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Pirate Taxis in Cuenca Ecuador

Posted in: Cuenca Ecuador, Living in Ecuador

The license separates the legal taxis from the “pirates”

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.

Learn about Taxi Rates in Cuenca, Ecuador

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  far away 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.

Taxis in Guayaquil are a different story.

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Meet the Author

Bryan Haines is co-editor of GringosAbroad - Ecuador's largest blog for expats and travelers. He is a travel blogger and content marketer. He is also co-founder of ClickLikeThis (GoPro tutorial blog) and Storyteller Travel.

22 comments… add one
  • Ana Rosa Feb 24, 2013, 10:29 am

    no me gusta usar los taxis en guayaquil, tengo mucho medo!Pero no tengo otra opción

  • Nicole Verdon Nov 5, 2012, 6:18 am

    We are planning to retire this year with only one income and decided to travel modestly to different parts of the world every winter to get away from our -20 winters etc. What is the best way to approach rentals. I always see people renting at much lower prices that what I find on the internet. We would love to have ocean view and a reasonable price.

    • Bryan Haines Nov 5, 2012, 6:43 am

      It is best to arrive in the place with a short term rental (or hotel) and find a place once you are there. Once you are on the ground, you can get a better deal – especially if you speak the language.

  • Wayne Nov 2, 2012, 10:02 am

    I have some valuable input on this subject. The first time I traveled to Ecuador I learned a lot about the different ways to travel, taxis and busses are the predominant methods. As far as taxis are concerned my wife always negotiates the price she is willing to pay for the trip. From the Airport, in Guayaquil, to her home near Mall del Sur and Rio Centro, typically costs about $4.00. Most taxistas want to charge $7.00 to $10.00 for this trip. She first asks the price, then tells them what she is willing to pay. If the driver says no she walks away and the driver leaves, usually to return accepting her offer. We also use a service in Guayaquil called Taxi Amigo, this is a private car, sort of like a limo service but in a small car. You can arrange/negotiate the price with the dispatcher to some degree. With this service the driver will usually give you his cell phone number so you can call him for a return trip if needed. For example, if you go grocery shopping the driver will try to have the dispatcher keep him in the general area, when you are close to being ready to check out you call the driver and he lets you know how long before he can pick you up. If this is agreeable then the fare is the same for the return trip. As mentioned in another post, it is nice to remember that this is an extra so take care of the driver with a bit extra.

  • Malcolm Reding Mar 4, 2012, 5:56 am


    Recently I had to overnight in Quito on my way back from Cuenca. As I walked out of the air terminal, a man asked if I wanted a taxi. I said yes, he grabbed one of my two suitcases and walked away motioning for me go follow him. When he did not stop at one the taxis waiting in line for fares, I should have been suspicious, but I was tired so I followed him off the airport premises to his taxi about a block away on a side street.

    I told him I wanted to go the Holiday Inn Express. About 5 minutes into the trip he pulled into a gas station and asked me for $20. I said no I will pay you when we get to the hotel. We argued for a minute or so and then we left the gas station without my paying him anything. When we got to the Holiday Inn, he parked about one one block away a pointed to the hotel and again asked for $20. I said no, you drive me to the hotel and I sat there argued with him again. He finally drove up to the hotel but wanted me to get out in the street. I said no and motioned for to enter the hotel premises and he asked again for $20. Finally he drove in and a bell person began get my luggage. I told the driver I had to get change and went into the hotel, where I asked the desk clerk what the fare was from the airport. $5 was the fare. I came out and gave him $5. He was not a happy camper but he took it and drove off.

    I was surprised that the other licensed taxi drivers at the airport allowed this to happen.

    • Geoffrey Heriot Jun 18, 2012, 6:33 pm

      First, apologies to Bryan Haines for off topic comment.

      My question is to Senor Malcolm Reding -you were quoted on WSJ article a few years ago about the advantages of foreign bonds. I am trying to rearrange my Mothers portfolio and the return on foreign bonds looks attractive. Do you have suggestions on best countries to invest in? Any broker recommendations?

      Best Regards,

      Geoffrey Heriot

  • Aaron Jan 25, 2012, 1:19 pm

    Sometimes when you’re out of the city, “pirate” taxis are the only option. There are no licensed taxis in the area. Their fares (long distance) are generally cheaper.

    With taxis, it’s a great idea to strike up a conversation. You don’t have to be fluent in Spanish. Simple phrases like “Buenos Dias” are enough to get going. They might even know a little English. I’ve run into several who have lived in the USA or know someone who does.

    When you find a good taxi who charges a fair price and is willing to go a little out of his way, like giving you advice about where to find something, or willing to waiting for you, get their number and ask if you can call them.

    When it’s late (or early), when it’s raining and you can’t seem to find any taxies, or when you need to take a trip out of town it’s nice to have someone who can show up when you call.

    But don’t forget to pay a little extra for extra services, and remember that a taxi on call is making 2 trips for you.

    Also try to find out the number of a taxi cooperative in your area, they can sometimes dispatch for you. There are cooperatives for busy places like the airport or supermaxi too.

    • Malcolm Reding Mar 4, 2012, 6:26 am

      I have the names and numbers of several taxis that I use and it works just great.

  • Adrienne Jan 25, 2012, 9:26 am

    When are the best monuths to travel to Ecuador?

    • Bryan Haines Jan 25, 2012, 4:54 pm

      Really depends on where you are going and what you want to do. What do you have in mind?

  • Jo Jan 23, 2012, 6:11 am

    We’ve been thinking about moving to Ecuador part-time for several years. The problem is, We have a 6 year old daughter and my husband could not come with us because of work. We were thinking of staying a few months out of the year. But I’m concerned about safety issues for a mom alone with her child. What’s your opinion? Is it a real problem? Or are kidnappings and home invasions exaggerated?

    • Bryan Haines Jan 24, 2012, 6:05 pm

      Hello Jo – you have valid concerns. Like everywhere else, there is crime here. That being said, we moved here with our (then) eight year old daughter and my wife frequently travels the city with her alone. They have never had any trouble.

      We have heard one case of a home invasion in Cuenca – the newspaper article suggested that the thieves were known to the family – a wealthy family in Cuenca. Generally the robberies are those of opportunity – meaning when no one else is around. Kidnappings occur in Guayaquil, but I’ve never heard of it in Cuenca – not since we’ve been in the country. That isn’t to say that it doesn’t happen – but I do stay up on the local news. If you are concerned about safety, you might consider a security apartment complex. That way you could relax. The best thing to do is come as a family and see what you think. Crime occurs everywhere – even in safer cities like Cuenca. Sorry I can’t give you a definite answer – level of safety is a subjective thing.

    • Dennis A Dec 29, 2013, 9:53 am

      Yep, real dangerous. In the city of Cuenca of 350,000 I think there have been about 8, maybe 9 murders. What city are you from again? Check the Chicago daily news for their rate…last night. 🙂

      • Jo Dec 30, 2013, 2:26 am

        I currently live in Tucson, actually outside Tucson in a rural area, so yeah, murder rate is low…

        the biggest US city I ever lived close to is Seattle…would NEVER live somewhere like Chicago…

        • Dennis Dec 31, 2013, 10:49 am

          Tuscon at 500,000 and I just looked at the crime stats put out by your city. You may not see each report I’m getting from Tuscon City, but murders at 350 for the year, rapes 800, robberies, 4000, and auto thefts 6,000. If you’re address is Tuscon proper or have that zip, I’d say I’m sticking with the 8 murders in Cuenca. Oh, and 15,000 burglaries in Tuscon and surrounding areas. It never happens to you…until it happens to you.

  • Barb Hemphill Jan 20, 2012, 2:40 pm

    I’m not sure if we used pirate taxis or not in Cuenca during our visit but I will say, we had great experience will all of our “rides”. No complaints here!

  • Jim Jan 20, 2012, 11:58 am

    I’ve never had a problem with taxis yet and would guess that I’ve ridden with pirate taxis before without really knowing it. After traveling through Huaquillas back from Peru there is very little in Cuenca that would scare me now…..pirate taxis are certainly at the bottom of my fear list.

    • Jim Cohoon Feb 3, 2012, 9:05 pm

      Well, I should update my post a bit. I got scammed yesterday by a pirate taxi driver. First he charged me $4 which I was OK with because I needed to get home and get back to work. Then at my house I pull out a $5 bill(I wasn’t planning on taking a taxi that day) and he has no change….so he claimed. I don’t have time for this, I have a deadline. So he gets $5 from Centro to Coral Centro area. He had a good day. No more pirate taxis if I can help it.

      • Malcolm Reding Mar 4, 2012, 6:24 am

        Never get into a taxi without the right change. And that is not only in Ecuador.

        • Bryan Haines Mar 4, 2012, 8:15 pm

          That’s good advice Malcolm. Of course, a taxi driver be expected to have at least $2 in change…

          • Jim Cohoon Mar 17, 2012, 1:41 am

            In retrospect, I should have got out and walked away without paying. It’s the taxis drivers problem if he doesn’t have change. I’ve become much more cynical of Cuenca taxi drivers lately. They do charge a full dollar more for Gringos.

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