Lima, with nearly 10 million inhabitants the largest city in Peru, can be quite a challenge, especially for visitors not familiar with the capital. This combined with the warnings and sometimes unfounded horror scenarios visitors keep hearing, unfortunately often results in instinctive extreme wariness and uncertainty.
Nevertheless, taking a taxi in Peruvian cities is a relatively quick and affordable way to get around town.
Finding a taxi in Lima and other Peruvian cities is usually easy. Depending on the source an estimated 180,000 to 200,000 taxis circulate the streets of the Lima-Callao metropolitan area. This is 5 times more per 1,000 inhabitants than the average in Latin American capitals. Other cities in Peru can't complain about a taxi shortage as well. So quite often you don't even have to look for a cab; instead taxi drivers passing by will honk at you and slow down looking for a good fare. If not, just wait at the next bigger intersection and wave when a taxi approaches.
But there are a few things to be aware of before flagging down the first cab you see on the street. Even though lots improved over the past years, today still only more or less 50% of taxis in Lima (here as well it depends which source you believe) are official and registered. The rest operates informal, meaning literally everybody can get into any type of car, put a taxi sign on top of it and offer to drive you around the city. Therefore, you should be cautious about which taxi you choose. Below some useful tips and advice on getting safely around by taxi in Peru.
- From and to the airport you should exclusively choose an officially registered taxi, use a taxi remisse or arrange a pick-up / drop-off with your hotel.
- For all your other transporation needs, especially if you hail a cap on the street, it is highly recommended to only using officially registered taxis. But how to recognize one? That’s not easy as regulations aren’t universal in Peru and established by each municipality. So, generally speaking most taxis you see on Peruvian streets that are available for customers are yellow or white (even though some municipalities allow other colors and colors of other taxi services may vary). Additionally, a good indicator that the taxi you are getting into on the street is legal, is the special taxi license plate which is white with a yellow stripe across the top (here as well not 100% foolproof as some taxi categories don’t need them). Furthermore, officially registered taxis you can hail on the street should have a taxi sign fixed on the roof of the car and the license plate number painted (or a sticker) on the side of the car. All drivers of legal taxis are registered with the municipality of their area (in Lima the competent authority is Setame, in neighboring Callao where the airport is located, Setaca) and should have some sort of ID and / or official document proving the registration which you can ask for. Be aware that indicators to identify an officially registered taxi vary and change frequently in Peru and above and below mentioned signs to look for don’t apply to all taxi or other transportation services, but mainly to taxis you can stop on the street. For Lima (in Callao the regulations are a little different) here the exact current requirements taxis have to fulfill. These allow customers to identify the legal ones.
- Taxi Independente (independent taxis): According to municipal regulations independent taxis must be yellow, must have a white license plate with a yellow stripe at the top, have a taxi sign fixed on the roof of the car, have red and white reflective stickers on both sides and rear of the car and the license plate number painted (a sticker is ok as well) on both rear passenger doors. They can stop to pick up or drop off customers anywhere in town, even in the middle of the road. So if you hail down a taxi on the street, it should be one of those.
- Taxi Estación (probably comparable to the old “radio taxi): Taxis estación must be white, must have a taxi sign fixed on the roof of the car and have a sticker (painted is fine as well) with the logo and / or company name, contact details and the license plate number on the sides of the vehicle. Next to their intended service of being dispatched to a requested pickup location or from a taxi stand, taxis estación may additionally pick-up and drop off passenger anywhere for the service necessary in accordance to traffic and municipal regulations (in reality mostly at intersections of larger roads).
- Taxi Remisse (the luxury version of taxi services): newer cars with AC and other amenities which provide high comfort for the passenger. Taxi Remisse can be of any color, but most are black. No taxi sign, no stickers with information, no other indications that these vehicles are “taxis”; everything discreet. Taxi Remisse aren’t allowed to randomly pick-up waving customers on the street. Passengers book via app, webpage or phone with a specific pick-up location and drop off destination and drivers are only allowed to pick-up / drop off passengers at these points.
- In case you feel uncomfortable with the car or driver, just let him go. The next taxi is only a few seconds away.
- As taxis in Peru usually don't have meters you must negotiate a price before (!) getting in. After you told the driver where you want to go he will make you a quote. Be prepared that the requested price for foreigners might be a bit higher, but you can try and should bargain. Make sure you understood the price correctly by repeating it adding the word Soles. Some visitors reported when paying the driver, he suddenly asked for the agreed amount in Dollars .... No way, the currency in Peru is Soles, even though most drivers agree to be paid in Dollars (have small notes on you and come to an arrangement before getting into the taxi). Please note that prices during rush hours, early mornings, late at night, on Sundays and public holidays are generally higher (up to 50% more). Anyhow if you have the feeling you are completely ripped off, send the driver to hell. The agreed fare is only paid once the destination is reached – occasionally a driver will stop at a gas station to top up a few liters and might ask to get paid there; if you want to reach you destination you might want to consider giving him the few Soles for the ride so he can pay his gas. Nevertheless, best have the exact amount on hand! For most drivers it's already impossible to give change for a 10 Soles note. It's uncommon to tip the driver, but in case he was extremely helpful, 1 Sol or even two surely makes him happy.
- Before getting into a taxi on the street, have a close look at the car and driver. If you have a bad feeling about something or doubts in any way, listen to your gut feeling and take another one. It is highly recommended to not take a taxi on the street at night!
- Never ever get into a taxi where already other supposed to be passengers are seated.
- Don’t accept drinks or food.
- Accusing you of paying with fake notes is a popular rip-off. After you paid and got out of the taxi, the driver shouts after you and says you gave him a phony bill. Don’t fall for it. While you didn’t pay attention to him, the driver swapped your bill or coin for a faked one, hands it back to you and expects to be paid again. Be very clear that you are aware of his foul play and send him to hell. If necessary, threaten him with Serenazgo (the municipal police) or the tourist police. Walk away.
Too much to remember and feeling confused and wary?
If you feel uncomfortable getting a taxi on the street numerous taxi companies such as Uber, EasyTaxi, Cabify and others operate in Peru for quite some time now. They can be booked through their website and / or app on your smartphone. Prices for the ride with them are fixed and can be seen before you even get into the cab.
Another good option is to book a recommended taxi remisse or driver with car. Some as well have fixed prices accessible on their app / webpage and you know exactly what to expect before starting your trip. A highly recommended service for airport pick-ups / drop offs and generally for getting safely around Lima for any personal or business trip is for example Gringo Taxi; punctual, reliable, trust-worthy, responsible, reasonable prices and English speaking.
Nevertheless whatever taxi service you choose, please still remember to have your money, valuables and perhaps documents in your pants- and inside pockets. Suitcases and other bigger items belong in the locked trunk. Smaller items such as handbags, backpacks, cameras, laptops, iPads, etc. should be placed on the floor next to your feet, not next to you on the seat.