The cost of living in Costa Rica vs. the cost of traveling in Costa Rica…
Living in Costa Rica
We got a great question about costs that deserves a blogpost response. We are a family of 5, currently “living” in Costa Rica on about $30 a day, or under $1000 a month. That includes everything– rent (good place with pool, weekly maid service, and short walk to the beach), food (healthy, fresh, and abundant), the occasional restaurant meal, and the occasional bus trip.
I will break things down further:
Rent — We rent a cabina. It is not fancy, but it serves our needs well, with two bedrooms, a bathroom, a dining area, and a kitchen. The kitchen is key for saving money — eating out can get expensive in Costa Rica.
Food — Stay away from imported items! You can easily spend $3 for a single avocado or mango from Mexico if you’re not paying attention. Our first day in Costa Rica we bought a small box of quinoa for $11– OUCH! We load up on fresh veggies and fruits at the local markets, and stop every fruit and vegetables truck that drives by. Eat like a local. Rice and beans are always cheap, and Ticos have many ways to create delicious and nutritious meals with these two staple items — i.e. gallo pinto and casado. Beans and rice, rice and beans, add fresh veggies, throw them in a tortilla and make a burrito, add cheese and make a quesadilla, stir fry them and call it gallo pinto. Anyway you fix them they are filling and delicious and gentle on the budget.
Restaurants — They can be very expensive for a family of five. That said, we do occasionally go out to eat at some of our favorite spots. The “casado” is a dish which literally means “married,” and comes with rice, beans, a meat, fried plantain, salad, and a refresco (fresh fruit juice drink). It costs about $6, everyone in our family loves it, so it’s the perfect budget option. Of course we times that by 5, so our dinner out comes to about $30.
Buses — They’re very cheap. You can get all over with a few dollars. They can also be very inconvenient… We used only buses to get from Tamarindo, Costa Rica to Nicaragua, and we spent more time waiting for buses than riding buses. Now we use rental cars for big moves, and buses for smaller stuff. Rental cars are not cheap, but I’ve been successful at talking the car companies way down on price — I usually act like I haven’t decided whether I want a rental car, or I’m eager to just take the bus.
Traveling in Costa Rica
That’s “living” in Costa Rica. Traveling is a much different beast, with so many variables. Sometimes we feel like we’re bleeding money. We have been successfully traveling on a $100 a day average. Here are some tips:
Accommodations — We check the websites “Booking” and “Trip Advisor” first to get an idea about prices. FlipKey and Airbnb are also resources. We avoid Homeaway due to a negative experience. We also always check the reviews! Trust us, we learned this the hard way! Read the reviews! Then we contact the hotels/rentals we’re interested in directly for discounts. We’ve done well by cutting out the middleman. Also time your travel to avoid peak season. Prices can double or triple when demand is high.
Food — There is a variety of well priced quick food available at “sodas,” when you’re on the move. Our kids enjoy enyucados, tamales, and empanadas. They are about $1 each. We hate to buy bottled water for so many reasons, so we travel with a filter bottle, reusable water bottles, and a Culligan filter that we can attach to a spigot or a hotel sink. The system has served us well, saved us a bundle, and helped preserve the environment.
Location — We had our hearts set on Nosara when we left the US. It seemed to have everything we were looking for surf, jungle, and great schools. We made two trips there to try to find accommodations, and realized we would need a small fortune and a car if we wanted to stay there. Combine that with the fact that it just didn’t live up to our expectations… Tamarindo was also expensive, but walkable, so we spent a month in that area living for the surf. We arrived in September and the rental prices all doubled or tripled for the months of December and January. That is when we decided to check out the less touristy Caribbean side. We found much better prices for accommodations, and fresh food more affordable and widely available. We do love the Caribbean side at this point!