Feb 11

The Magical World of Colombian Taxis

BiciTaxi in Colombia, carrying my regal self


When you finally get to Colombia, the easiest way to travel around by far (before you enter the magical world of The Chicken Buses) are those little lemon-yellow  taxis blaring out their salsa or reggaeton that are in such rich profusion pretty much all over the country. Convenient, quick, and relatively cheap; they’re generally reliable, and, as in most countries, you’ll get to have a right-proper chin-wag with your (often) moustachioed driver. Having said that, we thought we’d let you know a few tips to help you capitalise on this service to the full.


How to Catch One


It's not that hard. Photo courtesy of Leah Gregg (Creative Commons License)
It’s not that hard. Photo courtesy of Leah Gregg (CC Licensed)


Look, especially during the day, I don’t see any great risk in hailing a taxi on the street pretty much anywhere in Colombia. However, to be ultra-safe and never sorry, we suggest using one of the smart-phone apps going around these days: the best are Easy Taxi in most of the major cities, and Tappsi in Bogota and Barranquilla. Not only does this pretty much guarantee a taxi driver you can trust, it’s also quick and kinda magic. If, like me, you feel like a bewildered grandpa trying to work one of those new-fangled things, get the place you’re at to call one for you. They’ll give you a two-digit security number to tell the taxi driver, and also the right number plate. Safe, bruvva!


Fare’s Fair


Taxis in Cartagena (Photo courtesy of Liz Saldaña - http://www.flickr.com/photos/lizsaldana/3213398758/)
Taxis in Cartagena. Photo courtesy of Liz Saldaña (CC Licensed).


In many of the bigger cities, taxis use meters. These must be visible to you, and, of course, should be started once the journey does. Keep an eye on this, and that it goes up in small, steady increments, and doesn’t suddenly jump a thousand pesos or so: there are rumours of some crafty drivers being able to change the meter somehow. To check this, there also ought to be a laminated card hanging from the back of the passenger seat, which will break down the various possible fares. Places like airports, bus terminals, and the cruiser terminal in Cartagena attract a tariff to the normal fare, as does night taxi-ing.

In towns, and, for some reason, Cartagena, set fares are used, and not meters. Especially if you’re in Cartagena, negotiate the price before getting in. A rough guide: if you’re going anywhere a tourist would generally go in Cartagena itself, if you’re paying 15,000 pesos, you’re probably getting ripped off.

And, if you notice you’re getting ripped off anywhere, it’s often the case that, if you point out the discrepancy, the driver will quickly apologise with an embarrassed “que pena con usted” and smile, and then state the correct price. Stay aware!


Taxi Culture


Taxis line up on one of Bogota's busiest roads
Taxis! Everywhere!


There are two things the taxi drivers of Colombia love: their music, and their doors (very few love the music of The Doors, which I for one can sympathise with). Pretend (at the very least) to enjoy the former, and be extremely careful with the latter. Shut them with the utmost delicacy and care, and you are spared the wrath of a taxi-driver scorned. Some will even prefer to shut your door themselves – just in case. Taxi-drivers here generally love a good chat, too, and they generally know some pretty good stories. Make the most of them!


Other Taxi Forms


So cute!!! The motochiva.
So cute!!! The motochiva


Depending on where you are, even in the major cities, you’ll see environmentally-friendly Bicycle Taxis and their superhuman riders plying fixed routes for a buck or two – but never more impressively than in the Caribbean town of Tolu. Also, check out private mini-vans that can be hired from your hotel/hostel or bus terminal. These are a comfortable, convenient, if a little costlier, alternative to inter-city buses. Our favourite taxi form, however, would have to be the seriously cute Motochivas that are Antioquia’s Guatape’s pride and joy. Awwwww, just look at them!!



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