Known for its stunning beaches, luscious rainforests and plenty of opportunities for adventure, Costa Rica is an absolute must-see for anyone travelling in Central America. The tiny nation draws visitors from all over the world, but its popularity has made it somewhat more expensive than other countries in the region. Budget-savvy travellers needn’t despair, though – with a little planning, Costa Rica can be totally affordable for your next tour or solo adventure.
To help you stay on the right trail, we’ve compiled a week-long itinerary designed to give you a budget-friendly taste of Costa Rica’s legendary beaches, mountains and character-packed capital.
Dreaming of Costa Rica? Of course, you are! Take a look at the most popular tours to Costa Rica here.
Days 1 – 2
Explore the city life in San José
Costa Rica’s vibrant capital is full of history and culture, and there’s plenty to do without breaking the bank. You can visit sites like the Pre-Colombian Gold Museum, the spectacular National Theatre and the Museum of Contemporary Art and Design for around US$10 per attraction. Enjoy the bustle and energy of the Central Market, or savour a coffee as you watch the world go by in a city plaza. Remember; this your adventure and how you enjoy the experience is completely up to you.
Feeling hungry? For a tasty meal at a great price, try visiting sodas – small independent local eateries serving traditional Costa Rican food. You’ll find these character-filled restaurants everywhere in San José, and they’re very affordable. You can feast on a plate of local cuisine for under US$8!
If you feel like a picnic instead, head to La Sabana, a huge park that’s popular with locals. The area was was once home to a major airport – in fact, you’ll find the Museum of Costa Rican Art nearby in a converted air traffic control tower.
When you’ve explored enough, rest your weary head in one of a range of budget hotels downtown near Calle Central.
Adventure in La Fortuna
Travel from San José to La Fortuna in just three hours on one of Costa Rica’s shuttle bus services. They’ll take you from door to door for around US$50 or might even be included on your tour depending on how you’re travelling. Situated at the base of Volcán Arenal, La Fortuna is a popular destination for nature lovers (and a not-to-be-missed destination).
Even from a distance, the 200-foot waterfall of La Fortuna set in a lush landscape is dressed to impress. It is, however, best seen and experienced up close and a quick, 15-minute scenic hike through the forest is all it takes to reap its rewards. Best to pack your swimsuit as you might be tempted to take a short swim.
Depending on how much time you have, you can go hiking at Arenal Volcano National Park, discover Lake Arenal or take a day trip to Monteverde (note: it’s almost impossible to visit Costa Rica without seeing the wonders of Monteverde because it is breathtakingly beautiful). Monteverde is, after all, one of the most biodiverse ecosystems on Earth. Hire a local guide to take you through its misty trails where you might spot exquisite orchids as well as a plethora of curious animals. Or, take it easy aboard the Sky Tram for a lofty view.
If that’s not enough to keep you entertained, adrenaline junkies will love La Fortuna’s range of activities. Here, you can experience caving, horse riding, zip lining, hanging bridges, white-water rafting and more! Prices vary, but we recommend booking ahead of time to make sure you get a great price on your chosen adventure.
We’ve allowed for two days or so, but depending on your budget or tour itinerary, you might just never want to leave (and for that, we don’t blame you).
Of course, after all that excitement, you’ll want to relax – and the area’s famous hot springs are the perfect place to do just that. A number of hot spring resorts offer day passes, with prices starting at around US$45 per adult including lunch or dinner.
As La Fortuna is a popular destination for travellers from all across the globe, it boasts plenty of hostels offering dorm beds and private rooms.
Days 5 – 7
Hit the beach in Montezuma
Rise and shine, then take a shuttle bus to Montezuma for around US$60. The drive to the seaside town on the Nicoya Peninsula takes approximately five hours and is very scenic. Montezuma is a chilled-out, bohemian town known for its spectacular beaches and hippie vibe.
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Your time in Montezuma can be as action-packed or as relaxed as you wish. Learn to surf from local experts, or join in some beach yoga before venturing to the Saturday markets for fresh food and local craft. Cabo Blanco Absolute Natural Reserve costs US$12 to enter and offers well-marked hiking trails and the chance to catch a glimpse of native wildlife.
Try snorkelling on nearby Tortuga Island, take a dip in the Montezuma Waterfalls or dance the night away as the town has a great selection of bars and clubs.
Montezuma is home to a range of budget-friendly hotels and hostels but book in advance if you can, as the region is popular. As your adventure draws to a close, return to San José for your flight home.
Even on a tight budget, Costa Rica has so much to offer. Whether you’re exploring by yourself or joining a tour, make sure you don’t miss out on this amazing destination.
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