What to Know Before You Go
Hi, hope you’re doing great. I just got home from the bank and thought I’d take some time to write an article about Costa Rica’s currency. I hear guests asking our concierge all the time about exchanging money before coming to Costa Rica for vacation. You have enough to worry about before your vacation, so don’t run around to different banks trying to find colones for your trip. Once you’re here and get colones, it’s like holding a tropical fruit basket. You’ll be mesmerized by banana, papaya, grape, and avocado colored bills. Costa Rican currency is as colorful as this beautiful little country. Let’s talk more about where to exchange your US dollars, if you can use your credit cards in Costa Rica, ATMs, and more.
Costa Rica Currency, Should I Exchange Money?
Let’s start off by saying you don’t need to exchange US dollars to Costa Rican colones. Nearly everywhere in Costa Rica accepts US dollars and will give you change in colones. One caveat is vendors are not obligated to give you favorable bank rates, so you may get a little less bang for your buck. At the bank you may stand in line for a long time; it depends on which day of the week you go. But Costa Rica banking has made huge improvements over the years. Sometimes the sweet bird of paradise smiles down upon you and you zoom right through. So, if you’re going to exchange large amounts of money, it’s worth the time to go to a bank and exchange it. If you don’t need to exchange a large amount of money, save some time because there’s another excellent option.
Can I get US Dollars from ATMs?
In our area of Manuel Antonio there are a few ATMs that disperse US dollars along with Costa Rican colones. I think it’s a good idea to have both on hand. Sometimes you get a better deal if you pay in colones and then sometimes it’s better in US dollars. It depends on what you’re buying. For example, tours in Costa Rica normally charge you in US dollars and not colones. So, if you pay in colones, you’ll lose some money on the exchange to US dollars. Nearly all the tour companies accept credit cards. It’s a great idea to ask your concierge before you confirm your tour. If you need to hit an ATM before the tour, no problem, we can arrange for the tour transportation van to stop for you. If you don’t want to bring down much cash consider notifying your bank and increasing your daily withdrawal limit so you’ll always have as much on hand as you need. Many ATMs will give you the option of getting dollars or colones and give you the favorable bank exchange rate for your dollars.
Now, imagine you’re walking around a farmer’s market. You’re engulfed by a rainbow of colors from the fresh local fruit and produce. It’s best to pay the local farmer in colones. If you stop by a roadside stand to enjoy an ice cold refreshing agua de pipa (coconut water) or at a mom and pop restaurant for fresh local dishes, you’ll want to pay in colones.
Sloths, Butterflies, and Sharks Oh My!
Flip over to the back side of your money and you’ll be delighted to see Costa Rica currency features some of its cool wildlife.
1,000 colones bill is reddish pink and adorned with the national animal of Costa Rica, the White Tail Deer. This bill is also referred to as “un rojo” which means “one red.”
2,000 colones bill is blue like the crystal waters around Costa Rica’s beaches. On the back are sharks that frequent Coco Island. Don’t worry; sharks aren’t common in the Manuel Antonio area. They enjoy the off shore island life more (thank goodness!).
5,000 colones bill is yellow like the delicious bananas grown here. On the back side you’ll discover the Capuchin monkey, aka the white face monkey. If you take your Costa Rica vacation during the dry season, you’ll see capuchins hopping effortlessly from tree to tree and although they can’t swim, on occasion, they’ll take a quick dip in our pool anchoring themselves with one hand and their tail to cool off. Quick get out your camera!
10,000 colones is green like an avocado. Think of the 10,000 colones bill like a $20. Right now, it’s a little less than $20 but it helps you to quickly guesstimate the cost of things while you’re strolling through gift shops or super markets.
20,000 colones bill is orange like the peel of a mandarin orange. It has a beautiful hummingbird on the back. Keep in mind these are harder to break when paying beach vendors, sodas (hole in the wall restaurants), and smaller shops. Smaller businesses don’t keep a lot of change on hand, so when buying something inexpensive it’s best to use smaller bills
50,000 colones is the largest bill you may see. This bill is the color of a purple eggplant. It isn’t a very common bill to use or receive change back. 50,000 colones bill is basically a $100 bill. Consider this when using the 50,000 colones to pay for something.
So, here’s a rough breakdown on the value of the different bills. Remember the exchange rate can change daily and these are only guestimates to help you calculate quickly in your head when you’re making a purchase. So, if a taxi driver asks you for 50,000 colones to take you from Manuel Antonio to Quepos (7km/4.3 miles), say “no gracias!”
1,000 colones = $2
2,000 colones = $4
5,000 colones = $10
10,000 colones = $20
20,000 colones = $40
50,000 colones = $100
By now you’ve got to be excited to get some colones into your hands and see these colorful bills for yourself. If you have any questions, be sure to ask your concierge. We’re always here to help you!
We look forward to your vacation with us. If you haven’t read my other articles, please check them out here. Please follow us on Instagram @discoverybeachouse. For more information or to check our availability, visit our website at Discovery Beach House. Watch our YouTube Channel for more information on Manuel Antonio, the best spot to vacation in Costa Rica.