Travel and Exchange, the blog of travelers who change currency

How much money do I need to travel to Costa Rica?

How much money do I need to travel to Costa Rica?

The economic value of an item is an extremely abstract notion, especially in our first contact with a foreign currency.  The euro, the common European currency in 18 countries, has allowed us to have an immediate idea about the cost of living when travelling to neighbouring countries in the Eurozone. But, what happens when we travel beyond its frontiers? This time we travel to Costa Rica to learn more about its currency and the value of tourism-related activities in this country of Central America.

The Costa Rican colon

The legal tender in Costa Rica is the Costa Rican colon, which is represented with the symbol: «₡» or the ISO code CRC. In circulation since 1896, the colon was originally divided into 100 cents, although today the smallest denomination unit is 5 colones. This being so, we can find coins for 5, 10, 25, 50, 100 and 500 colones.

The smallest denomination banknote is ₡1000, popularly known as «un rojo» (“one red”), followed by ₡2000, ₡5000 (also known as «tucán» [“toucan”]), ₡10,000, ₡20,000, and lastly, ₡50,000. The exchange rate for one euro is ₡683, but, how much exactly is an euro worth in Costa Rica?

To find out, we are going to give you an approximate idea of how much you would have to spend in the most common activities and attractions when visiting Costa Rica. In general, prices in Costa Rica are a bit higher than in other countries in Central America, although lower than in most countries in South America.

Moneda del colón costarricense

Image by The LEAF Project

Means of transport

1. Transfers from San José Airport. The main airport terminal in Costa Rica is Juan Santamaría International Airport, located 18 km away from the capital, San José. The easiest way to arrive to the city is by bus or by taxi.  Besides, there is a public bus service every 5 to 15 minutes to the cities of Alajuela (₡535/0.78€), Heredia (₡515/0.75€) and San José (₡535/0.78€).

A taxi ride to the city centre of San José can cost approximately 20 to 30 euros.  The taximeter is known as «la maría» and we should make sure the taxi driver turns it on.  It’s not necessary to tip the driver. Buses usually offer a good and cheap service, and, depending on the distance, a ticket is normally around 0.20 to 0.50 euros.

2. Car rental. Renting a standard car –no dealer options– in any of the international rent-a-car companies costs between 30 and 40 euros. There are local companies offering a cheaper service: between 20 and 25 euros per day, without extra charges or additional fees.

The price per litre of gasoline in October 2014 was $1.41 (€1.11).


Food is crucially important when travelling and the prices might vary from one place to another.  The difference between eating in a five-star hotel and a «soda» (dinners that fall out of the tourist circuit) can be quite significant.  In this sense, we will try and meet you somewhere in the middle.

1. Breakfast. The breakfast for excellence in Costa Rica is called «gallo pinto», and «filling» would be the best word to describe it. It combines a rice and beans dish, sided with scrambled eggs, toasts, latte and orange juice.  It is around 3 to 5 euros.

2. Lunch and dinner. A very popular dish, although with a very short history (it was created in the 90s), is the «Chifrijo»: pork rind, beans, rice, chillies and pico de gallo on the side. A traditional restaurant might charge you 4-6 euros per dish, although some «sodas» serve daily specials at lunch and dinner for less than 6 euros.

3. The «casado», Costa Rica’s national dish, is based in white rice, black beans, beef, pork, fish or chicken, and salad and ripe plantain on the side.  Some places serve it with some kind of fruit juice.  It might be around 4 euros, and maybe 8-10 in some more distinguished restaurants. In coastal areas, these dishes might increase their price on 2 or 4 euros on average.

Plato de casado típico de Costa Rica.

Image by The LEAF Project

4. Fast food. In fast food restaurants, a hamburger, plus chips and soda, or a sandwich or pizza, might be between 4 and 7 euros. The service fee is included in the bill so leaving a tip is not mandatory either.

Shows and nightlife

1. Theatre. If you want to attend a cultural event, prices might vary depending on the venue. For example, a performance from the Symphony Orchestra at the National Theatre of Costa Rica might be between 4,000 (€6) and 17,000 (€25) colones, although on weekdays they put on free or low cost shows.

Teatro Nacional de Cpsta Rica.

Image by Adam Jones

2. Cinema. Going to the movies in a foreign country is always an interesting experience.  In San José, a ticket to the movies can cost 5 euros, this being the cheapest one, and even come to 13 if we choose a VIP showing with food service.

3. Nightlife. Nightclubs charge an entrance fee that hovers around €10 and usually includes a couple of drinks (beer or soft-drink). In the most exclusive clubs, the entrance fee might come to €20, including drinks and a musical show.

4. Drinks. In nightclubs, a local beer such as Imperial might cost you around 2 euros on average, but it might go up to €5 if you order an imported beer.

Although if you really want to try a local drink, I recommend «cacique». This liquor (which should not be mistaken with the renowned rum brand) is a kind of sugar cane moonshine mixed with lemon and tonic, and it is considered a national drink.  You might pay around 3 euros for one of these.  On average, a gin & tonic cocktail might cost you 7 euros.

National tourism

Costa Rica is known for its rich biodiversity and for being a hugely popular ecotourism destination. Tours can be hired with different travel agencies in San José, or at hotels and airports (although we don’t really recommend this option because their rates are usually higher).

The fare for the bus ride from San José to the beaches in the Pacific and the Caribbean hover around 8 and 12 euros, and it is definitely the cheapest option to travel around the country.  The public bus system usually provides a decent service, however, depending on the route, you might come across some buses that do not have AC, and sometimes (especially on the weekends) they get packed and the space is very limited.  If you are looking for comfort, there are private transport companies, such as Costa Rica Shuttle, taking the same routes in comfortable and air-conditioned vehicles for small groups. This is a very interesting option if you are travelling with a group of people, given that the fare from San José to Arenal is about 122 euros in a van for 5 people.

Bear in mind that these rates might vary depending on the season. Peak season comprehends January, February, Easter, July and the last two weeks of December. Off peak season runs from March to June (except during Easter) and from August to the third week of December. The tourism campaign Vamos a turistear plans adventure tours around the whole country. For instance, a one-day cruise around Tortuga Island on a catamaran –food and drinks included– costs around 58,000 colones (85 euros) during peak season and 49,000 colones (71 euros) during off peak season.

As in all trips, the budget must fit the wallet and priorities of the traveller. If you are planning a trip to Costa Rica and want to find out how to exchange your currency, visit Global Exchange website.

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Ricardo Ramírez Gisbert

Arquitecto y apasionado de los viajes y la fotografía. Autor del blog El Arquitecto Viajero y editor de la guía sobre Barcelona en inglés Barcelona N’Do

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