If you’re going to Costa Rica, and you don’t plan on renting a car, you’ll need to get around. Taxis are just one option, but you’ll want to know a few things before hopping in one.
• Orange Taxis are the official airport taxi!
If you are flying into SJO (Juan Santamaria International Airport), and you decide to take a taxi from the airport, in the last year it has become much more convenient. A lot of improvements have been made to Costa Rica’s main airport, and now the orange taxi organization is set up right at the new exit from the airport. After you send your luggage through the x-ray scanner and head for the door, a driver will ask you if you need a taxi, and if you say yes, the clerk will give you a slip of paper indicating the taxi number, and your destination. Keep this with you in case you forget something in the car, or something happens requiring you to identify the taxi.
The driver will then escort you to his car, and sometimes help with your luggage. It’s at this point that I usually verify with the driver, that he/she accepts credit cards. That way they know that I will be paying with a card.
I actually prefer Uber, in and around the city, but I find that just hopping in a taxi when I’m arriving to the airport is just so convenient, and with the recent changes to the airport it actually seems like the airport taxi service has become more convenient and even more professional.
If you want more information, they actually have a new website that you can check out – www.officialairportsjotaxi.com
• Red taxis and yellow triangles!
While the orange taxis are the official airport taxi, you will mostly see the bright red taxis during your travels. Be sure to look for the yellow triangle on the side of the car. This will let you know that it is an officially licensed taxi, and in what province they are able to operate in. If you are looking to take a taxi and you are approached by, or see a car, that doesn’t have the yellow triangle, it is likely a pirate taxi, and you could be putting yourself at risk by getting in one.
• My meter is broken!
All official taxis in Costa Rica, whether orange or red, will have meters, and the driver is required to turn it on. Most drivers do this automatically, and there is no problem, but some see tourists as an easy mark, and either “forget” to turn it on, or claim it’s broken. Your best bet if this happens is to get out and find another taxi with a functioning meter, and hopefully, a more honest driver.
• Best ways to pay!
I don’t like to carry a lot of colones or dollars on me when I’m out and about. I prefer to use my credit cards. The orange airport taxis will almost always accept credit cards, but you may have to search for a red one that will let you pay with a card. The ones that will take credit cards are usually easy to spot. Some will have stickers identifying the card networks that they accept, and others will have an additional sign on top of the car, showing that they accept cards. Don’t just hop in the car and assume they will take the card at the end of the ride. Always ask before you leave. Sometimes at the end of the ride, even if the driver agreed to take the credit card, they will try to get you to pay in cash. Be firm and let them know the card is all you have.
Whether paying with cash or a credit card, always pay in colones. The exchange rate is not easy math if you aren’t familiar with the local currency, so you can bet that if you try to pay in U.S. dollars, you will pay too much. I had a driver once who tried to charge me in USD for a ride from the airport to downtown San Jose. When he finished his fuzzy math, a fare that would have been about $29 in colones, suddenly became $40 USD. If you are paying with a card, the driver will need to type the amount into his credit card processing machine. Watch as they do this. There will be an option for them to choose colones or dollars. Make sure they choose colones and type in the exact number of colones that is shown on the meter.
• How much should I expect to pay?
In general, the orange airport taxis will be more expensive than red city taxis for the same distance and time traveled. This is because the airport taxis start their meter at a higher amount, and the meter increases at a faster rate during the ride. I have found that red city taxis and Uber are comparable in price for short rides around the city. Not so for an airport to city ride. Typically, you should pay a taxi around $30 for that ride in light traffic. Obviously at rush hour it could be much more. I usually take an Uber back to the airport when I leave, and that ride is usually in the $12-15 range. You should be aware though, that Uber is technically illegal in Costa Rica, although they are still able to operate, and that there is occasionally trouble between taxi drivers and Uber drivers.
Like most places in Costa Rica, tipping is not expected by taxi drivers, although it can be a nice gesture, and is appreciated when you do.
Taxis can be a great way to get around in Costa Rica, but it’s a good idea to know what you can expect before you ride. If you have any questions, let me know in the comments. Thanks for reading!