Nervous to take a taxi in a Central America? I feel ya. Before leaving for Central America I read many blogs warning to stay away from taxis, that the drivers will lie and steal from you. Luckily this never happened to me and I found my taxi rides to be quiet informing and enjoyable. Bumping along in a car that looked like it’s motor was about to fall through the bottom, without a seatbelt I might add, was when I practiced my Spanish the most – I learned life stories, best places to eat, best beaches, where not to go, events going on, I’ve even had a driver pull over and point out a volcano eruption. Taking a taxi in Central America can be a little stressful so I’ve written down some tips I picked up through my experiences.
Bartering is awesome and is encouraged in many aspects of life in Central America, including when hailing a taxi. In Panama, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Mexico discuss the price with your driver before getting into the cab, it’s very important to make sure everyone is on the same page price wise. If you’re in a city and you can’t agree on a price send the driver on their way and hail the next cab, there will be plenty. Took the same cab ride last week for less? Call them out! Though there are times, like traveling from one bus station to the next in Managua, where you have to agree on the higher price because it’s your only option. You’ll feel like you’re getting ripped off and it’s good to remember that these people are trying to make a living and paying an extra dollar really won’t kill you, because if you don’t you’ll just get angry and anger rarely helps a situation.
This is the only country that I experienced the driver using a meter. MAKE THEM USE THE METER or they will take everything you have, you’re first born not excluded. When getting in a cab ask them if their meter works and for them to use it. If they say it doesn’t work or they don’t use it then get out. Without the meter they will tell you the price they want once you arrive at your destination and trust me, it will not be cheap. Don’t try and barter with them. Just stick to the meter. In general taxis are more expensive in Costa Rica than the other Central American countries but then again everything is.
The taxis in Nicaragua are collectivo which means they will pick anyone up if there is room. This can be a little uncomfortable, I was super nervous, but you just have to remember that this is just the way life is. It’s not thieves jumping into your taxi to rob you, it’s grandmothers holding babies, kids coming home from school, or some weird guy who is so drunk he passes out on your shoulder (yeah, that happened). As I always say although there are opportunists, as with any country, sharing a taxi with people is just something you will have to get used to because that’s the way things are in Nicaragua. If you’re getting into a taxi already occupied greet the other passengers and the driver.
Find out the price before hand
If you’re staying in a hotel or hostel and know where you are going ask them the price before hand. In Mexico we would ask our Air B&B hosts how much it cost to go where we wanted before we hopped in the taxi. When we arrived at our destination we would quickly give them the correct amount of pesos and hop out before they could ask for more.
This one is a little difficult if you don’t speak Spanish. We were told by many to keep our English to a minimum because the drivers will jack up the price if they hear you speaking English. Knowing Spanish my boyfriend and I always tried to chat while we sped along. We’d ask them what their favorite place in the city is, how long they’ve lived there, etc, you’d be surprised how quickly most drivers open up and what you learn. If you don’t feel like talking or don’t know much Spanish it’s polite to greet the driver. Chatting with your driver is a great way to practice your Spanish!
Don’t get overwhelmed
I’m not going to lie sometimes hailing a taxi can be stressful especially when there is more than one driver fighting for your attention. Sometimes people will hop on the buses before arriving to the station and ask you where you are going or they will surround you once you get off screaming to take their taxi. Just keep take a deep breath, gather yourself and then when you’re ready negotiate. Don’t feel bad about pitting drivers against each other, when there are so many it’s hard to keep track of who you said you would ride with. We found that a lot of the drivers seemed to be working together.
There is power in numbers
This applies to everything, taxi rides, hotels, activities, the more people the better deal you will get! Heading to Isla Ometepe in Nicaragua? Try and find other backpackers heading that way and split a taxi.
Accept that you will get ripped off
You’re in a new country, culture, with a new language and there is no way not to stand out as a tourist. So, it’s important to accept that sometimes you will get ripped off and move on. As I said above getting angry won’t help anything and stewing about it won’t bring your money back. It’s good to acknowledge that getting ripped off, hopefully only occasionally, is an aspect that comes with traveling.
Always remember to keep your wits about you and never get into a cab if you’re having a bad feeling about it!
Have any tips for hailing a taxi in Central America?
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