7 days in Costa Rica on a Budget
7 day trip to Costa Rica with mom and my friend Alison. I am very laid back and I try to stay on a budget. I am not afraid to take a local bus, or drive our rental car in a country that I was not familiar with. The only reason why we got a rental is because we wanted to see so much. If you are planning to stay in one part of the country for the duration of your entire visit, then perhaps a car rental is not necessary. Public transportation is super cheap! One thing about CR that I did not find cheap, was food prices. Be prepared to pay for food pretty much what you pay in US. To cut on cost of eating out, we ensured that our AirBnB stays had kitchenettes, so we made our own meals with groceries bought from local markets. I felt safe eating all the food there, even if we ate from locals. I did not have any stomach problems. But just to be safe, bring some CIPRO with you, and the basic medical kit. And bug repellent. Depending on when you go, they have their hot & rainy seasons. So make sure to be prepared for the temperatures. It is always, always, always humid there.
We rented a car and drove all over CR, hitting up some key spots. I think in a country like CR, renting a car is the most optimal way to move around on your own schedule and get to places that are difficult to reach. Costa Rica lives on tourism, visitors are highly welcomed and we felt very safe traveling around. Traveling with mom, I ensured that we had a light itinerary and most importantly gave ourselves time at each visited place. Costa Rica is one of my favorite countries with incredible biodiversity and so much to see, so it is easy to get an ambitious schedule and miss out on being in the moment.
Arrival Day: We flew into San Jose around 11pm, picked up our rental and were off to find our AirBnB. I had preloaded the map of Costa Rica on my Google Maps (How to Use Google Maps with no WIFI) and thought that I was all ready to go. Unfortunately, little did I realize that there are practically no house numbers in Costa Rica, and although our AirBnB was 30min drive from the airport it took us over an hour to find the place. Our AirBnB directions consisted of some photos on what street or at what corner to turn, and what the gates of the house would look like. Needless to say we were lost as could be at 12am driving around a neighborhood where not a single house had its light on. Thankfully there was a car (probably the first car that we saw in the past hour) that was passing us and I was able to wave them to stop. I asked them for help to phone our AirBnB host, who then kindly came in his own vehicle to escort us back to his house.
Day 1 – The next morning, our lovely host Olger, fed us traditional Costa Rican breakfast (here is a LINK to Olger’s wonderful AirBnB ). Once we’d hit the road, our first stop was to see the Poas Volcano – Poas Volcano National Park Blog, which was only a 10min drive from our AirBnB stay.
After Poas Volcano, we headed out towards Arenal Volcano, per GPS it is 2hr 30min drive, and it took us about 3 – 3.5hr due to some unforeseen road closures and construction work. Upon arrival to the town of La Fortuna, we checked into our AirBnB and immediately set out to book any tours that we wanted to do in the next several days of our stay in the area. In the evening, we embarked on an adventurous journey to find a secret local hot spring – Hot Springs in Arenal Blog.
Day 2 – Today we had a zip lining tour on our agenda. Zip lining is perfect for any type of weather day. This particular day was very cloudy with some potential for rain. In the afternoon, we drove to the hanging bridges park – Mistical Arenal Hanging Bridges Park Blog, which is only a 30min drive from La Fortuna. We spent the rest of our day wandering around the jungles of a rainforest with shaky knees and adrenaline from all the heights of the bridges. We also went to the free hot springs again this night!
Day 3 – This was a full day trip to Cano Negro Wildlife Refuge – Cano Negro Wildlife Refuge Blog Post. Cano Negro is a wonderful option to see Costa Rica’s rich biodiversity and I highly recommend this trip. In the evening we wanted to explore other hot springs options in the area. There are many resorts situated near the geothermal activity, where you can pay a daily admission fee and enjoy their pools – Hot Springs in Arenal Blog.
Day 4 – Drive from La Fortuna to Jaco. This was about a 4 hour drive. Jaco was our final destination and this is where we dropped off our rental car, as we knew we were not going to be making any more trips that would require a car. As a side note, I ensured to rent our car from a company that has other drop-off locations which made it covenient for our travel plans. Jaco is a popular surf beach. The town is very small and you can walk from one end to another under one hour. We stayed at the end of the town in an AirBnB which was situated just a short walk from the shore.
Day 5 – After having past couple of days of packed agenda, our plans were to enjoy the beach over the next few days. Today was a beach day! Down the shore you can take surf lessons if you want.
Day 6 – Day trip to Manuel Antonio – Manuel Antonio National Park Blog Post. Manuel Antonio is located 1 hour away from Jaco, so if you are not interested in checking out all the stuff I have mentioned above, you can split your stay between Jaco and Manuel Antonio. Jaco beaches are nice, but Manuel Antonio definitely has better ones. Our AirBnB host provided us with a bus schedule, and we effortlessly took a public bus over to Manuel Antonio. Again, we had no issues with taking public transportation and what’s a better way to explore local culture.
Day 7 – Our last beach day.
Departure Day – Took a local bus back to the airport. They have buses that go straight from the airport to Jaco and vice versa. Bus ride from Jaco to San Jose airport was about 1hour 30min. Alison and I had to make a trip to the bus station a few days in advance to check out the schedule and buy our tickets ahead of time (we didn’t want to take a chance on tickets being sold out on the day of our departure). Always give yourself extra time, you never know how the road conditions there may be. The bus dropped us off right at the airport.
- Roundtrip Airfare – $351
- Car Rental – $260
- Car Rental Gas – $73
- Alajuela 1 night stay – $67
- Arenal Volcano 3 night stay – $218
- Jaco 4 night stay – $190
Tours per person
- Baldi Hot Springs – $33
- Hanging Bridges – $26
- Zip Lining Tour – $81
- Cano Negro Wildlife Refuge Tour – $100
- Manuel Antonio National park – $16
- Groceries & Eating out – $200 (roughly)
Total Travel Expense Per Person: $1,100