nominal The currency in Costa Rica is called the "colon" named after Christopher Columbus. The exchange on average is around 500 colones to $1. It will go up and down on a daily fluctuation and unless dealing with large amounts it is easiest when on a Costa Rica Adventure to just go with the 500 when doing your calculating and buying.
We do not suggest you exchange dollars to colones at the airport. They do not give a good rate and it turns out almost everywhere in the country will take dollars. What will happen is you pay with a $20 bill on your first stop, you will get change in colones. Stores often won't take $50's or $100's. Exchanging money is not difficult and if you would like to go to a bank it is possible but we do not suggest doing it only because the lines are usually a 30 minute wait. I know we and the family will be eager to get out into the jungle and start the adventures of whitewater rafting the pacuare river or the waterfall rappels so waiting in line is usually not on an itinerary. ATM machines are readily available and you can get colones or dollars with your debit card. There is a nominal international transaction fee any time you use a credit card.
Here is a list of the currency:
20,000 colones just came out in 2010 and is around ---- $40
After these bills comes very large coins that feel like bricks compared to the coins we use in the USA. They have coins that are worth $1 = 500 colones and they have coins that are worth just a fraction of a penny making it quite the load of coins to deal with.
How much Money to bring to Costa Rica
Most of our tours are all inclusive which means you really do not need much money. If you are on one of our off the beaten path Costa Rica adventure tours our goal is to have you spend no money during your stay. But we know everyone always wants a little taste of home so stopping for a icecream sandwich is always big with the kids and with just around $20's a day is more than enough when you are signed up for one of our Costa Rica family adventures. If you decide you want to eat at a fancy place then expect to pay fancy prices but local spot can be around $6's meal and the fancy prices get up to around $30/meal.
The souvenir shops often have nice things and often have a ton of stuff that is not nice it just depends if you want a refrigerator magnet that was made in China that will break in a week or a souvenir that comes from local village that had some time invested into making it.