Heck, these ideas apply to travel and residency. We’ve found hitchhiking around our area pretty easy. Just use common sense.
1.- Use the Colón, the local currency
You can pay anywhere in Costa Rica with American dollars, and there are many who live daily with this currency. However, I recommend using the Colón, (the local currency) because with it you are much less likely to be taken or treated as a tourist anymore. In addition, the dollar has more value so the rounding is always upward. However, with the Colón you can make much more controlled and accurate payments. With this trick, you will not save much money, but everything helps in a country with such high prices.
2.- Pay cash better than with a card
If, something caught my attention about Costa Rica is that almost anywhere can one can pay by card. However, if you carry a visa from another country it is very likely that with each payment you make you will incur a commission and in the end, you end up leaving a bit of money in commissions. That is why I recommend running with cash. Important, whenever you are going to withdraw money, look for a cashier where a commission is not charged and use a credit card for the trip that does not charge you fees for using it abroad. For example, the Evo Bank card.
3.- Buy a local SIM card for your phone
If something is cheap in Costa Rica it’s cell phone service and having a SIM (chip) with local number can get you out of many troubles. When I arrived in Costa Rica, I bought a prepaid mobile card (from the Kolbi company) and I put in 3 Euros, of which I did not spend even half after a month of travel. In addition, I thought I sent many messages and made more than one call. As footnote…make sure you bring and unlocked cell phone.
4.- Soda, the cheapest option to eat
Fundamental. Eating in sodas is a lot cheaper than doing it in restaurants. For us to understand, the soda is a type of restaurant in a basic plan, without too many luxuries but home cooked and freshly made. It is a good place to eat dishes of the day (the equivalent of the Spanish menu) or the Casado, which is a dish, composed of rice, beans, banana and other ingredients to choose from. It’s ideal to fill the stomach with a lot for little money. I never spent more than 5 Euros eating on a soda and I always came out perfectly satisfied. Eating in sodas is a great way support the local community.
5.- Shopping in supermarkets
This rule is useful for Costa Rica or for any other country in the world. The cheapest option to eat is always to buy your food in a supermarket and prepare it yourself. Generally, hostels have kitchens at the disposal of the tenant. Now, I can also tell you that the savings of eating via supermarkets in Costa Rica are minimal (the shopping cart is expensive) so many times it makes up or works out to eat in a soda and save you the effort of cooking. Buying in supermarket is a very good option if you travel in large groups since you can cook for more people for less price.
6.- Sleep in hostels and cabins
If you want to travel cheaply through Costa Rica, the best lodging option is to use hostels or cabins instead of hotels. For those of you who have never been in this country, I would say that cabins are a type of accommodation often found in Costa Rica that can be a simple room, with its own bathroom and a few more luxuries. I mean do not expect room service, hot tub and that sort of thing. However, despite its simplicity, it is easy to find cabins with a lot of charm. The difference between the hostel – youth hostel and the cabin is the one that usually includes common spaces, rooms of several beds and other elements that favor the interaction between the members. The cabins usually have more privacy. The average prices in both types of hotels are usually similar but the hostel you can usually find rooms with many beds which are always the cheapest option.
7.- Stay in Tico houses
Of course, there is nothing cheaper than free, so of course I invite you to look for accommodation in local houses. For me it is still the best way to travel and there are websites that facilitate this search as Couch surfing. If it is true that in Costa Rica, despite traveling alone, I found it particularly difficult to find a bed in this way. Moreover, it is distant or beyond San José and other cities, the community of Couch surfing is small, inactive and dispersed. However, this is not the only way to open the doors and that sometimes honesty, sympathy and a good attitude is the best key.
8.- Buses for locals, the cheapest transportation in Costa Rica
As tourists, we usually seek the most comfortable way to the sites and we find it much easier than a private minibus, a taxi or a car that takes us from one destination to another. However, in Costa Rica the difference in prices between private and public transport is enormous, so if you are encouraged as much as possible to abandon the comfort and bet for savings. The public bus in Costa Rica is very cheap. In this sense, I encourage you to read my blog post on bus transportation in Costa Rica, with all the keys to travel by bus in this country and save a lot of money on transportation.
9.- Hitchhiking in Costa Rica
In fact, hitchhiking is not a common practice in Costa Rica, let alone in the main cities. However, the lifestyle of some coastal towns such as Puerto Viejo, Cahuita, Montezuma and Santa Teresa share much with this practice so you will not spend more than 5 minutes with your finger raised before someone picks you up. To optimize your results “pulling your finger”, I recommend you read our guide to hitchhiking.
10.- Be nice and mix
This advice applies to Costa Rica, to any country in the world … and to life. If you remove the tourist layer, you get your best face and try to mix with the local people for the maximum, prepare for many good things to happen. I did my entire trip and I never missed anything. Ticos are wonderful people.
If you apply all these tips, it is easy to travel cheap in Costa Rica. Now, as I have explained, Costa Rica is a very expensive country for the tourist so, avoid travel with a loose budget. Of course, do not forget that, no matter what, Costa Rica is a wonderful country and every euro, dollar or Colón that you invest will be worth it.
These tips are very useful. We just got back from Costa Rica on vacation, and definitely lived it up. However, we are planning to do a trip around the world in a couple years and need to travel as cheaply as possible so we can travel longer. Thanks for writing this.