Costa Rica is one of the most wonderful travel destinations in the world. Think warm waters, friendly locals, beautiful beaches, and an all-around safe and lovely country.
Not only is Costa Rica a fantastic travel destination all-around, but backpacking Costa Rica is one of the best ways to experience this tropical Central American country.
I recently spent several months backpacking Costa Rica, and it was absolutely incredible. All I brought was a small carry-on, and my surfboard. I had planned on spending a week in Tamarindo, about a month in Nosara, and then spending a week at a time in other popular tourist towns like Monteverde, Dominical, and Puerto Viejo. However, not everything went according to plan, and I ended up falling in love with Nosara and spending almost 3 months there alone!
- Why you should Backpack Costa Rica
- Costa Rica 2022 Entry Requirements
- Costa Rica Backpacking Cost per Day
- Best Costa Rica Backpacking Destinations
- Three Different Costa Rica Backpacking Itineraries
- Backpacking Costa Rica FAQs:
- Final thoughts on Backpacking Costa Rica
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Why you should Backpack Costa Rica
If you’re deciding on taking a backpacking trip, Costa Rica is a pretty promising destination for a number of reasons, including:
Costa Rica is one of the safest travel destinations in Latin America. The biggest crime here is petty theft- aside from that, there isn’t much else to worry about here.
While Costa Rica is definitely pricier than other countries in Latin America, it is by far cheaper than traveling to places like the United States, Europe, and Australia. If you avoid tourist traps, take public transportation, and eat local meals, you can easily travel in Costa Rica on a budget.
- Friendly Locals
The locals in Costa Rica are incredibly friendly, and willing to help!
Costa Rica 2022 Entry Requirements
In light of the pandemic, travel and entry requirements can rapidly change, so it is best to check the embassy website for your country for the most accurate, and up to date information on Costa Rica entry requirements.
Currently, the entry requirements for Costa Rica are to fill out the health pass, which requires:
- Proof of Vaccination
- Affirmation of not having any Covid symptoms.
Currently, travel insurance and a negative Covid test are not required to travel to Costa Rica.
However, the requirements to re-enter your home country may differ, so once again, check with your embassy website!
To re-enter the United States after visiting Costa Rica, you will need a negative Covid test 24 hours before departing on their flight back to the United States.
Costa Rica Currency
The currency in Costa Rica is the Colón.
The exchange rate for USD is currently:
1 USD = 642 Colones.
Costa Rica Backpacking Cost per Day
One of the questions that might be at the forefront of your mind when planning a Costa Rica backpacking trip is how much it costs. Of course, this can vary, however roughly, you can backpack through Costa Rica on a budget of $30-$50 USD per day.
While accommodation prices vary across Costa Rica, the prices will roughly be:
- Single bed in a shared hostel room: $10-$20
- Single bed in a private hostel room : $25-$50
Typically, beds are more expensive in the beach towns than in the mountain towns. However, if you book a little in advance you can usually get a good deal!
Pro tip: hostels are almost always cheaper when you pay with cash!
Eating out in Costa Rica can be what makes or breaks a backpacker’s budget! Despite what many say, I personally think the food in Costa Rica is incredibly delicious. It’s cleaner, more filling, and contains less nasty stuff than a lot of the food in the United States.
There’s a reason why Costa Rica is a blue zone!
Anyways, the cheapest way to eat is to cook. Groceries in Costa Rica are pretty inexpensive.
The next cheapest is to eat local! “Sodas” are local restaurants that serve typical Costa Rican food, which usually consists of rice, beans, a salad, plantains, and some form of protein.
Eating touristy foods like burgers and pasta at touristy restaurants is going to be the most expensive way to eat in Costa Rica.
- The price of groceries for a week of cooking: $30 or $4/day
- Price of a typical Costa Rican plate: $3-$5
- Price of a smoothie: $4-$6
- Cost of a plate at a tourist restaurant: $15-$25
Like food, the prices of alcoholic beverages vary depending on where you are and if you’re at a touristy restaurant or a local Soda.
- Price of a cocktail: $5-$10
- Price of a Pilsen or Imperial (national beers): $1-$3
Costa Rica’s national beers are the Pilsen and Imperial. They are light, refreshing, and definitely the cheapest options for drinks.
I’ll be honest, traveling around Costa Rica on a backpacker’s budget is fairly difficult. It can definitely be done, but it certainly isn’t easy!
It’s easy enough to get to some places, but in other areas such as the Nicoya Peninsula, taking the public bus can be rough and it can take several days to only travel a 100km or so.
However, the public bus is certainly cheap!
- A 2 hour bus ride: $3
- A shared shuttle: $45-$60
- Private transport:$100-$150 depending on the origin/destination
If you plan to spend a month in Costa Rica and visit 6 different towns, I would budget:
- $5-$15 daily for transportation costs
Activities like horseback riding, ziplining, and taking a sunset cruise are pretty pricey in Costa Rica.
- Ziplining: $50
- White water rafting: $50
- National park entry fees: $10-$15
- Sunset cruise: $75-$100
- Surfboard rental: $10-$15 a day
To maintain a low-budget, it’s probably a good idea to keep activities like this to a minimum. However, they are super fun so you should budget some money to do some of these activities on your trip to Costa Rica!
- Daily budget for activities: $10
Total Daily Cost for Backpacking Costa Rica:
Factoring in accommodations, transportation, food and activities:
- The daily cost for backpacking Costa Rica should be about $30-$50/day!
Keep in mind, this does not include airfare or travel insurance.
My favorite way to book cheap flights is to use Cheapoair. They always have the best deals, in an easy to read format without a million pop-up ads and hotel booking info getting in my way.
Best Costa Rica Backpacking Destinations
The most exciting part of planning a Costa Rica trip is deciding where to go! I’ve gone ahead and broken down the best backpacking destinations in Costa Rica so you can decide on where you want to visit (this trip!).
To keep things organized, I’ve broken up this list into beach towns, and mountain towns.
Best Costa Rica Beach Towns
Tamarindo is fun. It’s a built up beach town on the Nicoya Peninsula, about 2 hours from the international airport in Liberia.
Tamarindo has a nice, long beach, and also a decent surf break.
Tamarindo is a nice place to go in Costa Rica if you want a beach, amenities, and a little bit of partying. It is definitely pretty built up, and very touristy.
I will say, after a week in Tamarindo, I was ready to move on to a more quiet town. That being said, I think Tamarindo was the perfect first stop while backpacking Costa Rica.
P.S.If partying is your thing, beware of pickpockets- I met 6 people who all got their phones stolen the same night!
How to get to Tamarindo:
- From Liberia:
You can easily take the public bus from the Liberia bus station to Tamarindo. It’s a direct bus, and only costs about $3. It should take about 2 hours to get here by bus.
Alternatively, you could take a shared shuttle. This will cost about $45, and should be booked in advance. They can pick you up from the airport and drop you off directly at your hotel, which is very convenient!
- From San José:
You can take a direct bus from San José to Tamarindo as well. It will take about 5-7 hours depending on traffic, and should cost $7-$9 USD.
You can also book a shared shuttle, which should cost about $60 per person.
Where to stay in Tamarindo:
- Blue Trailz Hostel
I stayed at Blue Trailz when I visited Tamarindo and it was the BEST. They are located just across the street from the ocean, have hot water, air conditioning, and an awesome common area.
- Pura Vida Mini Hostel
Set back a little further from the ocean, Pura Vida Mini Hostel is one of the cheapest and best value hostels in Tamarindo.
They also have a huge pool to enjoy!
Selina in Tamarindo is the best place to stay if you want to have access to a coworking space. They also have a large pool and bar.
- La Oveja
This is one of the coolest hostels in Tamarindo. They have a bar and restaurant outside that is beautifully decorated, and has live music.
La Oveja also has a lovely swimming pool.
What to do in Tamarindo:
Surfing in Tamarindo is definitely something you should try. The water is warm, and all you need is a surfboard!
Tamarindo is also one of the best surfing destinations in Costa Rica, so it’s worth trying out.
- Hang out on the beach
This is the best free activity to do in Tamarindo! The beach is beautiful, and if you look to the north, you can see lush jungle for miles.
- Listen to live music
Tamarindo has loads of live music at bars and restaurants all along the beach. To find live music, ask the front desk at your hostel or simply follow the sound of the music!
Tamarindo has a reputation for a party town, and with good reason. The “circle” in Tamarindo is lively pretty much every night, and people start bonfires in front of it on the beach. This is a good place to mingle and meet other backpackers!
- Take a sunset cruise
If it’s in your budget, taking a sunset cruise is one of the most fun things to do in Tamarindo. Definitely book one with an open bar that goes through sunset!
Where to eat in Tamarindo:
Pro tip: If you don’t want to pay American prices for food at restaurants in Tamarindo, (it’s pretty expensive there) then look for the locals selling casados (typical Costa Rican food) from their cars, usually in front of Ay Caramba Mexican Restaurant on the main road. I paid about 2000 Costa Rican colones (about $3USD) for so much food I got two meals out of it!
Nosara was my absolute favorite place I stayed in while backpacking Costa Rica. In order to take the bus from Tamarindo to Nosara, you have to transfer about 3 times, and it takes almost 12 hours, despite the two towns only being about 70 kilometers apart. I didn’t really feel like taking a 12 hour travel day, so I splurged on a shared shuttle for $50, that got me there in under 3 hours.
How to get to Nosara
Due to a lack of paved roads, Nosara is a bit more difficult to get to than Tamarindo, especially by public transportation.
- From Liberia:
The cheapest way to get to Nosara from Liberia is by public bus, should cost $5-$6, and take about 5 hours.
You’ll take the bus from Liberia to Nicoya, and then from Nicoya to Liberia. You can check bus routes here, although the most up-to-date information will be at the bus stations.
Another option is to book a shared shuttle, which will cost $50-$100, depending on the time of day and if there are other travelers available to split a shuttle with.
- From San José:
The cheapest way to get to Nosara from San José is by public bus, which will cost about $10 and take about 6-8 hours. There is one daily direct bus that leaves at 5:30 am daily.
If you can’t make the early bus, there are more routes that go San José-> Nicoya, Nicoya -> Nosara.
This website has a lot of great information on getting to Nosara!
What to do in Nosara
The main surf beach in Nosara is Playa Guiones. While it’s not a world class wave by any means, it is a fun beach break, good for any level, that gets super consistent swell and offshores winds. I surfed for up to 6 hours a day some days!
Nosara is most known for surf, and yoga. There are many wonderful yoga studios, my personal favorite was Bodhi Tree. Their ocean shala has a beautiful ocean view, and they have some great instructors. The drop in rate is $15 a class, and if you are interested in yoga then you should definitely check it out!
- Watch the sunset
I’m pretty sure there isn’t a single person in Nosara who doesn’t watch the sunset. Seriously, every evening, the entire town will be out at Playa Guiones for sunset. My personal favorite place to watch the sunset was from the adjacent beach Playa Pelada, which had a little more of a local feel.
- Tip: There is also a beach bar at Playa Pelada called Olga’s. They have great prices and you can watch the sunset with a drink from here.
- See the sea turtles!
About a 15 minute drive north is a town called Ostional- where if you time it right, you are almost guaranteed to either see baby sea turtles hatching, or mothers laying their eggs.
P.s. If you’re looking for more things to do in Nosara, I wrote a whole post about it here.
Where to stay in Nosara
Finding budget accommodations in Nosara is one of the hardest aspects of backpacking Nosara. Luckily, there are 3 pretty solid budget accommodation options in Nosara, including:
- Nosara Beach Hostel
Only a 5 minute walk from the beach, this is the perfect place for backpacking surfers to stay on a trip to Nosara. A bed in a dorm goes for $15-$20 a night.
- 4 You Hostel
This hostel is about a 10 minute walk from the beach, but only a 2 minute walk from the main restaurants and grocery store in Playa Guiones. A bed in a dorm goes for about $22/night, and they also have privates for about $40/night.
- Gabi’s Place
Gabi’s Place is located in a bigger plaza, also known as Gabi’s place. Private rooms are available here for about $50/night.
Where to eat in Nosara
There are some great options for food in Nosara. My personal favorite was Rosi’s Tica, the local soda in Playa Guiones.
Some other budget places for food (that are also delicious) in the Nosara area include:
- Vanessa’s soda
- Mary’s cevicheria
- Pura Pizza
**A non budget place, but one of my personal favorites is Lagarta Lodge in Playa Pelada. They have an upstairs patio where you can order drinks and food, and I think they have the best sunset view in all of Nosara. It’s definitely a little more pricey ($10 drinks, $15-$40 food) but for the occasional splurge, this is the place to go.**
Sámara is a small, but bustling beach town about a 40 minute drive south of Nosara. It has one long, beautiful beach that is its main attraction.
There is also plenty of nightlife in Sámara, and the small town has many restaurants and bars.
The overall vibe in Sámara is not as laid-back as Nosara- it’s more similar to Tamarindo, although much less built up.
How to get to Sámara
- From Liberia
It takes a little under 2 hours to get from Liberia to Sámara, and you’ll take the bus from Liberia -> Nicoya, and Nicoya-> Sámara. It should cost about $6, and you can find bus routes here!
- From San José
The cheapest way to get from San José to Sámara is to take the public bus- it should cost $6-$9 and take about 6 hours. It departs twice daily, you can check the routes here.
What to do in Sámara
- Enjoy the beach
Sámara is known best for its long, beautiful, horseshoe shaped beach. The water is gentle and nice for swimming. Just remember to never leave any valuables unattended on the beach while swimming, theft is pretty bad in Costa Rica.
- Enjoy the nightlife
Restaurants and bars litter the streets in Sámara. It’s a lively town with a lot to see and do.
There are loads of little shops, as well as beach and street vendors in Sámara. This is a good place to purchase any Costa Rica souvenirs!
Where to eat in Sámara
Hands down, this is the place to eat in Sámara. It’s also a brewery, which is pretty rare to see in Costa Rica- and their beers are really good!
The food is also delicious. It’s a bit on the pricey side, but the portions are huge so you will really be getting two meals out of one.
Santa Teresa is a bit of a backpacker’s haven. Once a desolate, quiet beach town, it has grown quite a bit over the years, and is continuing to grow.
Santa Teresa is a little more quiet than Tamarindo, but has a little more going on than Nosara.
It’s definitely a must see on any backpacking Costa Rica itinerary.
How to get to Santa Teresa
Transportation is pretty rough on the Nicoya Peninsula, and Santa Teresa is notoriously difficult to get to.
I was lucky enough to get a ride with some friends
**If you’re tech savvy, I recommend joining local facebook groups and trying to find people traveling on the same days, and then you can just split the price of gas!**
- From Liberia
Unfortunately, there is no way to take the bus from Liberia to Santa Teresa. Your best bet is to either rent a car, or book a shuttle bus for $50.
Keep in mind, $50 is the price for a shared shuttle. This means that if nobody is going to Santa Teresa when you are, it’ll be a private shuttle for double the price.
- From San José
Fortunately, you can take the bus from San José to Santa Teresa! There is a nonstop bus departing once daily, for $11, and it takes about 6 hours. You can find the bus schedule here, don’t forget the most up-to-date bus schedule information is always going to be at the terminal itself!
What to do in Santa Teresa
Santa Teresa has some great surfing beaches. When I was there, the surf at Santa Teresa was too heavy for me so I went to neighboring beach Playa Hermosa, about 15 minutes north, and had a blast.
- Enjoy the Beach
Santa Teresa has miles of beautiful beaches, littered with palm trees and beach bars.
- Take a yoga class
There are multiple yoga studios in Santa Teresa.
I’m not a skater, but my friends are, and they LOVED the skate park right next to the beach, behind the North Selina. They had rentals for skateboards too for a few dollars.
- Day trip to Montezuma
Montezuma is a colorful little beach town just south of Santa Teresa, with a magnificent waterfall. Montezuma is perfect for a day trip from Santa Teresa.
Where to eat in Santa Teresa
- Soda Pura Vida
I probably ate here about 20 times during the short week I was there. The food was the cheapest in Santa Teresa, and SUPER tasty with big portions.
This is a hostel that has a restaurant attached, and I had the BEST breakfast burrito I’ve ever had there. At about $10 it was a little pricey, but I DID get two meals out of it.
Where to stay in Santa Teresa
- Don Jon’s
This is where I stayed in Santa Teresa, and I’d recommend it to anyone. It’s right across the street from the beach, and is run by Don Jon, a really cool guy from Colombia.
The hostel has weekly live music, a sweet common area, parking, a security guard, a yoga studio, and more. It’s cheap too.
There are two Selinas in Santa Teresa, one on the north end, one on the south. I didn’t check out the Selina on the south end, but the one on the north one was really nice, with a beachfront location, pool, and a cocktail bar.
Somos is an upscale coworking hostel located on the far north part of Santa Teresa. For any digital nomads or people working remotely, this is a great, higher-quality hostel to stay at in Santa Teresa.
Plus, they have DELICIOUS breakfast burritos.
Montezuma is a funky, quiet little beach town. It’s located right on the tip of the Nicoya Peninsula, and is known for its beautiful beaches, colorful buildings, and impressive waterfall.
How to get to Montezuma
- Santa Teresa
It’s super easy to get from Santa Teresa to Montezuma. Just book a shuttle bus for about $10, and you’re all set.
You can book it at the front desk at Selina!
What to do in Montezuma
- Visit the Montezuma Waterfall
The falls in Montezuma are insanely beautiful, and they’re free to visit! It’s a short 5-10 minute hike from the parking area to the falls, and once you get there you can swim around and enjoy the falls as long as you’d like.
When I visited in February, in the middle of high season, there weren’t many people there and it was very pleasant.
- Explore the beaches
The beaches in Montezuma are insanely beautiful, and there are very few crowds.
Jaco is a large city located right on the beach, about an hour from San José. It’s by far the most built-up beach town in Costa Rica, and has a reputation for being a little rough around the edges.
Everything I heard and read about Jaco before visiting was that it was dirty, unsafe, and not worth a visit.
While it’s true that I didn’t want to walk around at night, Jaco wasn’t bad. The surrounding hills are beautiful, and look a little like the scenery from Jurassic Park! It’s a great stop while backpacking in Costa Rica.
The other cool thing about Jaco, is that you can pretty much buy anything you need without having to take a trip to San Jose.
I personally enjoyed how Jaco felt very local. Due to its close proximity to San José, this is probably the only beach town in Costa Rica with more Costa Ricans than foreigners!
Still, it’s definitely not the safest place in Costa Rica, and I would advise against walking anywhere in Jaco alone at night, especially the beaches.
How to get to Jaco
- From Liberia
Jaco is a bit of a trek from Liberia.
By bus, it’s about a 6 hour journey that should cost about $8. You’ll go from Liberia -> Puntarenas, and then Puntarenas-> Jaco. Check out the bus routes here.
- From San José
It’s super easy to get from San José to Liberia! The bus is direct, leaves several times a day, takes 2 hours, and will cost $14-$18 USD. Find the bus schedule here!
What to do in Jaco
Jaco has some fun surfing, and nearby Playa Hermosa is a world class wave. The surf in Jaco was surprisingly uncrowded as well.
Jaco is absolutely littered with restaurants. I ate at Los Mahi Tacos de Cholo and it was delicious, and not too expensive either.
- Go to the beach
While Jaco doesn’t have the nicest beaches around, it’s still enjoyable to spend some time on the beach, and go swimming in the warm waters.
- Hike to Miro Mountain
Miro Mountain is located a little south of Jaco, and features a fantastic view with some cool ruins. This post does a great job explaining the hike, and how to get there!
As I mentioned earlier, Jaco is the most built-up beach town in Costa Rica. While that may have its drawbacks, it also has its perks- grocery shopping, and shopping in general is super easy in Jaco!
If you find yourself needing anything while backpacking Costa Rica, Jaco is likely a good place to get it!
Where to eat in Jaco
- Los Mahi Tacos de Cholo
I ate delicious tacos here at a great price!
- Puddlefish Brewery
While I didn’t personally eat here, a friend of mine that lived in Jaco recommended it for their great atmosphere, tasty beers, and delicious food!
Where to stay in Jaco
- Hostel de Haan
This is the cheapest hostel in Jaco, and it’s pretty nice for the price! You can get a bed in a dorm for about $10, and privates aren’t much more expensive.
There’s a big pool here, a huge kitchen, and a security guard to make you feel safe.
It’s also very close to the ocean.
It can definitely get a little noisy and rowdy here though, so bring some earplugs and/or book a private if you’re looking for a decent night’s rest!
Overall, it’s a great budget hostel for Costa Rica backpackers.
The Selina in Jaco is pretty sweet- it’s beachfront with a pool, bar, and volleyball courts. It has great free Wi-Fi, a coworking space, and they have fun events here.
Manuel Antonio is one of the most popular places in Costa Rica, and pretty much on every backpacking Costa Rica itinerary. With its abundance of gorgeous, crystal clear beaches and diverse jungle, it is clear why!
How to get to Manuel Antonio
Since it is so popular, it’s fairly easy to get to Manuel Antonio.
- From Liberia
Manuel Antonio is a bit of a trek from San Jose, so I recommend that it’s not the first stop on your trip backpacking through Costa Rica.
However, it is possible- by bus, it’s about an 8 hour journey, should cost $12, and you’ll go Liberia->Puntarenas-> Quepos->Manuel Antonio.
- From San Jose
By bus, this is a 3 hour journey with one transfer in Quepos, and should cost about $6USD. Find bus routes here!
What to do in Manuel Antonio
- Visit Manuel Antonio Park!
The Manuel Antonio park is the main attraction of Manuel Antonio. It costs about $18 USD to enter, and is full of nature trails and animals.
- Go to the beach!
This is a free activity! I thought that the beach at Manuel Antonio (not the one in the park, the free one) was the most beautiful beach I saw in all of Costa Rica. The water was extremely clear, and this beach was surprisingly uncrowded.
Where to eat in Manuel Antonio
- Costa Linda Art Hostel
This was my personal favorite restaurant. The food was delicious, service was amazing, and the food was about half the price of any other restaurant near the park.
- El Avion
For a less budget option, this is a great restaurant with a view! There is also a giant airplane IN the middle of the restaurant. This restaurant is along the main road that leads down from Quepos to the park.
Where to stay in Manuel Antonio
- Costa Linda Art Hostel
If you’re looking to be close to the beaches and the Manuel Antonio park, this is the place to stay. The rooms are cheap, the owner is incredibly kind, and it’s connected to the best, most budget-friendly restaurant in Manuel Antonio.
I can’t recommend this place enough!
Dominical is a surf town, down to its core. I imagine it’s what Tamarindo and Jaco used to be like… This was one of my favorite places I stayed at while backpacking Costa Rica, and I plan to return!
If you’re backpacking Costa Rica, and appreciate a mellow, laid-back town, you should definitely check out Dominical.
How to get to Dominical
- From Liberia
Dominical is a ways away from Liberia. By bus, it’ll take 8 hours, cost about $10, and you’ll transfer once in Puntarenas. Find bus routes here.
- From San José
It’s fairly easy to get to Dominical from San José. There are several buses daily, it takes about 3.5 hours, and costs about $20USD. Find the bus routes here.
I’m not really sure why it’s more expensive to go to Dominical from San José than Liberia, even though it’s way closer. My guess would be it’s more expensive because the roads are nicer so it pays for that…. But who really knows. Not everything in Costa Rica makes perfect since, Pura Vida!
What to do in Dominical
- Go to the Nauyaca Waterfall
The Nauyaca waterfall entrance is about a 15 minute drive from Dominical. There is a $10 entrance fee, and if you’re driving, you can either park your car outside the tourist office, or drive down the hill about 5-10 minutes to the parking lot there. I highly recommend driving to the lower parking lot, as it will save you probably an extra hour of walking.
Once you get to the parking lot, it’s about a 90 minute walk to the falls each way. It’s pretty hot and dry down there so make sure to bring plenty of water. I saw some pretty cool animals along the way, including a toucan, and a peacock (yupp, a peacock!) along the way so keep your eyes open.
Dominical is a surf town, with world class waves. There are some strong currents and waves there, so beginners should either take a lesson, or check out the neighboring beach Dominicalito that has some smaller surf!
Where to eat in Dominical
For how small Dominical was, I was surprised at how many good places there were to eat. Some of my favorites, that weren’t too expensive were:
- Rio Lindo Hotel
- Cafe Mono Congo
This is the best breakfast/lunch place in the area. It’s located right in front of the river, and the view is incredible. Definitely a must visit!
- Fuego Brew Co
- La Casita Pizza
Where to stay in Dominical
- Cool Vibes Beach Hostel
This is the only decent hostel in Dominical to stay at. It usually books up early, so be sure to book your bed in advance if you’re planning to include Dominical in your Costa Rica backpacking trip!
Uvita is a beach town located about 20 minutes south of Dominical. The main attraction in Uvita is its beautiful, whale tail shaped beach, although it also has a pretty cool waterfall.
How to get to Uvita
If you’re backpacking Costa Rica, the easiest way to get to Uvita is from Dominical. It’s about a 20 minute bus ride, and only costs $2-$3.
What to do in Uvita
- Visit Playa Uvita in Marino Ballena National Park
Playa Uvita is an incredible beach located in Marino Ballena National Park. The beach is famous for its whale tail shaped beach.
Because the beach is located within the national park, it costs $6USD per day to visit.
- Visit Catarata Uvita
If you’ve ever seen a video of someone sliding down an actual waterfall, it was probably Catarata Uvita.
This beautiful waterfall features a natural waterslide, and several natural pools to swim in.
It’s located just past Uvita Hostel Resort, and it costs $3 to enter.
Puerto Viejo is a vibrant coastal town on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica, and one of the most popular stops on the Costa Rica backpacking circuit.
This town is best known for its food, live music, black sand beaches, and blue waters.
Puerto Viejo wasn’t my cup of tea when I visited, as the waves were big and stormy, and I wasn’t quite feeling up for a party at the time.
However, if you’re looking to party in a lively beach town, Puerto Viejo might be the perfect stop on your Costa Rica backpacking trip.
How to get to Puerto Viejo
From San Jose:
There is a direct bus from San Jose to Puerto Viejo, and it should cost about $10. Online, it says the bus ride takes 3.5 hours. This is NOT TRUE. Expect this bus ride to take at least 6 hours, in my case it took 8. You can buy tickets and find the current bus schedule from San Jose to Puerto Viejo at the MEPE bus terminal.
What to do in Puerto Viejo
- Bike to Cahuita
The thing I enjoyed most in Puerto Viejo was renting a bike and riding it to Cahuita with some friends. It was about a 2 hour bike trip RT, and mostly flat with a few hills. I recommend renting a bike pretty early in the day, as they do sell out!
Caribbean food is a little different from the rest of the typical food in Costa Rica, so I recommend trying some typical Caribbean plates while you’re in Puerto Viejo.
- Explore the nightlife
Puerto Viejo is known for its nightlife, and it’s definitely a very lively town.
When I visited, it was quite stormy and not ideal for surfing. However, I’ve heard neighboring Playa Cocles is the best place to surf in Puerto Viejo when the conditions are mellow. Check out my in-depth Puerto Viejo surf guide if you want to know more about surfing in this region!
- Visit the black sand beach
Puerto Viejo has a beautiful volcanic black sand beach called Playa Negra, at the far northern part of Puerto Viejo.
Where to eat in Puerto Viejo
The food in Puerto Viejo is pretty pricey, so I ended up mostly cooking in my hostel. However, the following restaurants warranted the occasional splurge:
- La Esquina Pizzeria
The pizza here is SUPER tasty, and was also only $3 for a massive slice. Definitely worth a visit.
- Tasty Waves Cantina
This restaurant is a little north of Puerto Viejo, and it’s along the way to Cahuita. But they have some incredibly tasty food, and they do a big taco Tuesday special.
Where to stay in Puerto Viejo
- Oasis Beachfront Hostel
This is one of the coolests hostels in Puerto Viejo. It was only $10/night for a bed in a dorm, and it’s literally built ON the beach. The kitchen and common space of the hostel is in the sand, and you can see the ocean while you’re cooking- it’s pretty rad.
Best Costa Rica Mountain Towns
Now that we’ve covered the beach towns in Costa Rica, it’s time for this Costa Rica backpacking guide to cover the mountain towns!
Costa Rica is incredibly diverse, from its tropical beaches, to its volcanoes and rainforests.
I’m a bit of a beach bum myself, so I mostly stuck to the coast while backpacking Costa Rica.
However, I did make it up to the mountains a couple times, and I’m glad I did because the diversity, climate, and mountain air was incredible.
Arriving in Monteverde after spending time in Costa Rica’s beach towns is like teleporting into another world. The air is cool and crisp, everything is green and vibrant, and the cloud forest surrounds everything.
Monteverde is a can’t miss addition to any Costa Rica Backpacking Itinerary.
How to get to Monteverde
There are bus routes to get to Monteverde, but they take quite a while, and I know a few people who got stranded taking the bus because it was late, or never showed, etc.
So I hired a private driver to take me to Monteverde. It cost $100 to get there from Nosara, but this was towards the end of my trip and I had been good with budgeting thus far, and so I justified it.
However, I know hiring a private driver is definitely not feasible for everyone, so I recommend looking into shared shuttles, rideshare, and even renting a car.
What to do in Monteverde
There are a million different types of tours you can do from Monteverde, and multiple parks too. I was traveling on a budget, so I opted to see one park, and do one tour. Here’s what I did while in Monteverde:
- Visit Santa Elena Park:
With a $16 USD entrance fee, this was the cheaper of the two main parks, so I opted for this one. Also, I heard the Monteverde park suspension bridges were broken, which is one of the main draws of that park anyway. It was BEAUTIFUL. Bring a rain jacket though, because even if it’s sunny outside the park, it will probably be raining inside.
- Don Juan’s Coffee Tour:
I’m a big coffee girl so I opted for this tour. It cost $45, and included coffee, chocolate, and sugar cane tasing, as well as an explanation of all three processes. It was a pretty cool and informative tour if you’re at all interested in coffee or chocolate production in Costa Rica.
Other things to do in Monteverde:
- Go ziplining
Ziplining in Monteverde is one of the most popular things to do while touring in the town. You zipline right over the trees, and you’re pretty high up, so this is the perfect activity for adrenaline junkies.
- Nighttime nature walk
Most of the wildlife in the cloud forest is nocturnal, so your best bet at seeing animals is during a nighttime nature walk. Plus, the tour guides that run these night walks know the rainforest very well, and have a keen eye for spotting animals you’d otherwise miss!
Where to eat in Monteverde
- Cafe Ochideas
The restaurants were pretty pricey around Monteverde, so I mostly cooked at my hostel. However, I splurged one morning for breakfast at Cafe Ochideas, and it was INCREDIBLE.
Hands down one of the best breakfasts I’d had in Costa Rica. And I ate…. A lot of breakfasts in Costa Rica.
La Fortuna is a small town at the base of the Arenal Volcano, and well known for its many opportunities for adventure! In La fortuna, you can enjoy natural hot springs, waterfalls, and explore the rainforest.
How to get to La Fortuna
- From Liberia
You can get to La Fortuna from Liberia by bus in about 5 hours, for $7 with a transfer in Upala. Find bus routes here.
- From San José
It’s fairly easy to get to La Fortuna from San José by bus. It should cost about $5, take 4 hours, and there are multiple direct buses leaving daily. Check bus schedules here.
What to do in La Fortuna
- Hot Springs
There are plenty of hot springs in La Fortuna, and many of them charge an entry fee to visit. Across from the Tabacon Resort, you can find some free hot springs!
- La Fortuna Waterfall
The La Fortuna Waterfall is the main attraction in La Fortuna. The waterfall is a great place to swim, have lunch, and snap a few photos. Keep in mind, there is an $18 entry fee to visit.
If you’re looking for a slightly more off the beaten path destination than Monteverde and La Fortuna, consider Rio Celeste. It has mountains, it has a volcano, AND, most importantly, the crystal blue waters of Rio Celeste.
How to get to Rio Celeste
- From Liberia
The easiest way to get to Rio Celeste from Liberia, is to drive- it should take about 90 minutes.
There is not a direct bus route from Liberia to Rio Celeste, you would go Liberia->Bagaces-> La Fortuna, and then take a taxi to Rio Celeste.
- From San José
To get from San José to Rio Celeste, you would take the bus from San José -> Cañas, and then a taxi to Rio Celeste.
The easiest way to get to Rio Celeste is by a day trip if you are already in La Fortuna.
What to do in Rio Celeste
- Hike to the waterfall
The whole point of going to Rio Celeste is well… to see Rio Celeste! To get there, it’s a bit of a hike, but it’s incredibly enjoyable. There are a number of trails near the Rio Celeste Waterfall, and there’s a lot to see besides the waterfall- although that is still very much the main attraction. If you’re keen for more info, check out my entire post solely on visiting the Rio Celeste Waterfall.
- Swim in the turquoise blue waters of Rio Celeste
At the Rio Celeste waterfall itself, you are not allowed to swim as the falls are very powerful. However, a little ways away from the falls there are free places to swim- I cover that as well in my Rio Celeste Waterfall post.
Three Different Costa Rica Backpacking Itineraries
Now that I’ve covered the best places to visit while backpacking around Costa Rica, here are a few sample itineraries.
Costa Rica usually offers a 90 day tourist visa, so if you’re wondering what’s the best amount of time to spend backpacking Costa Rica, of course I’m going to say 90 days. However, I understand most people don’t have that much time, so I’m going to meet you in the middle- with a 1 month backpacking itinerary!
1 Month Costa Rica Backpacking Itinerary
Day 1: Fly into San José
San José is the capital of Costa Rica, and has the largest airport, so it makes sense that most international flights will probably arrive here. Depending on what time your flight arrives, it’s usually easiest to book a night at a hotel/hostel near the airport, get a good night’s rest, and depart to your next destination early in the morning.
Days 2-5: Monteverde
Monteverde is only 2.5 hours from San Jose, and an exciting first stop on your Costa Rica backpacking route!
3 nights will leave you with 3 full days in Monteverde, which is plenty of time to explore the cloud forest.
Days 5-8: La Fortuna with a Day Trip to Rio Celeste
In La Fortuna, you’ll be able to hike around Arenal, and visit some hot springs! While you’re in La Fortuna, you should take a day trip to Rio Celeste too.
Days 8-10: Tamarindo
After exploring the mountains, volcanoes, and cloud forest, it’s time to hit the BEACHES woohoo! In Tamarindo, you can try out surfing, explore the nightlife, and enjoy that sweet, sweet, 85 degree water.
Days 10-13: Nosara
Nosara will be a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of Tamarindo. In this quiet yet happening beach town, you can surf some REAL waves, take a yoga class, and if you’re there at the right time, see baby sea turtles hatch!
Days 13-16: Santa Teresa
Santa Teresa is one of the best places for backpackers in Costa Rica. It’s lively, it’s beautiful, but it’s not grossly over touristed like other places in Costa Rica (Tamarindo, I’m looking at you!)
3 full days in Santa Teresa will give you plenty of time to hit the beaches, explore the nightlife, and even take a day trip to Montezuma for the waterfall.
Days 16-18: Jaco
After hanging out in Santa Teresa, you can take a boat to Jaco, to kick off the second half of your trip which includes exploring the Central Pacific and Caribbean region of Costa Rica.
2 nights in Jaco will give you plenty of time to check out the town, explore the beaches, and hike to Miro Mountain.
Days 18-20: Manuel Antonio
In Manuel Antonio you can enjoy some of the prettiest beaches in Costa Rica, and check out Manuel Antonio National Park!
Days 20-24: Dominical
In Dominical, you can check out the beach, waterfall, and take a day trip to Uvita to explore Marino Ballena National Park!
Days 24-29: Puerto Viejo
This Costa Rica backpacking route ends on the Caribbean side of the country. Explore volcanic beaches, crystal clear waters, and a lively backpacking town in Puerto Viejo.
Days 29-30: Back to San José
It’s a bit of a trek from Puerto Viejo to San Jose, and most international flights from Costa Rica depart pretty early, so your last night will be spent in San José.
Backpacking Costa Rica 1 week – Nicoya Peninsula Beaches
If you only have a week to explore Costa Rica, I suggest not trying to see everything, and rather spending more quality time in less places.
Day 1: Fly into Liberia
For this itinerary, it makes way more sense to fly into Liberia, as you can be at the beach in only a matter of hours!
Days 1-3: Tamarindo, Nosara, or Sámara
For this itinerary, I recommend picking one of the above beach towns to visit. If you like partying, I’d suggest Tamarindo or Sámara, and the latter if you prefer it to be slightly smaller with nicer beaches.
If you want to surf, do yoga, and be in a quieter area, I’d choose Nosara.
Days 4-7: Santa Teresa with a day trip to Montezuma
For the second half of the week, you can enjoy the beaches and town of Santa Teresa, and have time to visit neighboring Montezuma and its waterfall!
Backpacking Costa Rica 1 week- Rainforest and Beach
This itinerary covers rainforests and beaches in 1 week.
Day 1: Fly into San Jose
Days 2-4: Monteverde
This gives you time to explore Monteverde, and even take a day trip to La Fortuna or Rio Celeste!
Days 4-7: Manuel Antonio
Check out Manuel Antonio National Park, and the gorgeous beaches of Manuel Antonio.
Costa Rica 90 Days
If you take full advantage of the 90 day visa, I recommend taking my 1 month itinerary, and adding a week or longer to any place that sounds interesting to you.
There are also a couple of regions in Costa Rica I didn’t cover, including Drake Bay and Tortuguero, that I would recommend looking into. They are supposed to be amazing, I just didn’t cover them in this post because I haven’t visited them myself.
Backpacking Costa Rica FAQs:
Is it safe to backpack in Costa Rica?
Yes! 100% yes. I backpacked through Costa Rica as a solo female traveler, and always felt very safe. The main thing to worry about is petty theft.
What’s it like backpacking Costa Rica alone?
Backpacking Costa Rica alone is incredible. It’s safe, you meet cool people, (I may or may not have met my boyfriend of one year in Costa Rica…..) the locals are friendly… It’s a wonderful experience. If you’re on the fence about it, this is your sign to book that solo trip!
Is tap water in Costa Rica safe to drink?
Yes, the tap water in Costa Rica is safe to drink! This is the only country in Central America you can say this for, and it’s incredibly convenient.
With that said, I’ve heard conflicting things though about the tap water in Puerto Viejo/ the Caribbean in general, so I only drank bottled water there.
Final thoughts on Backpacking Costa Rica
That concludes my post on backpacking Costa Rica! It was a doozy, so if you read all of that, wow, I’m impressed, and I hope you got some value from it!
Please let me know if you have any questions in the comments, and happy travels.