The official colour of taxis in Costa Rica is red and their license plates start off with the initials of the province (SJP for San José Province, AP for Alajuela Province), and so on for the other five provinces. Those taxis that are not red or do not have the initials of the province on both of their sides are known as piratas (pirates) because they are not operating legally. Taxis have a small light on the roof and usually bear the name of the cooperative and phone number of which it is a member.
Before boarding a taxi ask the driver what it will cost you to go to such and such a place. Sometimes you can get a lower price if you ask for it. Make sure your driver starts his maría (meter) at the beginning of the trip. If you have any doubts about how much you are being charged, it's better to write down the cooperative's phone number and the taxi's tag number and call to inquire.
Not many drivers know English, so if yours does, you're fortunate because he can serve as a guide without your having to pay more. Try to avoid pirate taxis. Sometimes they charge less, but if there's an accident, you won't be covered as they carry no insurance. In general, taxis and buses in Costa Rica offer a safe and low cost service.
During the past several years the number of taxi pirates has escalated and they're found practically everywhere in town. The rise of this unofficial service has been due to the large number of unemployed. Many are driven by professionals who were unable to get a job after their university graduation and have recurred to this activity as a way to maintain themselves and their families.
Some of the official taxi drivers are choosy and will not take you if you're carrying too many packages, have a wet umbrella, or your destination is too close to where you are. My wife and I had a similar experience a few years ago when we got off a cruise ship in Miami. No taxi would take us because our Sheraton Hotel was just across the bridge from the dock. Not until I summoned a nearby police officer were we able to get a ride despite the taxi driver's nasty look.
Business hours usually start at 8 a.m. for government offices and 9 a.m. for most stores. Many offices close between 12 noon and 1 p.m. for lunch and finish work at 4 to 5 p.m. Not all government offices have the same opening and closing time, so you might be surprised that when go to one you find it closed.