Adventure on a Budget: San Jose, Costa Rica

This week’s travel column brings us to the heart of tropical Costa Rica: San José! This Costa Rican capital city is every adventurous person’s dream destination. With a population around 340,000, it’s about half the size of Boston. While this city may be lacking in full-time residents––it certainly makes up for it in local food, rich history, impressive art, and impeccable architecture.


Dates: January 21 - January 28


Flight Cost: $264 out of Boston Logan Airport

Having trouble dealing with New England’s chilly weather? Instead of dropping a couple hundred bucks on a warm jacket and a pair of winter boots, put that money towards a warm getaway to Central America! Spirit Airlines will fly you straight from Boston to Costa Rica’s beautiful capital of  San José for just over $250. With all that this beautiful city has to offer––it’s sure to be a worthy investment.


Housing: $75 


Photo Courtesy of: Selina San José


Selina is one of the top hostel names out there, and with locations in over 15 countries––it’s well-deserved notoriety. For as little as $10.80 per night, you can share a mixed dorm with five other travelers. The San José Selina offers more than eight different room setups, but with all their fun amenities like the bar, restaurant, outdoor games, lounge, kitchen, and more––you probably won’t want to spend too much time in your room anyway! Locationwise, Selina is perfect for hitting all the best spots in San José. According to their website, they’re situated in the cultural hotspot of Barrio Otoya with endless opportunities to explore local museums, restaurants, galleries and stunning architecture. 


Transportation: $28 

Your safest and most cost-efficient bet in getting around San José is probably the bus. With costs similar to Boston’s MBTA, a single ride costs around $2 for adults. According to several reviews from TripAdvisor, the public transit in Costa Rica’s capital is both reliable and efficient (though most would recommend brushing up on some Spanish before trying to figure out the bus schedule/directions). Since the hostel is so close to most of San José’s sights to see, I estimated only needing to take a bus twice per day for a total just under $30 for the week. 


Food: $189 

Photo Courtesy of:

Costa Rica is home to some of the best Spanish food out there, and with a little finesse, you can indulge in it without having to break the bank! Like most destinations, breakfast is typically the cheapest. Starting off your morning with a classic Gallo Pinto (rice, beans, eggs, beef, plantains, and a tortilla) will cost $5 at most Costa Rican food joints. An $8 lunch is similar in food preparation: usually a mixture of rice, beans, meat and savory sauces. But other options such as small pizzas, soups, salads, tamals, and more can be found on any street in San José as well. Dinner is typically where the bulk of your food budget should go. For a classic Costa Rican dish of grilled meat with various sides and a drink (and perhaps flan for dessert) the bill will be right around $14. *Note: Sodas, or mini-restaurants that serve food out of people’s houses, are the best ways to eat in Costa Rica. A traditional soda can be found nearly anywhere in the country, just look for houses with little neon signs out front. Although sodas are more commonly found in the less-populated areas, don’t let that stop you from looking for one in San José, because they often have some of the most authentic (not to mention, cheapest) food available.


Excursions: $170

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Most museums in San José offer admission for around $10: the Jade Museum, the National Museum of Costa Rica, the Museo de Arte Costarricense and Braulio Carrillo Park are all spots you’ll want to cough up a Hamilton for. There are also tons of things to see and do in the area that won’t cost you a thing: Parque La Sabana, the Central Market, the National Library and various art galleries should be at the top of your list! Should you wish to venture a little farther outside the city to hike around some of Costa Rica’s epic volcanoes like Irazú, Turrialba, or Barva, there are tons of day-tours that will bring you to and fro for around $75. Aside from opportunities to witness Costa Rica’s natural and historic beauty, be sure to check out the wildlife too––sloths are native to the country, and with a little research, you can find several inexpensive and humane ways to observe them safely in their natural habitats.


Total Estimated Cost: $726

All-in-all, the total cost for a trip to San José, Costa Rica, relies heavily on your flexibility, what you wish to see, and your overall lifestyle as a traveler. As usual, this number is just a mere estimation created from minimal research and solely represents what one could spend on a week-long trip to Costa Rica. To cut a few financial corners, be sure to hit as many sodas as possible for dinner, opt for free sight-seeing opportunities, and enjoy San José from a local perspective on-foot rather than venturing a ways outside of the city!