How I spent a week in Costa Rica for less than $600

January 1, 1970

by Alyse Gibson

Traveling can get expensive. As a student I understood this more than anyone. I wanted to travel more than anything, but it was very difficult to be able to afford it. By the time you add up airfare, hotel and food, the price is already incredibly more expensive than one would spend in a week, and that’s without including any excursions you may want to do while you are traveling. Not to mention, the entire time you are away, you (usually) aren’t making any money either. This can make travel very difficult, and sometimes seemingly impossible for some people.

When I was in college I found every possible way to travel the world. It was easy to travel through school programs, but when those programs were over, I had to find a way to do it on my own. My senior year of college I had cabin fever like never before. I had the insatiable desire to get out and explore the world, but I didn’t have the funds to do it, and I knew that it would only get more difficult after graduation.

When March came, I received my tax return and decided that I was going to take a trip, using only that money. I started doing lots of research on different countries. I learned about the cost of traveling and staying there, their cultures and landscapes, and their safety, as I would be traveling there alone.

Finding Flights

First things first, I had to find a flight that I could afford. I used skyscanner and momondo to search for flights to different countries. At the time, I was living in Iowa City, Iowa. I searched many flights leaving out of the nearby regional airport, but eventually discovered that flying out of Chicago would be my cheapest option by far. To save money, I took a Megabus to Chicago, instead of driving and paying for parking. Because I booked it early enough, I only paid $10 total for the Megabus.

I ended up finding a roundtrip flight from Chicago to San Jose, Costa Rica for $256, and I was almost sure that I would be able to make this trip work.

Where to Go, Where to Stay

Once I found affordable flights, I had to make sure that I could find a place to stay each night that I was there. In doing that, I also had to decide which cities to go to. I did a lot of research on different Costa Rican cities. I found blogs of people who have spent extensive amounts of time in Costa Rica, searched posts in a travel group that I am in, Girls Love Travel, and talked to people who have been there. I had a rough idea of what I wanted to do while I was there, but knew that I wanted a variety. I ended up deciding on staying in La Fortuna, Manuel Antonio, and Uvita. This way I was able to see the rainforest, waterfalls, wildlife, and the beaches.


To find accomodations, I used HostelWorld and AirBnb. I spent two nights in La Fortuna, and found a resort-like hostel(Arenal Hostel Resort) for about $16 per night. Next, I traveled to Manuel Antonio. I booked my accomodations in Manuel Antonio through Airbnb, though it was still a hostel. We booked a place called “Hostel on the beach! -Manuel Antonio” for only $15 a night. It wasn’t the fanciest place in the world but they had a kitchen that we could use, dorm style rooms, and it was only about a two minute walk to the beach from our room. For the final city of my Costa Rica trip, I stayed in Uvita. Here, I actually stayed in two different places. I had found a hostel that was everything that I was looking for for a great price, but it was only available for one of the nights that I was there. Because I was so excited to stay there, I decided to split up my stay in Uvita, which made things a little bit more difficult than they needed to be but was 100% worth it for the hostel that I stayed in. On the first night I stayed in Cascada Verde, which was located in the rainforest and only $15 per night. The hostel was very open, but there were no signs of any bugs. I could hear the sounds of the rainforest from my bed, or go enjoy the views from the second floor deck in one of the hammocks there. From the hostel, it was only about a 15 minute walk to the nearby waterfall. The staff there was very kind, and they had cats! Because Cascada Verde was not available for my final night in Costa Rica, I found a local Airbnb down the road to stay at. The AirBnb was called “Hostel Rooms in Town,” though it was more of an Airbnb experience. I stayed in a small room in a local home. My host, Alexander, was a surf instructor there and actually gave me my first surfing lesson.




I didn’t want to rent a car in Costa Rica for two reasons. First of all, it can get very pricey. Second of all, I had heard that the roads there were very different from in the US where I am used to driving and I didn’t want the stress of having to navigate in a foreign country with very rough¬†roads. The most cost effective and least stressful way that I found to get around the country was shared shuttles. They pick you up in a common area in the center of town and drive you directly to the next city. Each shuttle is about $50, give or take some. You can book them easily TicketBusCR.


It isn’t hard to eat cheap in Costa Rica. Fresh fruit is all around at local stands and shops and it is a great way to taste the locally grown in season fruit at a very low price. If you’re looking to try a traditional Costa Rican dish, but you don’t want to break the bank, head to a local “soda.” Don’t be confused by the name–sodas aren’t drinks here but actually small restaurants, usually outdoors, that serve the traditional Gallo Pinto (rice and beans) meal. Plantains are a very popular dessert at the sodas (and they are so good!). It is very easy to eat a filling meal at a soda for $5 or less.


Costa Rica is the perfect country to travel for budget travelers, backpackers, adventure travelers, and beach bums alike. Each town offers something different, and the locals are very welcoming. It isn’t hard to keep a trip to Costa Rica relatively inexpensive, so if you feel the need to travel but don’t have many funds, Costa Rica may just be the perfect destination for you!



*All prices are in USD.

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