Fodor's Travel Talk Forums

Fodor's Travel Talk Forums (
-   Mexico & Central America (
-   -   Tipping Custom? (

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.

1bhcrashman Jul 25th, 2010 09:50 AM

Sorry to highjack this thread but when you're using a Dollar bank acct to pay bills in Colones it can be a big difference. The good news is that it won't go below C500. Tully, the highest I saw it get to June was C535. Today it is at C516. Unfortunately when my bills were due in June it was C505.
We're talking the "buy" rate which is what your are doing. The "sell" rate at BCR today is C521.

hipvirgochick Jul 25th, 2010 12:16 PM

Pretty sure the exchange rate was close to 560 about 2 months ago and around 530 about a month ago when I headed that way, give or take a few days and a few colones.

1bhcrashman Jul 25th, 2010 07:29 PM

$US Compra 513.5000
$US Venta 523.5000
25/08/2010 9:28pm

hsmithcr Jul 26th, 2010 09:08 AM

1bhcrashman: are you predicting the exchange rate on August 25? haha

The exchange rate can change daily but for a few colones one way or another it really doesn't matter.

I got gas in a service station in Canas yesterday and there was a sign posted: Cambio 500 colones

So for all you folk who are determined to use dollars, you can figure it out for yourselves.

1bhcrashman Jul 26th, 2010 12:10 PM

Duh! hsmither, you're right! If I could predict the exchange rate, I'd make a few Colones. It even makes a difference Am-Pm I went to the banco this morning and it was C513.5 This afternoon C515.5.

Unless I need to be corrected again :0) I won' bother everyone with more exchange rates. I think the rain on the tin roof is getting to me. Sorry.

1bhcrashman Jul 26th, 2010 12:23 PM

Now, a response to the OP. FINALLY. I really like the vibe I got from your post as you are concerned about being respectful and not offending. This is just the way we do it for what it's worth. Taxi--round up. Hotel--bags C500 each. Housekeeping Cr500 ea day. Special services C1000-5000. we usually tip an extra 5-8% for meals. Personal Drivers C5000 per trip. Guides, C5000 ea person.
I agree with hsmither that your small tip could make a big difference to someone who works 12-14hrs per day for a small wage.

colibri Jul 26th, 2010 05:00 PM

What range of tip do you suggest for a owner/guide who takes you on a 3 day/2 night tour to Tortuguero? He seemed surprised when we tipped him (about $50 per couple) and we weren't sure if it wasn't enough or he wasn't used to it since he owns the boats, runs the company, etc.

hipvirgochick Jul 26th, 2010 08:52 PM

Wow! Colobri that sounds about right to me. $10 pp per day plus driver.

volcanogirl Jul 27th, 2010 05:01 AM

That sounds very generous to me, col.

hsmithcr Jul 27th, 2010 07:17 AM

Disagree with volcanogirl on this one. Three days and two nights? You think $25 per guest is too much? As I wrote before, I am seeing a trend of people either tipping less or not tipping at all so perhaps he was just surprised. Just because he owns the company, etc, doesn't mean that you shouldn't tip him.

I have worked as a guide and I know what goes into it. There is a lot of education, including learning English, about the culture and history of the country and the area in addition to learning about plants and animals. Not an easy thing and time-consuming. I know guides here in CR who have gone to school for a couple of years to learn all this, working on days off from school or at night to finance the whole thing. Sometimes, a whole family will come together to chip in and help support the student. Not only that, but the guide will make contact with people in the area you will be visiting so that there are smooth arrangements everywhere. The guide will check out restaurants and places to stay and pick out the best for whatever tour is on. The guide will always be thinking "OK, what can I do or say to make this better?" It's pretty exhausting work. A guide will need to "read" people when they arrive, talk a little bit and figure out what they are interested in. Do they want a lot of conversation or a little. Things like this.

It is not an easy job and a good guide has worked very hard to get to where they are now and continues to work and upgrade skills and knowledge.

Don't punish a person because they have decided to own a small company as well as guiding. This has taken a lot of initiative and probably a high-interest bank loan. In your home country, do you try to help out tiny local businesses by shopping there? Why wouldn't you want to help out a guy here who is trying to make a better life with his tiny business?

volcanogirl Jul 27th, 2010 09:08 AM

I didn't actually say it was too much. I said it was generous, perhaps a better word would have been appropriate. Personally, I don't think giving a guy a $50 tip is punishing him. We were talking to one of our guides, and he told me he makes $10 a day. An owner would inherently have profit built in to the fees he charged. Not tipping would be punitive, but fifty bucks? Not to me. What would you have done, smith?

colibri Jul 27th, 2010 11:02 AM

My $50 per couple tip was for an excellent guide who has been guiding at Tortuguero for over 20 years. We wanted to make sure we gave enough next time since he seemed so surprised last time. I wanted to get your opinions on whether it was too much or not enough so it sounds like I was ok with that amount.

hipvirgochick Jul 27th, 2010 11:12 AM

colibri - I think I know of who you speak :-) and I'm sure he was surprised at your generosity, not surprised because it was too little. Just an assumption here, but I imagine many people give 1/2 that.

Does Fodors have tipping guides in their books? I can't remember. That would be a good thing to add to the destination guides.

volcanogirl Jul 27th, 2010 11:26 AM

F & M perhaps? :)

colibri Jul 27th, 2010 11:40 AM

Yep, VG, the one and only F & M - "Mr. Tortuguero" as he's known! Can't wait to see them again in February and bringing a few more friends to introduce to the beauty of Tortuguero.

volcanogirl Jul 27th, 2010 01:03 PM

col, do you know if you have to stay in a certain lodge to use them as guides?

hipvirgochick Jul 27th, 2010 01:22 PM

colibri -- I thought so. Both F & M are great!

colibri Jul 27th, 2010 01:59 PM

VG - We've stayed at Laguna Lodge which I believe is the one they generally use for tours, but they told us they can make other arrangements for different lodges.

volcanogirl Jul 27th, 2010 04:59 PM

Thanks for the link; I'll check it out!

Geib, I hope you have a great trip!

All times are GMT -8. The time now is 09:20 AM.