Uber is not a particularly good way for tourists to get around in Costa Rica for a couple of reasons.
First, Uber is semi-illegal in Costa Rica and ride share vehicles are sometimes impounded by police leaving riders stranded. Second, there are few/no Ubers in many of the places traveler’s want to visit.
Uber is Inconvenient for Travelers in Costa Rica
The vast majority of the Costa Rican population and Ubers are concentrated in a megalopolis surrounding the capital San José.
Most travelers try to avoid the city only visiting if they have a flight at Juan Santamaría (SJO) airport. Ubers may be available near the airport but drivers are harassed or occasionally attacked by taxistas if they approach the arrival terminal. Riders have to haul their luggage a few blocks away to a shopping and restaurant complex for pickup.
One user suggested hailing an airport taxi for a ride to the shopping center then switching to an Uber…
While Ubers are generally available around San José they are extremely uncommon near National Parks, ziplines, ecolodges or ocean view rental homes.
A completely non-scientific random sampling in 7 popular tourist spots including Jacó, Manuel Antonio and Arenal/La Fortuna found precisely 1 (one) ride available in 23 attempts at various times of day over three weeks in late 2018. There was a half hour wait for that one car and there was never an Uber X or Uber Black available.
Other travelers have told us that sometimes rides are available from towns like La Fortuna to the hanging bridges or other popular attractions but once you arrive you can be stuck because there’s no cell signal and/or no rides available.
In cities around the world ride sharing is increasing pollution (studies show Uber has increased total urban miles driven by 25% or more) and serving as fiendishly clever mechanism for funneling money to the wealthy but it is safe, convenient and cheap (temporarily – as the competition is eliminated prices rise quickly).
In Costa Rica Uber and other alternative taxi services are still searching for a way to fit in and recently risks to Uber and Lyft riders in paradise have escalated.
Police Detention of Tourists
Generally the police ignore Ubers but every couple of months political pressure from the taxi driver’s union prompts an enforcement surge. The police either request fake rides (entrapment is perfectly acceptable) or identify Ubers by watching for pickups and then impounding the car by confiscating the license plates.
Normally the passengers are told they are “free to go” – in other words left stranded on the side of the road sitting on their suitcases – however, in one recent case two Dutch tourist’s passports were taken and they were questioned and informally “detained” for more than an hour causing them to miss their flight.
Attacks on Cars and Drivers
The main opponents to ride sharing in Costa Rica are taxi drivers. Several times they’ve set up road blocks or organized hundreds of cabs to slow drive or stop blocking highways and main thoroughfares. Confrontations and even violence has accompanied some of the protests.
Other times taxistas have identified Ubers in traffic and forced them to the curb. Ride share drivers (and in one case of mistaken identification a completely innocent commuter) have suffered injuries and cars have been totaled by angry taxi drivers wielding rocks and tire irons. We are not aware of any passengers being present when Ubers or other ride shares have been attacked.