A Canadian Family Traveling & Living Abroad (in Ecuador)

How to Travel in Ecuador Without a Car – Part 1: Using Taxis in Cuenca

This is a guest post by an American expat living in Cuenca since 2007. 

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.

A Few Tips When 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.cuenca-taxis

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 that 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.

cuenca-taxis

Radio Taxis

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 most 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 lunch time 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.

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 the 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 road blocks 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 Ford Explorer, Toyota Tundra and Honda Civic, 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 part 2.

An article by

Dena is a writer, artist, expat and mom. She enjoys being cozied away in one of her favorite cafes, sipping coffee and spending time with her family. She writes about life abroad (Gringos Abroad) and doing business abroad (Blogger Abroad). Connect with Dena on LinkedIn. Work with Dena & Bryan

More about: Cuenca Ecuador, Living in Ecuador

{ 26 comments… add one }

  • Juan G. June 23, 2014, 7:04 pm

    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 :)

    Reply
    • Bryan Haines June 24, 2014, 6:16 am

      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.

      Reply
  • Stu Poirier May 23, 2014, 10:27 am

    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.

    Reply
  • Tamar May 3, 2014, 6:22 am

    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!

    Reply
    • Bryan Haines May 3, 2014, 7:56 am

      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…

      Reply
      • Tamar May 3, 2014, 9:14 am

        Mmh … ok, thanks, Bryan. At least its not a general no-go – since we do not plan to own a car.
        The smaller one might fit into a reasonably small crate … and the bigger one … lets see. Good reason to practice my spanish even more, so i can use winsome words ;-).

        Reply
  • Norbert April 23, 2014, 11:15 am

    Hi There,

    Nice web site. I came across it while planning our trip to Ecuador. We are travel party of five with three little ones. I am having difficulties finding a private shuttle or radio dispatched taxi service that could give us a ride overnight from Cuenca to GYE to catch an early morning flight at 5:30am. I’ve already looked into renting a car but the quotes came out on the high side. Would someone know a local shuttle or radio dispatched taxi service in Cuenca that is reliabe, safe and offers overnight rides to GYE? Or would you have any other recommendation for transportation? We are also looking for transportation from Salinas over to Cuenca.
    Thanks a lot in advance!!

    Cheers,

    Norbert

    Reply
  • Dena Norton December 7, 2013, 12:29 pm

    Would greatly appreciate a quick reply to this – we’re headed to Cuenca very soon and are having a hard time verifying that a dispatched taxi company has licensed taxi drivers. We want to be sure to cover our bases with regard to safety since we’ll have our two young kids along.

    Do you know whether “Radio Taxi Ejecutivo” is licensed? If not, could you recommend another and provide contact info? THANKS!!

    Reply
    • Bryan Haines December 8, 2013, 8:02 pm

      I don’t know. Once you arrive, you can tell if they are licensed by the label on the side of the vehicle and the cameras installed inside. There is a camera on the front passenger side just above the dash and also on the drivers side in the back of the car.

      I have never heard of any taxi problems in Cuenca. Just choose one with their license number on the side door and with a camera.

      Reply
  • Anonymous Gringo October 23, 2013, 6:47 am

    I am extremely obese, so I will not try to pack into a crowded bus. I am prepared for the realization that I will need a taxi to go everywhere. However, if the taxis are small, that may not even be an option. I drive a Ford Escape (mid size SUV) with a seatbelt extender. I can fit in the front passenger seat of most vehicles. Will I be OK in an Ecuadorean taxi?

    Reply
  • Bill Beard March 8, 2012, 8:56 pm

    Doug,

    We (wife n child) are spending July in Cuenca and the surrounding areas.
    Was wondering what a private van would cost approximately to take us to Banos from cuenca, and then also from Cuenca to, Say, Salinas?

    Thanks, Bill

    Reply
  • Lisa December 16, 2011, 9:12 am

    I know this article was written a few months ago, but informative as usual. Since we speak very, very little Spanish, we had locals (friends) tell us how much to expect the taxi fare for certain destinations, and proceeded to write it in Spanish for us to show the taxi driver as soon as we got in the car. Hard to refute that. It worked for us, then when there was no hassle, we tipped him. This was in Mexico. Hope all is working well for your residency??

    Reply
  • IAN August 17, 2011, 7:44 pm

    Hi Doug,

    how would one get in touch with the PRIVATE VANS thattake you to Guayaquil?

    Regards,

    Ian

    Reply
    • Bryan Haines September 6, 2011, 9:08 pm

      Hi Ian, you can check with: http://www.operazuaytur.com/ They do per person ($12 ea) and per van ($80) trips to Cuenca and Guayaquil. They are one of the biggest and have good vehicles.

      Reply
  • elmonica August 2, 2011, 8:03 pm

    “give him a 2 or 3 dollar tip every time we use “our” yellow car. ”

    That is a pretty generous tip when you are paying less than $5 a cab ride. I didn’t read any mention of the typical practice for tipping drivers. Is there any standard practice?

    Reply
    • Bryan Haines August 2, 2011, 11:09 pm

      Agreed that a 2 or 3 dollar tip is pretty healthy. I think if you check the post again, you’ll find a tongue-in-cheek feel to this statement. A standard cab fare is $2-3 (and up to $5 like you mention) and tips are almost unheard of. Last week we had a cab driver who told us about the one time he got a big tip – a $10 for a $4 ride. It as a foreigner and he still talks about it. He said he rarely gets a $0.50 tip – usually nothing.

      Reply
      • elmonica August 3, 2011, 12:46 am

        “tongue-in-cheek feel to this statement”

        Ha! I suspected as much, but I thought it would be a good way to broach the question. Thanks.

        Reply
  • Susan July 24, 2011, 4:11 pm

    I know you guys have done trips outside of Cuenca, what do you guys use then?

    Reply
    • Doug July 24, 2011, 5:03 pm

      Susan,

      We have used every means available (except horses) to travel out of town…planes, taxis, buses, and vans. We have flown to Quito a couple of times and if we go to Guayaquil we sometimes use the public buses. We have also rented private vans for the trip to Guayaquil. We like the van option better than the big buses since the vans offer direct service to Guayaquil. The big buses stop along the way to pick up passengers, making the trip longer and more dangerous. A private van trip to Guayaquil costs about 12.00 per person. If we are going to some of the smaller outlying towns around Cuenca we sometimes just rent a taxi. A taxi can be rented by the hour for $8.00 to $10.00.

      Hope that this helps,
      Doug

      Reply
  • Bill June 15, 2011, 7:40 pm

    Doug,

    Very informative article. I’m new in town and do have one question: How do you actually flag down a taxi here?

    –Bill

    Reply
    • Doug June 15, 2011, 8:50 pm

      Bill,
      Thanks for your question. To flag a taxi you can stand by the side of the road and wave or hold your arm out as taxis go by. Many taxis will ride by slowly and blow the horn looking for riders. Try to make eye contact with the driver if possible and you can usually get one to stop. Also, I would like to mention one word of caution. There are some expats in Cuenca spreading the word that a taxi ride to any part of Cuenca is only $2.00. That is not true. Those who think that they can take a taxi and throw $2.00 at the driver for any trip will be in for a fight. The fare depends on the distance traveled, not on some predetermined gringo pricing schedule. Most native Cuencanos will ask the driver a price before getting in the taxi. If you want to negotiate, you need to do it before you enter the taxi. If you take a taxi without asking a price, you will need to be prepared to pay what the driver asks for, with in reason. As a general rule, a taxi trip from the airport to the area of Ordoñez Lazo will cost around $4.00. I have never paid more than $5.00 for any taxi ride. If you are only traveling in the down town area, a taxi will cost $1.50 to $2.00 on average. If you are traveling from the center to the outskirts of town, you will pay around $3.00. If you have a trunk full of groceries, a taxi ride will generally cost a little more. Have fun!!

      Reply
  • Jen Adams March 7, 2011, 6:07 pm

    A family of five would probably need two, but it depends whether or not a child can sit on your lap.

    I've been here over a year and am a big fan of the radio taxi route. It's much easier than trying your luck with whoever you get off the road. We also have a taxi stand near our house, and I make a point to go there first if I'm not getting picked up.

    Reply
  • The Tillman's March 6, 2011, 10:26 am

    Love the line" Our car is yellow and it comes with a driver"

    Reply
    • Doug March 8, 2011, 9:47 am

      Thanks for your comment. We really want a car, but keeping a positive view of taxis helps us to put with the some times negative experiences we have with taxi drivers.

      Reply
  • Doug March 3, 2011, 6:19 pm

    Jason,
    As a general rule there is room for 4 adults in a taxi, three in the back and one up front in the passenger seat.. However, if you have small kids you can probably squeeze four in the back seat.

    Reply
  • Jason March 3, 2011, 9:31 am

    We are a family of five. Would that make it more difficult to travel by Taxi in Cuenca? Or would we just always need to get two taxis?

    Reply

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We are a Canadian family of 3 living in Ecuador since 2009. We blog about life and travel in Ecuador. If this is your first visit, start here. Interested to work with us? Read more about Bryan & Dena

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