Taxi stand near Primero Parque Laureles
There are 26,000 taxis in Medellin Colombia. That's one taxi for every 135 members of the population. Here are some numbers to accompany that: More than 60,000 taxistas, or taxi drivers work in Medellin because, unless it's down for maintenance, every one of those little yellow cars is on the streets of Medellin 24/7, not counting so called Pico y Placa days, which I'll address below. We're used to seeing yellow cabs, but here in Medellin the only vehicles that color, are taxis. If it's yellow, it's a taxi.
Large, prominent signage for confidence
The taxi above is courtesy of Coopebombas, one of several taxi companies operating in and around Medellin. I say in and around because attached cities are not part of Medellin, and their taxi systems are somewhat (though not a lot) different, and fares can be a bit higher. For example, Sabaneta & Envigado are separate cities, as are Bello & Girardota. So info about taxis in Medellin is necessarily general, and should be considered as such. Every taxi must display its license number on both sides, on the back, and on the roof of the vehicle. Drivers' information is found on seat backs.
Fare Information as of 2018
So what are fares like? As the guide indicates: Start (or to flag the taxi) $3.200 COP (about $1.00 USD). After that, $100 COP for every 78 meters, minimum $5.400 COP (about $1.75 USD), $200 COP per minute to have the taxista wait, $25.200 COP per hour as a contract rate, and a set $70.000 COP (about $23.00 USD) one way to or from the big airport up the hill in RioNegro.
Typical Cab Fare
The trip shown above is from Santa Fe Mall in El Poblado to Parque de los Deseos near the Jardin Botanico, about 8 city miles. The calculation was done using the fare calculator for Cabify, another Medellin taxi company, and came to $14.200 COP (about $4.50 USD).
Taxis, taxis everywhere
We've never waited longer than about 3 minutes for a taxi to pull over for us. During rush hour, especially a Friday afternoon prior to a 'puente', or 3 day weekend, Medellin traffic is nutso. Thus we advise traveling early or not at all, taking the Metro, or walking if you can. That said, Medellin taxis are easy, convenient, plentiful, cheap, and generally very clean & new. And they're safe. While we've never had a threatening experience in a taxi here, we have had a few minor negative ones. A taxista once drove us many miles further than necessary just to run up his meter. Another fellow refused to drive us from Poblado to Laureles one evening because, he said, he didn't know Laureles that well. Another one refused to take us at all because the trip was too short. We don't own a car, and don't want one either, so the taxis in Medellin are excellent for us. For getting around the city they can't be beat.
Here's a list of taxi tips etc:
Running up the fare. See above. There's not a lot you can do about this unless you know Medellin pretty well. Hint: Look at a map before you set out, so you have a rough idea of where the trip will take you. Another way to avoid this is to contract with a driver. More about this later.
Charging more than the meter says, or asking for a 'surcharge' of some kind. There is no surcharge posted and/or established, so pay what the meter says and nothing more. As for tipping, we always round up to the nearest 1,000 pesos. If the fare is 5.600, we pay 6.000 etc. If the trip is very short we may tip another 2.000, which is $.75, but it gives the taxista a little extra for his trouble. (BTW, in almost 18 months living in Medellin, and likely 500 trips via taxi, we've seen exactly 4 female drivers. One of them was a retired police officer.
More about tipping and contracting. One reason we tip more than a lot of folks is because we try to engage the drivers, in order to practice our Spanish. It's rare that a driver speaks any English, so we use the opportunity to learn new words, phrases, expressions etc. And here's a tip for visitors. If you really want to make a favorable impression on your taxista, and possibly have him laughing out loud, find a reason to use the following expression: 'Ave Maria Pues!' I guarantee this will bring gales of laughter from the front seat, and will assure your safe and even fun passage through the streets of Medellin. (Roughly translated, it means Holy Mary Geez! It's an expression that marks people in Medellin as 'Paisas', meaning locals. Don't worry about tossing it around, they seem to love it when we do.)
Always carry small bills for the taxi ride. No taxista is going to laugh out loud when you hand him a $50.000 COP note first thing in the morning for $3.700 fare. Carry several $2.000 and $5.000 COP notes and you'll be fine.
Yet another reason we're generous with taxistas is this: These dudes work damn hard, and damn long hours. It's common for drivers to be in their cabs 12, 14, even 16 hours a day, often six days a week. They live in their cars, so we always keep that in mind.
Pico Y Placa placard is based on the license plate
Drivers are forbidden to use their vehicles generally two days per month. Local Pico y Placa days were implemented to keep cars off the road, as a measure to reduce air pollution in Medellin. For private vehicles, the Pico y Placa rules apply between certain hours. If a taxi driver is caught using his vehicle during these times he can be fined, and his car impounded. Pico y Placa is something they take very seriously.
Care and feeding of a Medellin Taxista:
A few more tips on what to do and not do when taking a taxi in Medellin.
Don't slam the door when you get out. Most of the cabs in Medellin are tiny, and reasonably fragile. And they see a whole lot of use. So be very careful closing the doors. Some drivers will insist on opening and closing them for you from the front seat. Also, make it a habit of looking behind the cab before opening the door. It's common to see a motorcycle squeezing past just as you start to get out. Always look around.
Keep backpacks and purses and such on the seat close to a closed window. Although rare, drive-by motorcycle thefts have occurred with a rider on the back of the cycle grabbing items from taxis. Locking the doors can't hurt either.
Doubts about your driver? Just pay him what's on the meter and get out. If you're hesitant to use taxis, a good habit might be to take a cell phone picture of the driver info card, and send it to a friend. (Taxis are extremely safe in our experience, but to each his own.)
As a further comment on the safety of taxis in Medellin, take a look at this:
Taxistas in Medellin are very religious
If you needed further proof that you're in good hands in a Medellin taxi, here it is. It's a rare taxi driver who displays no religious artifact on his dashboard, either a rosary, a scapular, a miniature statue of a patron saint, or a stylized portrait of Christ and/or his mother or both. (My personal favorite above is 'Sonrie por Jesu', 'Smile for Jesus.' Pay attention when your taxi passes a church or other religious edifice, as the driver will always cross himself and mutter some oracion to the deity. I no longer subscribe to such magic & myth, but I admit to feeling comforted when my taxi driver pays homage.
And if there's an accident, and you're injured? You're covered under Colombian law by an entity called SOAT. Third party liability vehicle insurance is compulsory in Colombia. SOAT, Seguro Obligatorio de Accidentes de Tránsito, is primarily intended for third party victims of traffic accidents - drivers, passengers and/or pedestrians. All vehicles used in public transportation must pay the SOAT fee.
Some cabs even transport Bowser & Felix.
This ad is from Cabify, and indicates a specialty. They'll be happy to transport your pet wherever you like.
There are also white taxis that cater exclusively to airport fares. To and from Cordova airport in RioNegro, the fare for these cars is $70.000 COP one way. Here are website & contact links for taxi services in Medellin:
Rapido Medellin airport taxi: https://www.rapidomedellin.com/
Flota Cordova: http://www.flotacordova.com.co/2016/
Uber: https://www.uber.com/es-CO/blog/centros-de-activacion-uber-en-colombia/ (Though technically illegal in Medellin, Uber is available and used by a lot of people. If you use Uber, have one passenger sit in front.)
So take a taxi in Medellin, and be assured that your driver, though he (or she) will likely speak no English/German/Italian/Portugese/Chinese etc., they are conversant with Medellin's streets and byways, and they'll get you there quickly, cheaply, and with little trouble. If you like you can also get a Spanish lesson along the way.