Editor note: this post is out-of-date and inaccurate so it has been updated in 2016 with new information.
By Western standards, taking taxis in Medellin is relatively inexpensive, and thus offer an easy and practical way for both visitors and locals to get around the city.
Guide to Taking Taxis on the Street
Hailing a yellow taxi on the street is as simple as holding up your arm until one flashes their hazard lights or turns on their direction signal as a sign they’re pulling over to pick you up.
During the daytime, you should be fairly safe picking up taxis from the street, however exercise caution in the evenings.
Throughout the city, and often near points of interest, shopping centers and local landmarks, you’ll see taxi stands where taxis queue up for customers. If you see one of these, it makes the process even easier.
Sometimes a person will be standing near the taxis keeping them organized, while other times, locals will be helping to direct passengers to specific taxi drivers who will then tip them a few coins in exchange for their help in attracting a customer. These people expect the tip from the driver, not you, so don’t give them any money!
All Medellin taxis include digital meters with blue or red lighting. When you get in, check to make sure there is a meter, and it’s working. If not, take another taxis (this is very rare, thankfully).
Taxis start off at 2,400 COP ($1.40), and in the evenings there is a mandatory charge of 4,000 COP ($2.30) even if the ride lasts less than that price.
Compared to many countries in the world, the majority of taxi drivers in Medellin are honest, friendly and trustworthy. Unlike places like Thailand and India, you probably won’t be blatantly ripped off, however there are a few small ways some drivers will try to make a little extra money (especially if you’re a foreigner).
1. They’ll take a longer route than necessary to run up the meter. If you’re not familiar with the city, it’s unlikely you’ll notice.
2. They’ll ask for more money than appears on the meter (in the past, some drivers have claimed the difference is an evening surcharge, or it was for waiting at some point along the trip, though that time should be accounted for by a working meter).
3. Before you can give them money and ask for change, they’ll state the amount due, rounding up to the nearest 1,000-peso mark from whatever shows on the meter (Ex: if the meter shows 5,300 COP, the driver will ask for 6,000 COP, with no intention of giving you change).
4. The driver will claim not to have change for the bill you give him. If this happens, it’s his responsibility to find a shop or gas station where you can get change for your bill. The easiest way to avoid this inconvenience is to always carry small bills when taking taxis (and certainly nothing greater than a 20,000 peso note).
Tips are not expected, nor required, though many drivers appreciate any extra money you offer (through rounding up) given they usually make only about 50,000 COP ($25) per day.
The Safest Approach to Taking Taxis
While many people never have a problem with hailing taxis from the street, there is a safer approach that is often recommended by Colombians.
1. Call a taxi company to send you a registered taxi, 034 – 444 – 5555. If you call from a home phone number (landline), they will automatically know your address.
2. The taxi company will give you a secret code (often 4 digits) that you have to give to the driver so the driver can confirm he has the right person.
3. Have someone walk you to the door of the taxi, and note the registration number of that taxi. If you do not have someone to walk with you, call someone and give them this information over the phone.
This is less for sharing information and more for making the driver aware that someone knows where you are at all times and will come looking for you if you don’t arrive as expected.
#1 Local Tip
The cumulative effect of taxi doors being opened and closed regularly for months and years can slowly start to cause mechanical problems. As Colombian taxis are much smaller than the sedans and SUV’s used in US and European cities, they don’t stand up to being slammed shut so well. If you open the door on an old taxi, sometimes it even feels like it will fall off in your hand!
If you do not want the taxi drivers to give you a dirty look or yell at you, be extra careful when closing the car door. Make sure you gently close it with love and kindness. If a door is already damaged, the driver may prefer to close the door himself.
Whether you hail a taxi from the street, or call a service, the majority of drivers will be open to talking with you, especially if you’re a foreigner. Many will even start the conversation by asking where you’re from.
These conversations can be a great way to practice your Spanish, while also learning about the city and local culture.