Nicaraguans undergo a strange personality change behind the wheel of a taxi. In every other setting in Nicaragua, aggression and speed are frowned upon. The Nicaraguan mantra is, “Manana” or “Tranquilo”. But, put a Nicaraguan in the driver’s seat and he portrays all the calmness of a hooded bandit in a lynch mob.
I shouldn’t be so hard on the taxi drivers in Nicaragua, but it took us many drivers before we found one that we can trust with our lives, our possessions, and our pocketbook. Apparently, there are no standard rates, nor do the taxis have meters. So, how does one know how much a taxi ride should cost in Nicaragua? Below, you will find my guidelines for getting a taxi in Nicaragua, but first a little about my favorite taxi driver, Francisco.
Francisco is our local taxi driver. Since we don’t have a car, nor do we want a car in Nicaragua, Francisco takes us everywhere. The first time I met him, he offered us a ride in Rivas for 10 cordobas. We had just turned down a $10 taxi ride to the ferry…a little over a mile, and I was hot, tired, and angry with the taxi drivers in the market for trying to rip us off. When I asked for Francisco’s telephone number, he handed me a crumpled Winnie-the-Poo sticker from his son’s backpack and scribbled his number on it. After that, I was sold on Francisco’s warm smile, his honest taxi service, and his safe and tranquilo attitude.
I wanted to help Francisco increase his business, so I offered to make him some business cards. Since my biggest complaint is that we never know how much a trip will cost, I convinced Francisco to put the prices on the back of the card. As a result, Francisco is the first taxi driver to have his prices on a professional business card and his service has increased daily.
Guide to Taxi Service in Nicaragua
1. How much should a taxi ride cost?
A good rule of thumb is to plan on paying around $10 for every 20 kilometers.
Distance calculator in Nicaragua
2. Never get in without agreeing on a fare. Period!
Since none of the taxis in Nicaragua have meters, it is very important to agree on the price before getting into the taxi. Make sure the rate is per person or for more than one person. Does it include luggage? We’ve made this mistake several times and ended up paying 4 times the normal fare. I hate to be taken for a fool. If you are only going a short distance, from one street to another in the same town, ask for a collectivo. A collectivo generally has a standard rate in town and they will pick up and drop off many passengers.
Standard rates for collectivos in Rivas are: 15 cordobas per person
In Granada: 10 cordobas per person
3. To put your luggage in the trunk or not?
BF ( Before Francisco), I never put my luggage in the trunk of a taxi. If I was going to have a big dispute over the agreed upon fare when I got out of the taxi, ( and you probably will at one time or another in Nicaragua) I wanted to have all my luggage with me. If your luggage is in the trunk, it is easy for the taxi driver to hold your luggage for ransom during a dispute. Plus, I always carry my laptop in my day pack on a longer trip and I don’t want to subject it to over 100 degree temperatures in the trunk of a taxi.
4. Have the proper change.
The story of our lives in Nicaragua. Don’t go anywhere without the proper change. It always amuses me when a taxi driver requests a $15 fee and when you arrive at your destination, and hand him a $20 bill, he looks at you shocked that he is supposed to make change. Usually, after a little argument, I give up and tell him it’s a tip. It’s not worth the hassle. Bring small bills and give the taxi driver the exact change. On another note, I always give Francisco a tip, but that is not the norm in Nicaragua unless you have an amazing taxi driver. More chances than not, you will be overcharged just because you are a foreigner who doesn’t know any better, and I consider that the tip. It may be calloused, but I’ve learned the hard way.
5. Check the condition of the taxi before getting in.
I’ve ridden in some literal death traps in Nicaragua. The doors don’t unlock, the windows don’t work, the tires wobble…oh the tales of horror. Unless you know the driver or have a recommendation for a good driver… if the car looks unsafe, don’t get in. There are plenty of other taxi drivers in large cities. Just say, no!
6. Just say, NO!
It’s perfectly fine to be aggressive and just say, NO, especially if you get a strange feeling. Some taxi scams in Nicaragua:
The buses aren’t running scam.
You are on your way to the bus station in a crowded market to catch a bus. A taxi driver yells,” Where are you going?” You respond, “Granada.” The taxi driver says, “You just missed the last bus to Granada. There are no more buses today. I’ll take you, cheap.”
Taken to an isolated spot, robbed, and dropped off in the middle of nowhere scam
You are waiting in a market for a bus. A friendly local strikes up a conversation with you. “No need to take a bus,” says the local. “I’m waiting for my friend who is a taxi driver. He’ll take you to Granada after he drops me off.” You get in the back of the taxi, and your local friend gets in beside you. Then, the taxi driver picks up another person, who gets in the backseat on the other side of you. You are driven to an ATM and forced to withdraw money…usually at knife point or sometimes by gun point. Then, you are forced back into the taxi, driven to an isolated spot, beaten and sometimes raped, and thrown out of the taxi.
I really hate to scare you, but these incidents have happened often in Nicaragua. In both cases, JUST SAY NO! Walk away. Trust your intuition. If something doesn’t feel right…just say NO!
7. Get the directions in Spanish
You will be lucky to find a taxi driver that speaks English. If your Spanish is poor, always get the directions to your location in Spanish. Most hotels and hostels have brochures or business cards with their addresses printed in Spanish. Grab one and stick it in a safe place. After a night out on the town, you can simply hand the taxi driver the card or brochure and tell him to take you there. If you want to do a day trip to another place, ask your hotel or hostel employee to write the directions for you in Spanish and you can hand it to the driver.
8. Ask your hotel, or a local friend for recommendations for a taxi driver
Hotels and hostels want customers to return, so they will usually have taxi drivers available that they recommend. Always ask them for recommendations. The only bad experience we had in this area was my last trip back from the states. We stayed at the Best Western Hotel across from the airport in Managua and Francisco was to return to pick us up. My flight was canceled at the last-minute to Nicaragua, Ron was waiting for me in Managua at the hotel, and his Spanish was poor. So, he asked the desk attendant at the Best Western to call Francisco for him and tell him to pick us up the following day. The desk clerk called Francisco, but he told Francisco that my flight was delayed and not to pick us up. Ron wasn’t aware of what the desk clerk told Francisco and the desk clerk was hoping for a commission from his taxi driver. The next day at 11:00am we were waiting for Francisco. Thirty minutes later, Francisco wasn’t there, which was very unusual. A few minutes later, the phone in our hotel room rang and it was Francisco. He asked me how we were getting back to Ometepe because the desk clerk told him not to pick us up. I was furious. Francisco arrived an hour later and I told the desk clerk about the incident and said he just lost two good paying customers. We will never stay there again.
Overall, we are fortunate to have found a wonderful and trustworthy taxi driver in Nicaragua. I consider him to be my friend, as well as my taxi driver. I hope these tips are helpful and I haven’t scared you. It’s always better to be knowledgable about the taxi service in Nicaragua or you could be in for a wild ride!
Below are a few interesting links to articles about taxis in Nicaragua.