One of the most common questions -and awkward moments- that a tour guide in Costa Rica gets is: How much should I give you like a tip? Or the maid, the waiter, the bell boys, the driver, etc. Tipping in Costa Rica is somewhat like tipping in the U.S. However for many travelers the rules are murky.
A friend of mine was the guide of a famous Hollywood star and his family. Three days up and down the Tortuguero Canals with these people. Of course, the rest of the tour guides at the lodge, we were sort of, expectant of the tip he was to receive.
As we all knew that this actor had received 22 million dollars in his last movie.
At the end of the trip, he shrugged while showing us a thousand colones bill. A thousand colones is not even two dollars. Was the Hollywood star cheap? We will never know.
But, maybe, he didn’t know whatsoever the value of money in Costa Rica. Maybe he thought he was giving the guide a fortune!
I also know the story of a driver that gave back a hundred thousand colones tip in an airport shuttle (Two hundred dollars). He told the tourist “You don’t know what you are giving me.”
Rules are murky, especially when you are out of your area. So, let’s see if we can address this for you to make it easier:
You will probably enjoy: 10 tips about the weather in Costa Rica
At the airport
At the airport, you will find three people in a row: Skycap, tour guide, and driver.
Skycap: $1-$2 per bag
It depends on what they do for you. $1 per bag unless your luggage is massive and they have to carry it themselves.
Airport Shuttle or Transfer drivers $2-$3
For a short one-way trip, more for longer trips or round-trips, per person.”
Tour Guides at the airport-hotel transfer: $5-$10 per person
In the Costa Rican airports, the tour guides stand in the middle of a crowd holding a sign while people comes out.
Sometimes for hours.
It is probably one of the most miserable jobs in the travel industry here, as the exit in the international airports can be quite chaotic. And they have to be fighting with the other signs and people for you to see them.
While this is happening the driver is to park somewhere close and wait for the guide’s call.
Did they bring you the Camino Travel papers? Give you all the information? And even stayed with you for a short while in the hotel lobby answering questions and confirming everything is fine?
You may also be interested in: The magical moments of the Pacuare River Rafting
At the hotel:
A hotel maid: $2- $5
Tips in Costa Rica for hotel maids are a broad range, as it depends on how chaotic is the room. Housekeepers usually have the lowest salaries and depend on tips.
You have children, and they left Cheetos and Coke on the floor? Did You spill your shampoo in the bathroom sink? (In a beach hotel) Is there sand all over the room? $5 to $10 a day.
Best is to tip per day as they may change along your holiday.
If the room is quite clean and little work is to be done $2-$5. Double it if you are in a suite.
Mostly all hotels in Costa Rica offer an envelope for gratuities. Use it and leave it where it was. If there is no envelope, please mark your tips well so that they know it’s a tip. (A paper with a “thank you” over the cash is enough).
A concierge who makes a restaurant reservation for you or provides another service: $5 to $25
It depends on how much time you took from him/her.
In general, they will recommend the restaurant, make the reservation and call you the taxi. The same on a tour or the transportation to another beach or area.
A hotel employee who brings ice, iron, extra towels or whatever to your room: $1-$3
Depends on how far or heavy was the task.
A bell boy who delivers bags to your room: $1-$2 per bag
But it depends on, are you on the third floor of a hotel without an elevator? How many bags you have? Do they have wheels? Is it a cartload of bags? Were they brought fast?
These answers may bring it up to $5 per bag, and even a bit more.
A waitress/waiter: They do have 10% included by law.
However if you feel service was exceptional, another 10% is good.
You will also enjoy: Our tour guides: How do we choose them?
On the road
A taxi driver:
If the taxi driver used the meter, their tip could be from 10% to 20% although, for a short drive, they will not expect a tip.
If they are efficient and kind, give you the insider’s look, and the ride felt smooth and comfortable.
Go higher! The guy deserves it!
(Taxi meters: They have to use it by law, but sometimes it happens, especially with hotel taxi drivers that they have fixed rates)
A Tour Guide: If in a large group (Over 30 people) $3-5 per day, per person. If you are in a smaller group ($7-$10 per day per person). If you are on a private trip $10-20 per day per person.
Tour Guide/Driver: Same rules apply, add $3-$5. Per day per person.
Now, this depends on how hard he/she worked: Did he/she give the extra mile? Did he/she share hidden secrets? Nature and history knowledge was remarkable? Did he/she provide optical gear for you to be able to see the sloth moths?
Adventure Guides A half day tour: $5-$10 A full day tour: $10-20.
Did they give at all times as safety sensation? Was their care personalized? Did they watch after you and your family all the time?
A catamaran tour: $10-$15 for the whole crew.
Usually, the team shares it. Was it a day or a half day? Did they serve lunch? Did they serve drinks or fruits?
If you are to tip the guide for any particular service he/she provided, my suggestion is to wait and call him/her separately.
If he/she goes with you on the bus back to your hotel, tip them when coming down from the bus.
The tour driver: Large group $2-$4 per person per day. Small group $5-$7 per person per day. Private Tour: $8-$12 per person, per day.
I used to say that a good tourism driver is like the stomach. You don’t realize it’s there until it fails. If you feel you have to be looking at them at all times, the breaks are hard, and the curves are intense. If you are even a bit scared of his driving, forget about the tip.
The less you think about what he is doing, the more tip you give them.
Evey now and then, you will find a driver that goes out of his way for passengers to see wildlife or try fruits or see a banana flower, for example. They deserve a bit more.
Boat Skipper: $5-$10
In crocodile watching tours, or in Sierpe Mangroves and Tortuguero Canals. Again, it depends on how much did they stop to for you see wildlife.
You may enjoy: Tortuguero Canals: Touching the untouchable.
Important notes on tipping in Costa Rica:
Again, of course, this is a guideline, and it is not written in stone. All services are fully paid and even though tips are expected, everyone in this business has a salary.
Tipping in colones is fine, just make sure you are giving the fair amount.
Tipping in U.S. dollars is customary. It is important to check your bills as we are not allowed to change dollars with a rip. Never mind how small it is.
Other currencies, including euros, are hard to change. The same applies to personal checks.
A tip that sounds (Coins) is not elegant.
A last word on tipping in Costa Rica:
Tipping is recognizing a job well done. In the Americas, we are used to recognizing value with money, but it does not have to be blackmailing, neither compulsory. It is a way to say: “Thank you” beyond the words.
If you feel service have been outstanding, please use an envelope with a note. Make it nicer.
A coins tip or a wrinkled one dollar bill could be considered as an insult if the work was well done. If you want to recognize a well-done job, put a bit of emotion into the money.