Costa Rica has long been Central America’s destination of choice for travelers and expatriates from around the world. It’s a paradise that easily meets the needs of any vacationer and has the unique advantage of being able to offer a lot for a little – if one knows where to find a good deal. So put those sandals on for this spectacular getaway in the sun, because the only shoestring needed here is a budget.
Picture (c) Bruce Cole
Here are some of the best ways to enjoy the ‘rich coast’ at bargain basement prices:
1. Might as well go for a Soda
Not the bubbly drink or the Kim Mitchell song. A soda in Costa Rica is a term for a local restaurant or bar. Sodas are usually run by Costa Rican families and have excellent ‘typical’ cuisine (as they put it) at very affordable prices.
These eateries are much less expensive than the tourist restaurants that are designed to look Costa Rican but charge much more. Sodas also usually have family recipes that are unique to that one establishment so you may be eating a delicious dish that isn’t available anywhere else in the world.
When looking for the best sodas, it’s a good idea to ask the locals, as they will point you in the right direction and many of the popular ones will usually be filled with people around meal times.
2. Resort to a Condo
If your travels involve staying in one region of Costa Rica for a few days or more, try looking for a vacation rental condo or apartment instead of paying through the nose at a resort. A nice hotel package may look like a great deal, but the food, drinks and local shopping are usually much more expensive in the resort vicinity.
By renting a place, food can be bought at the local market for most meals and then one can spend more when they do go out to eat. It also allows travelers to get a better sense of real local culture, because much of the time apartment and condo complexes have many full time residents. There are also a number of hostels in Costa Rica that are actually quite nice and liveable, but research into which ones are best is recommended before heading into the country. Here’s a review of one by inTravel.
3. Marketing and Communications
Buying food at local supermarkets, fruit and vegetable stands, and various other street vendors, is a great way to save money and still have quality cuisine. Much of Costa Rica’s produce, meat, seafood, and dairy are grown in local farms and fished just off the coast; this makes for a fresh and tasty meal. Early in the morning, travelers will also see various flatbed trucks in local towns, with Tico’s (Costa Ricans) selling jugs of freshly squeezed orange juice. This is some of the sweetest and best juice around and sells for a very low price so stock up because it also is great for mixers.
When traveling around the country it’s also a good idea to have a cell phone and calling card with you and there are many cheap packages available locally or online. The country is very safe, but roads are far from perfect and phones can sometimes be scarce in more remote areas. Cell phones brought into the country from other parts of the world may not work, as Costa Rica currently has a government controlled monopoly on communications with their company, ironically called ‘ICE’ in its abbreviation.