Costa Rica is home to some of the best luxury hotels in the world, but the country is also extremely accessible to budget travelers. Camping in Costa Rica is affordable and possible, and camping can also get you as close as possible to some beautiful, pristine landscapes. The key to successful Costa Rica camping is having a plan.
Simply heading out with a tent strapped to your back might not be the best approach. Heavy rains, wet ground, and bugs can be more than a little daunting for even experienced outdoor enthusiasts. Sleeping on the beach is often a good spur of the moment option and a romantic one. Santa Rosa National Park allows open beach camping, and so does the Puerto Vargas campsite at Cahuita National Park. (Always check the rules first to avoid trouble.)
Many campgrounds offer more substantial tents or cabins that often with extras like beds, meals, showers, running water, and even electricity. Some campgrounds feature tree platform tents that let you sleep high up in the canopy—an experience that should not be missed. Campgrounds with ‘luxury’ features (and low prices) include the Corcovado Lodge Tent Camp on the Osa Peninsula, and the Almonds and Corals Tent Camp in Manzanillo.
Items you’ll want to carry with you include lightweight quick-dry clothing, bug spray, towels, toiletries, a good hat (with a collapsible and neck guard net if possible), and a lightweight sleeping bag. The less you carry and the lighter each item is, the better.
Think in layers, and make sure all are washable and quick drying, since the weather when camping in Costa Rica is very changeable. Temperatures can start out quite chilly, and then get hot and muggy by early afternoon. As for rain, plan to get wet. It will definitely happen at some point.
Camping is forbidden in some National Parks, so it is important to know your itinerary and plan ahead. You participate in professionally organized camping adventures by contacting a travel agent, or by working through any one of several adventure trip groups, such as Serendipity Adventures (www.serendipity-costarica.com).
Green Tortoise (www.greentortoise.com) also runs five all-inclusive trips per year through Costa Rica, all of which including camping, sightseeing, and hiking. Trips last for 15 days and take you through the best of the National Parks. Prices start at under $1000 USD, which is a pittance when compared to the cost of staying in even the most moderately price hotels.
Camping fees per site are variable depending on services, but can be as little as $4 per person. Camping Los Malinches at Playa Junquillal is once such site and rooms are also available for when need a real bed. In Santa Rosa National Park, camping is only $2 per person per day, although entrance to the park will run you $10. In Puerto Viejo the best place to stay if you are on a budget and love activity is Rockin’ J’s—a compound that includes camp sites, simple rooms, and a ‘hammock hotel’, not to mention amazing surfing.
As with popular hotels and beaches, it is wise to check with each park ahead of time regarding campsite availability, rules, and fees so as not to be surprised once you arrive. Camping in Costa Rica can be fun, adventurous, and best of all, can extend you travel budget and your stay. What’s more, if you play carefully, it’s a lot more comfortable than you might expect, and you just might make a few new friends!