Backpacking in Costa Rica can be both enjoyable and easy on the wallet if you follow a few basic tips. The country's reliable public transportation system equals easy access to both coasts and numerous hostels offer both campsites and cheap beds for the night. Although prices are a bit higher than the rest of Central America, the country's natural beauty and spectacular adventures are unparalleled.
Budget $45-$55 per day, which includes lodging, meals and transportation. Factor in extra funds for park entrance fees and guided tours. An international ISIC student card can save you a little bit of money.
U.S. dollars are accepted in most tourist towns, and ATM's are abundant for cash withdrawals in colones or dollars. Credit cards are worth having in emergency situations. For a more favorable exchange rate, always pay with Costa Rican colones (CRC), with the exception of hotels and restaurants that list their prices in dollars.
English is widely spoken in the tourism industry, though some basic Spanish will be useful in more rural locales.
Violent crime is uncommon but be wary of petty theft like pickpockets, scamming moneychangers and opportunistic thieves. Never leave your belongings unattended, and always keep an eye on your bags when traveling by bus. Hide your passport in a money belt and keep a copy of the front page and entry stamp in a safe place.
Passport & Visa
If you hail from the States, Canada or most European countries, a visa is not necessary. Most tourists are given a 90-day entrance stamp upon arrival.
To get a real sense of the country and experience several destinations, a minimum two-week visit is recommended.
High-speed Internet is widely available, and many hotels and hostels offer free WiFi to their guests. Or you can hook up at an Internet cafe for $1 an hour.
Local cuisine is cheap and delicious. Some of the best eats are in smaller restaurants called sodas. Order a plate of the day or casado for around $3 and enjoy rice, beans, salad and savory meat. Another money saving option: head to a local bakery, farmers' market or grocery store and stock up. The tap water is generally safe to drink unless posted otherwise.
Many independent travelers frequent Jaco, Montezuma and the Nicoya Peninsula, Arenal, Monteverde and Puerto Viejo.
More than 25% of the country is protected as a national park or reserve. Top picks: evening soaks in hot springs beneath Arenal Volcano; wildlife watching in Manuel Antonio National Park; catching the perfect wave in Puerto Viejo; and observing sea turtles along one of Costa Rica's many nesting beaches.
Expect Spring-like temperatures (72°F and 78°F) throughout the year in the Central Valley, and hot and humid conditions along the coasts. The rainy season begins in May and ends in late November, and is a great time to save a few bucks on your Costa Rica adventure. Hotels often lower their rates by up to 40%. Keep in mind that it doesn't rain all day, as showers normally arrive in the late afternoons.
Public buses are comfortable and widely available. Expect to pay less than $10 to ride anywhere in the country, even to the Panamanian border. While inexpensive, depending on your destination, public transport may not be convenient for local sightseeing. Consider renting a bicycle, or taking taxis for short hops around town. Though possible, hitchhiking isn't recommended or terribly common in Costa Rica.