Budgeting for Costa Rica- what I planned (and what I actually spent)

It’s time to talk money. It’s very easy to see tonnes of incredible posts on Instagram and Snapchat of people paddling in azure seas and relaxing in hammocks with a cocktail in hand and think ‘Wow, I wish I could afford that’ or just instantly assume that they’re made of money. Truth is, it’s hard work saving up to afford to travel, and most of us follow a tight budget once we’re on the road. Here’s what I budgeted for this trip- as well as what I actually spent!


Budget: £460

Actual: £460

This was easy. I knew how much they were going to be beforehand, so not much opportunity for unexpected increases here. 


Budget: £500

Actual: £1000

Haha. Hahahaha. Hahaha. Ha. This does take into account the factor that I had planned to to a Workaway for a month which would have meant free accommodation, but backed out as my host turned out to be a crazy Trump-loving God-Bless-America religious bigot and therefore had to pay for an extra month. This also includes £40 I spent on a hammock to sleep in at a festival. All of my accommodation has been in Airbnb, which does push the price up from hostels (mostly priced around £10-£15 a night for a room in a dorm). I spent 5 days in one in La Fortuna, but I value privacy and personal space for my own sanity so frankly it was worth it not to have to share a shower with 5 other people and not have to drag myself out of bed and across half a hostel to make myself a cup of tea every morning.


Budget: £270

Actual: £450 (ish)

A bit closer to what I’d guessed, but I hadn’t realised quite how expensive Costa Rica is. I’ve based my estimate spend on the fact I’ve spent roughly $10 a day on food. Grocery stores aren’t cheap here, and a lot of the time it’s just as cheap to just eat out. I did once spend approximately $10 on a block of cheese after being hit with some serious cravings. Chocolate is around $6 a bar too, so there’s that. 

Activities/spending money

Budget: £420

Actual: I’m going to guess around the same

I came out pretty good on activities- I’ve only actually done one tour, a volcano one which for $55 included transport, a guided hike up to the lava fields on Arenal volcano, lunch, a hike across the foothills of Cerro Chatto, a visit to some hot springs and some kind of Costa Rican sugar cane moonshine, which was pretty good value. Other than that I’ve just been exploring and going with the flow. However, I have had to spend $50 on an extremely mediocre bikini and another $20 on some denim shorts that lasted about a month. Other regrettable purchases include $8 for a tin of tomato soup when I was extremely hungover, $14 a pint for Guinness (served in 3/4 pint glasses) and the last two or three shots of tequila I bought.

However, in Envision Festival I was gifted some sunglasses, hand-knitted wool socks, a bikini and some pretty G looking camouflage sweatpants, so all in all I think I’m even?

Travel insurance

Budget: £150

Actual: £156

I had cover through my bank anyway (always check this! I upgraded my account and for £17 a month I now get full AA breakdown cover including home recovery, mobile phone insurance, and travel insurance including winter sports for up to 45 days per trip- plus 6 free cinema tickets!). However I took out an extra one as I wanted to cover BMX, which was the only sport not covered by my bank, which cost me £138. I then spend an extra £18 on some antibiotics, which are helpfully available over the counter for certain conditions in Costa Rica.


Budget: £200

Actual: £300 (ish)

Buy cheap, buy once. Following this premise, I went out and bought myself a nice Patagonia hardshell (£120), a second hand Lowe Alpine daypack (£70), a pair of Five Ten Camp Fours (£60), as well as a few essentials like quality walking socks, a mosquito net, and of course a new bikini or two. All have performed really well on this trip (although the bikinis have had more use than the rain jacket) but overall, good buys that will last forever.


Budget: £100

Actual: £150 (ish)

I’d heard travel was cheap in Costa Rica, and I was right. I think the most I’ve paid for a bus ride which was about 4 hours long was $5. A ferry trip cost me $2. I’ve also been using Uber and taxis when in the city, and I’ve caught about 10 hours worth of buses a week between destinations. Again, this was budgeted based on me being stuck on a farm in the middle of nowhere volunteering for a month, which obviously didn’t happen.

Miscellaneous extras

Actual: £410

Phone bill. Oops.


Budget: £2100

Actual: £3346

So I’ve come out a little over-budget. Honestly, I’m ok with it. I think my initial budget was under-researched, as I was shocked by how expensive everything was when I arrived. I’ve also had the extra month to fill, which ate up quite a lot of money. Most importantly though- I’ve had an absolute blast, and shaving pennies by saying no to invitations to go out for cervezas, eating cereal instead of delicious freshly baked pastries, and going to stay on an isolated farm with a crazy Trump lady instead of living in the beautiful Santa Teresa would have made my trip significantly less enjoyable, I wouldn’t have met half of the people I now call my friends and I wouldn’t have had many of the crazy, wonderful experiences I’ve had. Also, I made a good £200 just from braiding people’s hair. So Pura Vida, Mae!

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