My Costa Rica Trip on the Cheap

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For all of you considering going on one of my Older Women, Cheap Travel tours and wondering how I actually manage them, if you are curious as to what you might get to see and do on one of my tours, or if you want to do a cheap trip yourself and wondering how that works, I thought I would share with you how my recent Costa Rica trip with a friend went and what we did.

I ended up doing this trip because my friend, Swarna, called me up and said, “Hey, I have a conference to go to in Costa Rica… do you want to join me? I will pay for the hotel and car.” Hmm…yeah…duh. So I jumped on Travelocity and grabbed ticket.

Swarna didn’t want to spend $260/night to stay at the conference hotel, so she asked me to find something relatively nearby that would be cheap but nice enough. I found a hotel for $60/night. It had a queen bed downstairs, a loft above with two twin beds, free breakfast, a gorgeous swimming pool and was just a two block walk from the beach in Tamarindo, Guanacaste.  Then I booked the car for her and we were off.





We arrived in Liberia, Costa Rica in the early afternoon on Saturday and took the shuttle to the rental car location and the guys there were snake oil salesmen trying to sell Swarna a ridiculously high insurance rate, so I suggested we tell them to stuff it, grab a bus  to Tamarindo and rent a car there later (we really didn’t need the car until Wednesday when her conference  began.

Swarna was hot and tired and didn’t want to wait for the local bus which would have cost $3, so we got with a group of young backpackers and bargained the cost of a shared shuttle down from $25/person to $15. We ran into the store at the airport to buy some beer, water and chips for the ride but when I put the stuff on the counter, they wanted $46! Yeah….noooo. We got the driver to stop part way to Tamarindo and bought the same items for a total of $7. Always shop where the locals shop for the best prices: avoid tourist venues and airports (as much as possible).

On Sunday, Swarna wanted to get the car, but the guy at Budget said he wouldn’t have a car until the morning so, we decided to first go to the Tamarindo beach – very nice – and then we grabbed a local two hour boat tour and saw iguanas, and birds, and howler monkeys! We enjoyed ourselves and we each paid $30 as this was a tourist venue and we got a nice English speaking guide to tell us about all the wildlife and plants.

Afterwards, we needed to buy a few things (I was looking for flip-flops – and in Tamarindo, a tourist area, they were running $16-$20). So, we caught a local bus for an hour ride to a small city called Santa Cruz. We really enjoyed the ride; we chatted with some Costa Rican women along the way and just relaxed.

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When we got to Santa Cruz, it was a ghost town. Everything was pretty much closed and when we asked, all we got back as an answer was that nada was open. We decide to explore the area around the bus station and lo, and behold, there was exactly one store open and I bought my flip-flops for $6! Success! Then, because we had time to kill and we had only found one small restaurant that wasn’t bolted shut, I suggested we head toward the light – literally, as I saw some lights about five blocks away (and, as a rule, always head toward lights because something has got to be there, right?)

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When we got to the lit area, we heard music! Another couple blocks walk and we were at the town plaza where there was a big fiesta going on! I think the whole town was there! There was marimba music on the stage and a huge area where nuns and others were making delicious food. We got a very tasty corn pancake – a speciality of the region – and we sat down and enjoyed the show. Then, we walked back to the bus station and caught the bus back to Tamarindo.


Total cost for our visit to Santa Cruz? $4/round trip, $3 for dinner, and zero for the music performance.

So, if I addded up all my costs for that day, it would have been $30 for the room and breakfast, $30 for the boat tour, and $7 for the Santa Cruz trip: total $67!

On Monday, we went back to Budget and the guy still didn’t have a car. So he told us he would give us a ride to a really nice beach. We jumped in his car and 25 minutes later we were at Playa Flamingo, a beautiful, quiet beach. So nice! After we spent a good while on the sand, we headed to the bus stop and paid $3 to go to a town called Brasilito where we had a late lunch for $5. From there we walked to another nice beach called Playa Concha and finished our afternoon there. We walked back to Brasilito and went to the bus stop. The ladies sitting there told the bus we wanted really didn’t stop there and we should grab a colectivo – a gypsy cab- which we saw Costa Ricans jumping into all the time. You stand on the road and wave at the cars and when one pulls over, you ask if he is going where you want. If the answer is yes, you jump in and when you jump out, you give him a dollar. We tried our luck; two colectives and $2 later, we were back in Tamarindo. We shared a dinner that evening for $10. Total cost of Monday including hotel: $30 for hotel, $10 for food, and $2 to visit two beaches. Total: $42


Tuesday we scored the car! We already had save money from not having it, but we were happy to get a car on Tuesday because we wanted to go to Rincon, a volcano north of Liberia which is hard to access without a car or a tour. The tour going there starrted at the crack of dawn and cost $150/person for transportation to and from Rincon, entrance to the park and hike, a visit to the hot springs, and, I think, some horseback riding (which neither of us wanted to do).

The car we got was a standard – not a 4 wheel, but not an automatic. If you drive off the main roads in Costa Rica, you will encounter really bad potholes and ruts and rivers and sometimes the road is impassable for anything but a 4-wheel drive. It was lucky I could drive a stick (my friend couldn’t) because if you don’t have a 4-wheel you need to at least have a standard and a bit of bravery to take a chance on navigating bad roads – I had driven the worst roads for three weeks the last time I was in Costa Rica and although I think I practically wiped out the underside of my car (some stuff was hanging down that I had to tie back up), I felt I could survive the roads again with a standard transmission.

So, we went off to Rincon, paid a $15 entrance fee and had a nice hike to see the bubbling waters and mud. Then it started to rain and, after we left the park, we stopped at the hot springs and no one was there! The air had cooled down enough to really enjoy soaking in the waters and we had the place to ourselves. Cost: $15 (included the sauna and the hot mud and the hots springs).

We returned back to Tamarindo, hit happy hour and shared a great pizza: $11 (that included the tip).

So, total cost on Tuesday: Hotel $30, Rincon hike and hot springs, $30, and lunch (we grabbed a couple of empanadas on the way) and dinner $13. Total: $73

On conference days, Swarna was usually busy from early morning until midafternoon: she did her thing and I hit the beach and swam and just had a nice relaxing time. We did one more beach together which was Playa Hermosa, a local beach, and walked and had dinners and watched sunsets. We enjoyed swimming in our hotel pool.

We had one more awesome day I want to tell you about which again, if you go on a tour you will pay about $140 and we saved so much. We drove to the Diria Coffee processing plant and went on their tour for $20 and learned a heck of a lot about coffee! Quite fascinating! The most important thing I learned was I was right about Starbucks; they use cheap Robusto coffee and they burn it while roasting it.

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After the tour, we visited a cute little town nearby and bought some fruits, and then we went to Nicoya where we hit the jackpot again at the town plaza; there was a wondeful dance program with very sklled dancers (must have been with a dance school); adults, teens, and children…fabulous performances of tradational Costa Rica dances and modern dances. All for free! Then we had a tasty Costa Rican tamale lunch for $5 which included a fresh fruit drink. Afterwards, we drove down a road from hell for almost an hour (which was kind of fun, actually!) and visited the pottery town of Guitil and saw how they made beautiful ceramics. Then we went back to our town and shared a fancy taco dinner for $10.

Total cost of this Friday trip: $30/hotel, $20/tour, $10/food. Total $60.

Of course, we did have to pay for gas and there were some added expenses like drinks (you don’t need to buy water in Costa Rica; it is safe and tastes fine) and a snack here and there. But, you can see we had lots of fun, experienced the culture, and saw all sorts of things…and we got to relax on beautiful beaches. Most tourists spent three times as much as we did and I don’t think they ever had the chance to see music and dance performances in the plazas of small towns and chat with the locals or even eat local food.

I hope my quick overview (there is so much more that we experienced during the week) of my Costa Rica trip inspires you either to come along on one of my tours or to travel solo or with a friend and experience travel on a budget; sometimes cheap IS better!

Just six weeks left before the Nicaragua trip in January! If you want to go, you need to jump on getting your airline ticket and signing up!
2016 trips! Nicaragua in January, India in March, Mongolia in July, and Mexico in October!




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