TAXIS: ¿Cuanto cuesta irme a _(fill in the blank)___?” This is what you should always ask before getting into any taxi especially in Peru. Now, it is widely understood that a cab fare around the centro should only cost 3 soles maximum but once you get outside the main neighborhoods, the prices goes up a sol or two. A cab ride, even to the farthest neighborhood should only cost 6 soles maximum. As a resident of Cusco for over a year and half now I feel like I have a good grasp on how to deal with taxi drivers. Here is my advice:
1. Always ask how much the cab ride is going to cost before you get inside the taxi with the phrase “¿Cuanto cuesta irme a _______?”
2. Try and use exact change. It’s a lot harder for a taxi driver to argue with you when you give him the exact amount of what the cab ride should cost (3 soles around the center of town.)
3. If you do have a bill make sure to ask if the driver has sencillo or change. “¿Tienes sencillo para diez (10) o viente (20)?” If he doesn’t, find another taxi.
4. Argue for the correct fair if you know enough Spanish. My typical rant after getting a ridiculous gringo price is as follows: “Por favor, es bastante alto. Solo quiero ir a _fill in blank___ y no debe costar tanto.” If he continues to go with the price I continue with the following: “Si yo fuera peruana, me cobrarias tanto? Como va a robarme? Yo vivo aca.” Now, if this doesn’t work I say adios and wait for the next taxi to come my way. One of the great things about Cusco is that a taxi is more common than a privately owned car.
5. If you are going out late at night make sure to call a taxi. I like Taxi Turismo or Taxi Express in Cusco. Make sure to tell them exactly where you are and when they ask for your name give them one that is super easy for them to pronounce like Maria, Elena, Sara, Jose, Juan, o Marco. I can’t even tell you how many times they get my name wrong. The other night was the first time Taxi Express got it right. It was a joyous occasion.
6. In terms of safety, many people will tell you not to take a Tico (the type of car in the picture above) unless it has a sign above it and it is a radio taxi. Forget how they are more or a less a metal box with no protection if you get into an accident. You are more than welcome to only take radio taxis or station wagons, but if you are in a rush and it’s during the day, I wouldn’t worry too much about taking a Tico. Just in case, you can always make a note to look for the license plate number painted on the inside of the car door and for the sticker of license from the municipality in the front window. However, if you are coming out of a club at 3am in the morning I wouldn’t take anything other than a radio taxi. There are tons of them in the plaza de armas late at night.
7. Expect to pay a bit more late at night. I usually pay 5 soles maximum to get home from the Plaza de Armas late at night. The taxi drivers are working late hours and it is a small increase to pay to get home safely.
8. No matter how long you live in Peru, if you are a foreigner, you will always be treated as a foreigner by taxi drivers. Not every driver will be unfair but many will assume you are just a passing tourist and don’t know any better, which is why I hope this blog entry will help anyone who may be coming to Peru and specifically Cusco. I was once given the price of 15 soles to get from my friends house back to my place. I let the driver have it and when he didn’t back down I said “let me out, you are a thief”. It’s important to stick up for oneself and no one deserves to be played by any taxi driver.
COMBIS: If you are looking to get a feel for how most Cusqueñans get around, I would highly recommend getting on a combi and going for a cramped and bumpy (but cheap!) ride. I would also recommend it to anyone who is planning on living here a while. Although taxis are pretty cheap, they do add up. It will only cost you 60 or 70 centimos to take a combi and you can take one almost anywhere. If anything you can just get a kick out of riding a combi called Batman or White Christ (Cristo Blanco). The only problem is, there is no guide that you can buy to help you out like the GuiaT in Buenos Aires. You just have to ask the cobrador, the person who opens the door and asks for your money, if the combi is going where you want to go. If you have the time, you can just hop on one and take it until it loops back around to where you started. Now, if you are a tall person you might not want to deal with the space problems, or lack thereof. If you are lucky you will pick up a combi like the one below which is made for people above the height of 4 feet.
However, most look like this, a minivan with a slightly (and only slightly) higher ceiling.
Once you get on a combi it is not required that you pay right away. You can go a whole ride until you get off without paying your fare. If the cobrador calls out “pasajes, pasajes” that means you should get your coins out to pay. You don’t get a ticket like you would in Lima so you hope that the cobrador remembers who you are and that you paid. If you are a foreigner, you will have no problem being remembered.
In order to get off, you must say “baja” when the cobrador calls out the street or the area where they are going to stop. Sometimes the cobrador will not call out the stop and you will have to call out “baja” so that he knows to have the driver stop. Make sure to speak up.
Finally, if you are going for a joy ride on a combi, don’t go between the hours of 6 and 9am, 12-2pm and 6pm-8pm. Those are the rush hours and combis tend to be packed.
The great thing about Cusco is that it is not that big and if you do get lost, you are no more than 20 minutes away by taxi from your hotel or home. Happy traveling!