American taxis are generally safe. The worst thing is to get “taken for a ride.” Taxis in Latin America can be dangerous. The worst thing is getting robbed, raped, and/or murdered. There are rules to taking taxis in Latin America.
In Peru, you don’t simply hail a taxi and tell the driver where you’re going. If you do this, you’re going to get ripped off.
Firstly, not all taxis are safe in Peru. You can’t hail any taxi in the street. In Arequipa, there are a few safe brands of taxis with signs on top with the company logo. Some companies are diligent in their hiring practices. They weed out thieves and choros with gang links. Some companies aren’t so diligent. And still some of these logo signs were found in the trash by some asshole who just bought a yellow car and now works as a taxi driver.
The three most trusted brands are Turismo Arequipa, Imperial, and Taxitel. After a while I noticed other companies made signs mimicking the trusted companies’ logos (think McDowell’s). They used the same fonts and colors, and names like “Taxicel.”
After some months, I started adding brands to my safe list: Angel’s, Teletaxi (seemingly a knock-off of Taxitel that rose to trustworthiness), etc. I started taking risks with unrecognized taxis if I were with a group or Damien – both of us 6’3, him black.
Lima taxis don’t have signs atop the cars. Safe taxis in Lima have a company logo on the passenger-side door with a telephone number. The telephone number indicates safety. This is how it was explained to me during my one week in Lima. I thought this a pain because you can’t spot the small phone number from two blocks away. You have to wait until the guy’s stopped. Sometimes I told a taxi driver, Never mind, when I saw no number.
Once you’ve chosen a safe taxi, you determine the price beforehand because the taxis don’t have meters. The price is negotiated based on the destination. Here’s how it goes in Peru:
- The client hails a taxi.
- The taxi stops and, through the passenger window, the client tells the driver his destination.
- The taxi driver quotes a price.
- If the client agrees, he gets in. But since Peruvians love need to haggle, he’ll counter with a price 1 sol or 50 centimos lower.
- The taxi driver agrees or spits out a middle-ground price.
- At this point, the client accepts or declines.
When I first moved to Peru the taxi drivers gave me ridiculous prices. When I picked up the Peruvian talk they could tell I wasn’t a tourist. They started giving me fair prices. Still, I’d often take a price slightly higher than it should be for the sake of getting the deal done. Peruvians often refuse trips over 50 centimos ($0.15!), then wait 5 – 10 minutes for another safe taxi.
Soon after I moved to Arequipa, an Israeli tourist was found strangled to death in a field. It became a national scandal. She’d been raped by more than one person. President Alan Garcia publicly vowed to catch the killers of the “Israeli journalist and soldier who was murdered because she dared to walk the streets of Arequipa alone.” Police arrested three suspects. It turns out the girl took a bad taxi.
Carlos’ good buddy, an Arequipeño born and raised in Arequipa , got a little overconfident in his hometown. He was shitfaced wasted oneand got in an unrecognized taxi. He was almost passed out in the backseat when the driver stopped. He sat up and the driver said, “Dame tu billete.” Give me your money. Carlos’ buddy asked what he was talking about. The driver told him to give up his wallet or the two guys outside into the cab would beat him bloody. Carlos’ buddy locked both doors. A struggle ensued. The guys managed to unlock the doors and pull him out of the car, hitting him over the head with a metal bar. He woke up bloody and broke. He needed stitches.
My friend Roy also got wasted one night and jumped in a bad taxi. He fell asleep in the passenger seat on the way home. When they arrived Roy stumbled out. The taxi drove off. In his drunken stupor, Roy couldn’t figure out why the taxi drove off before collecting the fare. The next day he realized he was missing his cell phone. The driver lifted it from his pocket.
By the time I visited Colombia I’d already acclimated to Peruvian rules. I asked hostel employees how to recognize safe taxis. They looked at me like I was stupid. Aren’t there safe taxis and unsafe taxis? Same look. I asked if it was OK to hail taxis in the street. They said it was in a tone like ‘Of course.’
Since then I’ve heard Colombians claim not all Bogota taxis are safe. You have to call a taxi. I’ve disregarded this advice because those were upper class gomelos. There may be danger, but here’s the difference. In Peru not all taxis are safe and NO Peruvian would say they are. But most Colombians hail taxis indiscriminately, and I haven’t heard any horror stories.
Note: my Colombian taxi rules apply only to Bogota and Medellin.
Colombian taxis are bigger but never have working seat belts. They also have meters called taximetros. You don’t negotiate the price beforehand. However, the meters don’t count in pesos. They count in some unknown number that starts with 25. The price you pay corresponds with a price guide which should hang from the passenger seat. So if the meter reads 80, you consult the guide and see that 80 corresponds with 5000 pesos or whatever. Sometimes taxi drivers don’t post the guide and rattle the price from the top of their head, rounded up to the next thousand or so.
It’s important to make sure that the driver resets the taximetro to 25 when you begin the trip. Otherwise he may trick you into paying for the last customer’s ride in addition to yours.
My first English class required me to be at Calle 187 at like 5 am. My hotel was at Calle 13 in La Candelaria. That’s ~150 blocks.
The TransMilenio doesn’t start until 5 so I had to take taxis. I left the hotel around 4. My first day I was picked up by an honest taxi driver. He cut over to Avenida Caracas and hauled ass up the Autopista. He drove so fast I was clutching the door handle with white knuckles. We arrived in 20 minutes and the fare was 17,000 pesos.
The next day I was picked up by a dishonest taxi. He took me up Circunvalar all the way to Calle 170. Circunvalar is the eastern-most thoroughfare running north-and-south through the mountains. It twists and turns and climbs and descends. I sat incredulous. I was so new in-country I was hesitant to tell him which way to go. I didn’t even know the names of Caracas or the Autopista. But I thought that if we arrived in time for the same price, no big deal.
We slowly made our way creeping and crawling and I started to worry. Time was ticking down. If I were late for the company bus, I would miss class. The price climbed past 17,000 pesos.
The asshole finally arrived and enthusiastically pressed the button on the taximetro, which calculated 23,600 pesos. He turned with a smile and cheerfully said, “Veintitres mil, seis cientos.” I gave him a 20,000 note and told him that’s all I had. He said, ‘But the fare is 23,600.’ I said, ‘20,000 is all I brought with me, man. This same trip cost 17,000 yesterday. I don’t know why it costs so much,’ and I got out. He drove off.
I don’t know much about the economics of a taxi driver. I believe that if they use the meter, the company that owns the car knows exactly how far the trip was and takes a specific cut. I hoped that after paying his company that asshole made less on the deal than if he’d have taken Avenida Caracas.
Another trick Colombian taxi drivers have is a clicker that manually adjusts the taximetro. So if they have the clicker hidden, they can cleverly click it up faster than the distance actually traveled. I caught a driver doing this when I was wasted late at night and we almost came to blows. I paid less than what he asked.
At night (after 8:00pm) and on Sundays, taxis add a 1500 peso recargo to the fare. Sometimes they add a 2000 – 2500 peso recargo for gringos who don’t know better. Not a big deal, but insisting on the correct price deters aprovechadores from pulling that on other gringos.
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