Is Costa Rica Expensive? Average Travel Costs in 2021

is costa rica expensive
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Costa Rica is an island of intense natural beauty, stunning coastlines, and rich cultural heritage. The jewel in the crown of Central America, the country has become one of the most visited places within the Americas. But is Costa Rica expensive? Unfortunately, popularity doesn’t come without its price tag. With more tourists flocking here every year, prices have been steadily rising too.

Visitors in search of the affordability of most Central American countries may be in for a little bit of a shock on arrival in Costa Rica. That said, although it is the most expensive country in the region, prices aren’t totally unreasonable. In fact, it’s still around 35-40% cheaper than countries such as the United States or Germany. For those in search of a good deal, it’s wise to have a general idea of the things that will set you back in Costa Rica to help you properly budget for your holiday.

Luckily, we’ve done the research for you. So, without further ado, here is our price guide to Costa Rica.

The average cost of a holiday to Costa Rica

The average cost of a holiday in Costa Rica depends on the type of traveler you are.
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The average price of a holiday in Costa Rica will cost between $850 and $1,450 for one week if you opt for mid-priced accommodation, restaurants, and activities. A double room in a mid-range hotel usually costs between $60 and $150, while a meal at a reasonably-priced restaurant can cost between $8 and $15 dollars a pop.

On top of this, there’s the cost of activities – a canopy tour will set you back $70, it costs $15 to rent a surfboard ($15), and a hike through a National Park can cost $7-$25 for entrance and an extra $25 to $40 per person if you want a guide.

Of course, if you’re more selective, you can do things much cheaper. Backpackers on a budget can get away with spending $20 to $40 per day by opting for a bed in a dorm ($10-18), eating rice and beans at humble joints ($3-5), and forgoing many of the activities. Those with more luxurious tastes, however, might easily find themselves spending several thousand per week by choosing to splash out on beachside accommodation, high-end activities, and swanky restaurants.

Ultimately, the cost of your holiday to Costa Rica will really depend on how you like to travel. Factors such as your eating habits, the type of places you wish to stay, and how many activities you’ll be doing will all impact how expensive a trip to Costa Rica is for you. And then there’s the cost of flights, which will also play a big factor in how expensive your holiday is. Flying from the United States will be much cheaper than flying from Europe, for example.

Accommodation prices in Costa Rica

Accommodation in Costa Rica range from $10 to $23,000 per night.
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Accommodation tends to be rather expensive in Costa Rica, but it doesn’t have to be if you’re willing to camp, couch surf, or stay in hostel dorms. All sorts of budget accommodation are available, some costing even less than $10 per night.

$60 per night should get you a reasonable private room in a three-star hotel and $120 for some more luxurious four-star digs. However, there really isn’t an upper limit for how much you can spend: some of the most luxurious villas in the star-studded Peninsula Papagayo will set you back a cool $23,000 per night. It is worth noting that prices on the Caribbean coast will always tend to be cheaper than those on the Pacific coast, for popularity reasons.

Is Costa Rica expensive for foodies?

Food can set you back a fair bit
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Is Costa Rica expensive for foodies? In short, yes. An average visitor to the country will spend roughly the same amount on food as they do on accommodation. Those looking to spend as little as possible on their food should try and eat local produce as much as possible. The reason for this is the prevalence of agricultural protectionism in the country. High import tariffs mean that imported foods cost far more than usual. For example, Costa Rica has the third-highest rice prices of anywhere in the world. This means that food can be a huge expense unless you keep an eye on what you’re eating.

You might think that renting a place with a kitchen and going out to buy groceries will help you to save here. This doesn’t always work out, however: due to the astronomical import tariffs, a lot of goods are very expensive in supermarkets. You will save a lot if you manage to stick to local produce, but this can be tricky for those who don’t speak Spanish.

There are a couple of extra charges which can drive up the price of your meals out here: a service charge of 10% and a 13% sales tax mean that generally, you will pay more than a restaurant charges for your meal. The good news is that tipping for your meals here is not necessary. If you want to save money here, make sure to eat out at sodas, most of which will not add sales tax to your bill.

Another big factor in how much your food will cost is location. While main courses in a San Jose restaurant might start at $10, you might end up paying double in popular coastal resorts such as Tamarindo and Playa del Coco. Conversely, eating in rural locations will set you back considerably less.

For those looking to push the boat out, the highest quality restaurants are usually found in San Jose or other popular tourist destinations. Make sure your pockets run pretty deep, though, if you plan on eating a lot of meals at these spots: they are generally about as expensive as you would find in the United States. Similarly, visitors looking for more familiar flavors will be able to find staples such as pizza, pasta, and steak in Costa Rica’s international restaurants. Be warned, though: the prices might come as something of a shock.

Those looking to eat as cheaply as possible will spend plenty of time in the local sodas (small restaurants). These serve simple local food at relatively cheap prices. You can expect to pay around $4-5 for breakfast, or $5-6 for a main meal. Look at their platos del día (daily specials) if you fancy a taste of authentic local cuisine.

A cheap staple you will find in sodas throughout Costa Rica is the casado, typically made up of rice, black beans, salad, sauce, a tortilla, plantain, and meat. Another cheap and filling local food is gallo pinto (literally “spotted rooster!), consisting of rice, beans, cilantro, peppers, and spices. Looking to save a pretty penny? Don’t be fooled by fancy interiors. More traditional, local jaunts may not always look as polished as the tourist traps, but they cost much less and are likely to have tastier food.

Is Costa Rica expensive to live?

It's much more reasonable to live in Costa Rica than visit.
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Generally speaking, living in Costa Rica probably won’t damage your wallet quite so much as visiting as a tourist. An ex-pat could reasonably expect to get by in Costa Rica for as little as $1000 a month including rent. For some, however, this might prove a little slim. If you want to go out partying often or partake in a lot of outdoor activities, it would be wise to add on a few hundred dollars. Likewise, foodies wanting to regularly eat at nice restaurants or buy lots of foreign products might be surprised by how much they end up spending.

Another big factor in your living expenses will be your visa status. Costa Rica puts its own people above tourists, so if you can secure a visa this will help greatly. Visa options include being a pensioner, property owner, business owner/investor, or a significant other as a Costa Rican. That said, this probably applies more to those thinking about living here long-term, as acquiring your residency ID will likely take you a lot of time and money.

One area where ex-pats will be pleasantly surprised is property prices: In Costa Rica, you can buy a two-bedroom house for under $90,000. Buying property in Costa Rica is also a good investment: house prices increase year by year with tourists and ex-pats boosting the market.

The budget below has been modeled around a moderate eater who drives a car and does not go out overly much or have many expenses. You can take this as a sort of baseline budget and then add on however much you might need for activities particular to your interests.

  • Rent + utilities: $575
  • Transportation (car + gas): $175
  • Food (mix of local & international): $350
  • Healthcare: $50
  • Extras (small expenses): $85
  • Mobile phone: $20

Total: $1,255

Costa Rica on a budget: Some extra money-saving tips!

costa rica money saving tips
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Although Costa Rica is a relatively expensive destination, we think that budget travelers should be able to survive on about $30-50 dollars per day. This should be easy enough if you follow some of these tips.

1. Stay in dorms

Given how expensive accommodation is in Costa Rica, staying in dorm rooms will help you save a lot of money during your stay. Per night, it’ll only cost you around $10 to rent a bed. This can drop as low as $7-8 on the Caribbean coast. Although it might not be everyone’s idea of heaven, staying in a dorm room can be great fun and offers solo travelers a way to meet lots of new people.

2. Drink tap water

While bottled water is very expensive in Costa Rica, tap water is safe to drink. Refilling a bottle from the tap could save you around $5-6 per day, particularly if it’s very hot. And the planet will thank you too!

3. Go easy on the alcohol

Many people might object to this rule, but there’s no doubt it’ll save you a lot of money. Alcohol is pretty expensive in Costa Rica: a bottle of local beer will usually set you back around $2.50. Stick to the tap water and you’ll have much more in your pocket for everything else.

4. Eat at sodas

As previously mentioned, sodas are local restaurants that serve cheap food. Given the disparity in price between local and imported goods, you are bound to get a good deal at a soda. They will also often serve tastier food than the more tourist-oriented spots you might come across. Look out for casado, gallo pinto or empanada on the menu if you want the best bang for your buck.

5. Skip the travel agent

Although travel agents can make booking a holiday more convenient, they’re usually an unnecessary expense for those on a budget. Instead of booking through a travel agent who will add money to the price of your hotel room, it is cheaper to go onto the hotel’s website and book it directly.

6. Drive carefully

If you hire a car in Costa Rica, be sure not to break the speeding limit. Police are always out looking for people committing driving offenses, and they are taken very seriously here. If you do get pulled over, the most important thing is to ignore the police officer who says they can take care of the ticket if you pay them upfront. Tickets must be settled at the Bank of Costa Rica, so don’t end up paying twice!

7. Watch out for tourist traps

Another tourist trap you’ll find is the mysterious ‘extra’ item on your bill. Sometimes, enterprising cafe/restaurant workers might decide to add something you didn’t order to inflate your bill.

Not all tourist traps are such overt scams. You will often be able to find cheaper prices and better quality by moving away from heavily crowded areas of the most popular resorts. As a general rule, the more people you see, the more likely there’s a tourist trap somewhere nearby. If you sit down somewhere and realize the prices are extortionate, do not be afraid to get up and leave before your wallet gets emptied. Another good way to avoid tourist traps is not to dress obviously like a tourist. This way, any potential scammers are less likely to pick you out as a target.

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Charlotte Hanwell is a writer and travel enthusiast from London. Her studies of Spanish language and literature have taken her from Barcelona to Buenos Aires. In between travels, she loves to run, read and cook her way around the world.