Sounds too good to be true right? Well I can tell you it’s true BUT only if you are flexible, patient, creative and open to exciting new experiences.
I recently went to Costa Rica for 5 days. I know that seems like a SUPER short time to see another country and it is. I had limited time off work and limited funds so 5 days was PERFECT for seeing one area of Costa Rica.
So how can you do this? I’m going to tell you.
The Flight $250. Spirit. I know. I know. They have a horrid reputation but if you are on a budget and you want to see the world? Spirit is your airline. I flew them to Costa Rica and didn’t have any trouble. I only spent a combined time of 11 hours in flight there and back. I can deal with an uncomfortable flight for that amount of time for a trip that costs less than $500.
Can I seriously get flights cheap enough to stay on budget? YES. Actually while I write this blog (It will be expired by the time I post) there is a sale on Spirit Airlines as long as you fly only on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. I just priced out May 4th to May 10th in Costa Rica for $142 from Chicago. No lie. Last time I flew to Costa Rica, it was well under $300.
So, watch sales, be flexible about when you go. Use Skyscanner to find the cheapest time to fly to Costa Rica. San Jose is by far the cheapest airport to fly into.
If you are flexible with what time you fly, patient with when you buy, and diligently watching the deals (sign up for their email), you can no doubt get round trip flights to San Jose for under $250.
Ground Transportation $40 to $60. So this one really depends on how many places you travel! You will most likely need to take a $20 cab from the airport to a bus terminal down town San Jose. Then buses that take you around the country cost about $6 to $10 dollars. Throw in a few more dollars for local buses while you are at your destination.
If you are only going to one place, say Manuel Antonio, you are only looking at $40. The bus back to San Jose from Manuel Antonio will drop you off right at the airport. If you want to do more than one destination in Costa Rica, you will start to increase ground transportation.
Hostel $60 to $100. But you can probably do better than $100 if you do your research and make some sacrifices like air conditioning and personal space. Don’t worry you get your own bed. You just have to share the room with 3-15 other people.
In Manuel Antonio I recommend staying at Vista Serena. When I stayed there it was only $16/night for an air conditioned room with 4 people or $12/night for the non-air conditioned 16 person dorm. That comes to only $60! That's $40 extra dollars you can spend on activities.
And give a hostel a chance if you haven’t before. I use Hostel World to find mine and won’t stay in one with under an 80% rating, and prefer to stay in one with a rating over 90%. You meet a variety of amazing people. So worth it- Trust me!
Food $50 to $75. Here you have to be creative. Staying in a hostel comes in handy most of the time as they usually have a small kitchen you can use. Bye pasta, sandwich material, or be like me and buy things to make PB&J’s when you aren’t eating out.
When you do eat out, try the local sodas. No, not a drink. Sodas are small restaurants that serve a small variety of food for a low cost. It’s authentic Costa Rican cuisine at a good price. Also ask your hostel for tips on where you can get authentic food cheap. They are a great resource!
Activities $100. This is where it gets tough and where I messed up on my trip. If you want to go on a catamaran sunset cruise (which is amazing), go zip lining, or take guided tours, it will be hard to stay within this budget. Not hard, impossible. Zip Lining runs from $50 to $100 alone. Catamaran Sun Set Cruise? $70 minimum. If you are willing to forego expensive activities and guided tours you will limit fees to admission costs.
Skip the chairs at the beach and put your towel right in the sand. Rent snorkeling equipment and go with a group of people from the hostel rather than going on a guided snorkeling tour. Make sure you get instruction first, you are swimming in open water. Be careful people and realize the risks before doing anything for the first time.
Total Cost $500. If you were adding up along with me, you also arrived at $500. If you are a little less thrifty and less willing to compromise, you will be going up steadily. It’s not hard to break this budget so you have to watch carefully.
It’s also smart to download a money converter to your phone. The conversion rate when I was there was 530 Colónes to 1 dollar. It can be overwhelming! It’s okay to take your time to calculate the conversion. I don’t feel as though I was ever taken advantage of in Costa Rica, but I’m not saying it won’t happen.
My last note. Have a credit card or extra cash int he bank for emergencies. Yes you CAN do this in under $500 but things happen. You miss your plane, you get sick and have to go to the hospital, etc. The better you prepare, the more you reduce risk of needing this backup, but it's still important to have it.
Be Smart. Be Creative. Be Thrifty. Be Flexible. You have these attributes down? You can see the a beautiful country for $500 or less.
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