Nicaragua: How to catch a taxi in Managua



In a taxi crossing Managua. (photo: Bernard Gordillo)

Anyone who has lived in Managua for a length time will shudder at the thought of catching a taxi off the street. They’ve all heard stories of how much of a gamble it can be (at best) or of how dangerous it is to do so (at worst).

As a person who must take taxis and who does not own a car, I do not, in fact, have any fear of catching one at any time of day, in most parts of the city. And now that I’ve done it many, many times during the past year, I can pass along the basics of how to do it with some ease.

The following is a description of things to keep in mind if you find yourself needing a taxi and are unfamiliar with the process. It might be self-evident but Managua taxis can be quirky.

First off, let’s look at the actual encounter.

After waving down a taxi, and in the seconds that follow after one has stopped, you will have to make a deal with the driver (in lieu of depending on meters, which don’t exist here).

Here’s an example (in English):

You: Good afternoon.

Driver: Good afternoon.

You: Can you take me to X place?

Driver: Yes, I can.

You: How much will you take me there for?

Driver: X cordobas.

You: Can you take me for X amount? [You’re expected, but not obligated to knock off a small percentage.]

…at which point the driver will either accept your haggling or he will insist on his quote, and you will take a second to consider, is it really worth it?

If you accept his quote, great, get in and be on your way. If not, keep in mind that there are many more taxis available, usually during daylight hours, less so after dark (unless you’re in a busy part of town like Metrocentro). I’ve often turned down an inflexible driver only to get into the very next one that came along.

If the price you will pay is reasonable and within a range of acceptability, the driver will almost always agree to take you.

That part is no big deal, really.

A few things to keep in mind:

1) Nicaraguan taxis run on a collective business model, meaning, they will pick up another person or persons on the way to dropping you off. This is how they make their money. If you want a private ride, you must tell them that when negotiating the fare.

Otherwise, you will experience the same as many taxi-dependent people often do, a car full of strangers just trying to get to another part of town. You have no obligation to engage those around you (even the driver) beyond exchanging a general greeting, as is the custom in Nicaragua.

2) There are two types of taxis, those that belong to a cooperative and those that are independent.

The former are safer to get into, in general. They will have better maintained cars (appearance and cleanliness), likely have their registrations up to date, and have their license plate number painted on the outside doors and dashboard (beware if these numbers differ). Often, an enlarged photocopy of their government-issued ID is posted on the dashboard and the name of the cooperative they belong to. The driver will be very discerning in whom he picks up along the way (this may or may not be reflected in the fare he asks for), so it is possible that you might not have any other company along way because the driver chose not to take anyone else.

The latter type of taxi, with “individual” written on the door, is anyone’s guess as to what the standard might be, none can really be described. I’ve gotten into independent taxis that looked as if they were held together by a minimum of nuts and bolts, unclean as par for the course, doors that barely shut or that can only be opened by using the outside latch, no seat belt to be found, windows that don’t close without an extra pair of hands to help, music blaring from the few speakers that actually work.

And then there are independents whose cars are no different than those of cooperatives. There’s a gamut out there.

In reality, none of it has ever bothered me as I believe you must go with the flow. Plus, such a taxi/driver will be easier to haggle with in the end.

So, that’s pretty much it. Not much to it, right?

Of course, there are many exceptions, but with a little knowledge, some awareness, and a moderate sense of adventure, you can jump into almost any taxi in Managua and get to where you’re going with little trouble.

[N.B. This is not an official Department of State website or blog. The views and information presented are my own and do not represent the Fulbright Program or the U.S. Department of State.]

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