Though Costa Rica's prices are high compared to those of other Central America countries like Nicaragua and Guatemala, backpacking in Costa Rica remains a popular pursuit. That's because dedicated Costa Rica backpackers know about the top Costa Rica backpacker destinations: the places where beds and beverages are cheap, the friendship abundant and the scenery unforgettable.
Jaco Beach might be most famous for its waves, but surfers aren't the only budget travelers Jaco attracts. Jaco's hostels and backpacker haunts are always crowded with diverse, friendly travelers.
Playa Jaco hostels and budget hotels:
- Nathon's Surfer Hostel
- Hotel De Haan
- Hotel Kangaroo
Hordes of Costa Rica backpackers stay in the capital city of San Jose. San Jose also serves as a perfect base for visiting regional backpacker destinations, such as the Irazú and Poás volcanoes. Costa Rica's main Ticabus terminal is located in San Jose, for backpackers heading to other Central America countries.
San Jose hostels and budget hotels:
- Costa Rica Backpackers Hostel
- Costa Rica Guesthouse (across the street from Costa Rica Backpackers Hostel)
- Hostel Pangea
- Hostel Toruma
Santa Elena and Monteverde
Although it's possible to find budget accommodations within the perimeter of the Monteverde Cloudforest, most Costa Rica backpackers prefer to stay at nearby Santa Elena. You can book canopy tours and Monteverde Cloudforest hikes from your Santa Elena hotel, but don't overlook the in-town wildlife: the Serpentario (snake zoo!), the Frog Pond, the Butterfly Garden... as well as the nightlife.
Monteverde/Santa Elena hostels and backpacker hotels:
- Monteverde Backpackers
- Pension Santa Elena
- Cabinas Tina's Casitas
Liberia isn't much of a destination in its own right. But many Costa Rica backpackers stay there because of its central "crossroads" location at the northeast edge of the Nicoya Peninsula, as well of its possession of the only Costa Rica international airport outside San Jose. Liberia is also the best jumping-off place for visiting the volcanic landscape of Rincon de la Vieja National Park.
Liberia hostels and budget hotels: Hotel Liberia (one block from Central Park; 666 0161), Hotel Guanacaste (by the bus station; 666 0085), La Posada del Tope (on Calle Real; 666 3876)
The Osa Peninsula
The Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica's remote southwest is one of the best Costa Rica destinations for adventure travelers on a budget. Corcovado National Park, the crown jewel of the Osa Peninsula, was heralded by National Geographic as "the most biologically intense place on Earth.” Top backpacker destinations in the Osa Peninsula include Drake Bay, Puerto Jimenez, and Matalpo, as well as other beaches along the peninsula's coasts.
Osa Peninsula budget jungle lodges and hostels: Cabinas Manolo and the Poor Man's Paradise Resort in Drake Bay; Cabinas Marcelina in Puerto Jimenez.
Quepos and Manuel Antonio
Manuel Antonio is a must-visit for Costa Rica backpackers seeking perfect beaches and lush jungle scenery – which probably includes every Costa Rica backpacker! Problem is, Manuel Antonio isn't really a budget travel kind of place. But the adjacent village of Quepos offers great budget accommodations, as well as affordable restaurants, nightlife, and local culture. Buses leave Quepos for Manuel Antonio every half hour for the fifteen-minute ride (about 25 cents US). Problem solved. Quepos hostels and Manuel Antonio budget hotels: Wide Mouth Frog in the town center, Backpackers Manuel Antonio (halfway between Quepos and Manuel Antonio), Finca Amanecer, an organic farm about 10k from town.
Playa Montezuma is the ultimate backpacker beach. No Costa Rica backpacker's itinerary is complete without a stop at this famously funky beach village. Nearby natural attractions like the El Choro waterfall draw adventuresome types, while the relentless nightlife caters to party animals. Playa Montezuma budget accommodations and hostels: Hotel Aurora, Hotel Lys
La Fortuna and the Arenal Region
Many travelers arrive in La Fortuna through the famous Jeep Boat Jeep combo from Santa Elena/Monteverde. La Fortuna is located at the foot of the Arenal Volcano, which you can climb for an up-close glimpse at some fiery magma. Cheap rooms and restaurants are plentiful -- though a day at the hot springs of Baldi Termae or Tabacon is worth the splurge. La Fortuna hostels and budget accommodations: Arenal Backpackers Resort, Cabinas Arsol (cabins or dorm beds), Hotel Jardines Arenal.
The Nicoya Peninsula
A number of Costa Rica's most popular beaches are located on the Nicoya Peninsula, a massive hunk of land jutting out from the country's northwest coast. Favorites are Playa Tamarindo, Playa Hermosa, Samara, and Mal Pais. But if you're looking to skip the crowds, ask around for inside information. Ecotel in Playa Hermosa, Tamarindo Backpackers in Playa Tamarindo, Tranquilo Backpackers in Mal Pais.
Costa Rica's Caribbean Coast is much less traveled than its Pacific Coast. But for Costa Rica budget travelers, that's usually a good thing: cheaper prices, fewer crowds, and underexplored natural attractions. Puerto Viejo, south of Limon, offers backpackers leisurely days and lively nights, as well as accessibility to other Caribbean hotspots. Puerto Viejo hostels and budget rooms: Rocking J's (a hammock hotel!), Hotel Yare.