Taking taxis in Colombia can be stressful for first time visitors, but I’ve generally had positive experiences.
In large Colombian cities, taxis operate on a meter. If the driver is not using the meter, ask them to turn it on. Expect a surcharge at night, on Sundays or holidays, if you had to call for the taxi, or for airport runs. In smaller towns, the taxis have a minimum charge and fares rarely ever surpass that minimum. In my experience, drivers have been honest and courteous for the most part. Every time I’ve asked a driver to estimate the fare before the ride, it’s pretty close to what the meter says at the end of the ride.
In most cities, the meters are straightforward, but in Bogotá, the system can be confusing. The meters in Bogotá start at a number and tick upwards. In each taxi, there should be a fare sheet that tells you the fare corresponding to the number on the meter at the end of the taxi ride. If the driver tells you a price that doesn’t seem right, verify it with the fare sheet before paying.
In some airport and bus station taxi queues, you’re required to get a printed receipt before getting into a taxi. Tell the attendant where you’re going and they’ll print a receipt with the fare you have to pay. Tell the driver the address and give the receipt to the driver after the ride. The Cartagena airport and Armenia bus station operate like this.
If you need to hire a taxi for the day, shop around. When my father came to visit, my girlfriend Marisol and I asked five different drivers for the price of using their services for the entire day. We got prices between COP$150,000 to $280,000.
Closing the Door
When exiting a taxi in Colombia, make sure close the door softly. Drivers get extremely annoyed if they think you’re slamming the door. My first few weeks in Colombia, I was closing the doors exactly like I would in the US or Europe and the drivers would always yell at me for closing it too hard. I didn’t think I was doing anything out of the ordinary, but I was told by a Colombian friend it’s a cultural thing and I need to be more gentle with car doors in Colombia.
My Bad Experiences
In my time in Colombia, I’ve only had two issues with taxi drivers overcharging or taking me for a ride. They were in Medellín and Bogotá. In Medellín, the driver took the very scenic route from the bus terminal to my hotel. I knew it was a straight shot and should’ve only taken five minutes, but he went unnecessarily out of the way and it ended up costing COP$14,000 – almost triple what it should have been. When I noticed he was going the wrong way and called him out, he blamed traffic.
In Bogotá, I jumped into a taxi at the airport. When I arrived at my hotel, the driver quoted me COP$50,000 when I knew it shouldn’t have cost any more than COP$25,000. I asked for the fare sheet and he pretended not to know what I was talking about. He said that COP$50,000 is the correct price from the airport and it always has been. I showed him my Colombian ID and said “I’m not a tourist” and I would report him. He then claimed he was a “special taxi” and got on the radio for the “dispatcher” to tell me the price. They were obviously working together because he quoted the same price.
The driver refused to get my bags out of the trunk until I paid him in full. It was after midnight and I gave up after about 15 minutes. I took down the plate number and asked the hotel reception to report him but I’m not sure anything came of it.
Two incidences out of countless taxi rides isn’t bad at all. Any visitor to Colombia should feel perfectly fine using taxis anywhere in the country.
Going to Bogotá?
If you will be in Bogotá and can get by in Spanish, download an app called Denuncie al Taxista. This app allows you to run a taxi’s plates to check passenger reports on drivers before you take a ride. It also tells you what the correct taxi fare should be.