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Types of Taxis, Tips and suggestions
The most common type of taxi you'll see is the red taxi (taxi rojo). This is the official government licensed taxi and is the safest option as each is individually licensed and their licensing information is displayed in the yellow sign on the door. All red taxis in San Jose and the major cities of the central valley should have a taxi meter but this is not neccesarily true in some of the beach cities such as Puerto Viejo where you may need to negotiate your fare beforehand. See our full section on tips and suggestions for red taxis below.
The other type of official taxi is specific to San Jose International Airport where you'll find orange airport taxis licensed by the airport who only do pickups at the airport. They are the only ones allowed to pickup passengers in arrivals at the airport. See more on airport taxis below.
Unofficial or pirate taxis (taxis piratas) are also plentiful in Costa Rica. These are usually just regular guys with unmarked cars seeking passsengers. Many websites will tell you to avoid theses and in the San Jose capital region I will second that advice; there are plenty of official taxis. But in other places, and specifically in the South Caribbean, they may be part of taxi associations and be the only or most reliable choice. If you do take one of these taxis, you should always agree on a fare with these taxis before riding with them.
Rideshare companies Uber and Didi also operate in San Jose and Central Valley and some beach towns. You can use their apps to call these taxis. Uber has announced service will begin on the Caribbean Coast as well but availability may be limited.
There are a few problematic locations where ripoffs are mostly likely to occur such as the bus stations in San Jose. Read our section below on avoiding ripoffs.
You will also find below information specific to the South Caribbean zone / Puerto Viejo including a list of prices for common routes which you can use as a guideline.
The easiest way (if not the cheapest) to get a taxi from Juan Santamaría International Airport is from the official orange taxis at the airport. They are regulated, safe and have taxi meters so you will just pay the driver the fare due at the end of the ride. (They no longer operate on a prepaid zone system).
You can also prearrange a taxi to pick you up and prepay in advance with services such as our partner Gecko Trail's airport pickup service or taxi and bus service (which includes transport to the correct bus station and your prepurchased bus ticket). Many central valley hotels will also offer to arrange a taxi for you and some of the airport hotels will offer pickup for free. In these cases your driver will be waiting for you outside arrivals with a sign with your name on it (or the hotel will have a marked shuttle in the case of a few larger properties).
Also waiting in the crowd outside arrivals will likely be many pirate taxi drivers trying to entice you to ride with them. If you have prebooked a taxi, they have also been known to pretend that they are the one you booked but your actual driver should already have your name or other identifying information. Do NOT ride with a pirate taxi from SJO Airport! Even if you prenegotiate a fare they have been known to try to rip people off.
Red taxis are not allowed to wait to pick people up outside arrivals at the airport. However, you MAY get a better deal if you go upstairs to the departures level and flag down a taxi arriving to drop someone off. Something to note here though is that these taxis will be from a specific municipality (e.g. Alajuela, San Jose or Heredia) which will be noted on the yellow sign on their door. If you are taking a taxi to a place that is not their home city they may get quite lost trying to find your destination!
Official taxis in Costa Rica are very distinctive so you will have no problem identifying them. They are always red and have a yellow triangle on the door indentifying where they are licensed. Where red taxis are plentiful such as all the urban areas of the Central Valley they are a much safer option than taking a "pirata" taxi. Pirate taxi drivers will often approach you on foot or outside their vehicle and ask you if you need a ride; flag down a passing red taxi instead.
Like in any part of the world, some cab drivers will try to take advantage of tourists or people that they normally don't work with by charging more or refusing to use the meter. Taxi meters are referred to in Costa Rica as a "Maria" (a word you'll likely only hear in Costa Rica). In the urban areas of the Central Valley they will always have a taxi meter so ask them to "Ponga la maria" (put on the meter) and make sure it is reset before your ride (some have be known just to leave it running all day so they can charge you whatever they like when you arrive). Meter fares are regulated by the government but will vary by where you are and by the size of the vehicle. In some rural and beach town areas (see for example our Puerto Viejo information below) they may not have a meter so make sure to agree on a price for your ride beforehand. A metered taxi may ask you to do this as well but you are unlikely to get a better rate doing this.
Some specific tips for taking red taxis:
• Ask them to use the meter ("ponga la maria por favor"). The taxi regulator requires that a metered taxi always operate with the meter.
• Don't expect them to have change for large bills or US dollars. If you are not certain if they'll have change or will accept dollars, ask beforehand.
• Costa Rica drivers try to make their taxis last a long time (some are quite old but are reliable) so please don't slam the door when you close it. Do it softly and your driver will be happy.
• For solo female travelers, it's better if you sit in the backseat.
• If you're not sure where to get a taxi or aren't sure about the taxi who is offering you a ride, ask a local or ask a local business to call one for you.
• Each red taxi has the province where it is licensed on the door. Don't use a taxi licensed in another province. Not only is it illegal for him to pick you up, he will almost certainly get lost trying to find your destination.
• Addresses are tricky in Costa Rica so if you're not going to a well known destination make sure you have the Costa Rica version of the address written in Spanish to show your driver. This will be an address based on nearby landmarks not the street and number addresses we are used to. Even showing your driver on the map may not be helpful.
• It is not neccesary to tip taxis but a small tip or rounding up the fare is appreciated.
• Taxis are not allowed to charge additional fees or different rates based on the time of day, road conditions, passenger's nationality or destination. The only additional cost that taxi drivers can charge customers is to pass on the cost of tolls paid at tollbooths (some will ask you to pay tolls as you go through the tollbooth, others will add to your fare at the end).
Don't let a few bad apples spoil what is a safe, easy and affordable way to get around in Costa Rica. Unfortunately we have heard reports of some unscrupulous taxi drivers operating at the bus terminals where there are lots of tourists. The "Coca Cola" terminal and the "Terminal Atlantico Norte" (where you catch buses to Puerto Viejo) can both be problems in this regard.
It is best to ask the taxi driver to use the meter (the "maria"). If they want you to agree to a prenegotiated fare to the airport, it should never be more than the equivalent of $35 USD. If the driver is being uncooperative or you don't have a good feeling, go to the next driver or flag one down on the street (the ones who are waiting at the terminals can be worse than the ones just driving by).
Avoid unofficial or pirate taxis unless they have been called by a person or business you trust.
Uber is also available in San José and some other locations in Costa Rica though it's not necessarily legal and there can be some hostility from red taxi drivers so if you are using it to pick up at a bus terminal for example you may want to walk away from the terminal and set your pickup point to a nearby store or restaurant. If you're new to Uber, get a free ride by using this link or the invite code dougd5984ui.
Customers can report any irregularity in taxi services through the taxi regulator ARESEP. Their toll free number is 800-027-3737. The phone service takes complaints on weekdays from 6 a.m.to 6 p.m. and bilingual staff are available.
Uber announced in Jan 2021 they will begin operation in Limón province as well but availability may be limited. See news story here.
There are many taxis operating in Puerto Viejo, both red taxis and unmarked taxis. And now there are also tuktuks as another option! You should be able to find a taxi in downtown Puerto Viejo (for example from the main bus stop to your hotel). If you're not in Puerto Viejo and need to call a taxi, ask a local establishment to call one for you. Note that the majority of the taxis in Puerto Viejo are not metered so you should agree on a fare with the driver before getting in. Or, if you get a metered taxi, ask him to use the meter.
The main local taxi dispatch association supplied us with the price list below in 2014. Rates will have changed since then but this can still be used as a general guideline for both the red and unofficial taxis. The tuktuks should be cheaper. You can also order a taxi from the dispatch directly by calling 2750-0439. Note other taxi companies and independents may not respect these prices so make sure to pre-negotiate the rate to your destination. Prices are in US dollars but could also be paid in the equivalent amount of Costa Rican colones (approximately 600¢ to the US$, see the money page for latest exchange rates).
|Pto. Viejo||Rocking Js||$3|
|Pto. Viejo||Cabinas Tesoro||$4|
|Pto. Viejo||La Isla||$5|
|Pto. Viejo||Perla Negra||$5|
|Pto. Viejo||Banana Azul||$5|
|Pto. Viejo||Costa Papito||$5|
|Pto. Viejo||Hotel Hawa||$5|
|Pto. Viejo||Home Creek||$7|
|Pto. Viejo||Casa Camarona||$6|
|Pto. Viejo||Cacao Trail||$8|
|Pto. Viejo||Ole Caribe||$7|
|Pto. Viejo||Punta Riel||$9|
|Pto. Viejo||Puerto Vargas||$13|
|Pto. Viejo||Villas del Caribe||$7|
|Pto. Viejo||Punta Cocles||$7|
|Pto. Viejo||Playa Chikita||$10|
|Pto. Viejo||La Juaria||$40|
|Pto. Viejo||Colon Caribe||$40|
|Pto. Viejo||Punta Uva||$12|
|Pto. Viejo||Punta Uva ( playa)||$12|
|Pto. Viejo||Suerre -Palmas||$12|
|Pto. Viejo||Almendros y Corales||$14|
• Each hour of waiting is $5 US.
• These tariffs apply between 6 am and 11 pm.
• These rates were supplied Nov 2014 and will have changed; however they are still useful as a guideline.
If you're looking for information on how to get to Puerto Viejo, check our Getting Here: Transport Options to Puerto Viejo page. Or go directly to our pages for San Jose - Puerto Viejo bus schedules, San Jose or Arenal shuttle schedules, travel to Bocas del Toro or travel to Tortuguero. For more information on options for getting around while you're in the South Caribbean / Puerto Viejo area (bike, bus, walking, etc) see our local transport on the Caribbean Coast page.