Costa Rica Budget Travel - An Essential Primer

Little Costa Rica has been a favorite vacation destination for Americans, Canadians and, increasingly, Europeans, for many years. Though it is one of the smaller countries on earth, about the size of West Virginia, its many attractions are world-famous: nearly 800 miles of uncrowded coastlines on two oceans; parks and reserves covering 25% of its land area; and a staggering diversity of plants and animals.

Volcanoes, terrific fishing, some of the greatest surfing anywhere, whitewater or family rafting adventures, ziplining high in the tropical forests, and, of course, adult nightlife. What happens here stays here (unless you want to brag about your adventures on Facebook).

There is a Costa Rica vacation budget for everybody. For the rich and famous, there are places like the Real Intercontinental Hotel, Papagayo Four Seasons Resort and Los Suenos Resorts. But, if these are a bit pricier or fancier than your budget or taste dictates, you can travel Costa Rica quite nicely thank you on a budget. Here are some simple steps you can take to save big.

1. Save 20% or more on hotels and resorts: Observe travel seasons

a. Avoid Peak Season. Christmas through New Years week (December 15-January 5) and Easter Week are Peak Season not only for overseas visitors but for Costa Rica residents, too. Costa Rica schools are out, many governmental agencies and private businesses close, and thousands of Ticos flock to the most popular beaches. They will find the best bargains; you will pay the highest premium prices.

b. High Season coincides with winter in the Northern Hemisphere. Many tourists travel Costa Rica January through April because of the sunny tropical weather, a fact not lost on hotels and resorts. Like Florida, Arizona, and the Texas coast, Snowbirds get plucked a bit more during high season.

c. Green (Low) Season offers the best travel and accommodation bargains for those on a Costa Rica vacation. Many travelers mistakenly assume that it rains every day though, in fact, most days are sunny and warm with some showers for an hour or so in the afternoon or early evening. For the best budget travel deals, this is the time of year to visit this tropical paradise. Students and families from the Europe and North America are on summer vacation until mid-August but prices are good and accommodations available in most places. And, the best time for budget travel is September through mid-November when (if you ask) there are often discounts of 20% or more available.

2. Save $25 a day when renting a car by planning ahead

Many Costa Rica tourists rent a car online and are surprised to learn when they arrive that the rental agency wants to charge an additional charge of $25 or more per day for liability insurance! Rule #1: If your home automobile policy includes liability coverage, that insurance is good in Costa Rica. Recommendation: bring a copy of the policy along with the fax and email of your insurance agent and save that money for your vacation. Rule #2: Many credit cards offer a little known benefit: liability insurance coverage for rentals when the card is used. Contact your credit card company before you travel for best results. Rule#3: Be polite but informed. After all, it is your money.

3. Save another 5% or more by remembering that Cash Is King

Many local merchants prefer dollars over credit cards and when asked if there is a discount for cash will offer 5% or more. Ask "Que (pronounced "K") es discuento por effectivo?" which means "What is the discount for cash?" Be sure the bills are new and not defaced with even a tiny tear. And, bring $20 and $50 bills. Many restaurants, merchants, and hostels cannot break a $100 bill.

4. Save 50% by staying in a hostel

There are many fine Costa Rica hostels offering nice, private rooms for half the price of a hotel. During the off season, prices can be around $12 a person.

5. Save 10% while dining: Do not pay two tips in a restaurant

Many Costa Rica restaurants, particularly those catering to foreign travelers, automatically include a 10% tip (called "servicio") on a bill. They are required by law to note that on the menu but few bars or restaurants do so and are rewarded by unknowing foreigners who leave a second tip. It is up to you, the budget travel patron, to pay attention to your bill. If you are in doubt, ask if the tip is included on the bill.