Tipping in Costa Rica is an interesting subject to discuss with visitors. Americans find it strange how the process works since the US is perhaps the only country where it’s common to pay an extra 20 per cent just for the waiters. Costa Rican culture works a tad differently, and it’s good to integrate yourself with this culture if you want to avoid any quizzical looks.
Look at the Bill
So, you’ve finished eating your hearty meal at your favourite restaurant serving delicious local cuisine. Your bill is on its way over to you and there are all sorts of numbers on it. You’ll see the food and drink at the top of the bill and the tax at the bottom of the bill. In the middle of these there will be an extra 10 per cent charge. This is the service charge and it accounts for the waiters.
Unlike the US, the waiters may well receive a fraction of this charge from their employer, although this differs from restaurant to restaurant.
Firstly, if you’re a staunch tipper and you’re going to tip them whether they like it or not make sure you take into account you’ve already paid 10 per cent as part of the bill.
Is Tipping Normal?
Tipping the waiter isn’t common in Costa Rica and it’s unlikely your local friends will do it. They accept the service charge and run with it. Life isn’t as hard for waiters in this country due to the culture.
In the US, as much as we wouldn’t like to admit it, we see waiters as people who’re either students or those who’ve failed to succeed in life. We pity them with our 20 per cent tips because we believe we need to top up their criminally low wages.
In Costa Rica, everyone is seen as equal. There’s no such snobbery and there’s no stigma attached to being a waiter. Everyone looks at it as a normal job which doesn’t require any special treatment through huge tips.
You can tip if you like (they do love dollar bills), but don’t feel like you absolutely have to. It’s not a social duty.
How Much Should You Tip?
To avoid those strange stares, tip low and don’t try to impress anyone with a wad of cash. Slip them a dollar or two and this will be fine. Don’t worry about working out the math. It doesn’t matter if you give them 10 per cent extra or 20 per cent extra. The effort will be much appreciated, though.
Ticos tend to never leave tips so you’ll never be given any sort of bad look because you gave a low tip. Even an extra Colón will receive a warm thank you. Of course, tipping in Costa Rica works like any other country. If the service is terrible you don’t have to leave a thing!
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Image: By Scott Sanchez at en.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons
Costa Rica isn’t known for its high prices. The rise of the tourist trade has helped to change this somewhat. If you came here thirty years ago everything would cost but a fraction of what it does in the UK or the US. Now, you can see prices steadily creeping up. If you know how to save money in Costa Rica, you can avoid many of the tourist traps cleverly poised to take more of your money.
Exchanging Your Money
To put it simply, exchange your money before you get here, or use your USD. The likes of the San Jose airport will steal money from you. The rates are so bad you’re losing out on a lot of money by not exchanging before you arrive. Generally, most Tico exchange kiosks are not out to con tourists. Ticos are fair and treat every visitor as if they’re an honoured guest.
Since all of Costa Rica accepts the USD, there is no need to exchange money when you arrive. It is better to remember to bring small USD bills with you and use them. You might get Colones back as change but the math is pretty simple (500 Colon-1 USD) has been the average for years.
Protecting Your Money
Crime is very low in Costa Rica, and most of it’s centred on the major cities like San Jose. Violent crime is almost unheard of in many places. Ever since the Costa Rican civil war, people have shown distaste for violence. It’s why they haven’t had any military for the past thirty years.
You have to watch out for the little things like pickpocketing, though. Never leave your bag unattended and spread your money around. Keep it in multiple pockets. If possible, bring a money belt with you.
Tipping can be a black hole which gobbles up more of your money than you initially expected. Remember, in Costa Rican restaurants there’s a service charge on the bill. This is nearly always set at 10 per cent. Ticos don’t expect you to tip them for a meal. Ignore anything which comes from US tipping habits. They don’t apply here and are more likely to get you some quizzical looks.
Never buy anything from a store which doesn’t have the prices clearly displayed. If you use the service or the product you’ll have no choice but to pay whatever figure the man behind the counter happens to come up with. This is especially true in souvenir stores. You can find many genuine local stores. It’s the bigger franchises catering directly to the tourist trade which do this.
And another thing you should do is be wary of shops which use US dollars as their main currency. It’s likely they’ve marked up the prices to US standards just so they can take you for a few extra dollars.
Buying local merchandise
Most of our small boutiques and souvenir shops will barter with you. So be nice and ask for a discounted price and see what happens.
Although these tips will help save money in Costa Rica, you shouldn’t gain a wrongful impression of the country. Ticos are generally very fair and will give you a good deal. This is a cautionary piece telling you to always be wary of what’s going on.
Costa Rica isn’t known for its road safety and its attention to detail whilst driving. The dirt tracks are remote and they will get you to where you want to go. For foreigners, these can be a nightmare. Although driving safety is practically non-existent with bridges without guard rails and drivers with no regard for anyone else, you can still travel well if you plan correctly.
Airport to Shaka.
Here’s some more information on what you need to know when planning a journey to travel in Costa Rica.
Getting To Your Resort
There are great shuttle services that can pick you up at the airport or your hotel in San Jose or Alajuela and take you to any outlying town. A lot of our guests use the shuttle service to get from either San Jose Airport or Liberia
Mapping it Out
Visitors have this bad habit of reading a map in the same way as they would back home. If they see something is 100km away they’ll assume they can do the distance in an hour or two. Things work differently in Costa Rica. The roads are in such poor condition you can expect to double the amount of time it takes to reach your destination. You usually have to stick to 40km/hour so you don’t risk having an accident.
Take Someone with You
It’s easy to get lost in this country. There are very few road signs and unless you’re adept at using a compass the chances are you’ll take the occasional wrong turn. You can employ the services of a local guide to help you get to your destination. There are people who do this commercially, but the locals will often guide you if you’re willing to give them a ride to where they want to go.
Organise Your Rental Car
Most people use rental cars to get around Costa Rica. Public transport can’t get you to many of the remote locations you’ll want to visit. Rental car agencies will charge quite a high deposit for your vehicle. the rental car companies are very easy to deal with.
We always recommend Economy rent a car in Alajuela. The staff are very friendly and accommodating. While we have never had an issue with using a credit card to secure the deposit and pay for the car at the end, a helpful hint to avoid any arousal of suspicion with your bank is to notify them prior to arriving in Costa Rica that you will be traveling and might see some larger charges from Costa Rica.
It’s also a great idea to check with your credit card company before arriving in Costa Rica to see if they offer insurance for rental cars in Costa Rica. We use
either Amex or Master Card and both provide rental car insurance in Costa Rica which can save a lot of money. Economy recognizes this and is very
courteous about it. Lots of our guests rent from them and we have not heard of any issues.
Never Travel at Night
Unless you’re an experienced driver, avoid travelling under the cover of darkness. There are no street lights and the only navigation you’ll have is via the stars and however far your headlights reach. It’s not worth the risk of getting lost or potentially crashing into someone or something.
Remember your timing, as outlined above, when you travel in Costa Rica and you’ll have no problems on the roads. If it’s a choice between driving during the day and potentially being caught outside at night, travel the next day so you can account for any unexpected delays.
A wedding at home might be the most convenient, but is it really the best option open to you? More and more people are now considering having a wedding in Costa Rica. They’re seeing what the country has to offer and they realise it can add a new flavour to the traditional wedding ceremony. These are some of the reasons why you should choose this part of the world for your wedding.
To put it simply, the setting is unlike anything else you’ve ever experienced before. Imagine having a beautiful wedding on a favourite beach. You’re in a wedding suit with your toes wedged in the powdery white sands. The azure waves are gently lapping on the shore and there’s a refreshing breeze as the sun beats down.
The woman you want to be with most now appears and is about to make it the happiest day of your life. All your family members and closest friends are present.
What could be better than this? You’re combining a luxury holiday with your wedding ceremony.
Stay in True Luxury
Costa Rica isn’t short of luxury accommodation. The best part about staying here is the fact five-star accommodation isn’t as expensive as it would be in New York City or London. You can stay in one of these locations, even if you aren’t necessarily rich. And your family and friends can also stay with you.
You can open up the curtains to witness sea views or the mists gently descending over a portion of forest.
The Nation of Experience
A wedding in Costa Rica puts you in a place where you can experience something new. You can have white capuchin monkeys greeting you on your balcony every morning. Spot some of the sea life by diving under the waves and seeing some of the endangered sea turtles. Costa Rica is home to at least 200 unique species of animal.
Moreover, there’s always the option of doing something extreme. Imagine climbing to the top of a mountain and taking a zip line over one of the cloud forests. You can touch the rolling mists and the clouds before descending safely back to earth.
Whatever you want to do you can do it here.
All you need to get married are two passports and a notary/attorney to gather the relevant papers for you. It doesn’t cost a great deal. Essentially, preparing a wedding for this exotic nation is like preparing a wedding back home. You still need the flowers, the invitations, and the accommodation.
Costa Rican weddings are recognised in all major nations. The only thing you need is an English translation of your marriage certificate.
If you are considering a wedding in Costa Rica, contact us here at Shaka to discuss your requirements.
We all know about Costa Rica’s recent history with its stance on peace and the elimination of the armed forces. What many people don’t know about is its history before it was independent. The history of Costa Rica is made up mainly of colonisation and imperialism by European powers. Let’s take a look at some of the major historical points of the country before it transformed into the country we know of today.
Discovery by Columbus
In 1502 the famous explorer Christopher Columbus landed on the coast of what is now Costa Rica. Most historians agreed he landed in the Limon province where he met a tribe of friendly natives. This was his fourth and final trip to the New World. During this trip, he declared Costa Rica as a colony of Spain and petitioned the government and the king to make him the colonial governor of Costa Rica.
Despite his achievements, political wrangling back home stopped him from being made governor. Instead, the title was given to one of his rivals and he retired in disgust, never to return to the New World.
After Spain had discovered Costa Rica and declared it a province of its flourishing empire it attempted to colonise it. The first few colonies ended in disaster. Tropical diseases wiped out most of the settlers and the rest were killed in battles with the natives. Unlike other parts of the New World, the natives of Costa Rica refused to be enslaved.
It also lost focus as Columbus had initially assumed there was lots of gold to be found here. Without a steady stream of riches flowing back to Europe, other areas of the New World demanded more attention.
The Spanish finally gained a foothold in 1563 when they sent some of their best troops to subjugate the natives. Through their superior tactics and weaponry, the natives were easily defeated. The rest of the roughly 400,000 people living here at the time were cowed with the onset of European diseases, specifically small pox.
The New World had never been exposed to these diseases and the population had no immunity to these foreign diseases. It was what saw the end of the Inca and Aztec Empires as well.
Costa Rica gained its first colony in 1563. It was called Cartago and this interior settlement became the first capital of the country. It stayed this way until 1823 when it was largely levelled by an earthquake.
The history of Costa Rica tells us the establishment of Cartago brought many Spanish natives to the country. At the time, settlers preferred to live in countries with large numbers of foreign servants so they didn’t have to do the work themselves.
Stop by our Facebook page and share your interesting Costa Rican history knowledge!
Celebrities in Costa Rica normally come from the US. Steven Tyler is one such person who recently bought property in Costa Rica. Despite its low profile on the world stage, Costa Rica is a country with its fair share of famous sons and daughters. Read on to discover some of the famous people who have made their country proud through their skills and achievements.
Claudia Poll and Silvia Poll
Claudia and Silvia Poll made history at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. Apart from the stories of gridlock on the streets of the city of Atlanta, these two swimmers dominated in their performances. They blew the competition away and each received a gold medal in their respective events. What made it so special was it was the country’s first gold medals at the Olympics.
Lorena Clare Facio
Lorena Clare Facio is another athlete from Costa Rica. She’s a champion of dressage and participated in the widely publicised Pan American Games 1983. She added to her image by becoming the First Lady of Costa Rica in 1998, before she left Costa Rican politics in 2002. Since then, she has remained relatively private.
Francisco Amighetti is one of the country’s most famous artists. He is one of the most well-known celebrities in Costa Rica due to his work as an engraver and expressionist painter. He makes his art relevant and aims to communicate social messages. In his work, he demonstrates influences from Mexican, European, American, and Japanese artistic styles. To cap everything off, he was named the ‘Artist of the Century’ for the 20th century.
Joaquín Gutiérrez is the equivalent of England’s William Shakespeare. Some of his works appear in the national curriculum and are mandatory reading for all students. His early book Cocorí is the most famous book he’s written and this is what led to a statue of him being erected inside the National Theater in the capital of San Jose.
Walter Flores is one of the few Costa Rican music producers who made a name for himself outside of the country. He was the producer for singer and activist Ruben Blades. Ruben Blades has won Grammy awards for two of his jazz albums. Flores was also involved with the Marfil music group. Expats who enjoy Latin music nearly always have works from the Marfil music group on their music players.
Do you know any more celebs from Costa Rica? Drop by our Facebook page and let us know!
Tortuga Island is on the quintessential tropical paradise of the Nicoya Peninsula. This part of the country is a haven for surfers, divers, and just about anyone who wants to relax in azure waters and play around on sandy beaches under the glare of the Caribbean sun. Diving in Costa Rica is practically always like swimming in a glass of water. There’s so much visibility and almost zero obstructions.
Tortuga Island, on the other hand, is something else entirely. It’s an example of what diving is all about. Read on to discover more!
Tortuga is famous for being mentioned in the Pirates of the Caribbean as the home of piracy in the Caribbean. In the real world, it’s famous for its sugary beaches with large palm trees swaying in the breeze. It’s surrounded by volcanic reefs and there are almost no major tides to speak of. This makes it a diving and snorkelling area for even the most inexperienced traveller.
On the island itself you have beach volleyball, hiking trails, and a number of luxury resorts.
What Can You See?
These warm tropical waters bring in all manner of colourful sea life. As long as you exercise caution, it’s safe to swim after them and observe from a distance. Giant schools of fish, such as yellowtails, are easily noticeable from long distances. Angel fish, parrot fish, and frog fish are some of the other tropical fish to see.
The waters around Tortuga Island also have its fair share of big boys. Professional divers have reported sightings of octopuses, green sea turtles, dolphins, whale sharks up to 35 feet in length, and white tip sharks.
The Tide Pool
The big tide pool sitting between the Santa Teresa Beach and the Hermosa Beach is often ignored by surfers as the waters are very calm here. At low tide the tide pool is exposed. It’s bigger than an Olympic-sized swimming pool and the various sea life trapped in the tide pool is freely available for viewing.
You’ll rarely see anything big being caught in the pool, which makes it perfect for kids and younger travellers. The water is about waist height, for the average person, and it’s warm as the sun beats down upon the surface. It only stays visible for a few hours, though, so make the most of it.
Playa Los Suecos and the Secret Beach
Playa Los Suecos is another of the top destinations for diving in Costa Rica. Also known as Punta Murcielago, this is a quieter marine area with stingrays travelling through the waters. The Mal Pais Secret Beach is another quiet diving location. It’s tucked into the Cabo Blanco Absolute Natural Reserve area, so a lot of bigger animals travel can travel through this safe area.
When the tide is very low, make your way into the Bat Point cave. This sea cave is filled with lots of bats and it’s only available for a couple of hours each day. Avoid touching the bats unless you want to be showered with bat droppings!
For serious divers, please contact us to discuss the best time to visit for optimum diving opportunities around Costa!
Rare animals in Costa Rica are everywhere. This is a country home to 250 endangered plant and animal species. Many of them are unique to this Latin American country. No trip would be complete without making an attempt to spot some of these wonders. You might be one of the last humans to see them. Here are three rare and endangered animals you might be lucky enough to spot.
1. Resplendent Quetzal
This country is famous for bird watching. The Resplendent Quetzal is a prize for any birdwatcher to spot. It’s easily noticeable with its ruby red chest and emerald green wings. It’s cute and fluffy and makes its home within the cloud forests of the country. It’s only 14 inches, but its feathers can expand up to 30 inches.
Population numbers are declining as this bird can’t reproduce in captivity. The biggest threat is deforestation. Try spotting it around the Monteverde area.
2. Geoffroy’s Spider Monkey
This spider monkey is long, slender and only has a 25-inch frame. It’s very fragile and it weighs a tiny 20 pounds at its maximum. You’ll hear this animal before you see it as it’s normally hooting from tree to tree with other monkeys. This makes it a target for predators in the forest canopy as it simply doesn’t know when to shut up!
These spider monkeys can be found in Tortuguero National Park, Santa Rosa National Park, and in many private reserves around the Monteverde area.
3. Baird Tapir
Baird Tapir looks very much like a hybrid of a rhinoceros and an elephant. It also has some aspects of a horse. They can weigh up to 880 pounds and are about 6 feet long and 4 feet tall. It’s the largest land mammal on the entire continent. You can spot it by its coarse fur. Despite its size and the fact they’ve been known to beat up crocodiles, they’re peaceful herbivores.
There are only about 1,000 of them left, and most of them are held in national parks as part of conservation projects. Your best chance of meeting a Baird Tapir is by going to the Corcovado National Park on the Osa Peninsula.
Some rare animals in Costa Rica might be difficult to spot on your own. Take a local guide along with you. They can point out the little quirks of the species to you. This is important in the case of Geoffroy’s Spider Monkey where only slight differences separate them from other species of spider monkey.
Feel free to contact us for more information on wildlife spotting excursions.