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Friday, 03 July 2009

Rica with a Little Less Costa

Written by Jonathan Hiltz
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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.

Rica with a Little Less Costa, budget travel costa rica, Jonathan Hiltz

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

Rica with a Little Less Costa, budget travel costa rica, Jonathan HiltzIf 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.



4. All you need is Lava

Rica with a Little Less Costa, budget travel costa rica, Jonathan Hiltz

Picture (c) Bruce Cole

In Costa Rica there are five active volcanoes and over one hundred dormant or inactive ones. The big five that are still belching and bubbling are Irazú, Poás, Turrialba, Arenal, and Rincón de la Vieja. These monsters are all incredible to look at and have been designated in a national park. For a small fee, hikers, bikers, walkers, and gawkers can travel through the rainforest and up the sides of the volcano to get some exercise and some of the best eco-tourism that the world has to offer. A couple of the volcanoes have hot springs and pools alongside them. Resorts such as the famous Tabacon along the Arenal volcano, allow swimmers and bathers to enjoy the steaming watery oasis by purchasing a day pass without having to stay at the resort itself.

These parks usually have many other activities such as bird watching, zip-lining, and white water rafting if you have some extra cash. Costa Rica has 25 national parks and all of them have a myriad of things to see and do without breaking the bank.


5. Surf and Turf

Costa Rica is known for some of the best surfing on the planet and has many ‘surf retreats’ and camps. These places usually cater to a young crowd and offer excellent prices and the opportunity to learn one of the most popular (and challenging) sports in the world.

The area of Tamarindo is best known as the prime surfing location in the country and some say the world, due to its long estuaries, rocky inland and excellent waves. These retreats usually offer great packages and can also cater to many other activities that travelers want to embark on.


Tastes Great, Even Fat Free

Rica with a Little Less Costa, budget travel costa rica, Jonathan HiltzAll things included, Costa Rica is one of those amazing places where a dollar can stretch further, while still allowing travelers to maintain a quality vacation. The country’s people, culture, hospitality, and adventure ensure that the trip won’t be thin, even if your wallet’s not fat.

©Jonathan Hiltz

Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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