There are many situations in which you might need to use an Uber or a taxi in Costa Rica during your vacation. Often people use taxis from San Jose Airport, for short distances between hotels and activities, as well as frequently in downtown San Jose. No matter why you need a taxi or Uber in Costa Rica, there are some things you need to be aware of before catching a ride.
Unfortunately, there are various Costa Rica taxi scams, laws etc. that most travelers are not aware of. We created this guide to Costa Rica taxis and Uber to make sure you have the best and safest experience possible while on vacation. Let’s get to it!
Costa Rica taxis
You can find taxis in every popular tourist destination in Costa Rica. If you are traveling to more off the beaten path destinations, it will be a bit more difficult to easily find a taxi, but they are around.
You can recognize an official Costa Rica taxi by its bright red color, a yellow taxi sign on the roof of the car, and yellow triangle on the driver’s side door which displays the taxi license number and the vicinity in which the driver is permitted to drive in.
Pro Tip: Take a quick picture of the yellow triangle before getting in the car. If you are riding alone send it to a friend. It is good for someone to have the info just in case something happens. Also, it come in handy on the off chance that you leave something in the taxi or you need to report a problem with the driver.
The official red taxis charge based on time in the vehicle. They all have a meter which the taxi driver (should) start as you enter the car. The meter fare for official taxis is regulated by the Costa Rican government. In other words, every official red taxi should be charging the same exact rate per time.
If you would like to read more about the current Costa Rica taxi rates, you can do so here. I didn’t realize this before, but apparently, there is a charge for hailing a taxi as well as a charge for delays and waiting.
Pro Tip: Make sure that the meter is set to zero before you begin your ride. We have heard of people being overcharged due to meters not being reset. Just don’t forget that there is a charge for hailing a taxi (about 600 colones) so this will be added to the meter at the beginning of your trip.
If you are in downtown San Jose, the easiest way to get a taxi is by just walking outside. They are everywhere!
If you are in another area and know that you will need a taxi, just ask at your hotel. They will usually be more than happy to call a taxi for you. If you need a taxi for while out to dinner, just ask at your hotel ahead of time if they have the phone number for a particular taxi driver the trust. It is very normal here for people to have a go-to taxi driver that they always use.
Costa Rica pirate taxis
One thing you need to be very careful of is pirate taxis in Costa Rica. These are the guys who are not regulated by the government, do not drive official cars, and are not from Uber.
Pirate taxis are especially a problem at places like bus stations. If you arrive at a bus station and are bombarded by men asking if you want a taxi, ignore them and walk away. 9 times out of 10 they are pirate taxi drivers. Find an official taxi (remember an official taxi will be red and has the yellow triangle symbol on it) and take that instead.
A friend of our recently accidentally took a pirate taxi. We had told him many times to be on the lookout, but I guess he just messed up. By the time he realized he was in a pirate taxi, all of his luggage was already in the trunk. The taxi driver drove him to where he wanted to go but then forced him to pay almost $100 for a ride that costs us $8 with Uber. He said he didn’t know what to do because the guy looked scary and all his luggage was in the trunk. Please please don’t let that happen to you!
Avoid these pirate taxis at all cost! The only time you should ever take a non-official taxi is if you are in a very small town in Costa Rica in which there are not many official taxis. Sometimes your Airbnb host or hotel receptionist might call a taxi for you that is not official. If they tell you that this is the best option in the area you are in, you can assess the situation and decide if you should trust them. Usually, hotel or Airbnb owners want the best for their customers and can be trusted.
Uber in Costa Rica
Uber in Costa Rica currently exists in some legal gray zone. Uber says they are legally here but the government says they are illegal. However nobody does anything to crack down on Uber, so, for now, it continues to run.
The taxi drivers here hate Uber! Last year they went on strike multiple times protesting Uber. I have even heard of fights breaking out between Uber and taxi drivers. It is definitely an issue that needs to be resolved, but as of now, Uber is still going strong.
You won’t find Uber drivers too much throughout the country, but around the San Jose area, they are everywhere.
Uber is the absolute cheapest way to get around (besides buses). We use Uber at least once every few weeks to go out to dinner if we want to have some drinks. It is cheap, reliable, and we have never had a bad experience.
One thing to note, your Uber driver will ask you to sit in the front seat while driving. This is just so they look less like an Uber driver and more like someone just driving a friend around.
The one problem with using Uber in Costa Rica as a foreigner is that it works best if you have a Costa Rica SIM card in your phone. This will allow you to communicate with your Uber driver if you are out of wifi range. We have a complete guide to using your cell phone in Costa Rica and getting a SIM card here.
Also, Uber Eats is now in San Jose as well! If you are at your hotel one night and don’t feel like going out for dinner there is a huge selection of restaurants on Uber Eats. We have used it many times (maybe a few too many times) and our food has always come fast and fresh.
Taxi from San Jose Airport
When you exit the San Jose airport you will likely be bombarded by men saying, “taxi?.” It is kind of annoying.
Anyway, if you do need a taxi from the airport make sure it is a legal driver. All of the official taxis from the airport are orange. They typically line up along the side of the road where you exit the airport. If the taxi driver says something like, “Follow me, my car is across the street,” they are likely not an official driver. Walk to where you see all the orange taxis lined up and ask one of them for a ride.
Sometimes you will see the normal red taxis at the airport as well. They are not technically allowed to pick up passengers from the airport, but if they are dropping a passenger off at the airport I have heard of them picking up new passengers as well.
Pro Tip: If you don’t see any official taxis at the arrival area, you can always try to go upstairs to the departure section of the airport and try to grab a red taxi that is dropping off passengers.
Uber is not technically allowed to pick up people at the airport. If you would like to take an Uber the best thing to do is walk out onto the main road, in front of the parking garage, and order your Uber from there. There is free wifi in the airport (but it does not extend out to the road). You can also buy a prepaid SIM card for your phone from the Kolbi stand at the airport so that you can use the internet.
Our tips for using Uber or taxis in Costa Rica
– Download offline maps
It can be very helpful to know where you are going and the route that is necessary to get there. Ticos hate to lose face and say they don’t know how to get somewhere. If your taxi driver does not know the best route, they likely won’t say it. Instead, they may take you on a longer route than necessary. Having offline maps downloaded will help you to keep track and redirect your driver if necessary.
On a less optimistic note, my sister had an experience in which a taxi driver here took her on an extremely roundabout route to the airport. A trip that should have taken 20 minutes and cost $15 actually took 40 minutes and cost almost $40. If she had downloaded offline maps she could have realized that her driver was taking advantage of an unaware woman.
– Make sure the meter is on and starts at zero
As I mentioned before, make sure there is a meter (if in a taxi not Uber) and make sure the meter is set to zero before your ride begins.
– You don’t need to tip
You do not need to leave a tip in taxis or Ubers in Costa Rica, however, if you had a really good driver you will probably make their day if you tip them a dollar or two.
– Close doors gently
Ticos are a bit obsessive with taking care of their cars. They are very careful to close car doors very gently. If you want to be respectful, close your door gently as you enter or exit the vehicle. They will appreciate it.
– Carry small money
If you can pay with exact change or close to the exact rate, your taxi driver will really appreciate it. If you only have large bills it is best to ask before entering the vehicle to make sure they have enough change for you.
– Pay with colones
Some taxi drivers may be willing to take US dollars, but you can not expect to get a fair exchange rate from the drivers. It is always best to pay in colones so you don’t get scammed out of money.
– Know where you are going
Keep in mind that there are no addresses in Costa Rica. There are street names, but nobody actually knows them. So, you will always need to give your taxi driver the name of a place rather than saying something like “I need to go to Avenida 3.”
– Stay at a hotel with a free shuttle
If you are staying near the airport try to find a hotel with a free airport shuttle. There are several hotels which offer this service (check out our Alajuela guide for some suggestions). This will help so you won’t have to worry about getting a taxi from the airport.
We hope this helped you to understand taxis and Uber in Costa Rica. If you have any questions please leave them in the comment section below. we are happy to help you out! Also, if you have used a taxi or Uber in Costa Rica please tell us about your experience. It will definitely help future travelers.
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