10 Unforgettable Things to do in Costa Rica on a Budget

By on Published: July 7, 2016 | Last Updated: September 7, 2020 in Budget Travel Ideas, Central America, COSTA RICA, Latin America with 18 Comments

Costa Rica on a Budget

Slap bang in the middle of Central America is a small country that packs a big punch!

Although it’s one of the more expensive countries in this part of the world, Costa Rica still boasts an array of budget-friendly adventures sure to delight and amaze travellers.

I’ve visited this beautiful little paradise several times and on every visit fall more in love with the ‘Pura Vida’ nation.

Check out these 10 unforgettable things to do in Costa Rica on a budget and see for yourself why it’s such a great destination.

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#10 Yoga on Uvita Beach

Stay: Cascada Verde Hostel

The small enclave of Uvita is a delightful stopover on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica –  a sleepy beach town that is almost always quiet, apart perhaps from 1 week of the year when the conscious Envision Festival takes place here.

Whenever you choose to hit up this spot however, it’s hard to pass up the opportunity to downward dog in paradise!

Taking part in a yoga class here is definitely one of the best things to do in Costa Rica on a budget, especially as the views of the stunning beach beyond put it all into perspective.


#9 Take in the Rainforest at Puerto Viejo

Stay: Hostel Bikini

Over on the east side of Costa Rica, life takes on a slightly different feel as the Caribbean influence, rather than a Hispanic emphasis, can definitely be detected.

It’s certainly worth venturing over to this more remote part of the country however, to experience this shift and also to take in the swaths of tropical rainforest that dominate the landscape here.

From incredible sized trees and plants to beautiful birds and butterflies, the jungle here is awash with life and has to be seen to be believed.

Even a simple day hike through the rainforest near Puerto Viejo is enough to warrant being on my list of the 10 unforgettable things to do in Costa Rica cheaply, so don’t miss it!


#8 Learn to Surf

Along with its amazing wildlife and nature, the other thing Costa Rica is probably most famous for is its surf.

If you’re already experienced on a board, then this country makes the perfect destination for a budget-friendly surf break. Otherwise, if you’re wanting to learn the ropes, then it’s also a super cheap place to get some lessons.

Pick from several hot destinations such as Tamarindo, Jaco, Dominical or Nosara to enjoy the waves, but wherever you end up, surfing is definitely one of the best things to do in Costa Rica on a budget.


#7 Dive with Bull Sharks

Stay: M & M Beach House

Australia, WA, Dive Ningaloo

From one water sport to another! Even if it may seem like a slightly more expensive activity, the price of scuba diving in Costa Rica is definitely going to be a lot cheaper than other places in the world.

Enjoying the tropical marine life here is possible from both the Caribbean and Pacific Coasts, but it’s the opportunity to get up close and personal with bull sharks that really takes the biscuit!

This can be done from Playa Del Cocos on the Nicoya Peninsula and is certainly one of the most unforgettable things to do in Costa Rica.


#6 Feast at San Jose Mercado Central

Stay: Hostel Urbano

Costa Rica Food

Central America just wouldn’t be the same without its crazy and colourful markets, and Costa Rica is no different.

One of the best examples in the country can be found in the nation’s capital of San Jose.

This sensory assault is a lunchtime paradise for those looking to grab a cheap feed, local-style.

Head in here for a fruity jugo (juice), delicious licuardo (smoothie) or budget lunch at one of the sodas (local cafes).

Grab some food for dinner too for the nearby stalls and soak up the atmosphere.


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#5 Bathe in Arenal Hot Springs

Stay: Toad Hall

In the area surrounding Costa Rica’s most famous volcano – Arenal – there are a ton of hot springs created by the region’s geothermal activity. Many of these are part of exclusive resorts and have expensive price tags to match.

However, there is a magical free one that only locals and savvy tourists know about.

Often called Río Chollín, among other things (!), this natural hot spring is a delight for budget-stretched travelers.

Near the town of Tabacón, west of La Fortuna, this free spa is right next to one of the town’s illustrious resorts.

Skip the high fee however and settle for $0 in among the rocks to enjoy a bath in this rushing river, beautiful heated care of nature!

Without question one of the most unforgettable things to do in Costa Rica on a budget!


#4 Watch Turtles Laying Their Eggs

Stay: Cabinas Meryscar

Tortuguero on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast is a hard place to skip if you’re looking to see the best of this country on a budget.

An isolated town bordered by ocean on one side and rainforest on the other, it is accessible only by plane or boat.

The area is dominated by a conservation area, within which sits one of the country’s most visited National Parks.

This popular spot is one the best places to see turtles in Costa Rica with at least 4 different species come to lay their eggs on this shoreline.

While I’m not a massive fan of organised wildlife watching, seeing a turtle laying its eggs out in nature only a metre from you, is a pretty special experience.

And, unbelievably in Tortuguero, you can do just that!

A night tour with a licensed guide is the only way to see this amazing phenomenon. Costing only $20 USD however, this is an unforgettable Costa Rican experience for those looking to engage with this country’s magical wildlife cheaply.

There’s also plenty of budget accommodation available in the town of Tortuguero, so staying a few days here isn’t a problem


#3 Spot Sloths at Manuel Antonio

Stay: Central Backpackers Quepos

From one wildlife hot spot to another, Manuel Antonio may be Costa Rica’s smallest National Park, but its biodiversity is almost unparalleled.

If you looking to tick monkeys or sloths off your bucket list, then this is the place to head.

Both the 3-toed and 2-toed sloths inhabit this reserve and are commonly seen along many of the parks fantastic walking trails.

In addition, all 4 of Central Americans species of monkey can also be seen in Manuel Antonio, including the rare white-faced capuchin.

Flanked by beautiful beaches and verdant tropical rainforest, the budget-friendly entrance fee of only $6 USD, means this place really is paradise on a shoestring.

Staying in the nearby town of Quepos is also good for those looking to keep things cheap.


#2 Swim Under Montezuma Waterfalls

Stay: Luna Llena Hostel

The hippy enclave of Montezuma is a delightful spot, that should be on anyone’s Costa Rica bucket list.

With a stunning beach, blissful surroundings and a conscious community atmosphere, it’s no surprise many find it hard to leave.

So make sure you allow enough time to enjoy all the delights of this small town, including the incredible waterfalls and the swimming holes underneath them.

Lazing in the refreshing natural pool surrounded by the rainforest and sounds of nature is definitely one of the most unforgettable things to do in Costa Rica on a budget. In fact, it’s free!


#1 Hike Corcovado

The Osa Peninsular down on the Southern Pacific Coast of Costa Rica is about as off the beaten track as it gets in this small country. It’s no surprise then, that this place is also one of the richest places for wildlife and rainforest flora, in fact, it’s one of the most biodiverse places on the planet.

At its heart lies the Corcovado National Park, an incredible reserve brimming with tropical creatures, birds, trees and bugs.

The thing that really made this place stand out for me however was the fact you could hike into it and then spend the night in the midst of it.

Yes, at Sirena Lodge, you can camp at the centre of the Corcovado for as little as $4 USD pppn, while coati, tapirs and jaguars prowl the outskirts only metres from you.

Also, the hike in doesn’t require you to have a guide, making it a very cheap, very fun affair.

Read more about my experience of doing this in the post I wrote specifically about Corcovado National Park.




So those are 10 unforgettable things to do in Costa Rica on a budget.

Hopefully now the country’s reputation for being a bit pricey, won’t put you off visiting this amazing place.


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About the Author

About the Author: Creator of Big World Small Pockets, Stephanie Parker is a budget travel addict! Originally from Jersey in the Channel Islands, Stephanie backpacks the world collecting tips, advice and stories, to share with a smile .

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There Are 18 Brilliant Comments

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  1. Great suggestions! I love Costa Rica and it’s important to show travelers that it can be affordable!

  2. Cristina says:

    I have always wanted to visit Costa Rica! Love especially the yoga and the waterfall options! Thanks for sharing Stephanie!

  3. Great article, thanks for sharing. Although I am pretty sure that it is currently illegal to hike Corovado without a guide, I know you used to be able to do it alone but I was told that has recently been changed. And hiring a guide to tour Corcovado can be expensive. But it is still an amazing, somewhat affordable activity in Cost Rica. Pura Vida!

    • Steph says:

      Wow Kari, thanks for the update. That must have changed really recently, so wonderful you could let other readers know. A shame, but still a brilliant activity to undertake and thankfully camping at Sirena Lodge, within the park, is still wonderfully affordable!

  4. Nicole says:

    These are great tips.. I’ve been having a bit of a dilema about whether to go to Costa Rica when I go to Central America next year- on the one hand it looks like an actual dream, but on the other hand I keep hearing about how expensive it is! The same thing goes for Belize! So glad to hear about things that you can do there on a budget! 🙂

  5. Wow! Costa Rica looks amazing. I hope I get to visit one day… it is now on my bucket list!

  6. I’m trying to talk my husband into camping at Corcovado but sadly he’s not going for it. Anyone done the day hike from Drake’s Bay?

    • Steph says:

      No I haven’t done that one I’m afraid guys – if I recall I think it depends a lot on the season and rainfall as there may be some river crossings that way. If you don’t want to camp at Corcovado there are some basic rooms you can hire instead or, if you’re feeling really flash, you can get a helicopter in / out of the park so that your visit is a day trip only.

  7. Yaroslav T says:

    I love Costa Rica because of its scenic beauty, flora and fauna. I am a huge traveler and love reading about such fun places. Well, Steph, I must say that you have done a marvelous job. All the places that you have mentioned here are worthy to visit.

  8. luis says:

    I am from Costa Rica and I live here, near the capital city of San Jose. It seems your comments are very accurate, and that gives me confidence on your comments about the other countries that you are also reviewing and that I would like to visit sometime.

    • Steph says:

      Thanks Luis, it’s so great to hear that from a local that you like the information on my blog… a real compliment indeed! Best of luck with your travel plans 🙂

  9. Wendy says:

    how did you get from place to place? And did you book the rooms ahead of time?

    • Steph says:

      Hi Wendy. In Costa Rica I used local buses to get around and generally just arrived into a town and found accommodation there and then. Sometimes when travelling to more remote destinations or national parks however, where accommodation is limited, I would book ahead.

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