Buy Local: How to Survive in San José, Costa Rica on less than $10 a day

Alex Somborn is a student at University of Arkansas and an ISA Featured Blogger. Alex is currently studying abroad with ISA in San Jose, Costa Rica.

After almost three full weeks in San José, Costa Rica, I feel like I’ve finally mastered the art of keeping a reign on my money, which as you well know, is a very important thing for us college kids these days. To start, here are a few tips for surviving the task of buying local while in Costa Rica.

1. Know your numbers…in Spanish.

The big ones. In Costa Rica, one dollar is essentially the equivalent of 500 colones. Which means that you have to know your “1000s” in Spanish if you want to buy anything over $2.

2. Keep your coins!

Unlike the pesky pennies, nickels and dimes that fall between car seats, slip under rugs, and accumulate in innumerable amounts in your wallet in the States, you actually use your coins in Costa Rica! I have found they are most handy for three (essentially) daily activities-

  • Buses. Fare ranges anywhere from 255 to 400 colones, which is, yes, all less than a dollar.
  • Buying bread. Sound simple enough? Because it is. You can get a sizeable piece of pan dulce or “sweet bread” from any number of panaderías for 125 colones (a quarter). And trust me, there’s nothing like a mid day snack of fresh bread to curb your hunger until dinner.
  • Coffee. Yep, I’m serious. You can buy a precious cup of pick me up with mere coins. No more shelling out the big bills for (better than) Starbucks quality coffee.
a sandwich, chips and juice are a sufficient and wholesome lunch option

3.  Explore

And by explore, I mean get out of the school cafeterias and find “sodas”, which are small hole in the wall type restaurants that are numerous in the city and offer a full plate of food for a mere 5 bucks. It is in your best interest to find a couple that you like that offer plentiful plates of food for a pittance.

Keeping those three tips in mind, I have found that it is possible to get through my day spending less than $10. In my program, I live with a host family where breakfast and dinner are included, which means lunching and snacking during the day are left up to me. It’s been pretty easy to get through the day by spending very little and not starving between meals. If I don’t go to a soda, my roommate and I buy some meat, cheese, and condiments at a little supermercado close by and make sandwiches for lunch for a few days in a row. Both options are cost effective and filling! We have also been visiting the same soda at least once a week for the past three weeks and are beginning to develop a familiar relationship with the owner who kindly loads our plates up with a typical Costa Rican meal, or casado, consisting of rice, beans, a meat, some potato mixture, plátanos, and usually another two or three side items, complete with a drink and free refills. All for only 5 bucks. He is a generous man. And we are two very grateful girls.

All for a mere five dollars. #bargainbuy


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