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.
FYI – In Cusco all taxis should be S/.2.50 in the downtown area. If you’re going from one end of town to another, or going to areas on the outside of town such as Larapa or San Jeronimo, you need to negotiate fares or – even better – take the “combis” (public transportation).
From the airport to the hotels downtown taxis try to charge tourists S/.20 or more, but if you haggle with them you should be able to get a ride for S/.6 or S/.8 from the Cusco airport to downtown.
i never really looked at the taxis much when i was in lima… most you are lucky if they say taxi on top they just had that neon coloured strip that say taxi. I guess those would be considered unsafe? I must be lucky maybe because I never got taken for a ride however i knew lima and could estimate decent taxi prices even my limeño friends were amazed cuz i could do it better than them sometimes and even give better directions to places.
back to the taxis i never cared what they looked like. for me it was more the quality of the driver. If the jackass gave me some rediculous price i would immediately move on to the next cab as i didnt care for someone try to take advantage of me being gringo. he’s no good to begin with. Usually the next taxis understood and we’d joke about how the guy gave me some quote like 5 to 10 soles more than it should have been.
So yeah i’ve ridden in many ticos and other smaller taxis. I’ve had people tell me ticos are safe because they are so small. really i dont care. I have seen some really beat up ticos. I never take them though. I think most are the same if the taxi gets me safely from A to B i dont care.
my ex however, her and her family would crack me up they would wait for specific prices and only wait for nicer looking taxi’s. they wouldnt be caught riding in a tico o even a compact sedan and i was like wtf u guys arent living in the ritz are you too good for these? that shit was funny anyways if ever back in lima and make it to the area of cerro san cristobal you would understand…. Zarate is in my mind one of the ugliest places in lima outside of puente piedra, san martin de porres and independecia.
On bogota taxis i dont think i would like them either. but what can u do?
Your taxi experience is obviously limited to Bogota.
In other cities they either have meters with prices in Pesos or you have to negotiate the price.
In large cities such as Medellin. Cali they have taximetros, in smaller cities you have to negotiate the price.
@John – Thanks for the clarification. And no, I haven’t yet seen much besides Bogota.
Hi, I enjoy reading your blog and getting the raw inside view to life in Peru and Colombia.
I´d really like to now though how you think the cost of living (food, bed, drink) in Bogota compares to Arequipa? I´m happy living simply and cheaply here in Arequipa at the moment (I manage on 50 soles a day). I do however hear lots of good things about Colombia and would like to check it out if I could possibly manage on as little.
Anyways, keep on keeping on. Cheers
i made the mistake of taking a taxi once in medellin, and opening my mouth and speaking in english with the other passenger. we got took for a nice 45 minute long ride into the mountains that cost twice as much as it should have. the taxis in bogota are better, i’ve taken a few now, and the most they will rip you off is a few thousand pesos, even the ones you hail from the street.
Bogota taxis are safe enough, but they sometimes will try to take you for a ride or ask for an extra mil or two. One trick is, you NEVER ask, how much? Some meters will show the actual price, but either way, you look at the card and give him what’s appropriate. Also, try to keep enough small bills to pay exactly (I always round up, screw the coins) – that way, even if they ask for more, fuck ’em – give him what you owe and walk away. It’s not a negotiation.
Medllin taxis have meters in pesos, Bogota don’t also most of my Medellin friends always tell me to call for a taxi never hail inthe street, at the airport you take an officel white with blue stripe taxi to and from otherwise you might be robbed, or the driver of the yellow is a friend of family, back in 2010 I was walking on a side street in centro Medellin when as we approached a taxi parked on the wrong side of the road, the driver jumped out knife in hand demanding I hand over my money, I laughed at him and nodded my head upwards as about 75 feet away were 8 cops standing and modeling, he quickly jumoed in his cab and took off, not that the cops would have done much other than continue to stand and model but clearly the guy was a bobo……
I got robbed in Cali once, 8 at night with a German friend near the Iguana Hostel… We caught a random cab and told the driver our destination, him taking a normal route… It’s worth nothing we were both speaking in Colombian Spanish and had a couple years in the country by that point so we aren’t fools. Anyway, he calls his ‘wife’ and next thing we know there’s two other guys with guns in the car searching us as we tear through Cali at very high speeds… Assholes even took my prescription glasses and driver’s license… So be careful there…
The exact same thing happened to me – down to prescription glasses – in Lima as to the commentator above me in Cali. I cooperated quickly so the guys robbing me and my friend (a Limeño) didn’t actually have to take out their guns though – we heard the other one tell the other to “no sacar su arma” (“don’t take the gun out”.)
I’m living in Lima, and unfortunately I personally know zero Limeños who haven’t been robbed in a taxi or a micro/combi (never sit next to an open window in heavy traffic). It’s a shame, other than that I rarely feel scared or threatened in this country, I find most Peruvians really sweet and helpful. The taxis and the general traffic is definitely the worst thing here, but walking is quite okay since unlike some places, you can actually walk more than 5 meters without hearing rude whistles and “hola gringa!!” (Which really extends to all of us white people, not just Americans.)
Taxis in Peru are horrendous – there are good, honest taxi drivers out there and especially in Lima but the ‘industry’ seems to be infested with chorros, vivos and all kinds of other pondlife – the government would be doing their bit for tourism by properly regulating the taxi ‘industry’.
Anyone long term in Lima, get familiar with the buses – they will take you everywhere and though it looks chaotic – a lot better bet than taking a taxi everywhere.