Many expats here in Cuenca do not own cars and have to rely on public transportation to get around. Car ownership can be complicated and somewhat expensive in Ecuador so, like many other expats, we have had to adapt to a car-less lifestyle.
Tips For Taking Taxis in Cuenca
Taxis are everywhere in Cuenca and it is usually not hard to find one. There are, however, some things to remember about taxis in Cuenca.
First of all, you need to tell the driver where you are going and find out how much he is going to charge you before you enter the car. Most taxi drivers want you to just hop on in and not ask price.
Even if you are not fluent in Spanish, you can quickly learn a few basic phrases that you need to use on a regular basis when dealing with taxi drivers. If a gringo jumps into a taxi without first getting a price he runs the risk of being charged more, especially if you are traveling from the airport or bus terminal.
Some taxi drivers seem to have the mindset that if you are a foreigner then you must be a tourist and everyone knows that gringo tourists are rich and eager to pay more.
For example, the most we have ever paid when taking a taxi from the airport to our house is $5.00. However, one day I went to the airport to pick up a friend who had just arrived and the taxi driver quoted us $5.00, which is a little high.
However, when we arrived at our house the driver wanted $7.00. I told him that I live here and know what taxis charge and that I did not appreciate taxi drivers who try to take advantage of foreigners. He decided to backed down and took the $5.00 and left.
Sometimes we have encountered taxi drivers who act as if they don’t understand the address you have given them and complain that the trip is much longer than they had anticipated and therefore try and squeeze more money out of you than initially quoted. Don’t fall for that trick. Only pay the price you have negotiated.
The law states that taxis are required to use a taximeter to determine fares. While most taxis in Cuenca do have a meter, few drivers use them. I understand that in Quito the taxi drivers do use the meter, but I have only twice encountered a taxi driver in Cuenca who used the meter, and guess what?
The price the meter showed was less than what I normally paid for the trip when I had to negotiate a price. Taxi drivers say that customers prefer to negotiate, but I for one do not like the hassle of price haggling in the middle of the street while cars buzz by blowing the horn.
A Few Bad Apples…
If you randomly grab a taxi off the street you need to be prepared to negotiate and may find less than friendly drivers.
We once hailed a random taxi in front of the grocery store because the taxis we usually use were nowhere to be found. We did not negotiate a price with the driver since we were in a hurry and needed to get home.
Once in the car the driver announced that the trip would cost us $4.00, which is a dollar more than we normally pay for that trip.
I kept my mouth shut and did not protest the higher price since we were already in the car and needed to get home. When we got to our house the driver decided he wanted $5.00. I got out of the car, gave him $4.00, and left him at our door screaming for another dollar.
I refused to pay more than the quoted price, especially since we were already paying a dollar more than normal and the driver was screaming at me as if I were a dog.
A friend of ours from the States who has lived here for many years even had a taxi driver lock her in the car demanding an extra 50 cents. She did not pay the extra fare and gave the driver a tongue lashing before being set free.
Experiences like that are annoying, but that is what occasionally happens when you grab just any taxi that happens to pass by.
There may be some who say that haggling over 50 cents or a dollar is not worth the effort, but it is not necessarily the money that is the issue; it is being taken advantage of or being taken for a fool that really irritates me and many other expats who have lived here for years.
I need to stress that the vast majority of taxi drivers we have encountered here are friendly and many have lived in the States and appreciate the expats who choose to settle here.
It is not fair to put all taxi drivers in the same category. Most are honest, hard working people who treat their customers fairly. As is often the case in any given group, the few bad apples can ruin the reputation of the majority of decent people.
Also, taxi drivers have to invest $25,000 to $30,000 to buy a taxi and obtain a license, so they do have a considerable investment to recuperate and have to charge a certain amount of money to make it financially.
I don’t begrudge anyone who is trying to make a living; I just don’t want to be overcharged because I am a foreigner.
If you want to avoid the sometimes belligerent taxi drivers who try to overcharge unsuspecting foreigners, there is an alternative. Instead of hailing just any taxi on the street, you can use a radio dispatched taxi company.
The drivers are generally more courteous and treat their customers better because they know that you are likely to use them again. There are a number of radio taxi companies in Cuenca who will pick you up at your house or just about any other location in town. We use a radio taxi company near our house and most of the drivers know us by name and are courteous and don’t overcharge us.
Even if we are in the center of town far from our house, we can call the radio taxi and they will dispatch a driver to pick us up and take us home.
The radio taxi company has registered our phone numbers and address so when we call, they know who we are and where we live and they dispatch a taxi to our house usually within 5 minutes.
When we use the radio-dispatched taxis we avoid the price haggling routine and just pay what is normal and the drivers don’t complain or ask for more money since we are repeat customers.
When we buy groceries there are usually taxis lined up outside of the store waiting for customers and those guys are usually also courteous and reliable. Since we have been using the same grocery store for years the taxi drivers at that location also know us and don’t try to take advantage of us either. They even help us unload our groceries and take them to our door.
When Taxis are Scarce
There are times when finding a taxi can be almost impossible and you may find yourself stranded.
We have had that happen a few times and it was frustrating. As a general rule, if it is raining there will be fewer taxis available since everyone wants a taxi to avoid walking in the rain.
Also, if there is a major soccer match between popular teams you may find fewer taxis circulating since almost all taxi drivers seem to be avid soccer fans and don’t want to miss watching the match. Sometimes the taxi drivers go on strike here to demand certain changes from the government and during those times you will not find any taxis on the street.
It seems that during lunchtime there are not as many taxis out since even taxi drivers have to eat and they often choose to go home to have a meal with their family. If you need a taxi late at night you also may find few taxis on the street in Cuenca after 10 p.m.
Pirate Taxis in Cuenca Ecuador
By one taxi drivers estimation (he is an organizer for some of the strikes in the past) there are more than 3000 pirate taxi drivers in Cuenca compared to the 5000 licensed ones.
Now the term “pirate” might bring to mind eye patches, parrots and chests of gold. Or maybe just a criminal. Neither is exactly true.
The legal and licensed taxistas (taxi drivers) spend considerable time/money to be properly licensed. The pirates don’t worry about it.
Many of the pirate drivers have a yellow cab, decals, and everything. The only obvious difference is that they don’t have the license number on the side/front.
We’ve used the pirate taxis a number of times and never had any trouble.
Once we could only get a pirate taxi to take us to a faraway destination – the regular ones refused to go that far (money didn’t even enter into the equation). That being said, I guess you technically increase your risk of problems if you use an unlicensed driver.
From frequent conversations with taxistas, the biggest danger is to them – not to the fares. A number had stories of getting robbed late at night. I’ve never heard of any crime by taxi drivers (including pirates) in Cuenca.
Quito Airport Taxi Rates
The average rate seems to be between $25-30 each way. Some are under $20 and others almost to $50.
This photo was taken just a couple of weeks ago as we traveled through the Quito airport. As you leave the airport, you’ll see this large sign. (Click on the image to view it at full size. Clicking once will open it in a new tab. Clicking it the second time will open it at full screen.)
See text copy of the rates below the image.
Overview of Quito Airport Taxi Rates
- Norte (Carcelén, Monteserrin, Rumiñahui, etc.): $22.50 – $27.00
- Centro Norte (Jipijapa, Altamira, Carolina, Bellavista, etc.): $22 – $27
- Centro Sur (La Villa Flora, El Recreo, La Magdalena Baja): $27 – $29
- Centro (Centro Historico: Plaza Grande, Asamblea, El Dorado, El Ejido, El Trebol): $26.00
- Sur (Quitumbe, Solanda, La Ecuatoriana, etc.): $28 – $33.50
- Parroquias: A huge range in price from Tumbaco ($13.50) to S. Antonio P. ($47.50)
What has been your experience with the Quito airport? Have you traveled by shuttle or taxi back and forth?
Safety Concerns in Guayaquil Cabs
There are some safety concerns. First of all: don’t hail a cab on the street. Of course, if you know the taxi companies, if you’re Ecuadorian or if you don’t look rich – this may not apply. But if you are reading my blog, then these probably don’t apply to you. If you are a foreigner (who is assumed to be rich) then you might be a target. The simple way to avoid problems is to always call a radio taxi.
Now, we’ve hired cabs simply by hailing them and haven’t had any trouble, but “officially” it isn’t recommended.
The US Consulate in Ecuador recommends:
The American Consulate General in Guayaquil and the U.S. Government assume no responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms listed herein. The names listed are arranged alphabetically, and the order in which they appear has no other significance.
- FastLine: (04) 282-3333
- Solservice: (04)287-1195 / (04)287-2837
- Wayose: (04) 212-0234 / (04)212-2569
Is this a real threat? Notice what the US Department of State has to say about it:
Due to the seriousness of the taxi situation in Guayaquil, all personnel working for the U.S. Diplomatic Mission in Ecuador have been prohibited from riding in taxis hailed off the street in Guayaquil, even yellow taxis. In addition to yellow taxis, local buses, and other forms of public transportation are also expressly off-limits to U.S. diplomatic personnel in Guayaquil. As an alternative, employees have been told to use their personal vehicles or to call one of the vetted taxi services listed on the U.S. Consulate General’s website.
It is imperative that U.S. citizens understand the risks associated with using taxis in Guayaquil, how best to avoid dangerous situations, and who to contact if one becomes a victim of crime. U.S. citizens are urged not to hail taxis on the street, and to exercise caution when selecting a taxi in all areas of Guayaquil, regardless of location and/or time of day. We strongly encourage U.S. citizens in the Guayaquil area to use only vetted, radio-dispatched taxis, such as those listed on the U.S. Consulate General’s website.
So, while there is a threat, using the above radio taxi companies should virtually eliminate the risk. And as for the rest of the country, there is nothing to worry about – at least no more than you would worry in any other city/country of the world.
While vacationing on the coast, (just over an hour from Guayaquil) we regularly took cabs in Salinas. The friends we met there said the problem is localized just to the city of Guayaquil.
Check out: 34 beautiful photos of Guayaquil
Taxi Rates in Guayaquil
- Starting fee: $0.35
- Kilometer: $0.25
- Minimum fee: $1.00
- Minute of waiting: $0.06
- Starting fee: $0.40
- Kilometer: $0.30
- Minimum fee: $1.10
- Minute of waiting: $0.06
Seniors and disabled: 50% Discount
What’s the weather like? Here’s the guide to Guayaquil weather.
The Benefits of Not Owning a Car
Before you jump to the conclusion that not owning a car is all negative, it is good to remember that there are definite benefits to a car-free lifestyle. For one, taxis and buses are cheap compared to owning a car.
I once calculated that in our case, the amount of money it would take to buy a new car here would translate into 30 years of taxi use. Also, since we do not own a car we have no insurance, maintenance or registration expenses.
We do not have to worry about being taken to jail if we are driving and are involved in an accident. We avoid being harassed by corrupt cops at roadblocks who are looking for bribes.
We never worry about our car being stolen or being given a ticket for illegal parking. Not owning a car gives us a certain mental freedom; with fewer possessions, we have fewer worries.
I like to say that we do own a car. Our car is yellow and comes with a driver. We just call our driver whenever we need him to pick us up and give him a 2 or 3 dollar tip every time we use “our” yellow car.
We have found that focusing on the positive aspects to using public transportation has helped to ease the transition from owning multiple vehicles to being completely car-free. At first we really missed our own vehicles, but with time we have gotten over those initial withdrawal symptoms and have adapted to life without a car here in Ecuador.
Taking a taxi in Cuenca is usually a painless experience, but at times it can be a challenge and you need to be prepared for those occasions when taxis are scarce or when you run into the occasional unfriendly taxi driver who wants to take overcharge unsuspecting gringos.
Patience and self-control are definitely virtues when you have to rely on public transportation.
Buses are another inexpensive and viable transportation option available in Cuenca that will be covered in this post.
- About the Author
- Latest Posts
Hi, I’m Dena Haines. And I’m co-founder of Storyteller Travel. I love to cover food, animals, and destinations around the world.
I also blog about photography at Storyteller Tech.
Monday 16th of November 2020
I've been coming to Cuenca for three to six weeks stays for the last 3 years. When I first started taxis were well metered and driver's would turn on meter when asked. I spent 3 weeks in October 2020 and have never seen it this bad. In three weeks I had the following happen even when traveling with my friend who is Ecuadorian born and raised in Azogues (also not really familiar with what is allowed and very polite): -Drivers pretending they did not understand "Terminal Terrestre" -Trying to charge extra for two people -being told there is a $2 minimum at the end of the ride -Hiding the meter behind a visor and with blocked view from postings attached to the Covid-19 divider between passenger and driver. He also refused to move the visor to see the meter -up charge from meter price as an "after dark" charge. So disappointing to both see the change and to have to firmly stand my ground. Taxi drivers are the first and last person you see going to Cuenca. Fortunately, the Tren Via is often a comfortable and convenient option. This is one of the first sites that come up on Google. Thank you for the information. You may wish to update to include some of the new ways a few try to cheat.
Tuesday 11th of April 2017
Already working on my Spanish to prepare for inevitable shouting matches with my new Ecuadorian friends...
Monday 23rd of June 2014
Hello Bryan, Although San Francisco, CA, has an excellent transit system, my wife and I rarely use it to get around town; we use our cars to go everywhere. It's interesting that most expats (in Cuenca) don't drive. After living there for 5 years now, have you reconsidered buying a car? Do you depend solely on taxies & the bus system to visit the friends & take day trips outside of Cuenca? Thanks again for all of the very useful information that you're providing for us soon-to-be expats :)
Tuesday 24th of June 2014
Hey Juan, we actually bought a car over three years ago. Since then (unrelated, I'm sure) we've noticed a shift among many expats in Cuenca and many now own cars. Some of the older expats swear by taxis but it is much more common to see expats driving than when we arrived five years ago.
Friday 23rd of May 2014
Hi Brian, Thanks for the interesting information. Hope to meet you and your family when we pass through Cuenca in July. I totally understand the withdrawal of not driving. We do so much of it in our remote territory. Talk soon. Thanks.
Saturday 3rd of May 2014
Hi there and thanks for this informative article. Here is my question: What about our furry family members? Will they take us along having our two dogs with us? They are not very big, but also far from Chihuahua size. I was wondering, because we will have to get to Cuenca from Guayaquil and might have to rush to a vet. thanks! Greetings from Germany!
Saturday 3rd of May 2014
We've taken our dog in a taxi without any trouble - we used a plastic crate. I don't know how excited the taxi driver will be about a dog loose in his car...