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A Week of Budget Backpacking in Costa Rica

Sometimes sacrifices need to be made. The old Mayan kings, who threw many of their subjects off pyramids, knew it, and so did Leonardo Dicaprio at the end of Titanic. Our big sacrifice in Costa Rica wasn’t quite on that scale. There was always going to be a country we would have to skip through in Central America in order to leave enough time to spend a month in each of Colombia, Peru and Bolivia. Costa Rica ended up being that country. It wasn’t all bad though, our week of budget backpacking in Costa Rica was a lot of fun and we saw (or didn’t see, in the case of Arenal Volcano) some of the country’s highlights.

La Fortuna

Arenal Volcano towers above the tourist town of La Fortuna, tempting people with promises of adventure and great views. Luckily I have seen pictorial evidence of this, because the volcano was hiding behind layers of clouds when we visited. We thought about doing a volcano hiking tour but it would have been pointless. We talked to a tour operator who told us the weather had been terrible for weeks and it was unlikely to get better anytime soon, so off we headed to Monteverde, where clouds are welcome. We took the bus/boat combo from La Fortuna to Santa Elena. It was a scenic trip and well worth the $20 (even though we still didn’t see the volcano!).

Budget backpacking in Costa Rica - the bus/boat from La Fortuna to Santa Elena

Monteverde / Santa Elena

One of the most popular things to do in Costa Rica is to walk in the cloud forests near Santa Elena. Monteverde is one of the most visited national parks in the country but we decided to visit the Santa Elena Cloud Forest, mainly due to an unscheduled sleep in and subsequent missed bus. It was raining during most of our walk in the cloud forest but I guess that’s to be expected. It was a tough, muddy hike through countless shades of green; if you’ve never hiked in a cloud forest before I definitely recommend it. I’ve heard Monteverde gets busy so we were glad we chose the less popular option; we were all alone for most of the walk. We saw a few birds and insects during the walk but you might want to hire a guide if that’s a priority – wildlife spotting is hard in cloud forests!

Backpacking in Costa Rica - Santa Elena cloud forestWaterfall in the Santa Elena cloud forest, seen during our week of budget backpacking in Costa Rica

Manuel Antonio National Park

Sloths, monkeys, racoons, a deer and a toucan – we saw all of these animals within a very small area in Manuel Antonio National Park. In terms of animals spotted per minute, it’d have to beat just about everywhere else in Central America. I was excited to see a sloth and we ended up seeing 5 of them; they are just as cute and lazy as you expect them to be. Manuel Antonio National Park is also home to a couple of great beaches, apparently among the best beaches in Costa Rica. The main beach was pretty crowded but Playa Espadilla, a short walk away, was almost deserted. We based ourselves in the nearby town of Quepos and met some friendly expats in a bar in town. It was nice to get a feel for the Costa Rica expat life and also hear some stories from “back in the day”.

Budget backpacking in Costa Rica - a sloth at Manuel Antonio National ParkA week of budget backpacking in Costa Rica - monkeys at Manuel Antonio National ParkPlaya Espadilla - a highlight during our week of budget backpacking in Costa Rica

Puerto Viejo de Talamanca

The rain attacked us again in Puerto Viejo, so we definitely didn’t see the best that this laid back Caribbean beach town has to offer. Backpacking in Costa Rica during rainy season definitely has its drawbacks! We did have a quick walk around town and saw a couple of beaches, but we didn’t stick around too long. We quickly headed for Bocas del Toro in Panama, where again we were met with gloomy weather.

Budget backpacking in Costa Rica - Puerto Viejo de Talamanca

Backpacking in Costa Rica on a Budget

Backpacking in Costa Rica was cheaper than we expected – we paid around $20 USD a night for comfortable double rooms everywhere except Puerto Veijo, where we paid $25. Travelling during rainy season helped with this, I imagine it’s a lot more expensive during high season. We ate at local sodas (restaurants) and paid around 4-5 dollars a meal, definitely a good price considering the touristy restaurants are quite expensive. Entry fees are pretty expensive in Costa Rica. Manuel Antonio was $16 and the Santa Elena Cloud Forest was $12. Transport in Costa Rica is a step up from the chicken buses you’ll find in other Central American countries. The public buses are comfortable and surprisingly cheap (usually between $5 and $10). We thought our short trip through Costa Rica would be expensive but it wasn’t too bad at all.

Further reading: Planning to go backpacking in Costa Rica? is a great resource

Have you been backpacking in Costa Rica? Did you manage to keep the costs down? Let me know!

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Jon Algie

A travel blogger from New Zealand who hates talking about himself in the third person and has no imagination when it comes to naming websites.
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  1. September 25, 2015 at 8:04 pm — Reply

    It is so awesome that you wrote a post like this. Costa Rica has been on my list for the longest time, but lately I’ve seen everyone say it’s too touristy/too expensive/just skip it. I am holding out! So thanks for your thoughts. I will also hop over to My Tan Feet and do some more exploring.

    • September 25, 2015 at 9:55 pm — Reply

      Thanks Amanda! It’s a cool place, also check out Nicaragua if you’re in the area – it’s a bit cheaper and just as nice.

  2. prt
    December 29, 2015 at 11:12 pm — Reply

    Could you please recommend few places u stayed in Costa Rica cities.


    • December 30, 2015 at 12:40 pm — Reply

      I actually don’t remember any of their names sorry! We just showed up in a town and tried to find the cheapest double rooms that we could. They weren’t anything special but they were pretty good for the price — if you’re going to Costa Rica in low season it’s really easy to find cheap rooms.

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