If you’re looking to get away someplace warm, spend time outdoors, and soak in some of the most beautiful views you’ll find anywhere, head to Costa Rica, a true gem of a vacation destination tucked away in Central America. Whether you’re flying solo, traveling with the whole family, or enjoying a much-needed girls’ (or guys’) trip, there are endless options for everyone to enjoy in this tropical paradise.
Madison and I were guests of Costa Rica Family Holidays, experts in all things Costa Rica, but all opinions are ours alone.
While there may be endless things to do in Costa Rica, chances are, your budget doesn’t have that kind of freedom. Instead, after forking over the funds for flights, hotels, and ground transportation, you might find yourself feeling a little more budget-conscious than you’d like to be. Fortunately, you aren’t out of luck – instead, you’re in just the right spot. There are plenty of things to do in Costa Rica that are cheap, if not entirely free, that can make your trip a memorable one.
Read on to see some of my favorite suggestions for affordable fun in Costa Rica:
SPEND AS MUCH TIME AS POSSIBLE BY THE BEACH
Costa Rica is known for its beaches, which are free to access and enjoy. With access to the ocean on either side of the country, you’re never too far from a picture-perfect beach when you’re visiting here. If you’re looking to enjoy a budget-friendly Costa Rica trip, plan to spend as much of your time as you can on the shore, soaking up the sun. Little ones will enjoy splashing at the water’s edge, building sandcastles, and searching for seashells. Bring a book to read as you lounge, or a frisbee or football for an old-fashioned game of catch with the family – along with plenty of sunscreen – and keep some snacks or a picnic lunch on hand in case your crew starts to get hungry!
STROLL THROUGH A STREET MARKET
Wherever you’re staying, there’s a good chance you can find the Mercado Central, the local market where farmers, crafters, and others come to sell their wares. Wander through the stalls and admire the variety of fresh fruits, vegetables, baked treats, and other goods you’ll find – and try your hand at bargaining with the locals if you feel like picking up a snack or souvenir. Consider yourself an adventurous eater? Choose to try something you’ve never seen before while you’re there, or order something you haven’t tried before from a nearby cafe.
TOUR THE LOCAL CHURCHES
Like many spots around the world, most of the churches in Costa Rica keep their doors open to the public during the day. This is especially true for the larger, more prominent cathedrals and churches. You’re welcome to step inside, tour the building, and admire the history, the architecture, and the sheer beauty of it all.
Some of the country’s best churches to visit include:
- The Basílica de Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles, situated in Cartago, which boasts incredible interior detail – all done by hand – in addition to its impressive exterior.
- The imposing Iglesia de Coronado, not far from San Jose, which has been standing since the late 1800s.
- The bright red Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes, with its sheet-metal exterior.
VISIT TENORIO VOLCANO NATIONAL PARK
Don’t miss your chance to tour Tenorio Volcano National Park while you’re in Costa Rica. This incredible spot is a gorgeous rainforest open to tourists and locals to explore, and you’ll find beauty everywhere you turn – but you’ll be especially blown away by the Rio Celeste.
The park is most known for the Rio Celeste, this pool of unbelievably blue water – an incredible spot to take a few photos or simply admire the sheer beauty of the place. It’s reachable by a short, well-traveled hike that offers plenty of great places to snap some photos, as well as lots of opportunities to see some wildlife.
One thing to note – the pool isn’t so blue when it rains, so if you happen to get caught in bad weather, adjust your expectations accordingly!
While the park isn’t free, the $12 admission is well worth the price you’ll pay to experience the Rio Celeste. And you’ll want to arrive early! To preserve the park’s beauty and prevent overcrowding, they limit the number of visitors who can enter each day on a first-come, first-served basis.
FIND THE FREE HOT SPRINGS
Hot springs are a great way to relax in Costa Rica. Some are glorified day spas that charge for admission, but others are totally free – you just have to know where to find them. There are natural hot springs situated just outside of Arenal, a city on many visitors’ itineraries. Reach the hot springs at the river by following the trail on the south side of the bridge – you’ll park along the main road. It may feel a little sketchy, but rest assured, locals and tour groups, frequent this spot, so you’ll likely have company.
These aren’t the only hot springs in the country, either. Once you know where you plan to stay, do a quick search online and see what hot springs options are available near your destination.
GO BIRD WATCHING
Birdwatching isn’t everyone’s idea of fun, but even if you don’t consider yourself an everyday birdwatcher, you may reconsider while you’re in Costa Rica. After all, this nation is home to the kinds of birds most people can only find at the zoo – big-billed toucans, brightly-feathered parrots, and other rare, exotic, and downright gorgeous species of birds. Depending on where you’re staying, a quick online search can suggest some spots to visit if you’re looking to see some birds. For optimal bird-viewing, throw a pair of binoculars into your suitcase as you’re packing!
There are more things to do in Costa Rica than you can hope to experience in a single trip – even if you commit to keeping your vacation as low-budget as possible! This list includes only a handful of my favorite affordable Costa Rican activities, but there are plenty of others out there for you to enjoy – you’ve just got to find them!