We've got an ever growing list of places to stay and camp in Costa Rica.
Junquillal Bay Wildlife Refuge (Campground)
North of Santa Rosa, listed below. $13 per person entry and $3 per person to camp. Stay more than one night to make the entry fee worth it. Nice campsites, cold showers, water, right on the beach. Rangers are incredibly helpful and will tell you when and where you can see wildlife. Lots of monkey and crazy birds. Awesome for the beach and wildlife. Some photos and more info here.
Santa Rosa National Park
Entrance road is 44 km south of the Nicaragua border and campground is at the end of the entrance road (about 7 km). Entrance fee is $10 per person and camping is $2 per person. Excellent shade but a bit muddy after rain. Toilets, cold showers (poorly maintained) and water.
Rincon de la Vieja National Park
Entrance road is about 5 km north of Liberia, on the east side. Unpaved road up to the park entrance is about 21 km. It is pretty rough in some stretches, and part-way up there is a gate when you have to pay a small fee to cross through private land. Keep left when you reach the Guachipelin Hotel at 16 km). Park entry is $10 per person, but we were allowed to camp in the parking lot for free. No facilities; access to toilet in park during opening hours (7 AM to 4 PM).
El Delfin Trailer Park (N10:39.44, W85.28.16). $10. 5 km north of Liberia on the west side of the road, almost opposite turning to Rincon de la Vieja National park. Look for a large field with a long white fence and a small sign next to the entrance. This is an old trailer park with some cabins and a pool. It had very little business when we were there, but the caretaker was very nice. Electricity, good shade, but run-down toilet/cold water shower block.
Monteverde Ecological Reserve. Free to camp but reserve entry is a steep $17 per person! Follow signs to reserve from Santa Elena, through Monteverde to the end of the road, about 5 km southeast of town. Toilets are only amenity, but access is available all hours.
Santa Elena Reserve
Free to camp, reserve entry fee $12. We camped two nights but only paid to enter the park one of the days. Located about 7 km northeast of town; exit town to the north and follow signs. Toilets are only amenity, but access is available all hours.
“Campground” across from the Arenal National Park headquarters (N10:27.691 W84:44.404). US$5 per person. Take the road toward Tilaran from La Fortuna and turn left about 14 km from La Fortuna, toward the national park. The park headquarters and this private camping area are about 2 km down the dirt road. Has cold showers, and a bathroom, but not much else. Lots of farm animal around. Some photos on our site.
El Castillo / Lake Arenal
The little town of El Castillo is just around the corner from La Fortuna on Lake Arenal. You can camp for free on the beach. Nice areas to park or pitch a tent. No facilities. Also, there is a road from here to Santa Elena. It's a little bumpy and there is a river crossing at the beginning (5 minutes from El Castillo). But it cuts a lot of time off the trip if you are trying to go from Arenal to Motneverde. Photos and more info here.
San Antonio de Belén (suburb of San Jose)
Belén Trailer Park (N9:58.80, W84:10.73). US$14 (7th night free). Water, power, sewer hook-ups, hot showers, toilets, washing machine, clothes lines, free WiFi. Exit Pan-American Highway near the 12KM marker. Coming from San Jose there will be a shopping mall with a MegaSuper on the right and an overpass over the highway at the exit. Turn left and cross over the highway. In just under 1 km, turn right at flashing yellow light (beginning of one way). Take the first left onto the one-way toward town. The entrance (poorly signposted) is about 700 meters, on the left, immediately past a large mechanic’s garage (former gas station) that usually has several large trucks parked in front of it. The gate should open automatically; if not, you can push it open manually. Coming from the north, you will exit several hundred meters before the overpass and follow the exit road past a large home improvement store called EPA. Turn right at the light, which will be about 500 meters before the one-way starts (follow directions from above). The owner is an American women named Laurie, but she is not often on site. Her two sons live onsite and one of them helps run the park. If there’s no around when you arrive, just park up and someone will show up eventually. NOTE: The property has been sold and the existing park will close at the end of 2010, but they are planning to open a new park just across the road. They were still waiting for building permits in mid-Dec, so I suspect the new park won’t open by the time the old one closes.
Braulio Carrillo National Park
Quebrada Gonzales Ranger Station. US$8 per person for park entry (camping is free). The station in on the San Jose to Limon highway (32), approximately 8 km east of the junction to Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui. You can park next to the picnic tables (under cover) just across from ranger’s residence. Toilets, cold showers, water, power.
KM 70 Interamericana Hwy (between Cartago and San Isidro)
Paraiso del Quetzal. N 09°38.648'W083°51.027'. US$15 to camp and use the trails. Follow 1 km dirt driveway on west side of the road that leads to two places owned by brothers. Keep right for Paraiso del Quetzal (should be able to stay at either place). Use of toilets in restaurant (7AM-7PM).
KM 118 Interamericana Hwy (just north of San Isidro)
Bosque del Tolomuco. US$10 - best deal in CR! Turning is on the west side of the road, on a curve and easy to miss from the north. Follow steep driveway several hundred meters to this lovely B&B owned by a Canadian couple. Beautiful views, excellent toilet and hot shower, free WIFI, electricity, water, good walking trails.
A few miles south of town there is a 24 hour gas station with plenty of room to park. We bought some gas there and they were happy to let us park for the night and use the toilets.
Finca Cantaros. US$18 for entry and camping. About 4 km toward San Vito from the Wilson Botanical Garden. Toilets, trails, and covered picnic area with water, electricity, and BBQ.
--Thanks to Anne for all of this great info
This sprawling beach town isn't exactly budget, but we found the lovely Hotel Chocolate about 500 meters from the beach. It has a nice garden courtyard with a pool, and small apartment style accomodations with a basic kitchen and hot-water bathrooms. The rooms have nice balconies with hammocks and tables, and the place has good wireless internet access. It's even better for groups of 4, since it has rooms with 2 queens or 2 bunkbeds if you're traveling on more of a budget. The owner is friendly and willing to bargain as well.
30 minutes south of Tamarindo on Playa Negra, you're likely to find more of the pura vida lifestyle that has made Costa Rica famous. We stumbled upon the cabinas at Cabinas Marvel, where they will also custom make you a rashguard or bikini. The owner Bob, and his wife Margarita, are super friendly and will bend over backwards to make your stay perfect. Really close to a bunch of great surfing areas as well. We ended up staying a lot longer than we had originally planned, as the small cabinas with kitchen and cold-water bathroom were too good of a deal to leave.
Treehouse Gardens is a nice campground for those looking for budget accommodation. Or for those who like heights they have a treehouse built for two though you will have to climb down to use the shared bathrooms. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (506) 2682-1254.
Last town on the road to Corcovado, from the south. You can camp for free ont he beach on the other side of the air strip. There is a teinda that sells basics and if they have water you can pay for the bathrooms and a shower. Owners will watch your car for $5 a day if you want to hike into the park. GPS: 8°26'31.73"N 83°27'37.66"W Photos here.
Vista Drake is an established hostel with a camping area. The camping is up on a big hill, you have to hike. A pain if you sleep in your car. But they have internet and showers and all that stuff.
Playa Josecito is south of Bahia Drake a few kilometers from the northern side of the Corcovado. GPS: 8°39'6.01"N 83°42'47.50"W There's nothing here but a school and a small house. You can camp anywhere in front of te fenced area. There is a shower/hose near the beach with fresh water and you can probably ask for the keys to the school bathrooms. This beach is incredible, scarlet macaws every morning all around. Don't attempt in rainy season, there are a fwe small streams that turn into rivers without much warning. Photos and more details here.