Budget Travel: How Low Can You Go?

The whole place is eco-friendly with recycling bins and locally grown produce used in the kitchen. And since I've agreed to volunteer, I will pay just $39 a night for my bungalow in the rain forest, including three meals a day. The normal price for the bungalow would be close to $100 a night.

Merlyn said he accepts volunteers as part of the Lodge's "social commitment" to the community. They started out doing projects in Guadalupe, working on the local school. Now they've turned their attention to painting houses.

"The most important thing here are the kids," Merlyn said. "We were doing something very important for them in the school. But they live in the town so now we are making our town better. And we want locals to feel proud of what they have and where they live."

It's easy to spot the houses Merlyn's volunteers have already painted in town. Their wood siding is painted with vibrant colors, usually with a mural of animals or nature scenes on one side. On the day I volunteered, we were painting house No. 9 -- a bright lime green and turquoise two-tone job with a red macaw near the front door.

"I want people to feel proud of saying 'I live in Guadalupe.' In the Osa Peninsula. This beautiful town that has different houses with different colors, and 'My house is the one that has the macaw,'" Merlyn said. "People can say we do recycling in our town. We do it to protect nature, but we want other people to see it, and hopefully learn from us."

The work is not hard. Sure it's hot. Even by 10 a.m. it's about 95 degrees, with 100 percent humidity. And over by the outdoor sink where the family washes its dishes, there are loads of biting ants. They attack my feet as I'm trying to paint. But those are minor things.

The hours pass quickly. And painting with a group of other volunteers, chatting away with them in Spanish, is actually a fun way to pass a morning. Besides, there's that feeling you get from knowing you're doing a good thing for a family. Merlyn says it's why a lot of his volunteers come back year after year.

"Osa is a beautiful place. You can go to many places, do many thing here. Enjoy it a lot. But when you help, there is something else. And you cannot put a price on that," Merlyn said.

I can put a price on the trip though: The zipline cost $40, kayaking was $10 and it was $10 to enter Corcovado National Park. Most of my meals were covered. Transportation was about $5 a day and I bought some t-shirts for my pals back at GMA. The bottom line? If I had stayed for seven days, my entire trip would've cost about $110 a day, including airfare. Not bad huh?

And I can give you a few more travel tips.

1. Do as the locals do. In Costa Rica that means taking the public bus or walking or eating at a restaurant in someone's home, called a "soda."

2. Look for bargains. A banana costs one penny in Costa Rica.

3. Don't kayak and zip-line on the same day. It's a lot.

4. Personally, I wouldn't bring little kids on this vacation. But I would bring my husband so I wouldn't be all alone in that dark bungalow with the sounds of the rain forest.

5. Eat plenty of ceviche and patacones. But stay away from the guaro. They call it "fire water" for a reason.

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