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Backpacking Costa Rica: the ultimate guide

The ultimate guide to backpacking Costa Rica! Includes itineraries, what to pack, where to go, how to get around, work exchanges, and more!



Backpacking in Costa Rica offers an incredible experience in Central America! lush natural beauty and plenty of fun adventure activities, there is no shortage of things to do in this country. It’s also a very easy destination to travel around with affordable prices! People are nice, the food is delicious, and you’re likely to meet lots of other backpackers.

In this ultimate guide to backpacking Costa Rica, we will provide you with a comprehensive overview of what to expect during your epic journey. When is the best time to go backpacking in Costa Rica? What essential items should you pack? How can you get around and what are the typical costs?

We’ll cover all of this, and give some insight about work exchanges in the country and how you can use them to save money and have unique experiences during your travels.

Backpacking Costa Rica: planning your trip

When is the best time to visit Costa Rica?

There is no bad time to visit Costa Rica! But if you're looking for the best time to go in terms of weather, December to April has the sunniest, clearest, and driest weather conditions.

You'll enjoy plenty of incredible sunny beach days during this time, but it's important to note that it's also peak tourism season. As a result, prices may increase, and popular attractions can be more crowded.

May and June are also considered shoulder season, when the dry season is ending and the landscape becomes greener. Rain is possible, but it’s not as heavy as the rainy season which is September to November.

If you're looking to save money while backpacking in Costa Rica, traveling during the rainy season can offer super cheap flights!

Backpacking Costa Rica: best time to visit

What to pack for backpacking Costa Rica?

When wondering what to pack for backpacking Costa Rica, you should consider what your trip will look like.

If you want to explore the rainforest and go hiking, you’ll need to pack more gear like hiking boots, athletic wear, a hiking backpack, etc. But if you’re planning on spending most of your time on the beach, you’ll only need beachwear!

Most likely, your trip to Costa Rica will include a combination of rainforest and beach experiences. Therefore, here's a brief overview of what you should pack. While you can generally buy sunscreen and toiletries there, it may be easier to bring some with you. Take a look at the following packing essentials:

  • Comfy, lightweight clothes
  • Hiking shoes
  • Comfy walking shoes
  • Sandals
  • Bathing suits
  • Towel
  • Sunscreen
  • Mosquito Repellant
  • Toiletries
  • Lightweight rain jacket
  • Waterproof backpack cover (during rainy season)
  • Camera
  • Small backpack for day trips
  • Reusable water bottle
  • Hat and sunglasses
  • Passport

This list may vary from person to person, but it’s a good place to start!

Backpacking Costa Rica: what to pack

How to get around Costa Rica?

There are a few ways to get around Costa Rica for a budget traveler. The public bus is definitely the cheapest way! Costa Rica has a great public bus system where you can travel around the country cheaply.

Shuttle buses or minivans are a slightly pricier but more comfortable option. This method of travel means a smaller group and generally, you’ll travel a bit quicker.

You can rent a car, but it’s not necessary! Buses are pretty widespread for traveling long distances. If you need to get around within a small city or town, taxis are everywhere and they are pretty affordable!

As for arriving in Costa Rica by air, the San Jose International Airport is the most centrally located and is well connected to other parts of the country by bus.

How much does it cost to backpack Costa Rica?

Costa Rica is a bit pricier compared to other countries in Central America, but it's still quite affordable to travel there.

And if you’re backpacking, you can easily spend $50 USD or less per day! By staying in hostels or doing a work exchange, you can get free or cheap accommodation. Opting for street food and cooking meals at home will help you save a significant amount on food expenses.

Then you can book affordable tours, or even save enough money to splurge on some epic experiences. Here is a breakdown of what average costs may look like while backpacking in Costa Rica. Prices are in USD.

  • Accommodation: $15 per day for a dorm room (or $0 per day on a work exchange)
  • Food: $10 per day for street food and cooking at home
  • Transport: $5 per day for taxis and the occasional long bus ride
  • Activities: $20 per day (this is an overestimate as you could easily just do free attractions)

So you can easily spend only $50 per day while backpacking Costa Rica, or you can easily spend less! A work exchange is the best way to save money while traveling, and you’ll get to meet locals and have unique experiences as well. Worldpackers has 130 work exchange opportunities in Costa Rica so be sure to check them out! 

Best places to visit in Costa Rica

While backpacking in Costa Rica, you'll come across numerous incredible destinations to explore! From national parks and serene beach towns to majestic volcanoes and vibrant cities, here are some of the top places you shouldn't miss:

  • San Jose: As the capital city of Costa Rica, you’ll most likely fly into San Jose. Spend some time here checking out the museums and historic buildings before you set off exploring the country!
  • Central Valley: Just south of San Jose is the Central Valley of Costa Rica. This area is great for experiencing the local culture! Visit craft markets, tour coffee plantations, and explore the small towns.
  • Monteverde: One of the major ecotourism locations in Costa Rica, Monteverde is known for its lush cloud forest where you can go hiking and zip-lining. Volunteer at an off-grid eco farm in Monteverde for a more in-depth experience! 
  • La Fortuna: This small town in the Northern Highlands of Costa Rica is packed with things to do. From soaking in hot springs, to birdwatching in the jungle, to hiking volcanoes, to visiting waterfalls, there is so much adventure to be had here!
  • Arenal Volcano National Park: Located near La Fortuna, this is a must-see while backpacking in Costa Rica. The dramatic views and hiking trails of Arenal Volcano are unreal!
  • Liberia: The other major city in Costa Rica is Liberia. Located in the north, this city has beautiful beaches and is home to the fun Ponderosa Adventure Park. To save money on accommodation, help with content creation at an ecological reserve near Liberia! 

Backpacking Costa Rica: places to visit
  • Manuel Antonio National Park: One of the best places for spotting tropical wildlife while backpacking in Costa Rica is Manuel Antonio National Park. Spend a few days exploring the jungles here and you’re sure to see some magnificent creatures!
  • Puerto Viejo: This is another beautiful beach town in Costa Rica. Located on the Caribbean Coast, here you can lounge on pristine beaches and visit a wildlife refuge. For a fun, social experience, you can work as an activities coordinator at a hostel
  • Tortuguero National Park: Located in the northeast of Costa Rica, this national park is famous for being a nesting ground for green sea turtles. Explore the rainforests, creeks, and lagoons in the hopes of spotting turtles and other wildlife.
  • Drake Bay: This remote area on the Osa Peninsula of Costa Rica is perfect for travelers who want to escape the crowds and have some quality time with nature. Volunteer at an eco lodge if you want to further immerse yourself in the serenity! 
  • Tamarindo: On Costa Rica’s west coast, Tamarindo is a lively tourist town right on the beach. It’s a great place to learn to surf and mingle with other backpackers at fun bars and nightclubs. If you want to try a work exchange nearby, consider volunteering at an animal shelter

Backpacking Costa Rica: places to visit

Itineraries for backpacking in Costa Rica

Here are a few suggested itineraries for backpacking Costa Rica! They will all start and end in San Jose, because that’s where most travelers will fly in and out of. These are also just ideas! You should definitely tailor your backpacking itinerary to your travel style and your bucket list destinations.

Due to its small size, you won't have to allocate much time for traveling between destinations in Costa Rica if you plan your itinerary based on geography. For instance, in the one-week and two-week itineraries, the longest travel journey will be approximately 4 hours to and from Tamarindo.

The only significantly long journey we have included is in the one-month or more itinerary, which involves traveling from the remote corner of Drake Bay to Puerto Viejo on the Pacific Coast. This is a 10-hour journey, but you can always break it up by visiting other destinations along the way.

Backpacking Costa Rica for 1 week

  • Day 1: San Jose
  • Day 2: La Fortuna
  • Day 3-4: Tamarindo
  • Day 5-6: Monteverde
  • Day 7: Return to San Jose

Backpacking Costa Rica for 2 weeks

  • Day 1-2: San Jose
  • Day 3: La Fortuna
  • Day 4: Arenal Volcano
  • Day 5-8: Tamarindo
  • Day 9: Liberia
  • Day 10-13: Monteverde
  • Day 14: Return to San Jose

Backpacking Costa Rica for 1 month or more

  • Day 1-2: San Jose
  • Day 3-4: La Fortuna
  • Day 5: Arenal Volcano
  • Day 5-10: Tamarindo
  • Day 11: Liberia
  • Day 12-14: Monteverde
  • Day 15-16: Central Valley
  • Day 17-18: Manuel Antonio National Park
  • Day 19-20: Drake Bay
  • Day 21: Travel to Puerto Viejo
  • Day 22-24: Puerto Viejo
  • Day 25-27: Tortuguero National Park
  • Day 28: Return to San Jose

Backpacking Costa Rica: itineraries

These are just some rough ideas for Costa Rica backpacking itineraries! If you have 1 month or more, we highly recommend doing a work exchange and extending your travels. You can stay in one place for a few weeks or more to really have a more intimate experience with the place. And if you’re working for free accommodation, you’ll likely be able to save money and travel longer!

What is the backpacking scene in Costa Rica?

Costa Rica is an incredible place to go backpacking! With budget-friendly options, lots of unique wildlife and natural beauty, and an enticing local culture, there is so much to see and do here. It’s a small country that is easy to get around, and you’re bound to meet other travelers on the road. 

From the eclectic hostels and surf camps to the numerous work exchange opportunities, there is a high chance of meeting many other backpackers and potentially making lifelong friends!

Want to learn more about planning your trip? By subscribing to the WP pack plan you have unlimited access to +120 courses at Worldpackers Academy, the travel school made by travelers!

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