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April 15, 2024

Colones: The Colorful Cash of Costa Rica

Colones Costa Rica

The cash in Costa Rica looks so cool. It is a vibrant currency called “colones,” one with bright colors and intricate designs spread across different denominations. The money is named after the explorer Cristóbal Colón. In the United States and other parts of the world, he is known as Christopher Columbus, who led the first European expeditions in Central America, South America and the Caribbean.

Just to clear the air before we discuss currency appeal, you don’t have to exchange U.S. dollars for colones when you arrive in Costa Rica. Just about any place you visit will accept U.S. dollars, although you are likely to receive your change back in colones. Note that your bills will need to be in good condition! Even the banks in Costa Rica will not accept a torn bill.

All About Costa Rica Colones:

There are currently 5 variations of the colones bill in Costa Rica: 1,000 colones, 2,000 colones, 5,000 colones, 10,000 colones, 20,000 colones. And the coins come in denominations of 10, 25, 50, 100 and 500 colones. Colones, both bills and change, are produced in different sizes in order to assist people with vision disabilities.

The bills have undergone a total makeover since 2022. The old cotton bills, which had a similar feel to the U.S. dollar, have been withdrawn from circulation. The new bills are printed on polymer plastic and are smooth with a small, transparent window. The new polymer plastic money is no match for the rainforest and even in a downpour you’ll find that bill crisp to the touch.

The New Polymer Bill:

Each of these bills vary in color and size. The 1,000 colones (125 millimeters x 67 mm) are the smallest bills. Occasionally, in a supermarket near our luxury rental homes, you’ll hear locals referring to 1,000 colones as “rojos.” Or “reds” in English. That’s because 1,000 colones are red in color.

Colones Costa Rica

The 2,000 colones are blue, followed by 5,000 yellow, 10,000 green, and 20,000 orange.

Colones Costa Rica 2,000
Colones Costa Rica 5,000
Colones Costa Rica 10,000
Colones Costa Rica 20,000

Colorwise, they really pop. These are very attractive pieces of paper. Down on the beach in Dominical, there are even souvenir vendors selling layout towels with different denominations.

The front side of each bill features a Costa Rican historical figure. Four of the five are men, mostly of political origin. The 20,000 colon — the orange bill — has Maria Isabel Carvajal, who is considered the first prominent female writer in the country. Carvajal used the pseudonym Carmen Lyra, and was co-founder of the Communist Party of Costa Rica as well as founder and teacher at the nation’s first Montessori school.
On the reverse side of each bill are various wildlife portraits. There’s the white-tailed deer (1,000), bull shark (2,000), white-headed Capuchin monkey (5,000), brown-throated sloth (10,000), and volcano hummingbird (20,000).

The Elusive Blue Morpho Bill

The ¢50,000 colones cotton paper bill has been pulled completely from circulation. And unfortunately there will be no replacement for that denomination in polymer. In time this relic will become as elusive as the stunning Blue Morpho butterfly that graces the front of it. In fact, a quick check on ebay in April 2024 values this stunner at a whopping $237 USD.

Where to Exchange Dollars for Colones:

If you do decide to exchange dollars for colones, the best place to visit is a local bank. You’ll get a much better exchange rate at the bank than you will in the airport. You will need a valid passport to exchange cash at the banks, which are open Monday through Friday and closed on the weekend. The exchange rate between the dollar (USD) and the colon (CRC) is always fluctuating, so check on the Central Bank of Costa Rica for current rates.

While it may be difficult to part with this breathtaking money while in Costa Rica, we’ve always challenged guests to give it their best shot. But if you’re a past guest who held on to that 50mil Blue Morpho bill, we applaud your decision not to listen. In time the value of that bill alone may cover the cost of your return vacation.
Speaking of which, when you’re ready to start planning your next tropical getaway, be sure to email [email protected] to inquire about any of YouGetHere Property Management’s incredible vacation villas. Contacting us directly is a great way to save some dollars (or colones)!


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