How to Save $100 a Day on Your Costa Rica Vacation & Improve It

All inclusive resorts are great!  You know that you’ll have buffet food and local drinks included in the price.  You know what your room will be like as you’ve stayed at other all inclusive chain resorts.  You know to expect the pool aerobics at 9 am and the congo line will liven things up at around 1 pm.  You know your bottom line ahead of time and are confident that you’re getting the best deal as it’s “all inclusive”.

But what if I were to tell you that you can save up to $100 a day on your Costa Rica vacation without sacrificing quality, and actually improving it?  Sound too good to be true?  It really isn’t, but there is a catch.  You’ll have to skip the all inclusive resort…  “You want me to do what?!?!  Pass up on free food and drinks?!”  If I haven’t lost you by now, there may be hope.

All inclusive resort or breakfast only?
To the left: A typical pool scene at Barcelo Langosta Resort. To the right: An average day at Arenal Springs Resort.

When comparing prices, all inclusive doesn’t add up

Somebody considering an all inclusive resort might say “but the food and drinks are free”.  The reality is nothing corporate is free.  Food & drink is not only built into the price, but you’re actually paying more.  The resort’s masters degree holding Food & Beverage Manager and Accounting Manager are both responsible to ensure the resort turns a profit from your stay whether they are at 30% or 100% occupancy.

The math simply does not add up.  The average 4 star all inclusive resort will run you $360 – 400 per couple, per night in the high season.  The average 4 star boutique hotel or resort will cost you around $180 per couple, per night including breakfast.  Count on $15 per person, per meal for lunch and dinner including a drink = $60 per day.  Count on $1.50 (x4 = $6) for bottled water or soda, $3 per beer (x10 = $30) and $5 for a mixed drink (x4 = $20).  I realize this may be excessive, but it is your vacation after all!

$180 (hotel inc. breakfast)
+ $60 (lunch & dinner inc. a drink with each)
+ $56 (combined drinks, 12 per person including the drinks with meals)
$296 per night total expenses.  You just saved about 25% or $100 per night to splurge on whatever you want.

Think about all of the fun and rewarding things you could do with that money in Costa Rica!

Improve your overall experience

Most people go to all inclusive resorts in Latin American countries for safety within the resort walls or lack of things to do outside of them.  Costa Rica is the safest country in Central America with warm and welcoming people.  It offers visitors an outstanding tourism infrastructure and is a global leader in eco-tourism.  Most people come here for exotic deserted beaches, hot springs, volcanoes, adventure, rainforest, cloud forest, wildlife, and waterfalls.  You won’t find these things near any of Costa Rica’s inclusive resorts as they are all located in the extremely hot and dry Gaunacaste region.

If you bypass on the all inclusive resort, you’ll be able to visit popular destinations such as Arenal Volcano or Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. The money you save by choosing traditional accommodations will pay for the activities you enjoy while you are there.  Your vacation will be more diverse and rewarding as you will see and experience the real Costa Rica.  Most visitors split time with inland adventure and wildlife and then wind down at one of the country’s beautiful beaches.

Money aside, here’s the ultimate test to determine whether you should go to an all inclusive resort in Costa Rica:

Congo line or congo monkeys?

Congo line of congo monkey?
Would you prefer A) a congo line OR B) the chance to see a congo monkey?

Aerobics or adventure?

Aerobics or adventure?
Would your prefer A) resort activities such as aerobics OR B) eco-tourism adventure?

Resort beaches or natural beaches?


Resort beaches or natural beaches?
Do you prefer A) resort beaches OR B) natural beaches?

If you answered “B” to any of the above questions, you may want to consider pocketing the extra $750 and applying it to hot springs, rafting, canyoning, birdwatching, wildlife safaris, or whatever else interests you.


There are many nice all inclusive resorts in Costa Rica that can meet and possibly exceed your expectations.  They are a fantastic option for anybody that wants to know their bottom line ahead of time and has a focus on relaxing by the pool.

My point in writing this article is to hopefully help some of you out that are not as familiar with pricing or the numerous experiences that are available in Costa Rica.  As with many other topics on this site, the idea is to help you step just a little out of your comfort zone so you can enjoy Costa Rica to it’s full potential.

We welcome any comments you have on this topic below.



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