A big question many North American tourists have when they travel to Costa Rica is how much they should tip. It’s a natural question, especially for Canadians and Americans who live in a culture where you tip everyone from the restaurant staff and taxi drivers to bellhops and tour guides. Not tipping can be considered rude and insulting, right? Is that the case in Costa Rica, too? Here’s a quick guide on tipping in Costa Rica, so you have a better idea of how much cash to have in your wallet during your travels here.
Tipping culture in Costa Rica
First, you should be aware that most hotels and restaurants will add 13% tax and a 10% service charge to your bill. This means a 10% tip is already included in your bill, and no additional tip is needed. Ticos very rarely tip when they go out to dinner, though this may seem odd to North Americans.
Since tipping isn’t something Costa Ricans are used to, most workers in the service industry aren’t going to be offended if you don’t leave a tip. However, it doesn’t mean they won’t appreciate the extra money. Wages for workers in the service industry fluctuate wildly, depending on where the business is located and the type of establishment at which they work. For example, in Tamarindo, a hotel restaurant marketed to international tourists will generally have higher wages than a soda – a small restaurant that serves a predominantly local clientele. Therefore, a tip may be an essential income supplement for some employees.
Illogically, however, it’s mostly the wealthy tourist centers in Costa Rica that have gravitated toward a tipping culture. Businesses in places such as Tamarindo, Potrero and Playas del Cocos will often have jars with the word propinas (Spanish for tips) on them by the cash register. [You can argue that tipping has led many business owners to cut costs and to use tips as an excuse to pay less than a living wage, but that’s a topic for another blog.]
What should you tip in Costa Rica?
Cultural aspects aside, there are some things you should know about restaurant and bar tabs, hotel bills and other services you may hire while traveling in Costa Rica.
First, as noted, restaurants usually include a 10% service charge in your bill, so you’ll be paying this “tip” whether you want to or not. Most restaurants will indicate impuestos incluidos (“taxes included”) somewhere on the bottom of their menus. You’re free to add something extra if you think it’s warranted, but if you calculate your tip as a percentage of the entire bill, you’ll be tipping on the 23% already added for taxes and service. Still, no tip will be unappreciated, even if it’s 1,000 or 2,000 colones ($1.50 or $3).
Costa Rica hotels also add the 13% sales tax and 10% service charge. They may give you a receipt with a vacant tip section, but you may wonder exactly where this money will go, and you shouldn’t don’t feel obligated to add anything. Sometimes hotel maids leave an envelope in your room welcoming a tip, and if they’ve done a good job, feel free to leave them a couple of bucks. Or if a bellhop enthusiastically hustles your bags to your room and shows you how everything works, there’s no harm in handing him a small bill.
If you rent a car in Costa Rica, you’ll undoubtedly need to fill up with gas. Bear in mind that self-serve gas stations are non-existent in Costa Rica – so do not attempt to put gas in your car yourself. Full-service attendants will take care of that for you. They may also offer – or you can simply ask them – to wash your windshield and check your oil and tires. If gas station attendants provide these kinds of services to you, one could argue that they’ve earned a tip of 1,000 colones or so.
At many beaches and other tourist areas, you’ll find yellow-vested parking attendants enthusiastically waving you into a space where they’d like you to park. They’ll give you a friendly greeting as you get out of your car and will often say “Se lo cuido” – “I’ll watch it for you.” And when you get back, they’re more than happy to help you back out of your space, even if it means stopping other cars on the road.
It goes without saying that these attendants are expecting a tip, even if it’s a dollar. Some of them may be employed by nearby hotels and restaurants, or they may be part of a community service initiative designed to keep popular tourist areas safe. But they definitely rely on tips for the majority of their income, and they earn it by spending all day in a parking lot watching cars. And there’s value to you in knowing that you can relax on the beach for four hours knowing that someone is keeping an eye on your car. It’s always a good idea to carry small bills when you drive to tip people like this.
Boat captains, taxi drivers and tour guides
As a rule, Ticos don’t tip taxi drivers. In big cities such as San José or smaller pueblos such as Villarreal, taxi drivers don’t usually expect a tip from locals. However, in this day and age, they may expect a gratuity from someone who doesn’t speak Spanish and is a tourist. As a rule, a tip of 1,000 (red bill) to 2,000 (blue bill) colones is sufficient, depending on the length of your journey.
Tipping is more common when it comes to boat captains or tour guides. For example, if you take an all-day fishing excursion, you may want to tip the captain up to $50 for bringing you to the sweet spots and helping you hook all those marlins. The same goes for any tour guide, who may be herding you and dozens of disorderly tourists around while trying to educate you on local culture while at the same time directing you to the nearest bathroom and trying to get everyone back on the bus on time. It can’t be easy.
Tipping in Costa Rica
Tipping in Costa Rica is a matter of personal choice and comfort. Many domestic and international tourists travel through Costa Rica and don’t tip. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. It just means that anything extra you give will be much appreciated, but not expected.
You shouldn’t experience the aggressive transactional expectation of being harassed for tips or made to feel guilty about not tipping. You should find a relationship of mutual respect and professionalism, where a tip is earned and not taken for granted. So, if it makes you feel good about your Costa Rican travel, then, by all means, share your propinas.
Special Places is located within the beautiful coastal resort town of Flamingo, in the province of Guanacaste, Costa Rica. With over 15 years of service dedicated to the rental and property management profession, we have an extensive list of rentals in the Flamingo, Potrero, Brasilito and Tamarindo Beach area. Whether looking to plan your next tropical vacation or searching for someone to manage your home, our goal is to provide our clients with the most efficient and personable service in the area.
** In accordance with public health recommendations, Special Places continues to work hard to keep our guests safe. These protocols include enhanced cleaning and disinfection procedures for all properties under management **
We are very proud of our professional maid service staff, who provide regular cleaning for some 150 properties — and do it with a smile. A half-dozen maids provide full-time service at a single house, but all the rest rotate among a wide variety of properties from Matapalo to Playa del Coco.
Maids are responsible not just for cleaning but for staging the house, with everything in its proper place, and keeping track of inventory (so that, for example, new clients don’t check in and find there’s no toilet paper). At times, say on Jan. 2, there are so many checkouts and check-ins that the maids bring their sisters, brothers and mothers to get all the work done.
Full-time maids assigned to a single property assist clients with shopping, cooking and laundry, and they often form close bonds with clients. It’s no surprise that our clients often want to take their maids home with them.
Special Places of Costa Rica employs two full-time maintenance men who service all our properties, plus a handful of caretakers dedicated to a single property each.
These men will fix just about any problem that arises — leaks, electrical and plumbing issues, a door that scrapes on a floor, a noisy ceiling fan… you name it. They also paint homes and provide roofing maintenance.
Our maintenance staff are available 24/7 for emergencies like a burst pipe that causes a flood. Special Places of Costa Rica also enjoys a network of qualified subcontractors to handle swimming pool service, gardening / landscaping and repairs to air conditioning units & kitchen appliances.
Steven, from Potrero, is a rental agent for Special Places. He processes rental inquiries, checks on property availability, makes reservations and helps with check-in and check-out info.
Steven has worked at three hotels: as a bellman at Casa Chameleon in Las Catalinas, as a receptionist in the Sugar Beach Hotel near there, and as a receptionist at Jardín del Edén in Tamarindo. He has a bachelor’s degree in teaching English from the Universidad Latina in Santa Cruz, and someday he hopes to teach English at his old high school in Cartagena.
Steven likes to ride his Kawasaki 250 dirt bike in the Potrero Hills, around Las Catalinas and in Tempate. He’s also interested in cars and mechanics, and he’s skilled at repairing motorcycles.
Quote: “I think work is a very important tool that helps us to fulfill ourselves as human beings in life and to improve on what we already know.”
Born in Samar Province in the Philippines, Phem has a two-year degree in computer science from the Asian Institute of Computer Studies. She came to Costa Rica at age 19 to work for her aunt, who owned the Mariner Inn in Flamingo. She later worked for House of Rentals, then Special Places of Costa Rica when the companies merged. As a concierge, she books tours, rental cars, chefs or whatever clients need to make their stay enjoyable. “Whatever they request, you do it,” she said.
She enjoys “having a connection to people, meeting different people, helping people.” Her proudest accomplishment was moving from the Philippines to Costa Rica to explore better opportunities. She recommends that visitors to Flamingo try an ATV tour, a catamaran cruise, rappelling or whitewater rafting.
Quote: “I love Potrero. I live in Surfside. It’s quiet, safe, and people there are very accommodating, nice, friendly, always willing to help you. They’re open to anyone. I like that community. And the bars are within walking distance.”
Pascale, Kenny’s mother and business partner, is the head accountant at Special Places. She is responsible for all the accounting, billing and taxes, managing the maid service, setting work schedules and procuring cleaning products.
Pascale is from Antwerp, Belgium, where she and her husband had a food-service business specializing in poultry. But they often traveled to the Caribbean and Central America, and in 2009 decided to move to Costa Rica.
“We thought it was time to follow some dreams, so we sold the business and came to Costa Rica,” she said. They traveled to every corner of the country, but they fell in love with Guanacaste and decided to settle in Flamingo. They couldn’t find a house that satisfied Pascale’s handyman husband, so they built their own on the hills above Potrero in Pacific Heights.
She says her proudest accomplishment is “bringing two beautiful sons into the world.”
Quote: “The way we raised them, they were very independent. We taught them to work also. Of course, school came first. To us it’s white and black, and the gray doesn’t exist. It’s good or bad.”
Norlyng coordinates the maintenance of all Special Places properties, and she’s also in charge of Human Relations and is an assistant to Kenny Segers.
Born in Limón but a longtime resident of Matapalo, she previously worked as a receptionist at the Best Western Seis Playas Hotel. She also spent six years at the Wyndham Tamarindo, working as head of reception and as an administrative assistant.
Norlyng studied law for a year and a half at the University of Costa Rica in Liberia, but currently she is more focused on tourism. She is married and has two daughters, ages 9 and 2. Her interests include reading (the Bible, inspirational works and finance) and going to relaxing places.
Quote: “My philosophy of life is to live in the present and try not to worry about the future, to have clear objectives, to try not to stress too much and to act in the present.”
A native of Brasilito, Karolayn has a bachelor’s degree in accounting from the Universidad Latina in Santa Cruz. She is responsible for the billing, accounting and filing at Special Places.
She enjoys hiking and swimming, and her favorite local places are Playa Danta and Playa Conchal. Asked what activity she would recommend to visitors, she said riding a Banana Boat, an inflatable, banana-shaped boat towed behind a speedboat.
Quote: “The working environment here is very nice, very tranquilo. We get along really well, the management, the coworkers, and also the maids and maintenance people. Also, in my job I’ve learned a lot of things that in university classes they don’t teach. It gives you the opportunity to learn and grow.”
A native of Antwerp, Belgium, Kenny emigrated to Costa Rica in 2008. Having graduated from high school in Belgium, he studied economics and business administration in Costa Rica. Eager to go into business, Kenny left university to work as a property manager for House of Rentals in Flamingo, which he acquired not long after starting the job. House of Rentals grew into Special Places of Costa Rica, currently represented by offices in Playa Flamingo and Playas del Coco, and known as one of the leading agencies in the area.
Kenny speaks and writes fluent Spanish, English and Dutch. He is the proud father of a Costa Rican son, Khael, who was born in 2016.
Passionate about his growing vacation rental and management business, Kenny is always looking for investments and opportunities. Hotel Pitaya Lodge (formerly Kakaos Lodge) is also under his management.
In 2020, he began building the first of several homes as part of a newly launched project development/construction company.
Juan Carlos works as a rental agent, attending to any questions about renting a property, explaining the options available, answering any questions and supporting the concierge team in extra services like tours or transport.
Juan Carlos was born in San José and currently lives in Potrero. He has worked for some 15 years in sales or customer service at hotels, including the Hotel Barceló in San José, the Hotel Parador in Manuel Antonio and the Lagarta Lodge in Nosara.
He also studied English at the Instituto Norteamericano in San José, earning a C2 certification in English. He has also taken several courses in administration.
Juan Carlos likes walking on the beach (“so I’m definitely in the right place”) with his French bulldog. “They’re very mischievous but very sweet, very good company.”
Quote: “I always say, ‘It costs nothing to smile.’ I always like to convey that people should be happy no matter what.”
Juan Diego, who was born and raised in Villarreal, works as a concierge. That means he helps visitors arrange tours and transportation, rental cars, airport pickup and dropoff, and other services.
Juan Diego studied sustainable tourism management at UNED, the Universidad Estatal a Distancia, where he received a bachelor’s degree in 2013. He has worked as an admin for the Dream Chaser catamaran in Tamarindo, as a receptionist at the Hotel Pasatiempo in Tamarindo, and as a concierge at the Hotel Dreams Las Mareas in El Jobo.
Juan Diego enjoys watching HBO series and movies, riding his bike, going out with friends and watching the sunset on the beach.
Quote: “I like concierge work because I get to help a lot of people, fulfilling the dreams of tourists who visit a beautiful country like Costa Rica that’s full of nature.”
José does property inspections, check-ins and check-outs for Special Places, making sure that properties are in great shape for new clients.
Born in Limón, he currently lives in Cartagena. He went to high school at Liceo Experimental Bilingüe de Santa Cruz, and he spent seven years working as a waiter and bartender at the JW Marriotts in Hacienda Pinilla and Reserva Conchal.
He enjoys going to the beach, listening to music, watching movies and series, playing video games and spending time with family.
Quote: “If you’re afraid of dying, it’s better not to be born.”
A native of Nicoya who lives in Cartagena, Jhon works in accounting at Special Places, calculating reservation contracts, sales commissions and billing. He has been studying accounting at the Universidad Latina in Santa Cruz for a year and a half.
His goal is to have an accounting firm of his own. His favorite hobby is artisanal fishing, usually from a boat out of Flamingo, and he once caught a 70-pound mahi-mahi. He also has caught marlin in Tamarindo and Quepos.
His greatest pride is a nearly 2-year-old daughter named Elizabeth Aitana.
Quote: “I think the most marvelous thing that’s happened to me would be the birth of my daughter. That’s the thing I’m most proud of.”
Jason is a concierge and rental specialist with an interesting job — knocking on new clients’ doors to see if they need anything or would like to book any tours or other services.
Born in Limón and currently living in Huacas, Jason speaks flawless English. He has taken some university courses on websites and social media marketing. He is married, no kids, but has a cat named Kirara.
Jason previously worked as a database analyst at Western Union in San José, typically addressing charge-backs on credit cards and resolving other monetary issues.
Jason loves “adrenaline,” muddy offroad adventures, motorcycling, ATV, video games, surfing and skateboarding.
Quote: “You don’t have to be the smartest person to fulfill your dreams, all you need is to put in a little effort and be certain that you will achieve whatever you set your mind to.”
Gabriel joined Special Places as an accounting assistant at the age of 20. He was born in Liberia and currently lives in Filadelfia with his family.
He studied at the Colegio Técnico Profesional de Carrillo, with a specialty in accounting and auditing. He worked previously as an accounting assistant and secretary for a clinic in Palestina de Belén that serves disabled people.
Gabriel enjoys mountain biking, and for the past eight years he has volunteered at the Red Cross in Filadelfia, working mostly in strategic communication.
Quote: “We never have to give up on a dream just because of the time it takes to achieve it.”
Daniela works as an administrative assistant in Human Resources, helping with payroll, health benefits and insurance, as well as onboarding new personnel.
Born in Liberia, she now lives in Villarreal, and she not only has two dogs but also a horse. She adores animals and loves to go horseback riding in the country. She also likes listening to Latin music like cumbia and salsa.
Daniela has a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the Universidad Libre de Costa Rica (ULICORI). Before coming to Special Places, she worked as an HR assistant at the Occidental Hotel in Tamarindo, where she learned a lot about Human Resources in a real-world environment.
Quote: “Take risks, because everything good starts with a little fear!”
Carla works as an accounting assistant at Special Places and is also involved in property management.
She was born in Caracas, Venezuela, and raised in Ciudad Guayana, where she earned a law and accountant degree and worked as a lawyer and accountant. Since coming to Costa Rica, she has worked as a manicurist, masseuse, bartender, waitress and artist.
A gifted artist and something of a Renaissance woman, Carla also draws and makes earrings, necklaces, and bracelets. Her varied interests include dancing, hiking, scuba diving, traveling and discovering new cultures.
Quote: “My motto is ‘I know that I own the weak and fragile body of a woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a king.’ ”
This property is not managed by Special Places of Costa Rica.
Accordingly, rental rates and availability for this property might not be current. Please submit an inquiry and will be be happy to verify the details and assist you with your booking.