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Geib Jul 20th, 2010 09:17 AM

Tipping Custom?
We're off to Costa Rica in just a few days and want to find out what your experience has been with tipping. Is it customary to tip hotel staff, cab drivers, wait staff, tour guides, etc.? If so, what is a respectable percentage to tip and in what currency, US dollars or colones? We don't want to risk offending anyone while on vacation! Thanks!

volcanogirl Jul 20th, 2010 09:32 AM

We tip hotel staff when they carry bags and things like that, usually a dollar per bag. We tip cab drivers a couple of bucks, but it's not required - locals don't usually do it. Tour guides we tip between $10-20 depending on the service and how personalized it is. At most restaurants, they add an automatic 10% onto the bill, and if service is good, we leave a couple of extra dollars on the table. I believe the part added onto the bill gets split amongst the staff. We tip housekeeping between $1-2 per day. We use dollars because that's what we carry, but you can use colones too. Dollars have been widely accepted every place that we've been.

hsmithcr Jul 20th, 2010 10:27 AM

I agree with volcanogirl about tipping hotel staff (although I usually stay at hotels where no one carries my bag!) but for taxi drivers, I would say it depends on the length of the ride. Tipping someone $1 or $2 for a $4 ride, for example, would be excessive. Sometimes I just give them the change - if the ride is 2500 colones, just give him 3000 colones and let him keep the rest. Costa Ricans do not typically tip taxi drivers and if they do, it's because they have gotten some extra service such as the taxi driver waiting for them somewhere.

Also agree about tipping guides. They have studied long and hard to get to where they are and work hard to make your visit pleasant.

Also agree on restaurants. For housekeeping, I will tip about $1 a day, depending on the service. If it is just me and I don't make that much of a mess, $1 will do or a 500 colon coin. If you are a family with kids and your room needs a bulldozer to get it clean, tip more.

Dollars are widely accepted but I always recommend having both dollars and colones and pay in whatever currency the item is priced. You might also leave some little gifts for housekeeping - ballpoint pens with the name of your town or something similar. Most Costa Ricans are very interested in the place where you live so something like a pen or keychain with the city name on it would be a nice gift in addition to your tip.

hipvirgochick Jul 20th, 2010 10:32 AM

I'm pretty in line with vgirl except we usually just have two carry-on's (one per person) and tip 500 colones total, not per bag. For tours I consider 2500-5,000c per person depending on type and length of tour and also if there's an additional person, like a van or boat driver, in addition to the guide. Look for the 10% included gratuity, often the smaller local places like sodas don't include this.

For tips both dollars are colones are fine, for purchases I like to use colones. For example if something costs a $1 you can usually get it for 500 colones even if the exchange rate is actually 560c to $1. You can also bargain too, but I usually don't bargain too hard unless I'm buying multiple items.

hipvirgochick Jul 20th, 2010 10:35 AM

When I mentioned tour tipping, I meant 2500-5000c per person taking the tour, not giving the as not to be confusing. I consider my tween, now teen, a "person", but I imagine with a large family I would adjust this a bit.

hsmithcr Jul 20th, 2010 01:44 PM

I think that the tipping for a tour depends on the length of the tour and how many people are on the tour. If it is just you and your family, tip more. If it is you and 24 of your closest friends, tip less. If it is just you and your family with a guide and the trip takes 4 hours or more, $20 is a decent tip. And, yes, tip the driver.

As for bargaining -- the only place where bargaining is proper in Costa Rica is at an open market, such as the Mercado Central in San Jose. And, really, how proud would be of yourself for bargaining with some guy who makes about $400 a month so you can save 50 cents? Bargaining is really not traditional in Costa Rica.

hipvirgochick Jul 20th, 2010 02:29 PM

I have had street vendors selling their crafts, or even touristy stores, offer to bargain with me before more than a few times (initiated by them, not me) so maybe it depends on which areas you are talking about.

Another example, I've seen it quite often that people buy 3 bracelets for $30 instead of 1 for $11 and it seems very common. I'm not talking about like in Thailand where some places expect you to offer %50.

I'm not trying to rip anyone off.

Geib Jul 20th, 2010 05:53 PM

Thanks! I really appreciate all your is so helpful to have your personal experiences be our guide in unfamiliar situations. I think we'll take it easy on the bargaining, where it may have been acceptable for us in Malaysia (or Thailand,!), I suspect that it may be a little more dicey in CR. I did exchange US dollars for colones at our local bank today (with the low, low price of a 20% fee add on...sheesh!) just to have some local currency on hand when we land in San Jose. Thanks!

hsmithcr Jul 21st, 2010 05:49 AM

Geib - sorry you changed your money in the US. There are ATM's in the airport where you can get colones.

hsmithcr Jul 21st, 2010 02:39 PM

I just got done talking to one of the guides here and he told me that this year, tips are way off. We couldn't figure out why except that people are trying to not spend a lot of money because of the economy in the US. He said that he recently took a family of five for a four hour tour and did not get anything for a tip. Perhaps the people did not know that it would have been nice to give him a tip. I know he did a good job - I have known him for a while and he is an excellent guide and very knowledgeable and speaks excellent English. It's a little puzzling. (He wasn't upset, by the way - just puzzled.)

volcanogirl Jul 21st, 2010 04:08 PM

hip, I've seen that same sort of bargaining. Where they'll offer you a discount if you are going to buy multiple items.

MonicaRichards Jul 21st, 2010 07:56 PM

I just put iTip on my iPhone and it says for Costa Rica no tip is customary in restaurants or hotels, etc. (doesn't mention guides). Maybe the people who didn't tip were using that program? I know I've always tipped, I think because we're American it's expected of us and so I do.

hsmithcr Jul 22nd, 2010 08:09 AM

Monica - perhaps that is the case. Don't assume that because you are NorthAmericans that people expect a tip. They hope to get a tip for good service from anyone, resident or tourist.

For restaurants, I tip for good service or pleasant service. In Costa Rica, it is not common for the waiter or waitress to come back to your table - you are expected to ask if you need anything. And they are not in a rush, usually, to bring you the bill. In fact some restaurants don't routinely provide a written bill. They are trying to let you enjoy your meal and not rush you to pay and get out. This can be interpreted as poor service. I might leave some change on the table in a restaurant - maybe 100 or 200 colones, probably no more than 500 colones. For hotels, it is kind to leave a tip for the person cleaning your room. Not really "required" or "expected" but your tip might allow the lady to buy her child that new notebook and pencil that is needed for school or help buy that Spanish/English dictionary needed for class. Taxi drivers are appreciative of tips - even of 200 or 300 colones. If they take you somewhere and wait - for instance, you need to go to the pharmacy to pick up something and return to where he picked you up, pay him extra for waiting for you. Maybe a 500 or 1000 colones.

I was in Chile earlier this year and went on a tour of a couple of local villages. The guide was a young woman who spoke Spanish and very good English and everything she told us, she said in both languages. She is a university student, very pleasant and answered all kinds of questions, stupid or otherwise. I was sitting in the back of the van and I noticed as people left the van, they did not give her or the driver a tip. I was horrified! I ended up giving her $30 and apologized for the rest of the people on the van.

Geib Jul 22nd, 2010 05:23 PM

This is all great information. I never know whether to tip or not to tip, but I suppose a good rule of thumb to use is if the service is good then a tip would be a great way of showing our appreciation. Everyone thrives on good feedback, after all!

baldone Jul 23rd, 2010 07:12 PM

I always figure that if I'm spending 2k-3k on a 2 week trip to a country where the minimum wage is less than $10 a day, then I'm gonna have a wad of 1 dollar bills to toss around like candy. You can never offend a hotel maid or waiter by tipping them too much.

hsmithcr Jul 24th, 2010 04:43 AM

Baldone! Love you much! So right!

volcanogirl Jul 24th, 2010 08:49 AM

Very true, bald. We gave a two dollar tip to a taxi driver in La Fortuna, and he immediately said, "Here, take my card!"

hipvirgochick Jul 24th, 2010 10:02 AM

Always better to over tip than under tip! I was aghast a few weeks ago when I realized I didn't have proper bills to tip for a tour, but instead of giving nothing and knowing the guide would be back at that hotel, I left an envelope at the front desk for him the next day. Not best case scenario but it worked!

1bhcrashman Jul 25th, 2010 04:42 AM

Hip, When was the last time the exchange was C560 to USD? I wish.

tully Jul 25th, 2010 05:24 AM

It was around C560 to 1USD when I was there last month. Think it's around C530 now, but that's only about a nickel or so. It was really high when I was there trip before last in Nov, around 580.

To the OP, please no more exchanging currencies at your bank! :) Not only are there plenty of atm's and banks around but for your first day or so you would not have a problem using USD.

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