I spent 14 days in another country with my best friend and spent less than $1500 including airfare.
Being financially frugal and wanting to retire early prohibits lavish vacations, but that doesn’t mean we can’t explorer the world while we enjoy some of the simpler things in life. What I am outlining below is my itinerary to Costa Rica for a two week excursion. While some will argue Costa Rica has it’s crime challenges, if you stay aware of your surroundings and lock up your valuables in your room, you will likely not run into any issues.
Hostels – a word that has a ominous and, if you watch too much TV, murderous locations. In truth hostels have different meanings. You can go and get into the dorm which is what people typically associate with hostels, but this means you have to put up with other people and worry about your stuff. For at $30 a day you can get your own room and many of the rooms are the equivalent of a Best Western in America. Splitting it with a friend drive the cost down to $15 a day for a room with two beds, bathroom, and relaxation area. Truly not the same experience most people associate with hostels.
Day 1: Fly to San Jose
Lodging: Stay at In & Basic Hostel near San Jose. Book a room in advance, and ask about the bus schedule to Puerto Viejo
Day 2: Get up early 7:30am and have breakfast at the hostel 8am. Ask them call for a cab for the short ride to take you to the Carib bus station and buy your tickets to Puerto Viejo. If you like the hostel, book it now for the final night of your trip, and arrange for transport to the airport for the following day. I have ALSO included an alternate San Jose hostel on Day 9 below, as a backup
Bring or buy snacks and water at the bus station. The bus will make one stop, but takes about 4-5 hours, I think, and should cost less than $20 US. Pack lightly (one backpack for the entire week) and keep it WITH you on the bus, in your lap or floor at all times. Do not put under bus. Seats are assigned by number.
Lodging: Book a room in advance at Cabinas Guarana in Puerto Viejo, but only pay for the first night. If you like it there, try to negotiate prices for multiple nights stay after you arrive. Everything is negotiable. people are friendly. Stay for as many nights as you like. We really liked it here and it has a nice lounge, kitchen and is close to town (1-1/2 blocks, and 3 blocks to the beach) for very reasonable prices. If you don’t like it, just walk around town and find another place to stay – ask to see the rooms and decide while there. Very easy to do. And you can change places as much as you like
Day 3: Explore town on foot. Eat at the awesome restaurants including Jammin & Juice, Bread and Chocolate, Veronicas or anywhere really!
Go to the mall in town and find the office for EXPLORADORES (next to Bliss massage) and signup for your 1-day whitewater rafting on the Pacuare river . $99 cash or credit, and at the end of the rafting, they provide private bus transportation to your next destination INCLUDED – tell them where you will want to go. I suggest Arenal
They also offer a local sea kayak trip and rainforest hike while in Puerto Viejo
Signup for any tours that interest you: snorkeling, surfing lesons, tour to Bocas de Toro, etc etc. Walk around town and find the local tour shops. They usually take cash (US dollars OK) and make reservations 1-2 days in advance.
Day 4: Rent a bike at one of the shops in town for about $5 a day. I like the shop across from the only chinese restaurant in town. Enter through the gated doors. Wear your bathing suit and light clothing and ride on the one street that heads south of town and explore the restaurants, yoga studios, massage salons, and small beaches like Punta Uva. Bring a small backpack/day bag for carrying light items.
Go when it’s not too hot out, early morning or late afternoon. Bring bottled water and fruit from the supermarket next door.
When you see the sign on the right side for CHOCOLATE tours, follow the sign and go up many steep and rocky hills. Leave bike at bike rack. Hike rocky hill to get to Chocorart hut. Buy me chocolates! Lots of chocolates! But they cant be in the sun for the next 10 days hehe. Good luck!
Sun sets around 5:45, so make sure you allow enough time to get back before dark. Be sure to get a lock and lock the bikes at the beach. Do not leave anything valuable on beaches while swimming! Take as little as possible.
Day 5-7: Go on tours, enjoy the beach, walk around town, relax or rent a bike.
Day 8: Have the Exploradores shuttle pick you up where you are staying. Likely it will be around 6:30am. They will provide breakfast at 8:30 and lunch during the rafting trip and bring you to Arenal up north near the volcano. It’s about 3 hours north of San Jose. Have an amazing day on the water, bring lots of water and snacks for the long journey there and afterward to your next destination. You will be on a bus most of the morning and night today.
Book now, four nights in a 2-person tent with beds for Arenal Backpackers Resort Hostel. Each get your own, or share one. http://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g309226-d614419-Reviews-Arenal_Backpacker_s_Resort-La_Fortuna_de_San_Carlos_Arenal_Volcano_National_Park_Province_of_Alajuela.html
Check into your amazing hostel. Bring a combination lock (each of you) to stow your backpacks in their locker room.
Day 9: Go to front desk. Book as many trips and excursions as you want. Zip lines, paddleboarding Lake Arenal (Desafio), hot springs, Waterfall rapelling, volcano hikes, horseback and more. The prices here are good. They pick you up and drop you off, and often includes lunch. Spend today walking around town, and then next three days doing as many active things as you can. Talk to the concierge about getting an intrabus shared shuttle to their sister hostel Alajuela Backpackers Resort. Have them make a reservation for you now for both the shuttle and the room, for the last night of your trip before departing.
Day 10-13 activities galore!!
Afternoon day 13: Depart Arenal/La Fortuna and go to Alajuela hostel for your last night before departing Costa Rica. Check in and make a reservation for their free airport shuttle. The airport is only about 5 minutes from the hostel. Then go upstairs and eat at their top floor restaurant featuring pizzas and salads. Go to sleep early.
Day 14. Depart San Jose.
Pay $26 departure fee at airport and show receipt to leave the country. Cry because you don’t want to leave.
I left out all the details of what I did on my adventure, but your dollar goes far in Costa Rica. We ate out almost every day while we were there for every meal. White water rafting, horseback riding, hiking volcanoes, bicycling to Panama’s border, zip-lining, rappelling down mountains, and snorkeling were just some of the activities I experienced in only two weeks and for less than $1500. Just be mindful to check the high and low tourist seasons, we went at the start of the low season, the end of April and beginning of May and prices were unbelievably reasonable.
Thanks for reading and happy traveling!