How to Survive a Taxi Ride in Latin America - This American Girl

Granada, Nicaragua


A few days ago

en route from Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica to Granada, Nicaragua

I found myself

once again

screwed over by a taxi.


Granada, Nicaragua


The details are irrelevant.

He lied.

I believed him. Why?!?!!!

I ended up in a less than desirable situation

stuck at the Nicaraguan border

in the dark

with no connecting bus.


Granada, Nicaragua


And this happens to me

and many travelers

all of the time.


Granada, Nicaragua


Paying ten times the going rate.

Told my hostel was shut down.

Brought to an abandoned bus station.

Driven in circles while the meter soared.


Granada, Nicaragua


In an attempt to finally break this pattern

I’ve created some guidelines for all of you.


Granada, Nicaragua


Do not speak their language


Literally. If you actually don’t speak any Spanish, congratulations this step will be very easy for you. If you do speak Spanish, no matter how limited, keep that card close to your chest. This is usually my downfall as meeting people, learning about local culture, and practicing the language are some of my favorite aspects of travel.


Granada, Nicaragua


If you must communicate, offer as little information as possible


The more information you offer the more power they have in their ability to manipulate you. Particularly if you say anything with hesitation or uncertainty. Be confident and decisive. “Go to x location where I have a reservation at y time.” No additional information regarding your needs is necessary. Asserting that you might not like the hotel, that the place might be fully booked, etc. swings the door wide open for them to direct you towards their agenda.


Granada, Nicaragua


Do not heed their advice, stick to your original plan


Unfortunately the advice of taxi drivers is usually self-serving. They do not want you to take the bus. They want you to take a taxi, especially if that means hours and hundreds of dollars. They want you to stay in a hotel that they suggest, for as long as possible, as it will be one that pays them for their referrals. You need to look out for yourself, no matter how nice and accommodating they may seem. Remember that it is your responsibility to have your own best interest in mind, not theirs.


Granada, Nicaragua


If they ask if you have a ticket or a reservation always say YES


See above. They are looking for opportunities to tell you that the bus is sold out or not running. That your hotel is booked or in a dangerous neighborhood. Trust yourself and your research. Whether you have the ticket or reservation or not sticking to that plan will likely produce a better option.


Granada, Nicaragua


Establish the rate before you enter the taxi


Better yet do your research on what the rate should be before you get in so that you have a clear frame of reference in your negotiations. Too many times I’ve been given an absurd rate at the end of the ride, but I pay anyway as insulting them with less doesn’t sit well with me. This could be avoided by simply determining the rate first.


Granada, Nicaragua


If it’s your first time in the country be certain on the exchange rate


Ideally have your guidebook with the exchange rate in it. I made the terrible mistake of asking my taxi driver my first night in Granada what the exchange rate was… even though I was pretty sure I knew. He asserted that it was twenty times in his favor. When I argued, he pretended to call the tourism board then put me on the phone with someone who lied to me as well. When I continued to argue (apologetically) he held me hostage, saying that the road to my hostel was closed, until I confirmed his lies with strangers on the street and got out of the taxi. In the end I paid ten times the going taxi rate rather than two hundred times and walked to my hostel. Maybe I should have paid him nothing? Karma keeps me generous.


Granada, Nicaragua


Some common lies to look out for:


“That hotel is full, let me take you to a better one.”

“The buses aren’t running, it’s better to take a taxi.”

“The buses are all full and sold out. They have nothing until next week. Come, let me take you to a nice hotel.”

“I can’t take you there, it’s much too dangerous. Let me take you here instead.”


The sad reality is that there are desperate people who see tourists as disoriented money trees ripe for manipulation. However, this is not always the case and I don’t want to discourage anyone from talking to people when traveling. In fact, it’s one of the best parts of traveling! Interacting!

Granada, Nicaragua


However, be selective when you choose to be chatty. Why not reserve your candor for the times when you are not vulnerable? For instance in the day with friends when you have no cares, no agenda, and no luggage. The times I have been swindled are typically at night, alone, with all of my belongings. Particularly when I am fresh off of the bus looking for my hostel or in a hurry to get somewhere with no ticket nor reservation.


My general rule of thumb in every situation, particularly as a woman traveling alone,  is to take a deep breath, be confident, and use your instincts.


Do you have any taxi nightmares or lessons learned to share?



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