Is Costa Rica Expensive? How Much Does It Cost To Visit in 2024?

We often get asked; Is Costa Rica expensive to visit? Here is what we paid during our visit, to use a guide

So you’re starting to plan your next vacation or stop on your backpacking trip and wonder if it’s true… Is Costa Rica expensive to visit? Or is it possible to visit on a budget?

Well, let me start straight away by confessing that yes, we found Costa Rica to be more on the expensive side when we visited. That is compared to other countries in Central America such as El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua.

It would be more accurate to compare the costs to places like Tulum in Mexico and Belize. However, the prices are slightly less than you would be paying in the US or most of Europe.

But don’t let any of this put you off!

We visited Costa Rica for 3 weeks and it was one of our favourite countries in Central America. Thanks to its endless green forests, national parks, abundant wildlife, and beautiful beaches.

It is true that Costa Rica can add up to be a pretty expensive trip, so in this post, I will explain;

  • How much everything costs
  • What we spent
  • Ways in which you can get the most for your money
Uvita beach in Costa Rica with golden sand and many palm trees

Our Top Tips to Save Money on your trip to Costa Rica…

🚙 Book your rental car well in advance to get the best deals!

🏠 Stay in this beautiful budget accommodation

But first, let’s answer one of the most commonly asked questions;

Why Is Costa Rica So Expensive? 

There are many factors that come into play when we talk about why Costa Rica is so expensive for visitors and even for locals.

For example, there are HUGE taxes imposed on imported goods and the majority of goods including food and gasoline are imported. This makes these items far more expensive than you would expect.

In fact, Costa Rica has some of the highest prices for Rice in the world!

There is also the simple factor of supply and demand when it comes to tourism. Tour companies, National Parks and hotels etc will all charge what we are willing to pay. As Costa Rica has become more and more popular, naturally local companies will all raise their prices as we tourists will still pay whatever they are charging.

This is often the case when places become popular vacation destinations.

There are other factors less talked about such as country debt, fluctuating currency and corruption that all play a part in making Costa Rica more expensive.

How Much Did We Spend In 3 Weeks In Costa Rica

Before I dive into how much our 3 weeks in Costa Rica Cost us, I should explain in a little detail our travel style. Because everyone travels differently, this will equate to differing costs. But don’t worry later I will give example budgets for all budget ranges.

When in Costa Rica we stayed in the most budget rooms we could find with good guest ratings. We travelled by a mix of private cars, tourist shuttles, public buses and one domestic flight. We ate a mix of local food and Western meals and also cooked some meals for ourselves.

We planned ahead which activities we wanted to do so we would only spend money on things we knew we really wanted to experience. We also booked our accommodations a week or so in advance.

So all of that being said this is what we spent in 3 weeks in Costa Rica;

💰 Total spend for 2 people – $4148

To break it down for you this is what we spent on different parts of the trip;

Accommodation – $986

Transport – $945

Restaurants – $744

Groceries – $294

Activities – $945

Other costs include ATM fees, souvenirs, sim cards, laundry etc – $234

As you can see some of our biggest costs were accommodation, transport and activities. Not to worry, keep reading and I will explain how it is possible to lower the costs of each of these if you are on a limited budget.

a girl walking across a hanging bridge in Monteverde in Costa Rica

Cost Of Getting To Costa Rica

Most people who visit Costa Rica will arrive by plane. The cost of the flight to get there is probably going to be one of your biggest costs, depending on where you are coming from. Alternatively, you may arrive by land from Nicaragua or Panama so I will cover all options.

Arriving by Plane

When booking your flights it is best to try and book them 6-8 months in advance. This usually gives you the best prices.

We also always use a comparison site such as SkyScanner to compare prices from multiple airlines to get the best deals.

✈️ Search HERE for the best flights to Costa Rica using SkyScanner

You will also need to consider which airport you fly to. The 2 main airports are San Jose (the capital city) and Liberia in the north of Costa Rica.

It is worth taking into consideration the route you want to travel around Costa Rica and which airport will work best for you. Flights to San Jose will generally be cheaper as it is a bigger airport, but if you then have to travel lots to reach the places you want to go, it might work out cheaper to fly to Liberia.

Arriving by Land

Coming from Nicaragua or Panama you can cross the border by tourist shuttle buses. This is how we entered and left the country and both crossings were super smooth.

Shuttles can easily be booked usually through your hostel/hotel or a local tour agency. You can also book them online.

We used Caribe Shuttles for both journeys. For crossing from Nicaragua to Costa Rica we booked through their local office in San Juan del Sur. For our exit journey, we booked our tickets online from Puerto Viejo to Bocas Del Toro.

This is what we paid for our shuttles;

🚌 Shuttle from San Juan Del Sur (Nicaragua) to Liberia – $53 per person

🚌 Shuttle from Puerto Viejo to Bocas Del Toro (Panama) – $38 per person

TOP TIP*** We booked our onward travel ticket in advance because Costa Rica does require proof of onward travel and they DID check.

Where To Stay In Costa Rica

When planning a trip to Costa Rica it is important to know that some places are more expensive to stay in than others. So I will quickly list below some of the cheapest and some of the most expensive places to visit.

Cheapest Places to Visit in Costa Rica

  • Puerto Viejo de Talamanca
  • Dominical
  • Liberia
  • Uvita
  • Montezuma
  • San Jose

Most Expensive Places to Visit in Costa Rica

  • Manuel Antonio
  • Monteverde
  • La Fortuna
  • Santa Teresa
  • Tamarindo
  • Jaco

How Much Does Accommodation Cost In Costa Rica

When discussing whether Costa Rica is expensive or not, Accommodation is one area that can vary widely regardless of which town you are in. Making this an easy way to save or splurge depending on your budget.

We found the costs were generally more expensive than in neighbouring countries. But to give you a better idea I will run through some examples below for 3 popular destinations.

TOP TIP*** Try to book your accommodation in advance if you can, especially if you are travelling on a budget. Costa Rica is a popular destination and quickly gets booked up. Around a month in advance should be the sweet spot.

Budget Accommodation

As with any tourist destination, Costa Rica has its fair share of hostels and budget guesthouses. These are some of our favourite budget options.

Hostel Cattleya in Monteverde for $18 per night

Tasty Dayz Hostel in Puerto Viejo for $28 per night

Teva Hotel & Jungle Reserve in Manuel Antonio for $36 per night

Mid-Range Accommodation

If you are looking for a little more comfort then this is easy to find. Here are some of our top picks mostly based on where we stayed on our visit (we booked pretty last minute so most budget options were fully booked).

Cabinas Nuestra Kasa in Monteverde for $42 per night

Kalunai Hostel in Puerto Viejo for $44 per night

Vista Serena in Manuel Antonio for $48 per night

Luxury Accommodation

When it comes to Luxury hotels and resorts in Costa Rica, you are totally spoilt for choice. So to save you some time we did some research and here are some that we think look awesome!

Camino Verde B&B in Monteverde for $87 per night

Casa BOHO in Puerto Viejo for $91 per night

Hotel Naoz in Manuel Antonio for $112 per night

How Much Does Food Cost In Costa Rica

The cost of food also varies greatly in Costa Rica. It will depend on where you are and whether you choose to eat locally or in a more touristy/western restaurant.

Luckily no matter your preference there is always lots to choose from. So here are some examples of how expensive food is in Costa Rica.

A typical meal in a locally run restaurant – $10-$13

A Western meal in a touristy restaurant – $18-$20

A Coffee – $1.80-$2.50

A beer – $2.50

Groceries to make a basic veggie pasta dish – $15

The cost of groceries in the supermarkets and local shops is so high that it is often not much cheaper than eating out.

a typical vegan meal in Costa Rica consists of rice, beans, plantain and salad

How Much Does Transport Cost In Costa Rica

Unfortunately, transport in Costa Rica can be pretty expensive. We found it to be the most expensive country to move around in Central America. Some places are a little trickier to get to, making the journeys cost more and some are inaccessible by public buses, meaning you will need to pay more for other modes of transport.

Luckily though there are a lot of options and with some planning you can save yourself a lot of hassle and money.

Cost of Renting a Car in Costa Rica

Without a doubt, renting a car is THE BEST way to get around Costa Rica. The roads are great for driving on and having a car gives you the ultimate freedom to go where you want, when you want.

🚙 We always use Discover Cars when searching for rental cars to make sure we get the best prices. Search for your rental car in Costa Rica here!

We wanted to rent a car but left it too late to book one. So keep in mind that Car rentals are cheaper the further in advance you book them. We checked around 2 weeks before we arrived and there were very few options left, which were all incredibly expensive.

We are talking thousands!!!

To give you an idea of the cost of renting a car if you use Discover Cars to search around 3-4 months before your trip, you can find a car for pick up and drop off in San Jose starting from around $140 a week!

Just keep in mind that there may be additional add-ons for insurance etc and then you will need to factor in fuel for the car. The cost of Fuel is around $5-6 per Gallon.

The great thing about booking a rental car through Discover Cars is that you only pay a small deposit when you book and you get a long free cancellation period if your travel plans change.

Cost of Public Buses in Costa Rica

Public buses are the cheapest way to get around Costa Rica. We travelled by Public bus a few times and they are safe, comfortable and affordable.

The only downside is they generally take a lot longer and some places such as Monteverde are hard to get to and require a change of buses and a full day of travel.

To give you an idea of some of the prices of different journeys we took on public buses;

🚌 Short 20-minute ride from Manuel Antonio to Quepos – $0.70

🚌 1 hour from Manuel Antonio (Quepos) to Uvita – $5.50

🚌 5 hours from San Jose to Puerto Viejo – $13.40

public bus station in San Jose, Costa Rica where buses are the cheapest way to travel

Cost of Private Shuttles in Costa Rica

Another option is to use private tourist shuttles that do direct routes between the touristy locations. These are generally faster than the public buses but they are more expensive.

In fact, the tourist shuttles in Costa Rica are VERY expensive. We took a couple on some journeys where public buses would take too long or not get us to where we needed to be on time. This is what we paid;

🚌 From Monteverde to Manuel Antonio – $52

We booked this one through a hostel in Monteverde. You could book shuttles from most hostels and tour shops there.

🚌 Uvita to Sierpe – $45

We booked this journey online through Easy Ride Costa Rica. They were the only shuttle we had in all of Central America to actually turn up EARLY!

🚌 Liberia to Monteverde – $65

Cost of Taxis in Costa Rica

In San Jose, you can use Uber as a cheap mode of transport to get around the city. We took an Uber from San Jose Airport to our hotel in the centre for around $13.50.

Otherwise, regular Taxis are available all over the country for short journeys and are typically safe to use. They are however pretty expensive compared to Taxi prices in other Central American countries.

Cost of Boats and Ferries in Costa Rica

Depending on where you are heading you may also need to take a boat. For example, if you decide to head to Drae Bay, which you absolutely should, then you will have to take a boat to get there.

🚤 Cost of the Boats from Sierpe to Drake Bay – $21 each way

If you are heading to Santa Teresa or Montezuma you can also take a Ferry rather than a super long drive. The prices start from as little as $1.50 per person and $22 for a light vehicle.

speed boats parked on the edge of a river in Costa Rica

Cost of Domestic Flights in Costa Rica

Flights are usually something we tend to try and avoid to keep costs down and to be more sustainable travellers.

However, they are an option and while in Costa Rica we did take one internal flight from Drake Bay to San Jose. It is a long journey by boat and bus to get there (totally doable). Guido studied aviation and had been dying to take a flight in a small plane so we decided to go for it.

The flight was less than an hour and actually a lot of fun with some really great views.

✈️ The cost was $162 per person to fly from Drake Bay to San Jose

If this is something you are interested in or if you have limited time on your trip then you can check the flight prices using SkyScanner Here.

a small passenger plane is the most expensive way to travel in Costa Rica

How Much Do Activities And Tours Cost In Costa Rica

The cost of Activities in Costa Rica can vary hugely depending on the area and the activity. There are many things you can do for free and other activities can cost hundreds.

This is why, if you are travelling on a budget, it can help to know in advance what you really want to do in Costa Rica and plan ahead.

These are some examples of activities we did and what we paid to do them;

✅ Spending a day on the beach in Manuel Antonio – FREE

✅ Visit to Manuel Antonio National Park without a guide – $18

Manuel Antonio beach in Costa Rica lined with palm trees

✅ Guided Day Trip to Corcovado National Park – $120

This is the exact tour that we booked and it was the HIGHLIGHT of our time in Costa Rica. Book your tour to Corcovado and see for yourself how incredible this Park is!

Or check out our full list of the best tours of Corcovado here!

✅ Ziplining, Canopy Bridges & Sloth Sanctuary in Monteverde – $148

Book your ziplining adventure in the beautiful Monteverde Cloud Forest at the same site we went to, it was WILD!

✅ Hike to a Natural Tree Bridge in Monteverde – FREE

A girl sitting on a bridge made naturally by a trees roots in Costa Rica

✅ Diving trip to Cano Island from Uvita – $182

We did our diving with Costa Rica dive and surf in Uvita. They were really professional and I would highly recommend them. If you don’t dive it is also possible to do snorkelling trips out to the island too.

This snorkelling trip to Cano Island has 5-star reviews and we can vouch for the fact that the marine life here is awesome!

✅ Entrance to Uvita National Park/Beach – $6

✅ Drake Bay Hiking Trail – FREE

✅ Guided Night Hikes in most National Parks – $50

We had booked to do a night hike in Drake Bay but it rained so hard the day before that the paths were temporarily inaccessible.

✅ Swimming and enjoying the beaches at Puerto Viejo – FREE

Puerto Viejo is the only place I have ever been where there is a black sand beach and 5 minutes away a pristine white sand beach. In between is a great spot for snorkelling among the rocks.

Clear waters over the rocks at Puerto Viejo beach in Costa Rica

✅ Entrance to Cahuita National Park – $4

One thing you should know is that doing free activities like hikes and visiting free beaches doesn’t mean you are going to miss out. In fact, in Manuel Antonio, we saw more wildlife on the free public beach and along the main road than we did inside the national park!

The key in Costa Rica is to have your eyes open and generally aimed upward, as much as possible. You can also check out our guide on all the best ways to see sloths in Costa Rica.

Example Budgets For Costa Rica

As you have seen from the costs I have shared so far, the question; Is Costa Rica Expensive? is a tough one to answer. It is indeed pretty expensive but that doesn’t mean you can’t visit on a budget.

To help you visualise even further how much your trip to Costa Rica might cost, I calculated some example budgets for one, two and three-week visits.

These are all excluding flights.

EXAMPLE BUDGETSOne WeekTwo WeeksThree Weeks
Budget Traveller
Staying in budget accommodation, cooking for yourself and eating local food, doing cheap or free activities and travelling on public buses.
Mid-Range Traveller
Staying in Mid-range accommodation, eating mostly local with a few western meals, doing a mix of cheap and expensive activities and travelling by rental Car.
Luxury Traveller
Staying in High-end accommodations, eating in tourist restaurants, doing plenty of expensive activities and travelling by rental car.

Other Costs To Consider In Costa Rica

Besides all the costs already mentioned there are a few other costs that you may also need to consider.

Data and WIFI – If you want to get a local SIM card with Data the best network to get is CLARO. A local SIM card will cost around $5 and a data package of 20GB is around $15.

Visas – Luckily for US and European nationals there are no Visa costs to enter Costa Rica. We can get a visa on arrival for free. However, we did have to pay an exit fee of $9 upon leaving the country. This has to be in cash so make sure to keep some currency aside for this.

Travel Insurance – This one is super important on any trip. The costs vary greatly depending on which company you use but it is always worth having. We personally recommend SafetyWing.

Over the years I have learnt this lesson the hard way, a few more times than I am willing to admit. My biggest advice is to get your travel insurance the second you make any purchase for your trip such as flights or hotel. Especially if they are non-refundable.

Is Costa Rica Expensive – Money-Saving Tips

So now that we know that Costa Rica is expensive to visit, It is time for me to share some useful money-saving tips we realised along the way. Costa Rica Is Expensive but it is possible to reduce costs greatly if you do just a few simple things;

⭐️ Book as much as you can in advance

Costa Rica is a very popular vacation destination and most people who plan vacations do so well in advance. This means that, unlike other Central American countries, things such as rental cars, hotels and activities can get booked up weeks in advance. Especially in peak seasons.

For this reason is it wise to book as much as you can as far in advance as you can. We ended up having to spend more than we would’ve liked to on accommodation and transport because we left it all pretty last minute.

⭐️ Take public transport

This is the cheapest way to get around the country by far and will save you a tonne of money. You also don’t need to book any of this in advance, but it can sometimes help to head to the bus station and grab your ticket the day before you want to travel.

⭐️ Visit fewer places

It is simple, the more you travel around the more money you will spend on transport. Spending more time in fewer places allows you to save money, have more energy and really get to know places better.

⭐️ Choose your activities wisely

A great way to save money is to do a little research and make a list of all the activities you would like to do before you go. This way you can plan ahead and book tickets if needed. You also don’t end up spending money doing things you don’t 100% want to do.

⭐️ Go to less touristy places

It is safe to say that in Costa Rica (and most places) the most touristy areas are generally the most expensive. Lesser visited places such as Drake Bay we found had much cheaper accommodation and restaurant prices compared to the more touristy places like Monteverde.

⭐️ Take a water bottle with a filter

This one is super simple but is something that can save you a fair amount of money on any trip. Having a filtered water bottle means you can drink any tap water and not have to spend money on bottled water.

We have Water-To-Go bottles and we LOVE them! They have helped us save so much money and plastic too.

💧You can check them out here if you are interested in getting one for your next trip.

close up of a sleeping sloth in Costa Rica

Is Costa Rica Expensive – FAQS

Before we wrap things up, I wanted to address some more frequently asked questions that you may also be curious about when it comes to the costs of visiting Costa Rica.

What currency do they use in Costa Rica?

In Costa Rica, they use the Costa Rican Colon. The currency fluctuates a lot but at the time of writing this post in May 2023, the exchange rate is around $1 – ₡538.

How much do you Tip in Costa Rica?

In Costa Rica, you will notice that in restaurants, tips are usually included in the bill at a standard rate of 10%.

You can find this on your bill as the ‘Propina’, often located towards the bottom of the bill. In the case that they don’t include it, then sticking to the 10% is just fine.

How much does an average meal cost in Costa Rica?

In Costa Rica, an average meal in a locally run restaurant costs around $10-$13. A Western meal in a touristy restaurant costs on average $18-$20.

Is Costa Rica cheaper than Mexico?

Prices in Costa Rica are comparable to the Cancun/Tulum region of Mexico. But overall, Mexico is far cheaper to travel than Costa Rica.

Is Costa Rica more expensive than the US?

No, the US is more expensive than Costa Rica.

Is Costa Rica Safe?

Yes, in general, Costa Rica is one of the safest countries in Central America. There is very little crime and tourists usually face no issues at all when visiting.

You just need to be aware of your belongings on beaches and in public transport and certain areas of San Jose are best avoided.

a man looking back and smiling as he zip lines through the forest in Monteverde, Costa Rica

Final Thoughts – Is Costa Rica Expensive?

So there you have it. Is Costa Rica expensive to visit? Yes, It can be. But it doesn’t have to be.

Using everything you have read in this post you should be able to plan your dream trip to Costa Rica to suit whatever budget you have in mind. Just whatever you do…make sure you go!

Costa Rica was a fabulous country with more wildlife than you can ever imagine. The best thing you can do is stop imagining and go and see it for yourself. I promise you won’t regret it.