1) Optimize the logistics of your vacation
2) Choose your destinations and activities wisely
3) Explore the possibility of staying at lower priced hotels
4) Travel during low season months
5) All-inclusive is more expensive and doesn’t include everything
6) Stay at a hotel that offers hot springs
7) Use provided transportation versus rental car
8) Save money by using shared transfers
9) Skip the resort restaurants
10) Bring sunscreen and insect repellant
Optimize the logistics of your vacation
One of the best ways to save money on your Costa Rica vacation is to optimize your logistics. In addition to saving travel time, planning your destinations in logistical order will save you money on transportation. If you’re paying attention you can also save money by using shared transfers for certain routes. Believe it or not, not all routes offer the option of private or shared transfers in both directions.
Optimizing logistics isn’t limited to transportation though; you can also optimize your hotels based on travel dates, sales and promotions. For example, if your itinerary crosses the end of November and beginning of December, you should pay attention to hotel pricing changes. Many hotels transition from low to high season prices at this time. There are also several other similar key transitions during the course of the year. If you’re willing to switch the order of your vacation, you potentially could save a lot of money. You can also look for low season sale prices and promotions such as 4 nights for the price of 3 or value added promos such as spa or meal credits.
Choose your destinations and activities wisely
When planning your activities, you should also look for free round trip transportation from your hotel, drinks, snacks and included meals. Small things like this can add up quickly when you total the number of people in your party and multiply it by a few activities. Check drive times as well as you may be paying for gas, vehicle and time for several hours of driving.
If you happen to find yourself looking at a beach hotel website with amazing photos of Arenal Volcano and the hot springs, Rio Celeste Waterfall, or Monteverde Cloud Forest, put your mouse down and slowly walk away… Sure, you can do day trips from some beach areas, but it’s going to take 7+ hours of driving and will cost a couple hundred dollars per person for just a couple hours onsite. The bottom line is each of these attractions is 3+ hours in each direction from the nearest beach resorts. Due to this, most travelers elect to split time with an inland destination for adventure, jungle, volcano, hot springs, wildlife, etc. before unwinding at the beach for a few days.
Explore the possibility of staying at lower priced hotels
Staying at lower priced hotels is the easiest way to save money on your vacation. By nature, most of us want to stay at the best places possible within our budget. The problem is we often are not considering all aspects when we first come across the hotel. Taxes alone are 13% and if the hotel doesn’t include breakfast, it could add quite a bit more. While none of us wants to stay at the “second best” hotel, this may realistically be your best option. In addition to actually being the right hotel, think about the stress relief of not worrying about the money.
Another way to look at this is to consider the average upper 4 star hotel costs around $180 a night. Cutting your hotel budget by 10% would roughly equate to a ½ star level decrease in quality, which is still in the mid to upper 3 star range, but would result in a savings of around $126 for the average vacation (based on 7 nights). Of course, cutting by 20% would double these values and so on it goes.
Travel during low season months
Traveling in the second half of April, May, June, September, October and November will give you higher chances of rain, but you will also save money. The average vacation in September costs 30% less than the same vacation in January or February. You can also usually save money in July and August, though usually not as much.
All-inclusive is more expensive and doesn’t include everything
Most travelers tend to think that they will save money by staying at an all-inclusive resort. While this may be true in other countries, it is usually not the case in Costa Rica. Here’s an excerpt from a good article on all-inclusive versus traditional hotel comparison pricing:
“The math simply does not add up. The average 4 star all-inclusive resort will run you $360 – 400 per couple, per night in the high season. The average 4 star boutique hotel or resort will cost you around $180 per couple, per night including breakfast. Count on $15 per person, per meal for lunch and dinner including a drink = $60 per day. Count on $1.50 (x4 = $6) for bottled water or soda, $3 per beer (x10 = $30) and $5 for a mixed drink (x4 = $20). I realize this may be excessive, but it is your vacation after all!
$180 (hotel inc. breakfast)
+ $60 (lunch & dinner inc. a drink with each)
+ $56 (combined drinks, 12 per person including the drinks with meals)
$296 per night total expenses. You just saved about 25% or $100 per night to splurge on whatever you want.
Think about all of the fun and rewarding things you could do with that money in Costa Rica!”
Of course, there are also the little *not included extras* at all-inclusive resorts that add up such as internet access, any drinks that are not domestic from Costa Rica and menu meals which are typically not included.
Stay at a hotel that offers hot springs
Most visitors to Costa Rica want to spend some time at the hot springs. Many of them do not realize that a lot of hotels in the Arenal Volcano area actually offer their guests complimentary access to their hot springs. When comparing costs and amenities, these hotels often cost the same as similar hotels that do not offer hot springs. A few hour visit to the springs can cost anywhere from $40 - $100 per person, so having the hot springs available at your hotel can save you quite a bit of money. Here's a link to hot springs hotels in Costa Rica.
Use provided transportation versus rental car
Using a combination of private and shared transfers is often more affordable than renting a car. While the sticker price of rental cars often seems affordable, there are always more costs than meet the eyes such as mandatory insurance ($20+ per day), gas (around $5 per gallon on mountainous roads), airport pickup and drop off fees (as much as 13% of the cost), and of course GPS ($8 - 12 per day) as you will need it to navigate the often poorly signed roads. Here's a good article to help with the decision of whether to rent a car or choose provided transfers.
Save money by using shared transfers
Costa Rica has an excellent tourism infrastructure which includes regularly scheduled shared tourist transfers between the most popular destinations. While these are not effective for airport pickups and drop offs, they are a great way to save money and reduce your carbon footprint while traveling between hotels and destinations.
Skip the resort restaurants
You’ll save a lot of money over the course of a trip by eating at small local restaurants (called sodas) versus eating your meals at overpriced resort restaurants.
Bring sunscreen and insect repellant
Some things cost MUCH more in Costa Rica and sunscreen and bug repellant top the list. Bring a small bottle of each as they can cost up to $25 each in Costa Rica.
There are many ways to save money and optimize your vacation, so ask your travel advisor for ideas. Chances are likely they’ve already included some in your itinerary, but it’s always best to ensure you’re on the same page and working with the same budget. Your travel advisor will make suggestions on the first draft based on what they perceive to be your budget from the small amount of information that is provided in the initial inquiry. We work with over 700 hotels and offer thousands of activities and transportation options, so we are always happy to help you to fine tune to your perfect vacation, no matter what your budget is.