This trip to Costa Rica was a little unique in that I went by myself with my family and not with Matthew. We got to explore Costa Rica’s beauty for 10 days, and it was awesome! But, it means that my Costa Rica trip cost and expenses look a little different because I split the cost of hotels, the rental car, and gas with my family.
To help illuminate what this might mean for you, for these categories I am going to note how much I personally paid and how much the total cost was. At the end I’ll add up the average cost per day.
Costa Rica is one of the most expensive Latin American countries and the prices we encountered were sometimes often not too different from what we’d pay in the United States.
Overall, I would say hotels were cheaper, gas was more expensive, attractions were similarly priced, and food varied wildly on the establishment. (However, we were in two high tourist areas – if you were in less touristy places, you would probably see cheaper prices across the board.)
Colones Versus Dollars
Costa Rica uses colones as their currency. You can exchange money at the airport (not recommended, you get a terrible rate), or at a bank or ATM. However, everywhere in Costa Rica will also accept dollars, and most people accept credit cards (Visa or Mastercard).
If you pay in dollars, you will generally get colones back as change. I actually never withdrew colones and always paid with a credit card or dollars.
You will get a better exchange rate by paying in colones compared to dollars. This applies to credit cards (always ask them to run it in colones) but it also applies to dollars. The cost in dollars you will be quoted is almost always higher than the comparable cost in colones.
All right, introduction aside, let’s get into exactly what my Costa Rica budget was and what the trip cost!
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My Costa Rica Budget for a 10 Day Trip
- Cost: $370
- Airport Parking: $47
I always check the airports around me to see who has the cheapest flights with the best itinerary. If the cost difference between the airport closest to me and the airport 2 hours away is only $50, I’ll just choose the closer airport.
However, in this case, the more distant airport meant the difference between paying $630 for a flight and $370. Definitely worth the extra drive and parking costs. I flew into the capital city of San Jose – and this was a good price for that flight.
Read all about my best travel hacking strategies for finding cheap flights here!
- My Cost: $98
- Total Cost: $394
Renting a car is definitely the best way to get around because it gives you the most flexibility and the shortest drive times (compared with buses or tour groups).
The rental car expenses were a little interesting. The cost of the car itself was only $150, but Costa Rica law requires you to have A LOT of car insurance. While some of that was covered by our travel credit cards, liability insurance was not, which cost us $244!
As an aside, almost every travel credit card that I’ve looked at will offer free rental car insurance! You just need to pay for the rental car with that card and be sure to decline the company’s insurance offer. Double check to make sure that you fit in the terms and restrictions (usually luxury cards, and a handful of countries are not covered, for example) but you should absolutely be taking advantage of that perk!
Definitely be assertive and aware of costs when checking your rental car in and out. The guy checking us out tried to increase the insurance cost by 50% on us at the counter (When we had researched the insurance requirements beforehand, Avis told us the insurance would be $17/day. When we told him that we were told the price was supposed to be $17 instead of $25 per day, and he agreed to our price with no issue).
The TL;DR is when factoring in your rental car expense in your Costa Rica trip costs, definitely be sure to budget for the liability insurance cost, which your credit card will almost certainly not cover and you are required to purchase!
Wondering about road conditions, parking, and navigating considerations in Costa Rica? Read allll about everything to know about driving in Costa Rica here.
- My Cost: $20
- Total Cost: $80
Approximate distance driven: 700 km/434 miles
Gas cost 562 colones per liter, which is about 2,127 colones per gallon, which is about $4.15/gallon.
- My Cost: $4
- Total Cost: $16
A few times we had to pay for parking lots (such as at the Rio Celeste and Manuel Antonio National Park), and a few times we tipped parking attendants watching cars parked on the side of the road (such as at the Tabacon hot springs or the rope swing in La Fortuna).
The parking attendants in these two places were actually really nice – they did provide some security and they helped let us know when it was clear to back in and out of the parking area, as there were some blind spots. Tip a couple of dollars or 2000 colones per car. You can read more about the different parking situations we encountered in my Driving in Costa Rica post.
- My Cost: $423 ($284 in La Fortuna and $139 in Manuel Antonio)
- Total Cost: $1704 in La Fortuna for 2 superior rooms for 5 nights, $836 in Manuel Antonio for a 3 bedroom bungalow for 4 nights
We stayed at this absolutely gorgeous hot springs resort in La Fortuna. While it is true that you can find really cheap accommodations in La Fortuna, we adored this property and thought it was a fantastic price for the quality of the resort we got. I’m really glad we didn’t go with the absolute cheapest option and opted to stay here!
There was the most amazing breakfast buffet, lush tropical plants and flowers everywhere you looked, and over 10 hot springs and pools of varying temperatures to explore. The resort was super clean and we absolutely loved our time.
At Manuel Antonio beach, we opted to stay at a resort that had little bungalows scattered throughout the jungle . It had a full kitchen, living room area, and bedrooms. There was also a big outdoor, covered eating area that was really nice. The unit felt pretty isolated because we were surrounded by jungle. There were monkeys in the trees and jumping on the roofs. It was really fun! There were three beautiful pools you could use, and it was a 10 minute walk from Espadilla beach.
While the hotel line item was an elevated cost for our Costa Rica budget compared to what it could have been, we feel like this expense was very justified. The places we stayed really enhanced our experience!
- Restaurants: My Cost: $160
- Groceries: My Cost: $24
We got free breakfast at the resort in La Fortuna and made breakfast from groceries we bought in Manuel Antonio.
We ate out for almost every lunch and dinner in Costa Rica. We usually did a small meal for lunch, such as poolside takeout from the resort, food stands outside of Rio Celeste, or a soda (“fast food” restaurant), and then a regular restaurant for dinner.
The most cost-effective place to eat is a soda. My meal there cost just under $5 for a burrito and a smoothie. Most places we ate at for dinner cost me between $10-20, with one spot in Manuel Antonio being closer to $30. This cost was usually for an entrée and a smoothie and included tax and tip.
I also bought one or two smoothies (batidos) every day. Those ranged in price from $1.50-$5.
Read all about the best food to eat in La Fortuna here!
Read all about the best restaurants in Manuel Antonio here!
My Cost: $340
This included the following activities:
$180 for the Arenal Adventure Tour that included rappelling, white water rafting, ziplining, the Tarzan swing and the Superman zip, plus lunch.
$14 Rio Celeste Waterfall + $3 for rubber boot rentals (not necessary this time of year, but I wanted them anyway because my sneakers were still wet from wearing them the adventure day)
My Cost: $32
I brought back a little item for each of my 4 girls, some cookies and chocolate to share, as well as some of our favorite Salsa Lizano.
Other Important Expenses to Plan For
I’m not including these in my vacation budget, but I’m mentioning them for reference.
The first thing was travel insurance.
Securing some travel insurance is an important part of prepping for any international trip – you never know when something might happen, and your regular insurance generally won’t cover you overseas. Costs for a medical emergency on vacation can add up extremely fast, so it’s just better to be safe than sorry. (If covid has taught us anything, it’s that you never know what could happen)
I like booking insurance at Insure My Trip, as they offer a variety of plans with different coverages to choose from, so you can find the right option for you. Plus, they have great customer support if you need help before, during, or after your trip.
The second other expense was a negative Covid test to return to the United States. We took an at-home Covid test from our bungalow. It was very straightforward – we did a 25 minute video call where a representative walked us through exactly what to do, and then were good to go. That test cost $30.
- Hotel: 423
- Airfare: 417
- Rental Car: 98
- Gas: 20
- Parking: 4
- Restaurants: 160
- Groceries: 24
- Attractions: 340
- Souvenirs: 32
- Total: 1518
Total Cost per Day: $151 including flights, $110 excluding flights
Okay, that’s it! There are definitely ways to decrease your Costa Rica trip cost (using points to cover flight cost or hotel costs and staying in less expensive accommodations would be the most obvious ones), but I feel like this is a pretty good representation of what you can expect a Costa Rica budget to look like! Happy travels!
- Where to Eat in La Fortuna
- Everything to Know about Driving in Costa Rica
- 16 Awesome Things to Do in La Fortuna
- Ultimate Guide to Manuel Antonio: Stay, Play, Eat
- 10 Day Costa Rica Itinerary: The Best of the Jungle and the Beach
- My Best Flight Hacks for Cheap and Free Flights