In our little Canadian bubble, we would like to generally believe that Taxis are a ligit mode of transportation. Easy enough, you call a company that sends a car for you, you tell the driver where you are going and when you arrive, you pay him. Hmmm … seems simple.
What is normal and simple in Canada, is NOT the way it is in most of the rest of the world! I can’t stress this enough. Canada is one small part of the world and we live very well here, but it is unlike the majority of countries in the world. I can’t tackle all of the world’s differences in one post, so let’s start with taxis.
When you travel to other countries, you have to be careful about your taxis. In some countries you can call for a cab from your apartment or hotel, in other countries that is simply unheard of. In some cities you stand on the street and hail a cab (picture New York City), in other cities you wave frantically and they just keep driving by (Halifax – we don’t ‘hail’ cabs here!). In Lima, Peru taxis are actively out looking for you! I didn’t realize this at first, but once I figured it out, I learned to love it! If you are walking down the street, standing on the corner or just about anywhere, if a cab is coming toward you and doesn’t have a passenger, they’ll toot their horn. If you need a ride you make eye contact or give a little wave and they’ll pull over for you. You are NEVER stuck waiting for a cab, they are everywhere and they want your business. Now, it is your choice if you want to negotiate with several, but you never have to wait long!
No matter where you are traveling, if you are going to be paying for a ride, you should find out the customs and procedures for traveling by taxi. You might want to start with which companies are reputable and how to recognize them.
We’ve all heard horror stories of someone visiting a country where they thought they were getting into a taxi, but in the end they were kidnapped or murdered. Not all countries regulate their taxis like we do here in Canada, in fact, most don’t! In many places, any John Doe can pull up beside you and offer you a ride and take your money. That doesn’t mean you should take them up on that offer! Or at least not if you value your life.
While I was traveling in Ecuador and Peru, I made sure that I was always looking for the taxi sign on top of the car, as well as their ID badge or operators permit. When I could, I took pre-arranged transfers with tour companies or asked my hotel to arrange a cab for me. In most places this worked well, but it is a more expensive route. Airport transfers cost in the vicinity of double what I would have paid if I just caught a regular taxi on my own. However, having someone waiting for me at the airport with my name on a sign was always a relief as well, so maybe sometimes it is worth double! In fact, when traveling alone, not being able to speak the language and landing in a country late at night … I think the extra $10-$20 is well worth the piece of mind!
At Hotel Britania in the Miraflores district of Lima, our hotel was great about hailing cabs for me any time I needed one. They would also negotiate the price for you. If you told them you needed to go somewhere and you were willing to pay five Soles, they would hail four or five cabs until they found one who would take you for that price. If no luck, you could always pay a little more to the next cab if they said no to the five Soles.
One of the most important pieces of advice to remember is to ALWAYS negotiate your price before you take off in a cab. Most times I negotiated at the driver’s window before ever getting in the cab. Some taxis have meters, others don’t … some are regulated to use them, some simply don’t give a damn. I’m sure many of them are either working for themselves, or at least are skimming off the top to pay themselves a little extra. This is just the way it is in other countries. In Canada, that isn’t acceptable. In South America, it is an everyday occurrence.
Another important tip is to always travel with small bills and local currency. Taxi drivers do not keep an abundance of cash on hand and often are not able to make change for you. Because of the high theft rates they can’t keep a lot of cash in their cab for their own safety. Taxis are generally very inexpensive, so trying to pay them with a 50 Soles bill for a five Soles ride is just simply not possible. If you only have a large bill, you should ask the driver before you get in if he can change it. The word for change in Spanish is ‘cambio’.