You’d have better luck finding Santa Claus in the tropics than ultra cheap hotels in Tamarindo, but if you play it smart, staying here doesn’t have to break the bank. Here are my top 5 tips for getting the most for your money with housing.
Wait until you get there to book your hotel.
Believe me when I say, I know how nerve-wracking it can be not to know where you’re going to stay every night before you go somewhere, but the rewards for being patient can be significant.
When we tried to book our stay the first time we went to Tamarindo, the only properties available online for the dates we needed were either very expensive or looked inhospitable. We took a risk by only booking a private room at a hostel for the first couple nights and planning to shop around once we were on the ground.
Our first day looking, we discovered a host of options (hostels, short-term apartment rentals, etc.) that did not have an internet presence for us to find online! In most cases, we found rooms better than the ones available online, that were below budget because they didn’t have to pay a middleman like Booking.com. Prices are also generally more flexible when you pay in person, especially in cash. This brings me to my next point.
Learn to haggle.
Our initial trip to Tamarindo was for just 20 days to get a feel for the land and secure longer term accommodations for when we come back, but having a nearly 3-week trip ahead of us was a major negotiating point. At one place, we asked about a bulk discount on a 2-week rental on a apartment/hotel room with kitchenette and the price dropped from $100/night to $550/week (~$80/night).
People also love being paid in cash because they don’t have to pay credit card companies a fee for swiping your card, so always ask if there is a discount for that! I’ll be writing a more in-depth guide to haggling so keep an eye out for that!
Get an apartment.
A private room at a hostel for an average rate of $50/night in March comes out to a “monthly rent” of roughly $1500 between the 2 of us, far above what we would pay for a much nicer place of our own. It was pretty easy in our experience to find 1-bedroom apartments between $800-$1000 a month during the off-season of May-August (on the low end, utilities were not included).
For our longer 3-month trip this summer (passport holders are allowed a 90-day maximum stay in Costa Rica) getting an apartment is a no-brainer, but it can also be a much cheaper option for shorter stays, especially if it has a kitchen where you can cook and store your own meals, and a fridge not shared by dozens of hostel guests who might help themselves to your things.
Tamarindo has a surprisingly high number of real estate agencies for how small it is. Some of them specialize in vacation rentals, or only do sales and not rentals at all. I would still go into every branch, even the ones that advertise home sales only, because agents will often run a side-business helping clients rent out investment properties.
Always ask the real estate agent if the price can be brought down further even if you’re fine with what was quoted. You’d be surprised how willing people are to negotiate! The first offer we got from a real estate agent we went to for a 3-month rental was a 1-bedroom apartment for $1,300/month, or $1,100 if we agreed to pay for utilities.
Check for local holidays.
Don’t be caught off guard! A quick Google search for holidays in the country you’re visiting could save you anxiety down the road. My boyfriend and I came to Tamarindo at the beginning of March 2016 not realizing we would be there over Semana Santa (Easter). In Costa Rica, families flock to the beach for the 2 weekends of this holiday (March 20-26, 2016) so even the least inviting places in Tamarindo were booking up fast.
By walking around, we ended up finding a hotel room below budget ($45/night total for 2 people) for the first half of the holiday, but were asked an insane $150/night for the same room from the 24th onwards. Without other options, we went back to the first hostel we stayed at, which offered us a slightly more expensive dorm for 3 nights ($25/person a night, compared to $15 normally) and a private room only for the last 3 nights at the normal price (also $50/night).
Note: March is nearing the end of “busy season” for Costa Rica, so prices may vary from when you are visiting.
Work for your stay.
While I have personally never tried this method, stay in hostel lobbies long enough and you’ll overhear some budget travelers looking for work in exchange for board. Many hostels are run by people who will take free accommodations in exchange for an easy job like showing people to their rooms or some light cleaning.
People who work in the more laid-back hostels also tend to be the kind of nomadic young people who either are in the same position, or would be sympathetic to a fellow backpacker, so there’s usually the possibility of free accommodations if you’re willing to put in the work!
Read the rest of this series: Costa Rica on a Budget