There are many situations in which you might need to use 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 for in Costa Rica, there are some things you need to be aware of before catching a ride. There are various Costa Rica taxi scams, laws, etc. that most travelers won’t know.
We created this guide to Costa Rica taxis 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 and license plate 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 your 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 Public Services Regulatory Authority (ARESEP). In other words, every official red taxi should be charging the same exact rate per time. You also can not negotiate a rate with a taxi driver.
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, ask at your hotel ahead of time if they have the phone number of a particular taxi driver they trust.
It is very normal here for people to have a go-to taxi driver that they always use.
Note: If you take a taxi and know you will be needing another one at some point in that area, ask your driver for their phone number or card. That way you can call them later when you need to request a ride.
Pirate Taxis in Costa Rica
One thing you need to be very careful of is pirate taxi drivers, known as “taxis piratas” in Costa Rica. These are the drivers who are not regulated by the government and do not drive official cars.
Taxi pirates 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 an unofficial taxi from a San Jose bus stop. 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 should cost about $20.
He said he didn’t know what to do because the guy looked scary and all his luggage was in the trunk, so he paid.
Please please don’t let that happen to you!
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 might not be many official taxis.
Sometimes your VRBO host or hotel receptionist might call a taxi for you that is not official. This is not unusual. Maybe their sister’s husband’s brother drives people around for a really great rate.
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 VRBO 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.
The taxi drivers here hate Uber! I have even heard of fights breaking out between Uber and taxi drivers.
You won’t find Uber drivers too much throughout the country, but around the San Jose area, they are everywhere.
I suggest being very careful about using Uber. If the police pull your Uber driver over you can also be charged for doing something illegal or you will be left on the side of the road with all of your stuff.
Also, keep in mind that unless you switch your phone number to a Costa Rican number in the Uber app you will not be able to communicate with the driver.
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.
Taxi from San Jose Airport
When you exit the San Jose airport you will likely be bombarded by men saying, “taxi?.”
If you 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 or you can call for an airport taxi at 2221-6865 or 2222-6865.
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.
Taxi from Liberia International Airport
We have a family of official taxi drivers who we strongly suggest contacting if you need a taxi from the Liberia Airport. These guys are the best and if you contact them here you can get a price quote with a discount.
We suggest taking a taxi if you are staying at a resort in Papagayo, Coco, Flamingo, or Tamarindo. Typically their rates are cheaper than the private shuttle your hotel will provide, but you can always get a quote and check.
Taxis from Bus or Cruise Terminals
At the bus and cruise terminals is when you need to be careful.
I believe that all cruise terminals have an official taxi stand where you can find an official driver.
At the bus terminals, ignore all the people asking if you need a ride and look around for an official taxi. Head straight to that taxi and ask for a ride.
Don’t forget to ask your driver for their phone number so you can call them if you need another ride later.
Our Tips for Using 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.
Report Any Problems
If you have any problems you can report them to the official taxi organization (ARESEP) at 800-027-3737. This could be anything such as your driver was driving erratically, he or she overcharged you, etc.
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.
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.
Book Your Rental Car with Adobe
Adobe is our go-to car rental company here in Costa Rica. They are just the best. I mention this because often people will spend a few nights in one place and then get a taxi to go pick up their rental car.
Adobe will deliver your car to you for free within 12 miles of any of their locations. That will save you the hassle of having to organize a ride to their offices.
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 (such as your hotel or a restaurant name) 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 that 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 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 in Costa Rica please tell us about your experience. It will definitely help future travelers.
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