A Budget Traveler’s Guide to San José, Costa Rica

Let the backpacking adventure begin
Let the backpacking adventure begin | © Emily Schlick/Flickr
Jenn Parker

Costa Rica is very backpacker friendly, even though Costa Rica is one of the most expensive countries to visit and live in Central America. Visitors can either start their journey in San José or Liberia, as that is where the two international airports are located. For those who start in San José, or maybe even end there, there are some great budget options for activities, accommodations, and appetites.

What to do and see

Visit a museum

San José has several worthwhile museums to visit for those interested in the arts and Latin American culture. The Museo de Arte Costarricense (The museum of Costa Rican Art), while small, has a collection of 3,000 pieces from Costa Rican artists, and on Saturdays admission is free. The National Center of Arts and Culture is a complex of museums and performance spaces that offers free admission on Mondays. The Gold Museum and The Jade Museum contain impressive and beautiful pre-Columbian collections. Admissions generally range between $2-$10.

Take a tour

While zip lining and white water rafting tours might be on the more expensive end, there are actually some great tours that are budget-friendly in San José. Costa Rica is famous for its coffee, and the Doka Coffee Tour, Café Britt Tour, or Finca Rosa Blanca Tour are all excellent choices to learn all about this rich export. There are few better ways to truly explore a city and get a deep sense of its history and culture than by taking a walking tour; Barrio Bird is one of the most recommended companies for this affordable activity.

Doka coffee tour

Where to eat and drink

Drinking isn’t cheap

Compared to other Central American countries, beer, liquor, and wine isn’t that cheap in Costa Rica. As a traveler on a budget, the best way to go about drinking is to drink local brands such as Pilsen and Imperial, or buy directly from a supermarket instead of at a bar. Some popular drinking establishments are Chelles, El Cuartel de la Boca de Monte, and the Jazz Café. There are little dive bars on most corners in downtown San José too.

Imperial, the official beverage of any Costa Rican vacation

Where to stay

1. Aldea Hostel


Aldea Hostel is conveniently located next to the Tico bus terminal, walking distance to the Mercado Central and downtown San José, and a corner step away from a great pizza place. Shared rooms cost less than $10 a night. This hostel has received excellent reviews from other backpackers. There is even free coffee available every morning.

2. Selina Hostels

Budget Hotel, Hostel, Apartment

Selina is a cozy, clean, and comfortable budget-friendly choice. There are 46 guest rooms that range from dorm-style to private. There is free wi-fi, a pool, business center, a restaurant, air conditioning, a garden, and a TV in the common area. Selina is located close to the popular museums and national park. The private rooms don’t feel anything like a hostel, but more like a studio apartment. Dorm rooms start at just $14.

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