birdwatching costa rica

Look who visited Aqua-yoga class today – a Bare-throated Tiger -Heron.  Although this is not my photo, the bird looked just like this, topping out at 30 inches.  They’re common on both coasts of Costa Rica.  Today’s sighing was just 10 kilometers from Casa Mango and Casa Papaya.


Two more noggins protected.  We gave helmets to these young motorcyclists when we saw them outside the grocery store this morning.  We buy used helmets for a couple bucks at Goodwill and bring them in our luggage.  They take up little room and almost no weight.   Leave no child unlidded!

A few months ago, the Costa Rican government told us to collect sales tax (venta) on our vacation rentals. There was a lot of controversy and arguments in the courts but finally all powers agreed that it was law.  We started immediately to collect this tax and, since then, I have learned a few things about it.

1.  It’s a lot of money. At 13%, it amounts to substantially more than I pay each year in income tax (renta) on my business. It’s a huge windfall to the government – no wonder they want it. If it goes to the right places, it can mean big improvements for the country. And I believe that a certain percentage of it is supposed to right back to my community. Does it? Well, that’s grist for another post but I believe that in time all will be revealed.

2.  It doesn’t cost me a thing, except the 15 minutes a month I spend paying it on line. I collect the tax from my clients and pass it on to the government. And it’s mostly foreign money because most of our guests come from outside of Costa Rica. In fact, by collecting this tax, I feel I am contributing to my adopted home, besides the jobs I provide and the taxes I already pay.

3.  Customers expect to pay it. Most of our guests come from places where sales tax is a given. Since we began collecting sales tax, no one has even questioned the tax, with the exception of one who, as you might expect, was Costa Rican. (Culturally, Ticos are not accustomed to paying taxes. I know many of you will argue with me but, compared with the US, Costa Rica simply doesn’t know how to pay or collect taxes.)

4.  Not all businesses collect it and even fewer pass it on to the government. This is what I really want to talk about.

For many “under the radar” businesses, the feeling is that paying this sales tax will expose their operation to other taxes and scrutiny, which they prefer to avoid. They choose to defy the law and remain hidden. This puts them at an unfair advantage in the marketplace over hotels who pay it along with other associated fees and taxes.

But many “legitimate” businesses don’t pay either. When you look at your restaurant or bar bill, you may wonder what those two line items are: 10% service and 13% impuesto (tax) or venta (sales tax). Some bills include one or the other or both. It’s hard for most tourists to figure out.

a. My understanding is that the 10% service charge goes to the proprietor, not wait staff. I don’t get this, because the restaurant has, presumably, already set their prices to cover the cost of preparing and delivering food. But this is tradition here and there is not much way around it. I pay it then try to give the waiter something on the side. But I have seen the waiter in some establishments hand even that over to the proprietor. It’s a tradition that I don’t know how to fight.

b. The 13% sales tax, however, is law and should be charged only on a “Factura Contada”. Every business in Costa Rica is required to track their receipts on numbered invoices so that auditors can confirm they are paying appropriate taxes. If you don’t see a “Cedula” number (business ID) printed at the top of your bill and a red sequential number in the corner, it’s not a factura contada and you can be pretty sure that no tax is not being paid on this transaction. If they charge the 13% sales tax and don’t pay it, they are stealing from you.

5.  It’s a win-win. Costa Rica can’t get ahead without tax money. (Neither can the US but that is not my subject today). So who are they going to collect it from? The government is constantly looking for new ways to get money from people who are willing to pay. We immigrants feel like the finger is always pointed at us. There’s the luxury home tax, the airport tax, the corporation tax, and the caja subscription that’s required for residency. So here’s a “new” tax that mostly doesn’t affect us. We’re already paying it when we buy things from legitimate businesses. Let’s help them collect it from the rest, mostly tourist businesses like restaurants, hotels, and vacation rentals. It might take some of the pressure off us immigrants – I refer you to point 1 above.

breakfast samara costa rica

Ted Jackson is serving breakfast at the El Pollo Palace on the plaza.


Sorry - I should have photographed before I started eating

Sorry – I should have photographed before I started eating

His morning special of two eggs, gallo pinto, maduras, and coffee for c1,500 is the best deal around. But next time I’m going to try his Biscuits and Gravy for c1,300.

breafast samara costa rica

We’re going to make breakfast with Ted part of our Wednesday morning routine – that’s the day we take the garbage to town for weekly pick-up. (It’s an old family tradition, brought from the Pacific Northwest, to treat ourselves to breakfast on Dump Day.)

motorcycle costa rica

This scene is all too familiar in Costa Rica.  The whole family on the motorcycle, heads unprotected.  Steve thinks that, at least, the children should have helmets.

lids for kids

He brings child-size bicycle helmets in his luggage from the US – he finds them at Goodwill and Salvation Army for about $2 a piece – and we hand them out when we see an unprotected child.  The parents are grateful and the kids are thrilled, especially if it’s purple.




2If you have room in your luggage and want to save a noggin, bring a couple of helmets.  If you’re coming to Casa mango and Casa Papaya, we’ll help you find heads to put them on.

They’re putting up the stands.

samara christmas festival

Getting ready for the holidays in Playa Samara Beach means building the arena and bleachers for the traditional Corrido de Toros.  This temporary arena is built fresh every year.

christams festival in samara

Ticos are a gentle people so they don’t so much fight the bulls as annoy them.  Young toughs get into the ring and run around poking at the bulls to entice the beast to chase them so they are forced to climb the fence before being gored in the hiney.  It’s somewhat entertaining to northerners who’ve seen an actual rodeo but it’s very popular with locals.  Actually, my visiting nephew said it was the most fun he’s ever had for a buck.  The carnival rides and eateries fill out the festivities which begin each day with a cannon shot and end the week with fireworks.

leatherback turtles costa rica

We spotted these turtle tracks on Carrillo Beach yesterday morning.

leatherback turtles costa rica

The wide spacing between the fins suggests a very large nesting female,

probably a rare and endangered Leatherback Turtle rather than our more common Olive Ridley.  Comments?