25 Unforgettable Things to do in Costa Rica on a Budget

By on Published: July 7, 2016 | Last Updated: September 1, 2021 in Budget Travel Ideas, Central America, COSTA RICA, Latin America with 18 Comments

25 Unforgettable Things to do in 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 continent, 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, have fallen more in love with the Pura Vida nation.

Check out these 25 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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#1 Yoga on Uvita Beach

Stay: Cascada Verde Hostel

Costa Rica, Beach, Uvita

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.

And while you’re here, don’t miss the amazing sand bar whale tail formation either… you’ll see what I mean when you get there!

 

#2 Walk Amongst the Tress in Monteverde

Costa Rica, Monteverde, Tree Walkl

Monteverde is certainly one of the top places to visit in Costa Rica thanks to its incredible cloud forest setting.

Don’t miss the opportunity to get amongst this mind-blowing landscape by enjoying the Hanging Bridges walk – an epic trail through the trees of this unique and precious environment.

Tons of wildlife-spotting can be enjoyed here, as well as the sights, sounds and humidity (!) of this tropical terrain.

If you’re rushed on time, you can even enjoy this area as part of a day trip from San Jose.  Book this top excursion from the capital here.

 

#3 Take in the Rainforest at Puerto Viejo

Stay: Hostel Bikini

Central America, Costa Rica, Bird

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 25 best things to do in Costa Rica cheaply, so don’t miss it!

 

#4 Enjoy a Coffee Tour

Central America, Costa Rica, Coffee

If you read this blog regularly, or likely if you’ve just read it once before, you’ll know I’m an absolute coffee fiend and my love of this famous bean can quite often dictate the direction of my travels!

No exception with Costa Rica then, where this amazing plant is farmed and where you can drink some seriously incredible caffeine!

Yes drinking as much coffee as you can each morning is certainly one of my top things to do in Costa Rica, but it doesn’t stop there!

You can also enjoy coffee farm tours in this country to learn more about exactly how this drink is produced and in order to support local farmers.

Check out this one as a great example.

 

#5 Learn to Surf

Costa Rica, Beach, Surf

Along with its amazing wildlife, nature and coffee, 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.

 

#6 Let Your Hair Down in Limon

Costa Rica, Beach, Bike

Limon, over on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, is a great place to let your hair down at the best of times, not least during the annual carnival here, which sees things really kick off!

Typically taking place over a week in October, this is a superb way to soak in the local culture of this area and experience all the music and dance, parades and performance, arts and crafts, plus food and drink, that go into this energetic spectacle.

 

#7 Scuba Dive with Sharks

Stay: M & M Beach House

Costa Rica, Ocean, Hammerheads

From one active adventure 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 off the Nicoya Peninsula and is certainly one of the most unforgettable things to do in Costa Rica.

And yes, I know the picture above is of Hammerhead Sharks, but trust me, you’re too spellbound when you see a Bull Shark to get your camera out!

Also, there are many different shark varieties you can see in Costa Rica, including Hammerheads, which are particularly prevalent around Cocos Island.

 

#8 Zipline in La Fortuna

Central America, Costa Rica, La Fortuna

La Fortuna is another one of the top places to visit in Costa Rica and, in my opinion, no journey to this country is worth it without at least 1 day here.

La Fortuna is a town situated the other side of Volcan Arenal to Monteverde, as such you can visit all 3 of these destinations in one go – great if you are short on time and money!

Here’s a top-rated day tour that takes in 2 of them if you want to know more.

La Fortuna is known for its amazing waterfalls, nature trails and also its incredible zip-lining experience.

In fact, Costa Rica is thought to be the home of zip lining, so trying out this crazy activity in its country of origin is absolutely something you should do while you’re here.

 

#9 Feast at San Jose’s Mercado Central

Stay: Hostel Urbano

Costa Rica, San Jose, Mercado

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 a budget lunch at one of the sodas (local cafes).

Grab some food for dinner from one the nearby stalls too if you like and soak up the atmosphere even more.

 

#10 Snorkel

Costa Rica, Beach, Snorkel

There’s no question that the nature of Costa Rica is one of its most stunning attractions, but what about all that wildlife under the water too?!

If your budget doesn’t stretch to scuba diving, or your fear factor doesn’t extend to sharks, then why not try something a bit more sedate in the form of snorkelling?!

Available right across the country, this can range from simply gear hire to full guided day trips onboard boats.

Depending on where you are and what your level of skill is, make sure you pick the right adventure for you and your wallet.

 

#11 Bathe in Arenal’s Hot Springs

Stay: Toad Hall

Costa Rica, Arenal, Hot Springs

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 travellers.

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!

 

#12 Relax on a Sunset Cruise

Costa Rica, Beach, Sunset

Fitting in with the snorkelling I mentioned earlier in this post, combining this activity with a sunset cruise is a top way to experience 2 loads of fun for the price of 1!

Got to love that when you’re travelling on a budget!

This top sunset and snorkelling cruise from Tamarindo is a beautiful example, where you can take in the best of the Pacific coastline both above and below the water.

 

#13 Watch Turtles Laying Their Eggs

Stay: Cabinas Meryscar

Costa Rica, Beach, Turtles

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 shoestring.

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 of the best places to see turtles in Costa Rica, with at least 4 different species coming here to lay their eggs.

While I’m not a massive fan of organised wildlife watching, seeing a turtle lay its eggs out in wild 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, but it sure 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.

 

#14 Take a Road Trip

Central America, Costa Rica, Road Trip

You can absolutely get around Costa Rica via local bus, which I did as a solo female traveller and found very easy and safe.

That said, if you want the ability to get off the beaten track (and who doesn’t, let’s be honest) or you’re with a group of friends, then hiring a car in the country can also be a top option.

In particular, this will allow you to explore the Central Valley of the country (which is often the part furthest away from the tourist crowds) taking in the views, homestay experiences and farming opportunities of this area is certainly one of the top things to do in Costa Rica that’s a bit different.

If this appeals, book your car hire with the well-known company, Thrifty, who offer some of the best rates and peace of mind.

 

#15 Spot Sloths at Manuel Antonio

Stay: Central Backpackers Quepos

Costa Rica, Manuel Antonio, Sloth

Manuel Antonio may be Costa Rica’s smallest national park, but its biodiversity is almost unparalleled.

If you’re 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 the Central American species of monkey can also be spotted in Manuel Antonio, including the rare white-faced capuchin.

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

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

Otherwise, you can also head to Manuel Antonio as part of a great day trip from the country’s capital, San Jose.

 

#16 SUP

Costa Rica, Beach, SUP

I mean, come on, who doesn’t love a good stand-up paddleboard at the best of times?!

Doing it in the beauty of Costa Rica?…. Unparalleled!

 

#17 Swim Under Montezuma Waterfalls

Stay: Luna Llena Hostel

Costa Rica, Montezuma, Waterfall

The hippy enclave of Montezuma is a delightful spot on the Pacific Coast, 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 around in the refreshing natural pools, 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!

 

#18 Join a Walking Tour in San Jose

Central America, Costa Rica, San Jose

There’s a lot of nature and wildlife stuff in this list so far, so let’s not forget that Costa Rica also has some pleasant towns and cities.

It’s likely that you’ll fly into the capital, San Jose, when you begin your travels here, so don’t miss the opportunity to spend a day exploring this lowkey capital while you’re there.

A walking tour is a great way to do just that, as this city is very compact and you’ll quickly get to know your way around.

 

#19 Eat Gallo Pinto & Salsa Lizano

Central America, Costa Rica, Gallo Pinto

The national dish of Costa Rica has to be tried at least once when you are here!

Known as gallo pinto (which is directly translated as spotted chicken), it’s essentially rice and black beans often served with bread, tomato salsa (pico de gallo, which is translated as chicken’s beak!), egg and cheese to accompany it.

But the best accompaniment of all is the national favourite Salsa Lizano – which you’ll find on every table in this country

A sweet-ish brown sauce, you have to get this on top of your gallo pinto for the full Costa Rican experience, trust me!

 

#20 Hit the Beach

Central America, Costa Rica, Beach

Come on, with 2 stunning coastlines to choose from and amazing tropical weather to boot, hitting the beach in Costa Rica is absolutely one of the top things to do here.

In fact, why not hit a couple?!

I was less a fan of the Caribbean coast here (not like me) and also didn’t like the busier Pacific coastal areas like Jaco, however the Nicoya and Osa Peninsulas were to die for!

 

#21 Go Whale Watching

Central America, Costa Rica, Whale

And while you’re at the coast, the Pacific Coast that is, you can’t miss the chance to whale watch in Costa Rica.

This is a dream experience that is so much cheaper than it is in many other places in the world, that you’d be foolish to miss out.

 

#22 Try a Craft Beer or Coconut

Central America, Costa Rica, Coconut

Craft beer is really beginning to take off in Costa Rica (thank goodness because the regular stuff tasted like cr*p to me) and sampling some of the new products or checking out a microbrewery of 2 in the capital is absolutely one of the best things to do in Costa Rica on a budget.

If you don’t drink alcohol, or you want to something to cool you down on the beach, then the non-alcoholic beverage of choice in this country has to be the mighty coconut.

A fresh one, straight from the tree, with the top sliced off with a machete and served with a metal straw (buy your own to save the plastic), is absolutely the best way to enjoy them!

 

#23 Volunteer on an Eco Project

Costa Rica, Rainforest, Bird

We’re nearing the end of this list, but I still do think this is a very important option when it comes to the top things to do in Costa Rica.

As one of the most biodiverse places on earth, and with so many resources ploughed into conservation and protecting the environment, Costa Rica really is ahead of the game in many respects.

Which means there’s a lot to be learnt here.

And a lot to be enjoyed too.

Why not give back during your travels therefore and volunteer on an eco-project?

There are so many opportunities in this area that, quite frankly, you’ll be spoilt for choice.

If you want to discover some of the best projects, both in Costa Rica and around the world, then why not check out Worldpackers –  an amazing website that connects conscious travellers with some amazing volunteer projects so that you can adventure for longer and give back more.

You can also use my exclusive promo code BWSP20 to get 20% off your Worldpackers membership today – winning!

 

 

#24 Learn Spanish

Central America, Costa Rica, Learn Spanish

But the learning doesn’t stop with the environment and if you’ve ever wanted to improve your language skills, particularly when it comes to Spanish, Costa Rica is a key place to do this.

As the national language, Tico/as (that’s what the people of this country are colloquially called) speak quite slowly and clearly, which means that this is a great place to begin or improve your Spanish-learning journey.

The language schools are of a very high standard here too and the classes are likely to be very reasonably priced when compared to your home county.

What have you got to lose?!

 

#25 Hike Corcovado

The Osa Peninsula 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 spots for wildlife and rainforest flora, in fact, it’s one of the most biodiverse locations 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 while coati, tapirs and jaguars prowl the outskirts only metres from you.

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

 

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When to Visit Costa Rica

Costa Rica, Dive, Fish

The best time to visit Costa Rica is in the dry season, which loosely runs from November to April.

Of course, the western holiday seasons of Christmas and Easter, which fall within these months, will be the busiest and also have the highest prices too.

The rainy season does mean things are less crowded and cheaper, but tropical downpours can really put a dampener on any hiking and wildlife activities you had planned.

And let’s be honest, this is one of the main reasons for visiting Costa Rica!

As such, I tend to recommend January through to March as the best times to visit Costa Rica – you get the best weather and the best opportunity to explore the country, but without the huge holiday rates and huge crowds that descend here at Christmas and Easter.

The worst month to visit is probably October, when the rain is incessant and hurricanes a very real threat.

 

Getting To and Around Costa Rica on a Budget

Costa Rica, Beach, Crab

If you’re already stationed in Central America, then you can easily hop overland into Costa Rica from the neighbouring countries of Nicaragua and Panama.

I’ve done this many times myself using public transport and found the borders both quick and easy to cross.

Alternatively, if you’re travelling from further afield it’s likely you’ll arrive into one of Costa Rica’s international airports.

As always, I use Skyscanner to find the best deals on flights.

And if you’re looking for ideas about how to get around Costa Rica on a budget, then look no further than Bookaway – a great travel website that compares, and allows you to book, buses across all the major destinations in this country.

Backpacking never looked so easy!

 

5 Essential Packing Items for Costa Rica

The key to a good trip really is ensuring you have the right gear with you, so here’s 5 packing essentials I recommend if you’re heading to this amazing country…

#1 LifeStraw Go Water Filter Bottle – An absolute must on my travel packing list, my LifeStraw Go Water Filter Bottle safely removes 99.9% of bacteria found in tap water and, as such, allows me to drink tap water around the world knowing it’s safe. Great for your health but also for the planet as it massively reduces your plastic bottle usage –  this item is a double winner!

#2 Good Walking Shoes – Getting out in nature is what time in Costa Rica is all about, so definitely ensure you have some good hiking footwear so you can enjoy the incredible landscapes here to the fullest. I highly recommend these North Face Hedgehog walking shoes which are perfect for city strolling and rainforest clambering.

#3 Sarong – Whichever you look at it, there’s a lot of beach time involved in adventuring in a country like Costa Rica, so make sure you’re prepared with a gorgeous sarong that you can utilise to the max here! Here’s 19 other reasons I recommend you always travel with a sarong.

#4 Costa Rica Lonely Planet – My go-to when it comes to travel guidebooks, the Costa Rica Lonely Planet is still a great source of information including lots of useful information on where to visit in this country and where to stay.

#5 Reliable Camera – There’s no doubt you’ll want to capture your Costa Rican memories as well as possible and ensuring you have a reliable camera to do just that is super important. I love my Sony A6000, which I used throughout my time in Latin America, as well as my GoPro which was ideal for snapping during those wilder adventure days!

For a full list of what to pack for your travels in Costa Rica, check out this complete checklist I put together following my time there.

 

Best Travel Insurance for Costa Rica

Central America, Costa Rica, Beach

I wouldn’t dream of travelling to a country like Costa Rica without proper coverage and always recommend travel insurance from World Nomads which I’ve used during my time in the country and across the world.

World Nomads are actually one of the few companies that will insure you for a huge range of outdoor activities as standard – essential for a country like Costa Rica.

Alternatively, if you’re looking for travel insurance with Covid-19 cover, then look no further than Safetywing’s great Nomad Insurance policies.

These guys have you covered and can certainly be trusted to give you some of the best rates going.

 

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So those are my 25 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.

Have you been to Costa Rica?

What was your favourite thing to do there?

Please let me know if the comments box below…

 

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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! 🙂

    • Steph says:

      It is a bit more expensive than Nice or Honduras Nicole, but still totally do-able on a small budget so def don’t skip it! Enjoy 🙂

  5. Kelly Turpin says:

    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.

    • Steph says:

      Thanks Yaroslav, that’s great to hear. So glad you enjoyed the list and yes Costa Rica is a truly amazing place 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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