Do You Know the Way to San Jose?

February 17, 2014

We prepare to leave Granada for San Jose, Costa Rica. The owner says our taxi is coming. Up drives the owner’s son. Hmm …

We get into the car to go to the bus office. A couple of Dutch girls from the hotel join us. We ask how much. He says $5 each, to which we immediately protest loudly! We don’t care that he is going to two different offices – the amount is outrageous! One of the backpackers says firmly, “$1 each.” Faced with three fierce feminine scowls, he nods.

Not a peep from the other male in the car. That moment confirmed my earlier perception that some people will rather be over-charged than cause a ruckus. I have constantly cautioned my husband to remember the current country’s rate of exchange so we aren’t (too) over-charged. Well, he’s on vacation and has a laidback attitude regarding service charges. I think it’s because he knows that Central America is a poorer part of the world and to him, it’s alright if they ask for more than the going rate. If the taxi driver says it’s such and such amount to get to wherever, he says okay. To me, knowingly demanding more than the going rate is gouging. We already pay way more than what locals pay.

Crowded launcha
Crowded launcha


At Lago de Attitlan, we were always told Q30. If you paid more than Q25 to ride a launcha to a few villages ’round the lake, you were over-charged. Some tourists were able to bargain down to as little as Q15. Locals, if I remember correctly, pay Q3 to Q5 per person.


Three-wheeled tuk-tuks are plentiful in Panajachel
Three-wheeled tuk-tuks are plentiful in Panajachel


If you ride a tuk-tuk in Panajachel, the biggest village on the lago, it’s Q5 a person. Locals pay Q1 to Q2 a person.





Again, ask a couple of different locals what the going rate would be to take a cab, the bus, etc. When we do, they tell us what they pay and what would be fair for a tourist to pay. We also read travel forums and sites before we left and knew what some of the rates might be. Those actions gave me the confidence to bargain. (Lonnie left negotiating to me as he preferred to play the nice guy in the “Good Tourist, Bad Tourist” game.)

Eventually, Lonnie started showing me his change before pocketing it. A few times I had to swing his open hand with the change back to the merchant and tell him/her that we have more change coming back. We’d get more change and an un-apologetic look. It must be a game to see how observant tourists are.

The rates are quite varied and it CAN get confusing trying to convert them. We saw:

Guatemala: 8 Quetzales = 1 US Dollar

Nicaragua: 25 Cordobas = 1 US Dollar

Costa Rica: 500 Colones = 1 US Dollar


Now, back to Granada … we get to the bus office and it’s locked. A woman at the open doorway next door says that they won’t open for a while. We’re taken to another location that is open. The reservation we made is nowhere to be found. A Canadian backpacker says he’s going on a bus that will take us to Costa Rica. He asks if we are going to Monte Verde too. No, we’re going to San Jose, Costa Rica’s capital and the country’s largest city. He says we can all go on the same bus as it will stop briefly and let him off on the way to San Jose. What a nice guy!