How to Eat on the Cheap in Costa Rica
One of our favorite things to do while traveling and exploring new places is eating like a local. Trying great new tastes and flavors in exotic places can tend to leave you full of memories, but not full of cash. Here in Costa Rica we have so many cuisines to choose from; however, when it comes to eating like a “Tico” or “Tica” you can have your cake and eat it, too!
We give you our top five insider tips on how to save money in Costa Rica while eating your way through like a boss. Buen provecho!
- Buy Locally – No matter where you live/travel you should be doing this. Not only does it support local farmers and business owners, it also tends to be cheaper. Here in Costa Rica, a vast majority of food and products are imported which resulting higher overall prices, especially for foreign goods like American or European food products. However, trying local flavors can be much lighter on your wallet.
Costa Rican cheese, such as Turrialba (sometimes called “tico cheese”) is great for cooking or to eat on its own! Locally farmed vegetables, meats and fruits are also good choices while shopping. Lastly, while no meal is complete without something to wash it down, try the local cervezas instead of imported beer. Pilsen, Imperial or Rock Ice beers are all good choices with a less expensive price tag.
- Fishing Villages & Trucks – No doubt through your trip in Costa Rica you will come across a “Mariscos” truck. Marisco means “seafood” and this is the name you want to see when buying your fish street-side. These guys deliver the freshest fish and shellfish daily. Just keep your eye out and hail a truck as it passes to see what’s cooking. Typically you can grab some tuna, Mahi-Mahi, pargo, calamari or shrimp, and the price is determined by weight, ranging from $10-$12/kilo.
If you don’t feel like waiting for the truck, you can head directly to the fishing village docks. Here in Mal Pais, ours is located at the end of the road– you can’t miss it! If you are feeling adventurous, you can hire a boat to take you and your buddies out to fish for your own dinner. Otherwise, ask what they have to sell that day and take your pick!
- Coconuts – Another great way to save money in Costa Rica are the coconuts—they’re FREE! Well, if you can climb a tree and shake ‘em down, that is…
If you aren’t quite that skilled, are always other options. Plenty of locals will help you get these fresh fruits for a small tip, which also makes for a great memory. However, make sure you ask politely before filming/photographing someone, simply out of respect.
Alternatively, you can buy coconuts at the local supermarket at a reasonable price, or look out for handmade signs that say “Pipa Fria” which loosely means “cold coconut water.” These guys park on the street or by the beach and will machete that coconut top off right in front of your eyes! Coconuts are great for a ton of things! Enjoyed alone, pipas frias are a popular drink of choice and are a great hydrating and refreshing option to drink alone or mixed in with your favorite fruits (and/or alcohol) to create something special!
- Casado – Let’s face it, you are on vacation– do you really want to cook every night?! Obviously not, so here is a smart tip on eating out on the cheap… One word: casado.
Casado (meaning “married”) is a plentiful local dish with lots to enjoy. It usually means a main meat, fish or grilled veggie dish with a side of rice and beans and a salad, and often fried plantains or French fries. Usually priced between $5-$9, this meal will leave you full and satisfied without breaking the bank.
- Street Meats– Also known in Costa Rica as “Pinchos” in Costa Rica, grilled meat on a stick is a quick treat full of flavor. Choose your skewer of flavorful pork, chicken or carne, flame-grilled and served with a corn tortilla and an optional drizzle of salsa picante. Follow your nose or ears/eyes to these street-side grills, usually stationed by popular corners or areas, and enjoy!
A skewer will set you back a cool $2 but keep you going until your next full meal. If you prefer seafood to meat, no worries! Just keep your eyes peeled for the ceviche sold street-side. This local fish salsa is served in a plastic cup with a side of crackers and will be sure to put a smile on your face. Setting you back around $2/cup as well, you can have yourself a little surf n’ turf on the street for under $5!!