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How to get it
You can pay for a lot of tourist services in U.S. dollars, but by and
large you need to be carrying colones. There are a handful
of automated tellers in San Jose, but the best way to get money is to
cash traveler's checks at hotels. The exchange rate is usually just a
little worse than at the bank and you won't have to stand in lines.
Like everywhere else in the world, more upscale establishments take
If you want to live like a rich American, there are plenty of hotels
in the $60-100/night category that will treat you very well indeed.
If you want to live like an upper middle-class American, you will find
$25/night hotels in most parts of Costa Rica that are not offensively
shabby. If you want to live like an American graduate student or an
Australian backpacker, you can probably get by on $5-10/person.
Don't worry too much about cheap accomodation. Costa Rica is a clean
country and cheap does not equal filthy the way it might in most parts
of the world.
Costa Rican cuisine is bland and uninspired. If you pay more money,
you get fancier ingredients such as lobster or shrimp. Fancy hotels
with superb service charge about $12-20/person. A normal "good"
restaurant is about $3-5/person. If you want to tell people that you
lived like the locals, eat at sodas, open-air lunch counters
where you can get away for $1-3/person.
During 17 days in Costa Rica, I only met one person who'd developed a
stomach problem. This is not Mexico. Still, hygiene standards are
obviously higher at more expensive restaurants and if you intend to go
cheap you might want to get the gamma globulin shot that the U.S.
Center for Disease Control recommends as a precaution against
hepatitis (I didn't take one nor had some U.S. medical doctors I met
Car rental and gasoline are about the same price as in the U.S. but
the roads will give you one hell of a beating. Scheduled domestic
flights can be very cheap and comfortable intercity buses (with big
wheels that soak up the potholes) are also cheap, e.g., $5 for a two
or three-hour ride.
Costa Rica is trying to get rid of its grubbiest tourists and
simultaneously provide as many jobs as possible. Guided tours are the
rule in most parts of the country, but prices are structured so that
you don't save much by going on your own. For example, it costs $15
per person per day to enter a national park. However, a guided tour
that enters the same park might cost less than just the entrance fee.
You have to budget at least $20/day for tours if you want to see Costa
Rica's natural treasures.
Remember that I have set up a
in the hopes that experts who live in
Costa Rica (or who've recently traveled there) will
answer email questions on practical travel matters.
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