Managua, the capital city of Nicaragua, is notorious for having dodgy taxi drivers. Cabbies in the rest of the country seem to be required to charge a set amount per ride but in Managua, it’s a free for all and they really try to milk the tourists for all they can.
Here are a few tips for dealing with Managua cab drivers that should be transferrable to any city with cabbies looking to take advantage of travellers.
- Have an idea of the fare in advance - One of the hardest things about arriving in a new city is knowing what a fair price to pay for taxis is. Many cabbies who pick you up at airports prey on new arrivals into the country (drivers in Manila, I’m talking to you!) so asking someone at your accommodation in advance what the fare should be from point A to point B will make bargaining much easier.
- Know your destination - Printing out a map or learning how to say the address in the local language is handy. It’s also a good idea to find out if there is a landmark nearby that taxi drivers will know. Most times cabbies are good about knowing hostels in smaller, more touristy towns but in bigger, less touristy places it isn’t the case and communicating your location can be difficult. It also helps to have a phone number for your accommodation on hand in case all else fails.
- Learn a bit of the language - Knowing how to say ‘it’s very close’ and ‘that’s too expensive’ has helped me many times with my taxi fare negotiations. If you want to get a bit more advanced, learning how to say somethig along the lines of ‘I’ve taken this trip before for x price’ is helpful too… even if you haven’t.
- Negotiate with a smile - Don’t let the crazy prices they ask throw you off. Keep your fare negotations friendly and remember that, even though it’s scummy to take advantage of visitors, an easy buck is a hard thing for many people to pass up.
- Don’t be afraid to walk away - If you feel uncomfortable when dealing with a taxi driver, just walk away. If you feel uneasy for any reason, trust your instincts as there are usually plenty of other rides around. Don’t be afraid to venture a bit outside the bus or station either to taxis on the street where there will be more choice and a chance at a better fare.
- Be wary of drivers who quote fares in US dollars - Unless you’re in the US or somewhere that only accepts US currency, it is very likely that taxi drivers who ask for the fare in US dollars are out to scam you big time. In Nicaragua US dollars are widely accepted, but I doubt very much that drivers quote their fares to locals in dollars. I expect cabbies in Managua to ask for more money but the ones who ask in dollars almost always out-scam those that give a fare in cordobas by a large margin.
- Think about what you’re bargaining over – If it comes down to haggling over a small amount, I usually just suck it up and pay extra, even if I know I’m getting ripped off. It’s not worth my time to haggle over small amounts and preserving my bargaining pride is something I haven’t been worried about for a long time.
- Make them turn on the meter – This tip is more for Manila but it probably applies to other places as well. If a driver refuses to turn on his meter, just get out of the taxi because you will end up paying much more. In Manila they will say that traffic is heavy and they are doing you a favour… they’re not. I took enough cabs in this city, with meter and without (going back and forth to the Bangladeshi embassy) to know that you will always be better off on the meter.
- Don’t give aggressive cabbies your business – I have been in many situations where drivers have all out tried to grab my stuff or even pushed other drivers out of the way to get my business. I used to just go with them just because it was easier and the situation was a bit intimidating but these days I don’t. There’s no reason to give your business to a dickhead. If someone grabs my bag, I grab it right back off of him. If I’m being surrounded by loads of aggressive drivers, I will often push past them to someone who seems more laid back hanging out in the background.
Taxi drivers in many cities will try to take advantage of travellers but with a bit of preparation you can guard against their scamming ways. In my travels the worst places for taxi driver scams have been Manila and Managua. Which cities have you had your worst taxi ripoff experiences in?