For your convenience, I’ve included topics that may be helpful to you in dealing with the financial aspects of your vacation – just scroll down to find what you’re looking for. They include:
Black Market Currency Exchange
The national currency of Costa Rica is called the Colone (Co-lone-ay). For the last few years, and as of 2012, the exchange rate has been around 500 colones to 1 US dollar – for example, a 1,000 colone coin is approximately $2.00 / a 5,000 colone bill is approximately $10.00 US / 10,000 colones is approximately $20.00 US.
Since most first line Taxi’s; Shuttle services; Hotels; etc., accept US Dollars, it is generally not necessary to exchange your currency into Colones prior to the time you arrive in the Country. This is especially true in Tamarindo where US Dollars are widely accepted. However, even though US Dollars are frequently used in Tamarindo, should you venture outside of Tamarindo, I strongly encourage you to have Colones.
Generally, I’ve found that the Currency Exchanges at many Airports usually have the worst exchange rates. Although I’ve found that most often a Bank within the Costa Rica might be the place to get the best exchange rate, I’ve also found that a Bank might not be the most efficient in regards to your time. Even though they seem to be getting better, simply, it just seems to take a lot of time to get things done at the Bank (don’t ask me why, but it does). As such, unless you’re really on a budget, the exchange rate in the hotels and restaurants are generally competitive. Even if they aren’t, the money that you lose is balanced by the time that you gain.
Black market – currency exchange:
Definitely out in the open in the City of San Jose or at the border crossings – they’ll hit you up everywhere. Be heads up on this one. Although you get better rates, I’ve heard of switch-a-roos happening and the exchangee looses big time. They only deal in cash, no travelers checks. Unless you’re very savvy, be careful with this one !
In Costa Rica and much of Latin America, Cash is King. It may be a pain to deal with and it may have a greater risk of dealing with but, it remains the easiest form of exchange. Although bartering is not widely accepted in Costa Rica, cash can often provide a discount on some items.
Smaller denominations are easier i.e., the US $20’s or $50’s are easier, but the $100’s are getting to be more problematic and difficult to cash. Make sure that the bills that you bring are not ripped / torn and/or mutilated in any way – they may very well not be accepted.
Should you bring cash, secure the majority of it in the programmable safe at the house during your stay and only carry a couple of hundred dollars at a time (less or more as your needs dictate).
Recently, there has been an increase in the ease of using Credit Cards. However, although most major establishments accept them, it might be best to not rely on their use because you never know when a power outage might occur; or the system might be down; or any other number of reasons that might limit their use. Additionally, be aware that there is normally a 2% to 3% surcharge on your end for their use (International Transaction Charge).
Although they used to say, “Don’t Leave Home Without Them” these days it’s more like “Leave Home Without Them.” Unfortunately, due to counterfeiting and the high charges to the vendor to use them, it is getting more and more difficult to use Traveler’s Checks. I would not suggest you use them – most vendors will not accept them.
This is a tough one to nail down, but all I can do is try my best to explain it – just do the best you can. With that said, often times in restaurants, there is a 10% service charge added onto the bill. However, this is not always the case – sometimes you’ll see 10% added but that actually might be for taxes but, then again, sometimes there’s 10% for taxes and 10% for service (you confused yet?) Once you determine whether the single 10% is for service or taxes, if it’s for service, and if you’ve gotten good service, add another 5% – if it was for taxes, leave about 15% for service (if they took good care of you – I believe in good tipping, but not if you got bad service). In hotels and/or wherever you stay, leave at least $1.00, if not $2.00 per night for the maid. In terms of folks that handle your bags (like at the airport, usually $1.00 per bag is more than enough. If a guard watches your car, 50 cents to $1.00 is more than enough. Either way, personally, I find myself tipping heavy more often than not. If it adds $20 to $40 for the whole trip the goodwill that is shared is worth it – if you think about it, we’ll probably forget about the money in short order. Again, with that said, there is a fine line between tipping heavy and over tipping, so don’t go too overboard.