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One Less Way to Get Taken in Costa Rica

December 4th, 2009

taxiFor those of you who have had the pleasure of being forced to use those orange airport (SJO only) taxis and thus overpaying for every trip, your time has arrived.

These taxis have had a monopoly at the San Jose airport for many years, and for many years, they have had free reign to overcharge visitors to Costa Rica.  I say visitors as most of us who live here know the rates are just over the top and we arrange other transportation.  The news today is that they will probably be gone in 90 days.

Over the years, I have given two hints to folks traveling here: First, NEVER use the currency exchange inside the San Jose airport and second, avoid using those orange taxis. The exchange rate offered inside the airport is just ridiculous and you will lose 15% to 20% over exchange rates offered elsewhere.

As for those airport taxis?

Taxis here are required to use the meter, called “la maria”  for all fares.  Most do, and if they do not, they will if you ask (and point to the meter).

The issue with the airport taxis is that for many years, they did not even have them installed. Now, most do… but they never use them even if you ask! Instead, you must go to the dispatcher’s window at international arrivals and pay the flat rate from the list of locations. Those rates are almost ALWAYS higher than the metered rates… often 2,000 – 4,000 colones more.  It is also not uncommon for the driver to add “other charges”.

The regulatory agency here has given the airport taxis ninety days to clear out.  Now, they may appeal this, but it appears this is not likely… so that market will now open up and hopefully be more fair to tourists.

As a side note, these taxis were not permitted to provide service to anyone other than at the airport. This meant that those taxis had to hightail it back to the airport for their next fare.  There are few of us who have traveled the Pan American highway (the general canas or la pista) running between San Jose and the airport, who have not been passed by theses orange devils… often even forced to dangerously change lanes while an airport taxi flew by 30 – 50 KMH (20 – 40MPH) over the speed limit.  I will NOT miss that.

16 Responses to “One Less Way to Get Taken in Costa Rica”

  1. Andrew on December 8, 2009 7:52 am

    From my point of view, I liked the flat rate system. Perhaps it was a bit higher than the standard rate – but what airport in the US doesn’t have a higher rate for taxis?

    As someone who has visitors coming to town from time to time, I liked the fact that I could give clear instructions to them about how to get a Taxi and not have to worry about them getting taken by some guy on the street, or having to figure out how to calculate colones to dollars, etc minutes after getting off the plane. Not to mention that at least the people at the Taxi booth usually speak english… which isn’t always the case when trying to arrange a taxi outside.

    Personally, I think this is a negative for tourism, and business.

  2. Mrs. Casanova on December 9, 2009 8:09 pm

    It is no fun getting ripped off as soon as you step off the plane. That tip about the airport taxis is a good one – and with any taxi in Costa Rica it is important to be sure the meter is on; the other option is to agree on a price before leaving, but it’s hard if you are not familiar with the fares.

  3. Paul M. on December 10, 2009 10:35 pm

    I find it interesting that an orange Taxis Unidos fare for me into Alajuela Centro has regularly been US$4 to my apartment one block south of La Corte while the return fare in a red taxi over the same essential route costs US$5.00 using the meter. This is not on one visit but rather four or five visits (plus the return to the airport) during the last couple years.

    Then there is the sea of red-taxi taxistas waving at you just outside the airport sliding glass doors, like a classroom full of second-graders who all know the answer that the teacher just asked for: “How much is two plus two?”

    But the red taxistas’ answers are not four. Their answers are like ten, or eight, or six -and this is in dollars as to how much they’ll charge you to take you into Alajuela Centro! I know cuz they’ve tried it on me every time I arrive in CR on my way to my apartment in Alajuela.

    Then I flash my pre-paid orange taxi receipt at them and they as a one turn away from me and wave at the next tourist exiting the airport doors. And so it goes. The red taxista at airport arrival curbside will charge what the market will bear and many arriving tourists, not having been briefed ahead of time on this ritual get taken, day after day.

    So I personally felt that when they set up the cashier’s window outside the ariport doors for the orange taxis, it offered the arriving tourist a way to avoid being egregiously overcharged.

    Of course I forgot to mention above that once a price with a red taxista is aggreed upon there is no certainty that the driver won’t try to up the fare halfway there or upon arrival at the destination -or that he might drive you around town unnecessarily as a way to pad the fare.

    This does not happen with the flat-rate fare that Taxis Unidos (the orange taxis) at the ariport charge. Even though it may in some instances be slightly higher than a metered fare in a red taxi for the same distance. So, at least with the orange taxis, the tourst can rest assured that they won’t have to cough up some invented extra surcharge when they arrive at their destination.

    And that is my perspective on the orange airport taxis vs the red ones.


    Paul M.

  4. Karmyn on December 26, 2009 10:16 pm

    I had a red taxi try to rip me off. He tried to charge me $225 to go to Atenas from the airport.

    I told him to take $25 and to f-off!

    Another trip I took an orange taxi that charged $25.

    Let the buyer beware …

  5. Costa Rica Real Estate Information on January 1, 2010 9:29 am

    There are a few options out there, but the most prominent is certainly orange taxi and they do charge too much! Thanks for the great advise.

  6. Lisa on January 3, 2010 9:00 am

    So what is the fare price from SJO to the capital San Jose for example?
    Tourists still pay what they are asked to pay, you cannot argue if you don’t know local rates.
    But one certain company, let it be monopoly or whatever, is always the sure bet, in any foreign country.
    Will be visiting CR in few weeks, we’ll see how it works.

  7. Tim on January 3, 2010 10:28 am

    Depends where in downtown… thus use the meter! I see fares from $12-$30.00

  8. Tracey on January 14, 2010 4:07 pm

    I have travelled to and from downtown San Jose 6 times now and the rate was always the same over the last 3 years…$25.00. Knowing what it is like to drive in San Jose without street signs, crazy oneway roads, slums, the Pan Am, I was happy to pay the $25. Recently to get approximately the same distance in Calgary AB from my friends to the Airport cost me $50 with a meter. I agree with Paul M. and Lisa to most Hostels/Hotels in San Jose near Central Park is $25 US dollars. Oh and PS I have yet to take cab that uses his meter…it is always a flat rate and the challenge is to find the regular “flat rate” and keep the driver honest. Ask before you get in.

  9. Tim on January 27, 2010 11:11 am

    And… as I mentioned… you overpaid by $5.00 to $10.00, and THAT was my point. You had no options. Those of us who live here know to use the “other” not so public services available as you leave the airport.

  10. jesus on January 27, 2010 11:28 pm

    I think the extra fare for the airport taxis gives a security. I’m from CR, however I would recomend take the airport taxis, just for safety.

  11. Janie on February 8, 2010 9:52 am

    For what it’s worth to your readers…
    We found out in December that, if you are insured by INS, INS is now paying for taxis to and from the airport. We have an email from our insurance agent with the info – in Spanish. Friends of ours have taken advantage of it and love not having to drive themselves or haggle with the taxi drivers.


  12. Maleah on February 24, 2010 1:58 pm

    I am travelling to CR for my first time next week and will be needing a taxi van from the airport to the west coast (Punta Leona and then to Jaco) for 5 people. any advice or recommendations? what is a fair price to expect to pay total? is this something i need to arrange ahead of time?

  13. Brendan on March 24, 2010 2:58 am

    On my first visit to CR I arranged for someone from the hostel to pick me up from the airport. He was supposed to be standing outside the airport with the name of the hostel on a sign. Unfortunately he was late. A “helpful” taxi driver outside accosted me and I explained I was waiting for the hostel driver. So he offered to call the hostel and check on the delay. He called and told me that they had just left the airport with another guest and it would be about an hour before returning to the airport. And of course he offered to take me to the hostel instead. Don’t remember the fare proffered, but I turned him down and called a friend in Heredia. While waiting for my friend, the hostel driver arrived and said no one ever called the hostel and he hadn’t picked up anyone from the airport earlier that day. So the taxista was just a big liar.

  14. Brendan on March 24, 2010 3:05 am

    TRY A BUS. After my initial experience with taxistas at the airport, I resolved to find alternate ways to get to San Jose from the airport. My best discovery was that there is a bus stop on the other side of the parking garage from the terminal. From this stop, buses will take you to downtown San Jose, about 8 blocks west of the Teatro Nacional. Of course if you have several pieces of luggage this may not be a viable option, but usually I have just a duffel bag and overnight case and I hug them closely during the ride into San Jose. The bus fare was about $1US.

  15. Capullo Costa Rica Sport Fishing on April 14, 2010 9:22 am

    You know that is really sad that this happens because it gives tourist a bad flavor as soon as they get off the plane. Its too bad that it has to be like this and I hope you can update us when these orange taxis are gone! We want people to come to costa rica and enjoy the beauties of the friendly people, relaxing beaches and great oceans. Keep us posted!

  16. Marius on October 8, 2010 10:04 am

    I will be traveling to Costa Rica in January next year. Speaking of transportation I have considered taking a taxi from the airport to the hostel , but the $22 rate seems a bit high .
    On the other hand my flight will arrive at 10pm in the night. Is it safe to take the bus to the accommodation ? Are the accepting US dollars to pay the bus fare ? Or only colones ?

    Thanks for any advices.