Taking a taxi in Lima is not for the faint-of-heart. You really have to have a thick skin and an affinity for close calls to even get into one without cowering at the surrounding chaos of traffic. The fact that most of the seatbelts in these cabs don’t work or are missing altogether doesn’t help the matter much either. Aside from the unstable and ungoverned condition threatening the safety of traffic in Lima there is an equally pressing reason to take the road seriously in this city – taxi theft. I find most travel advisories treat the subject with an “it probably won’t happen to you but be warned” attitude without giving any sound advice or tips on how to avoid theft or to at least lesson the chances of it ever happening to you. My intention for writing this blog is deter or frighten travellers from coming to Peru because anyone who has ever been here will tell you it is a fantastic country full of warm people. However like any country it has its share of crime – a reality of which I’ve experienced first hand – and I feel obligated to share what I’ve learned with other travellers with the hope that no one will have to be educated in the art of being robbed by robbers themselves.
Before the Taxi
First and foremost, if you have chosen this form of transportation never if possible get into a taxi alone. The saying “safety in numbers” doesn’t always apply in South America, but it does lesson your chances of being robbed and ladies unfortunately we are more of a target especially if travelling solo. Now whether in a group or by yourself, preferably the former, choosing the right taxi is key in getting to point B safely. It is true that you can’t always judge a book by its cover but let’s face it sometimes you can and when choosing the right one always look for signs indicating that the taxi is a legitimate one since there are a large number of posers not regulated by any administrative authority. Always look for the Setame label in the taxi’s windshield which stands for Servicio de Taxi Metropolitano, the taxi service’s regulating operator. Other things to look out for are the car’s licence plate number stickered onto the sides of the car and I’ve noticed there is sometimes a first aid kit attached to one of the back windows. Although everything I’ve just mentioned can be forged and fake, any indications other than just a taxi sign in the front window or on the top of the car is promising. The most reliable indicator however is your own instinct; if something just doesn’t look right to you, it probably isn’t and you shouldn’t get into the car. If you have the money to spend and don’t mind paying double on a recommended registered taxi company check out CMV Taxi Remisse Ejectivo (517-1891), MITSOO S.A. (261-7788) or Taxi Green (484-4001). However if you are an average Jane like myself living in the city and can’t pay 20-25 soles for a 8 sol taxi ride every day then you have to use your judgment. Theft by taxi driver is not uncommon especially from someone trying to make a quick buck on a lonely traveller.
In the Taxi
Unlike North America, cabs in Peru do not have meters so always remember to negotiate a fare beforehand. Talk to your tour guide or even locals about how much it normally costs them to get from one place to another since there are many drivers willing to overcharge the inexperienced and bewildered foreigner. Normally under this heading I would typically advise everyone to lock their doors and keep their windows rolled up, but this may not come in handy in the case of taxi-targeted robberies known as “smash and grabs” whereby someone breaks the taxi window in order to rob the passenger when the taxi has come to a stop in traffic or at a red light. If you have baggage or a purse of any kind place it under the seat and if there are two of you, both should ride together in the back seat rather than one person upfront and one alone in back. In the event that a “smash and grab’’ does occur, never struggle, always give up your belongings. The only thing worse than a thief is an angry one!
Let’s say you were that one in a million who had been robbed by this method and opt for continuing home before reporting the event to authorities, always request for the taxi driver to drop you off away from your house or wherever you are staying (especially if your keys were one of the items stolen!) since a lot of the time taxi drivers are working in conjunction with the robbers. Wait until he drives off before you walk in the direction of home. The number for tourist police in Lima is 51-1-423-3500 (Lima North) or 51-1-243-2190 (Lima South). The local equivalent for “911” in Peru is 105.
I realise most of this is just common sense and that these types of muggings aren’t rampant throughout Peru, but they do happen and it happened to me just when I was feeling comfortable in my new surroundings and when I had least expected it. Almost 3 months ago I asked a Peace Corps volunteer if she had one piece of advice for someone like me who wanted to live in the country long-term and she answered, “Don’t expect anything from Peru, keep an open mind, love it with your whole heart but never…ever…let your guard down.”
Christina Baker writes for the Karikuy Volunteer Program.