One of the hardest parts of going to another country is figuring out the money. Before you leave on a trip, you wonder about all the things that might happen and how to account for it: What do things cost? How much will I need? What happens if I run out? Can I use my credit card? How do I access more while there? The questions can be quite endless when facing the unknown, but we read in the Moon guidebook that it was fairly easy to access money in Costa Rica using an ATM card and many major attractions take credit cards as well, so we took a combination of all three–cash, credit card, and ATM card just to cover all our bases.
The currency in Costa Rica is the colón and when we landed at the airport and exchanged our money, the exchange rate was about 493 colónes to the dollar. As such, exchanging $250 USD amounts to 123,250 colónes, which feels a bit overwhelming when all of it is different bills and denominations. Couple that with the fact that you are trying to shove it all into a purse or money belt in the airport and pretending to look somewhat like you know what you’re doing and it’s no wonder that the root of the word “travel” is the same as “travail”!
Whenever I get somewhere new, the first few days are spent just getting used to the feel and look of the currency. Many countries have much more colorful monies and Costa Rica is no exception. It’s really everyday art, like Linda referred to previously. The other thing that takes a while to figure out is how much things really cost. You don’t really have a sense of how much things are until you get the conversion down and in my past travels, I’ve certainly been taken advantage of a couple times before I got my “money legs” in a country.
We eventually figured out that rounding up to 500 colónes per $1USD made conversions much easier. It’s been about a week since we’ve been here, and I’m still trying to get used to this currency. Here are some examples of the costs of things here in Costa Rica:
A bus ride from Alajuela (the closest city we lived in) to San Jose (the capitol)= 510 col.
About 50 minutes at an Internet cafe=700 col.
An entrance ticket to the Teatro Nacional in San Jose= 3,550 col.
A “typical” lunch consisting of rice and beans, chicken/fish/pork, vegetables= 2,400 col.
A Big Mac= 2,200 col.
Overall, things are reasonably priced in Costa Rica. When we lived with our host families, the base price of $25USD a day included breakfast and lunch as well as laundry service. Decent hotels in safe areas of San Jose run about $75-100USD a night for a double and meals are a little less or about the same as restaurants in the US. The biggest cost for us so far is the cost of transportation, not when we’re on public transit, but when we’re taking shuttles to get from one part of the country to another or when we don’t really have an alternative other than a taxi. In the end though, it’s hard to put a price on pura vida, and we’re definitely richer for it.