Taxis are cheap and your best bet for getting around San José. Just about every driver is friendly and eager to use a few English words to tell you about a cousin or sister in New Jersey; however, cabbies truly conversant in English are scarce. Most are knowledgeable, but given the haphazard address system, may cheerfully engage passersby or other taxi drivers to find your destination. Tipping is not expected, but a good idea when you've had some extra help, especially with your bags.
Cabs are red, usually with a yellow light on top. To hail one, extend your hand and wave it at about hip height. If it's available, the driver will often flick his headlights before pulling over. Cabs can be scarce when it's raining or during rush hour. The city is dotted with paradas de taxi, taxi lineups where you stand the best chance of grabbing one. Your hotel can usually call you a reputable taxi or private car service, and when you're out to dinner or on the town, the restaurant or disco can just as easily call you a cab—it's much easier than trying to hail one on the street in the wee hours, and safer, too.
Taxi drivers are infamous for "not having change." If it's just a few hundred colones, you may as well round up. If it's a lot, ask them to drive to a store or gas station where you can make change. They'll often miraculously come up with the difference, or wait patiently while you get it. To avoid this situation, never use a 10,000-colón bill in a taxi, and avoid paying with 5,000-colón bills unless you've run up almost that much in fares.
Technically this system applies throughout the country, but rural and unofficial cabs often use their odometers to creatively calculate fares. Manuel Antonio drivers are notorious for overcharging. It's illegal, but taxis charge up to double for hotel pickups or fares that take them out of the province (such as San José to Alajuela or vice versa). Ask the manager at your hotel about the going rate for the destination to which you're heading. Drivers have a fairly standard list of off-the-meter illegal fares.
In the capital there's usually no reason to take the risk with an unofficial taxi (pirata), but they are often the only option outside main hubs.
It's always a good idea to make a note of the cab number (painted in a yellow triangle on the door), and sit in the backseat for safety.
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