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Tours of a Lifetime
National Geographic 2010, 2012
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Travel & Leisure, March 2012
Trip Advisor # 1
San José, Costa Rica

Should I exchange money? How is it easiest to pay while on tour?

Dollars are accepted in most places, so don’t worry about getting colones immediately. If you want to exchange money, we suggest that you do not exchange money at the booth in the airport when you arrive, they will give you a very poor exchange rate, so it makes sense to wait.

If you need to pay for something before you get to your hotel, you can use dollars, bring small denominations. The easiest place to exchange Costa Rican colones is at your San Jose hotel. Hotel rates are usually less than 1% lower than at banks, and the convenience is more than worth it. It is best to take care of exchanging money before leaving larger cities.

It is important to mention that most places do not accept $100 and $50 dollar bills, so travelling with $20’s or smaller bills is the best choice. These are also useful for tipping.

We don’t recommend using traveler’s checks. In recent years it’s become more and more difficult for merchants to cash travelers checks, as a result, most no longer accept them.

Major credit cards are generally accepted throughout the country, some places prefer VISA or MasterCard to AMEX. Cash is useful if you visit remote places where you might have difficulty paying with credit cards. It’s a good idea to have an ID other than your passport for your vacation. It’s customary for merchants to ask for an ID when you use a credit card in Costa Rica. If you would rather not be pulling your passport out every time you pay for something, bring your driver’s license and put it close to your credit cards.

When you get your cash for the trip, check the bills carefully, the reason is that as a general rule, foreign bills with the slightest tare will not be accepted for exchange. A quick check of your bills to make sure they are in good condition is helpful.

You will find an ATM in major towns, and in an increasing number of smaller ones. They will generally be located at the local bank. Despite improvements it’s not uncommon for ATM's outside of San Jose to be out of order, so if you are financing yourself through an ATM it is safest to do it before you leave larger cities. If you try one and it’s out of order, there is usually another, your guide, driver or hotel receptionist will be able to help you locate another one.

Aside from credit cards, cards that bear the Plus and Cirrus logos are the most commonly accepted. Withdrawal limits can vary significantly, so look around; also, depending on the charges incurred with your card, getting cash from an ATM can be more economical than paying a commission to a teller.

Another option for getting cash is using your credit card to get a cash advance from the front desk of your hotel; they will usually do so for a modest transaction fee.

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Top 3 Best Values in the World,
March 2012

Top 10 Best Tour Operators in the World, July 2011

Tours of a lifetime
2010 & 2012

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