From above they must be yellow blurs, careening between multicoloured dots and somehow avoiding contact. From roadside they can be seen swaying between cars and buses, stopping and starting as quickly as their passenger’s pulses. From inside a taxi you’ll see little more than your life flashing before your eyes every time the driver darts within inches of a bus, only to haul his vehicle expertly to the next lane, somehow in tune with the new flow of traffic.
Colombian taxis are an experience, to say the least, and one that people unfamiliar with life in Latin America may find shocking. Drivers are fast, they seem reckless and, as 3 lanes turn into 6 informal ones, they’ll drive into spaces that you were sure couldn’t fit a car. These types of drivers tend to be found in the bigger cities, so if you travel to Cartagena, Bogota or Medellin, be prepared.
Before you go off taxis in Colombia completely however, keep a few things in mind. Firstly, this is the way people drive in Colombia, and they’ve got used to it. It might seem insane to those who live in countries where you ‘Look, Signal, and Turn’, but the ‘Turn, Signal, Get Beeped At, Look’ does tend to somehow work, even if it leaves a few hearts in mouths.
Secondly, and this is important, cars here are very light. That means when it looks like your taxi is approaching a junction far to rapidly, you should remember that these vehicles can stop very, very quickly compared to cars back home. It also means that when you get out, close the door lightly. You don’t need to slam it like you do back home.
I imagine that for some of our Colombia Travel Blog readers, the erratic driving isn’t the immediate fear. Many people still have in their minds that this is a country wherein kidnapping is frequent, and taxis will be the prime suspect. There is an advertisement in England that says ‘If you haven’t called the taxi, it’s just some stranger’s car’. You should keep that in mind wherever you visit in the world. In Colombia it is prudent to:
- Call your taxi, don’t just hail it in the street
- Once you get in your taxi, lock the doors
- Consult the card with tariffs on. Even if you don’t understand it, looking like you do reduces the risk of getting over-charged
Taxis are generally honest and won’t try to overcharge you, and if they do you’ll be looking at a matter of cents, since the original price is so low (a journey averages about $3-4US). Keep in mind that on Sundays and in the evening there are extra charges, the amount of which will depend on where you are.
In Bogota the taxi meter goes up from 25000. This is not how much you pay, but the number on your tariff card that corresponds to the correct price. In Medellin they display the price on the taxi meter. In Cartagena, like much of Colombia, they have pre-set amounts for the distance you travel.
Hold on tight.