jose doesn’t have a main bus terminal. Ticket offices are scattered around the city – some large bus companies have big terminals that sell tickets in advance, while others have little more than a stop. Check the Tourism Board’s brochure for information on where your bus leaves from. It also has phone numbers to call for more information on your route.

Schedules change wildly, so it’s a good idea to confirm times when you buy. Buses often leave late or early too so it’s recommended that you get to your stop about an hour before your ride is due to leave.

There are often no schedules posted at stops. Again, check the brochure for the terminal address and company name which will be written on the front of the bus, along with the name of the destination. A lot of drivers won’t speak English so it’s a good idea to learn some basic Spanish phrases to make navigation easier. Alternatively, ask your fellow backpackers at your hostel/hotel about routes and travel tips.

  • They can get crowded

Though Costa Rica is generally a safe country, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on luggage in overhead racks, especially when the bus is crowded. For popular routes it’s also advised to buy a ticket at least a day ahead.

Private/shared shuttles

Shuttles are provided by Gray Line, Monkey RideTropical Tours, Easy Ride and Interbus. You can either make reservations online through their websites or book through your hostel. My personal recommendation is the very reliable Interbus.

Pros

  • It’s faster and more convenient than the bus

There is no need to wait for people to get on and off or make transfers. Shuttles also tend to be more punctual than local buses.

Shuttles also have door to door delivery – picking you up at your accommodation as well as dropping you off at your destination accommodation. Unlike car rental you can just sit back, relax and enjoy the scenery or chat to fellow passengers.

  • They are comfortable and clean

Shuttles usually come with air conditioning, have larger, more comfortable seats than the public buses and are immaculately clean. They normally carry under twenty people.

Cons

  • They cost a lot more than public transport.

A shared shuttle can cost between £15-65. Remember however that with a shuttle you can cut out the potential cost of a taxi to and from the bus stop.

  • Less flexibility than car rental

Since shuttles are on a schedule and must consider other passengers, flexibility is limited. Set schedules also mean that they cannot wait for you in the event of a delay. They will assist you in making arrangements for the next shuttle, but this is never guaranteed to be on the same day.

What’s the difference between public and private shuttle?

With a private shuttle there is no schedule, so everything is pretty much at your convenience – they can pick you up directly at the airport or from your hotel and you can make stops along the way to your destination. Shared shuttles will not pick you up if you’re staying somewhere very remote, unlike a private shuttle.

Private shuttles are obviously more expensive than shared, however the price is not per person so for a larger group it could actually work out as cheaper. A shared shuttle from Arenal to Tamarindo is around £40 per person and a private is around £200. At this rate it actually works out cheaper to go for the private shuttle if you have more than four people. This works for groups of up to 8 people, as the larger vehicles are more expensive.

 

Car rental

Pros

  • Flexible and convenient

The biggest pro of renting your own private vehicle in Costa Rica is the flexibility it offers. You can pick one up at the airport and then do everything at your own convenience. See a pretty spot? Pull over and take a picture. Hungry? Stop at a local SODA for lunch.

Having your own rental car will allow you see areas of Costa Rica you couldn’t have done otherwise. A lot of the less touristy areas don’t have have public transport links or they require an SUV, so having your own car will let you explore off the beaten track! .

  • Road trips are always fun

Whether it’s the sense of freedom they give, the impromptu chats on the meaning of life, or just the mysterious draw of the open road, there’s something about road trips that are a lot of fun. Crank up your favourite tunes and watch the beautiful scenery go by.

Cons

  • The condition of the roads

Road conditions vary a lot. While the Interamericana (the primary Costa-Rican highway) is relatively smooth, a lot of secondary roads are barely passable, or at best narrow, potholed and windy. A lack of streetlights also means that many people are not comfortable driving at night.

Aside from the main tourist spots, the more rural areas have a lack of signage, which can be intimidating – consider getting a GPS system or the Waze app.

  • Less sociable

One of the nice things about getting public transport or shared shuttles is that you can chat with other travellers and get helpful tips and recommendations about your destination, and possibly make new friends to hang out with.

  • Risk of theft

Theft from vehicles is common in some areas, so you should never leave valuables in your car unattended.  If something does happen and there is damage to the car, you’ll be held responsible.

Costa Rican food

If there’s one thing that Costa Rica is famous for, it’s the beautifully rich, verdant nature of its unspoilt landscape. And you know what that means – deliciously fresh natural produce. Costa Rican food relies heavily on the use of fruit and vegetables, and is made with fresh ingredients. This is what makes even simple-sounding Costa Rican meals so tasty! The cost of food in Costa Rica is low, so you’ve got no excuse not to try a bit of everything.

Costa Rican traditional dishes

The best place to try typical Costa Rican food is at a local SODA, which are small, family run businesses that serve simple but tasty dishes. The food will be more authentic than what you’ll find at a more touristy restaurant, not to mention waaay cheaper. Look for SODAs with lots of locals dining, or ask your hostel for a recommendation.

  • Gallo Pinto

Gallo pinto is a typical Costa Rican breakfast dish made of cilantro, rice and beans. This base is then mixed with a choice of other ingredients to give it some spice; typical options include red bell peppers, onions and most importantly Salsa Lizano – a smoky, slightly spicy national sauce. The end result gives gallo pinto a speckled look, which is how the dish gets its name – gallo pinto translates to ‘spotted rooster’. At breakfast, gallo pinto is usually paired with eggs or meat.

  • Casado

Casado is more of an assorted meal than a single dish, usually including white rice and black beans as the core element and then accompanied by a protein (usually fish, chicken, or beef) and a side. The sides vary from cabbage slaw, fried plantains, picadillo, potato or a pasta salad. The location within the country will determine which meat you receive, or which you can choose from. A casado typically also includes a fresh fruit juice.

Casado is most popularly served at lunch and is a Costa Rican classic, found at almost every restaurant or SODA across the country.

  • Olla de carne

Olla de carne is a typical Costa Rican soup dish. A simple but rich and hearty beef stew, olla is a favourite weekend staple that incorporates a number of Costa Rican vegetables, including cassava, yam, carrots, corn, plantains, potato and taro root. It frequently comes with a side of rice and beans.

  • Patacones

Normally served as an appetiser or snack, patacones are smashed, twice-fried plantains that are guaranteed to be one of the most delicious things you’ll eat in Costa Rica. Just the right amount of crunchy and chewy, sweet and salty, patacones normally come served with guacamole, pico de gallo or mashed black beans.

  • Ceviche de Tico

Though ceviche originated in Peru, it’s a favourite dish on many typical Costa Rican menus, particularly on the coast.

Chunks of fish, usually sea bass, are cut into small chunks and mixed with citrus and thinly-sliced red onions, red pepper and cilantro. The acid in the juice “cooks” the fish, giving it a refreshing, zesty taste. It’s often accompanied by plantain or salted crackers.

You can also find a vegan version – ceviche de banana verde – made with green banana, lettuce, onion, celery, sweet pepper and lime juice.

  • Chifrijo

Chifrijo is a very popular dish made up of chicharrones (twice-fried pork rinds) and frijoles (beans). Most commonly served as an appetiser or snack, chifrijo is made by layering rice with black beans, chicarrones and pico de gallo – a mix of tomato salsa, onion, cilantro and lemon. Add-ons include avocado and jalapeno. It usually comes served with fresh tortilla.

Chifrijo is a fairly new invention – if you want to try it but can’t see it on the menu, ask the server if they have chicharrones with beans. The chef who proclaims to have invented it has filed lawsuits against restaurants serving the dish which has led to some renaming it chifrijol, chichifrijo, and el innombrable (“the nameless”)!

  • Rondon

Rondon is a fish soup dish that originates from Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast. With coconut milk as its base, rondon combines a deliciously fishy medley of fresh fish, crab, corn, yucca, plantain, yam, vegetables and Caribbean spices such as panamanian pepper. The combination of ingredients can vary widely – the only thing about rondon that’s consistent is that it’s always delicious.

Unlike the rest of Costa Rica where the food is generally mild, the food on the Caribbean coast tends to be more heavily spiced and fragrant. Popular ingredients include allspice, cinnamon, curry, chilli, ginger, and of course, coconut.

  • Caribbean rice and beans

Unlike rice and beans in the rest of Costa Rica, on the Caribbean coast the ingredients are slow-cooked in fresh coconut milk and made with either red or black beans. Other ingredients include panamanian peppers, thyme, garlic, curry powder, red onion, red bell pepper, sugar, soy sauce and coconut oil. It’s typically paired with patacones and slow-cooked meat or fish – and always hot sauce.

  • Tres leches

If the indulgent tres leches cake is not exclusively Costa Rican, it’s probably the most popular dessert in the country. It’s made by soaking sponge bread in three different types of milk – whole, evaporated and condensed. The icing is a vanilla whipped cream and often includes fruit toppings.

backpacking costa rica - costa rican dish

Costa Rican culture and customs

Costa Rican people

Though the majority of Costa Ricans are of European descent, various groups of indigenous people still remain, making up about 2.5% of the population. These are namely the Bribri peoples in Puerto Viejo, the Cabecar in Salamanca and the Chorotegas in the Nicola peninsula, alongside many other smaller groups.

Non-indigenous cultures in Costa Rica include that of the Guanacaste people in the northwest. Originally from Nicaragua, Guanacaste culture is characterised by an attachment to the vaquero (cowboy) lifestyle from when colonial settlers brought people to work on the ranches in this region. Topes (horse parades) and bullfights are still very popular.

Afro-Caribbean citizens make up about 3% of Costa Rica’s population, making them the largest immigrant minority in the country. Fishermen of Afro-Caribbean heritage began selling on the Costa Rican coast around the 1850s, and a strong community of Creole-English speakers has grown since in this region. These days the Caribbean coast is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country, attracting people with its tropical beauty, warm people, delicious food and famous calypso and reggae music.

Costa Rican language

The official language of Costa Rica is Spanish, but there are lots of small differences that make Costa Rican Spanish unique. Costa Ricans call themselves ‘ticos’ to refer to the way they use the diminutive ‘ico’ instead of the classic Spanish ‘ito’ from ‘poquito’ meaning small. Ticos use the suffix so much that it doesn’t necessarily mean that something is small (gato becomes gaticito for kitten) but can be used to alter the meaning of a word in a variety of ways – for example caliente (hot) can turn into calientico (warm), and momento (moment) to momentico (a quick second). A lot of the time ‘ico’ or ‘ito’ is used just to be cute – so you might refer to someone you’re fond of as Juanicito instead of Juan.

This gentle or ‘cute’ way of speaking can be seen in other aspects of the Costa Rican language too. If a tico asks for something at a restaurant for example, they will use the softer word ‘regalar’ (meaning ‘to give me a gift’) rather than the much more direct ‘dar’ (meaning ‘give me’).

Costa Rican Spanish is also rich in slang words that you’re unlikely to come across outside of the country. Some of them are as follows:

  • Mae ‘dude’ or ‘guy’.
  • Pura vida– literally translates to ‘pure life’, but has many different meanings.
  • Chepe – slang for ‘San Juan’
  • Zarpe last round of drinks
  • Brete- an informal word for work
  • Jumas to be drunk
  • Guaro – alcohol
  • J. (nos juimos)‘we’re outta here!’
  • Que camote‘that’s nuts’
  • Tuanis ‘c’ You’re more likely to hear this between the surfers in coastal areas.
  • Tata – ‘father’
  • Goma
  • Presa traffic
  • Manda huevo – ‘c’mon!’

Alongside Spanish and the Creole-English spoken along the Caribbean coast, there are five living local indigenous languages spoken by the descendants of pre-Columbians. Those languages are Cabecar, Bribri, Aleku, Guaymi and Buglere.

Pura vida

Far from being a simple stereotype or catchphrase, the phrase pura vida aptly reflects Costa Rican culture. When a Mexican movie of the same name came out in 1956, Costa Ricans related instantly to the optimistic philosophy of the movie’s main character and readily adopted the phrase. Not only do ‘ticos’ now say it all the time, they live by the concept too.

Pura vida literally translates to ‘pure life’. While it can be used as a greeting or farewell, Pura vida is more than that, it describes a feeling or attitude rather than having one specific meaning. Pura vida can be used in almost any context – it means living life with a positive and optimistic outlook, it means not sweating the small stuff, it means being friendly and polite, it means living in the moment, and above all, it means being grateful for what you have.

Costa Ricans generally take a laid-back, peaceful approach to life. They proudly embrace the spirit of mañana (tomorrow) – putting things off for another day – and follow ‘tico time’ as opposed to ‘gringo time’, the latter being used for those rare occasions where one must actually be punctual.

Costa Ricans are also unfailingly polite, so much so that they’re famously adverse to saying no, and would rather hover around a topic than admit they don’t know something or can’t help you. Manners are taken seriously, and warmth and generosity is valued above all else.

Costa Ricans are politically moderate too. Strikes and demonstrations are common, yet people behave respectfully, while election day traditionally has a celebratory atmosphere.

Domestic and international peace has long been a priority in Costa Rica. In 1948, the country abolished its army and redirected the money towards health and education. Its University of Peace, established in 1980, offers a master’s degree in peace and conflict studies.

backpacking costa rica - Pura vida on stone

Green Costa Rica

Powered predominantly by renewable resources (95%), Costa Rica is not only one of the happiest countries in the world, but also one of the greenest. By 2021, they plan to be the first country to become completely carbon neutral as well as banning the use of all single-use plastics.

Spurred by the destruction of its virgin rainforests to logging and agriculture, Costa Rica began converting parts of its territory to national parks in the 1970s. These days, over 25% of the country is protected land. This is the largest percentage of territory protected out of any other country in the world.

Costa Rica is also incredibly innovative in its dedication to going green. In San Jose, vehicles are permitted downtown only on certain days, depending on the license-plate number. If you live in a certain area for example, you can’t drive your car on a Tuesday. A planned commuter train will also cut down on vehicle pollution. To put Costa Rica’s efforts into context, the average Costa Rican has a carbon footprint that’s one-fourth that of the average American.

Keep an eye out for green hostels – Costa Rica is full of hostels that honour sustainable practices.

Costa Rica travel safety

While Costa Rica is one of the safest countries for travellers in Central America, it’s always wise to follow certain safety precautions, especially as the country has seen a rise in tourism-related crimes in recent years.

Statistically, nature still poses more of a threat to travellers in Costa Rica than violent crime, though this isn’t something to be too worried about. Just be aware of a few things when travelling around the country:

Riptides

Probably the biggest safety threat to the Costa Rican tourist are riptides, the strong currents found off the Costa Rican coast. Most beaches don’t have lifeguards so it’s up to you to be careful. If you are caught in a riptide, the most important thing to remember is not to panic. Instead of trying to swim back the way you came (this may be impossible and only tire you out), you should swim parallel to the shore until the riptide dissipates.

Floods

The danger of travelling to Costa Rica in the rainy season is that severe bouts of rain can occasionally result in landslides, mudslides and flooding, especially in the Atlantic section of the country. Be careful when entering canyons and always monitor local and international weather updates from the National Hurricane Centre and World Meteorological Organization. Flooding can cause disruption to essential services, so keep an eye on these websites and stay prepared.

If you’re going white water rafting, bear in mind that in times of flooding rivers can turn deadly. Always choose a reputable rafting/adventure tour company with good reviews.

Volcanoes and earthquakes

Costa Rica has 16 volcanoes in all, several of which are still active. A number of the most popular volcanoes were closed to the public due to increased activity in recent years. Miravalle and Irazu have since reopened and Poás has partially reopened. However, regular intermittent activity means that this information changes regularly so be sure to check on the status of whichever volcano you intend to travel to.

Most people visit Costa Rica’s volcanic national parks with absolutely no issue, but it’s always a good idea to take some precautions. If you wish to hike a volcano, it’s advisable to go with a guide who’s an expert on the area and will provide you with all the appropriate gear. If going it alone, refrain from entering prohibited areas, which are usually clearly marked. Any warnings should be seriously heeded.

Due to its location on the edge of the Pacific Rim’s ring of fire, Costa Rica can experience frequent earthquakes. Read up on earthquake safety precautions before travelling.

Hiking and wildlife

Costa Rica is a popular destination for adventure sports enthusiasts. Be sure to check the safety standards for any tour operator you choose and check that they have the appropriate certifications and good reviews. Check that life jackets for rafts and adequate safety equipment for canopy tours are provided.

For the more remote nature tours, the use of a guide is strongly recommended. If you’re keen on going it alone, make sure you carry maps, extra food, lots of water and a compass. It’s also always a good idea to let someone know where you’re going.

Be aware that Costa Rica’s wildlife can pose a threat to hikers, particularly in the remote Corcovado National Park. Be especially aware of crocodiles when hiking near rivers. Don’t swim in the mangroves or estuaries where they tend to be hard to spot.

While all of the above may sound scary it’s really just stuff to be aware of. With millions of trouble-free visits to Costa Rica every year, the scariest thing you’re likely to encounter is a mosquito bite!

backpacking costa rica - costa rican wildlife

Scams and petty crime

Scams are something to be aware of when travelling in any country, but there are a few that are more common in Costa Rica:

  • Beware of bag snatching, one of the most common crimes on tourists in Central America.
  • Make sure to ask approximately what your taxi fare will be before getting in – the classic scam of telling you the ‘meter’s broken’ once you’re already in is rife.
  • Car break-ins are common in Costa Rica, so make sure you never leave any valuables in your car, even when you’re only leaving it for a short while.Rental cars are especially attractive to would-be thieves.
  • Avoid people that want to ‘help’ with your bags – this is often a scam.
  • Keep an eye on your bags in overhead lockers on buses.
  • Don’t leave your bags unattended at the beach

Is Costa Rica safe for solo female travellers?

Costa Rica is considered safe for female travellers. About 2 million tourists visit Costa Rica each year (more than half of which are female) and most visits are trouble free. However, sometimes Costa Rica’s long-standing reputation as a safe tourist destination tempts people to let their guard down. It’s always important to keep your wits about you and follow your gut instinct. If something feels dodgy, it probably is.

A few tips for solo female travellers:

  • Make friends– travelling in a group is much more likely to deter trouble.
  • Inquire with the staff at the hostel you’re stayingat about the safest areas/places to go –  they’ll be experts.
  • Choose accommodation that has good reviews and has been tried and tested by previous travellers.
  • Don’t walk alone at night – instead, it’s best to take a taxi. Only take licensed taxis which are either red or orange.
  • Don’t carry large amounts of cash and consider using a moneybelt.
  • Don’t flash the cash or wear expensive accessories.
  • Carry a copy of your passport with you at all times
  • Stay away from drugs– a lot of the crime that occurs in Costa Rica is drug-related. It’s not worth getting involved.
  • Get good insurance. Travel insurance will protect you against theft, injury, illness and cancellations. You can get comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong.

 

backpacking costa rica - girl watching sunset on Manuel Antonio beach

Enjoying the sunset at Manuel Antonio

Costa Rica travel advice

What to pack for Costa Rica

  • Sunscreen – while it’s possible to purchase sunscreen in Costa Rica, options are limited and recognised brands can cost 3-4 times as much as back home. Buy a brand that’s reef-friendly!
  • Mosquito repellent – Costa Rica is a tropical country, which means that mosquitoes and other creepy-crawlies are abundant, especially during rainy season. While most insects are harmless, mosquitoes can transmit diseases like Zika and Dengue. There are plenty of natural options but the most effective repellents contain a high DEET percentage.
  • Raincoat – while absolutely essential in the rainy season, a raincoat is a good idea whenever you’re travelling. With 12 different micro-climates, the weather in Costa Rica is never predictable, and it can rain heavily wherever it is you go (it’s called the rainforest for a reason). Dominical,Uvita, Monteverde, and the Osa Peninsula are especially crazy during the dry season and the Caribbean Coast experiences rain all year round.
  • Quick-dry clothes/towels – nothing dries fast in the tropics, so mildew and damp clothes can be a problem. If you’re not on a shoestring budget, consider buying some fast-drying sportswear. Microfibre towels are fast drying and anti-microbial – so no mildew!
  • Hiking boots/shoes – while you might be tempted to just pack flip flops for your Costa Rica holiday, it’s best to invest in a pair of sturdy hiking shoes. You’ll no doubt want to trek at least a few of the beautiful trails, or you may unexpectedly find yourself somewhere where flip-flops just aren’t suitable. Get a lightweight, quick-dry pair, as leather ones can take forever to dry and there’s nothing more irritating than hiking in wet shoes, not to mention the painful blisters you’ll get.

If you plan on doing lots of water-based activities such as rafting, canyoneering or hiking through wet areas, you should definitely pack a pair of sport sandals or water shoes.

  • Sunglasses and hat – because obvs.
  • Warm Clothes – yes, Costa Rica is a tropical country, but some of its most beautiful attractions are found at very high elevations (including Monteverde Cloud Forest, Poas volcano, Chirripo) and can get very damp and cool, especially in the evenings. A pair of long pants will also come in handy when visiting the cities, where wearing shorts is considered unusual and will single you out as a tourist.
  • Spanish guidebook – if you don’t have a language app on your phone (and even then you can find yourself stuck if you run out of battery), a Spanish guidebook will prove useful when speaking with locals.
  • Torch – not only is it quite common for the power to go out during the rainy season, many Costa Rican eco-hostels pride themselves on having only partial electricity, usually meaning it’s switched off at night when they use only candles and lanterns. It will also prove helpful if you’re walking at night, since many streets are not brightly lit and lack sidewalks.

Vaccinations for Costa Rica

If you’re traveling to Costa Rica from Sub-Saharan Africa and certain South American countries, you’ll need a certificate proving you’ve received the yellow fever vaccine. Check here to see exactly which countries are affected.

The CDC recommends the following vaccinations for Costa Rica;

  • Hepatitis A and B
  • Typhoid fever
  • Rabies (only for those working with wildlife or in places that put them more at risk for animal bites)

Malaria is not prevalent in Costa Rica but you might want to consider medication if travelling to the Panamanian border or Matina areas for long periods of time.

Dengue fever however does exist in Costa Rica, so make sure you use a good repellent.

Backpacking Costa Rica budget

Costa Rica currency

Costa Rica’s national currency is the colón (₡), pronounced coh-loh-n – not like the organ!

While a lot of businesses do accept US dollars, it’s a good idea to pay for most transactions with the national currency, as you’re less likely to be over-charged. Most places in more remote areas don’t accept US dollars at all.

The most important thing to know about the Costa Rican currency is how cute it is! Each note is pastel-coloured and has pictures of the national wildlife – you’ll find sloths, hummingbirds, monkeys and deer!

Costa Rica backpacking budget

There’s no denying it – Costa Rica is one of the most expensive places to travel to in Central America. But if that’s the case, why do backpackers continue to visit in their droves? The answer is pretty simple – it is THE perfect backpacker destination. Costa Rica’s popularity is the very reason that it’s more expensive than its neighbours, so you shouldn’t let those few extra dollars a day deter you from visiting this incredible country. Besides, Costa Rica is still very cheap when compared to Europe, the US and even South America – particularly if you keep some clever budget-saving tips in mind:

Food and drink:

To the surprise of many backpackers, one of the most unexpected costs in Costa Rica is the food and drink. At a mid-range restaurant for example, you can expect to pay around $15-20 for dinner, especially in the more touristy towns and cities.

The best way to avoid this is to eat at the local SODAS. These are small, family run restaurants that serve up typical Costa Rican cuisine and are a bargain compared to restaurants catered to tourists. You can usually find casado, a local dish that’s made up of an entree and a selection of sides, for around 3,000 CRC (5 USD).That’s about half the price of tourist restaurants for a pretty big meal. Casados also usually come with a filling, fresh fruit smoothie – bonus!

When I was backpacking across the country I honestly couldn’t imagine why anyone on a budget would eat anywhere other than at the local restaurants – western-style meals at tourist restaurants are not only the most expensive, but also the most disappointing!

If you’re really on a shoestring budget, by far the cheapest option is to cook your own meals. Groceries are very cheap in Costa Rica, so if you take advantage of the fact that so many of the hostels here have communal kitchens, you’ll have no problem sticking to your food budget.

Drinks can also be expensive. Local beer for example is typically 1,400 CRC (2.50 USD). Obviously the cheapest option is to skip the drinks, but where’s the fun in that? Top tip: stick to the happy hours or the local rum. If needs must, Cacique rum (Venezuelan) is very good value and will do the job. How it tastes on the other hand is a matter of opinion!

Note also that the water in Costa Rica is safe to drink, so you can stop buying the bottled stuff and fill up your own!

Average daily spend: 7,000 CRC (12 USD)

Accommodation:

Staying in hostel dorms is your best bet for budget accommodation, and the beauty of Costa Rica is that the variety of hostels is endless. Average dorm rooms are around 5,000 CRC (8.5 USD), while privates cost around 25,000 CRC (40 USD). Bear in mind that prices are higher in the more touristy towns. If you’re travelling as a couple, always check the prices for a private room, as occasionally they can be cheaper than buying two separate beds.

One way to lower your accommodation costs is to visit during the low season, when rates are lowest (May through November). At this time of year you might even be able to find special 3 for 2 rates if you stay in a hostel for more than two nights. If you do travel during the busier months, try to avoid dates around Christmas, New Year and Easter, as high local demand drives up the prices.

Average daily spend: 8,000 CRC (13.5 USD)

Outdoor activities:

When it comes to outdoor activities in Costa Rica, be prepared to roll out the colones. As always, things catered specifically to tourists are apt to take a sizeable chunk out of your budget.

Of course you could skip outdoor activities altogether, but where would be the fun in that? A better idea is to do your pre-trip research and choose a few that you think you’d find most fun and restrict yourself to a couple of those a week. You really don’t want to miss out on ziplining through beautiful cloud forests, or the thrill of white water rafting down the La Fortuna rapids!

But you don’t always have to dish out the dough to have amazing experiences. In Costa Rica, all the beaches have free public access, which means that most of the country’s best experiences – swimming, tanning, snorkeling and surfing – are free! If you plan on doing a lot of surfing and don’t have your own board, be sure to scope out the hostels that provide them for free.

Here’s roughly what you should expect to pay for the following outdoor activities in Costa Rica:

  • Ziplining: $40-$70
  • Horse Back Riding: $40-50
  • Surfboard hire:  $10/day (some hostels will offer these for free)
  • Coffee Plantation Tour: $20-30
  • Boat/Kayak tours: $40-60
  • Tour guide: $10-20
  • Bird Watching Tour: $40
  • National Park entrance fee: Varies quite a bit but as an average $15-20 person
  • Monteverde Cloud Forest:$20 entrance fee plus $20 for a guided tour
  • Night Cloud Forest Tour: $20
  • White-water rafting: $70-130
  • Arenal Hot Springs: $40

Keep in mind that the less popular the area is with tourists, the cheaper activities and entrance fees will be.

Transportation:

The main ways to get around Costa Rica are by public bus, rental car, shared or private shuttle bus, and airplane.

Public bus

This is far and away the cheapest way to get around the country. Not only that, but the bus routes can get you to all the most popular spots in the country. Short bus trips (around 3 hours or less) will cost around 2000 CRC (3 USD) whereas longer trips can cost up to 6000 CRC (10 USD). Roughly, 1 USD equates to about 40 minutes of travel.

Public transportation

Local bus rides in Costa Rica are incredibly cheap. In San Juan for example, local trips cost about 200 colones (30 cents).

Taxis

Taxis cost roughly 800 CRC (1.5 USD) per km, making them convenient for short trips only.

A taxi from San Jose Airport to the city centre is about 15,000 CRC (25 USD). San Jose also has Uber, which is cheaper than the average taxi.

Shuttle

A shuttle can cost anywhere between 24,000 CRC (40 USD) a person to 235,000 CRC (400 USD) for 1-4 people, depending on both your destination and whether it’s private or shared. A shared shuttle from San Jose to Fortuna for example is 32,000 CRC (55 USD) a person, while a private shuttle will set you back 118,000 CRC (200 USD). Remember however that with a shuttle you can cut out the potential cost of a taxi to and from the bus stop.

Car rental

Prices vary considerably. For a standard SUV (recommended) you can expect to pay about 412,000 CRC (600-800 USD) per week, including limited mileage and mandatory insurance. Economy cars are cheaper, about 235,000 CRC (300-500 USD) for a four-door sedan, but this is only advisable if you’re certain you’re going somewhere where the road quality is good. Be aware that prices vary according to season, and car rentals from the airport charge a 12% fee. Also, if you plan to drop off the car in a different location, you’ll be charged a ‘drop off fee’.

Flying

If you’re tight for time, there are several domestic airlines you can choose from such as

NatureAir, Sansa, Skyway and Aerobell. Depending on how far in advance you book, the

time of year and the route, flights range from about $40-$200

Keep Reading! ⬇️

🌟 The best hostels in Costa Rica

🌟 Backpacking Central America

🌟 Backpacking South America

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About The Author

Luke Moss

English sun-chaser with tic-tac addiction. Loves finding random bars in foreign cities that play 90s/00s hip-hop and RnB!

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