The Weird & Wonderful World of Colombia’s Taxi Drivers

moto taxi in Guatape Antioquia Colombia

No doubt anyone who lives in Colombia or has visited has an interesting/weird/kooky/cool/[insert adjective here] story to tell about a taxi driver. I personally have many. Ranging from the heartwarming to the downright bizarre, there are a few typical and quirky experiences you can expect to have if you spend enough time here.

Closing the car door

Entering and exiting a taxi here is like playing a game of Russian Roulette. If done incorrectly, there’s a good chance you will have a rather unpleasant ride, or will send the driver speeding off into the sunset with his middle finger erect after you’ve disembarked.

Why? It seems to be a common belief that closing a car door too forcefully will cause it to fall off or in some way cause irreparable harm to their vehicle. That’s right – an average sized person going head to head with 3000+ pounds’ worth of steel and metal could do some real damage.

Case in point: On the way back from the Poblado metro station, a couple of friends got out of the taxi several minutes before me. The taxi driver was so offended by the way his doors were shut that for the remainder of the ride, I had to field questions like: Is that how you people over there close your car doors? Don’t you have any manners?

Rule of thumb: If you ever see the taxi driver put his hand behind him to help you close the door, just leave it ajar. He wants to close it himself. Also, the newer the car, the more likely it is that the driver will be extra particular about your door-closing strategy. Pretend like you just tucked the kids in for the night and close it as softly as possible – no sudden movements.

The customer is always wrong

You hop into the back, tell the driver where you want to go, and he sets off confidently in the right direction. When you fly by your intended destination, or make an impossible 20-minute detour after a wrong turn, don’t be surprised when the driver blames it on you.

Case in point: On Tuesday night, I name a restaurant and the highway it’s on. As I get wrapped up in conversation, we fly past it. When I point it out (too late), I’m told it’s because I didn’t tell him it was in “El Mall.” Except that there are dozens of mini malls along la transversal inferior. I’m not sure how he would know which I was speaking of. But that was my bad, obviously.

Another case in point: After getting a relaxing massage earlier this week, I climb into a taxi and give the cross street of my apartment building. The taxi driver makes a wrong turn, and we end up right back where we started several minutes later. I recommend a landmark and he makes the drive most pleasant by scolding me for not telling him beforehand. While my total bill is double what it should have been, it’s my fault for thinking he knew where he was going.

Umm, can you take me back to the massage place please?

The Solution? Call a friend for the remainder of the drive so you don’t have to listen to his bickering.

Are you a reporter?

Sometimes, a taxi driver will be so excited about having a foreigner in his car that he will begin to fire off a round of questions. While most of these interrogative sessions have friendly intentions, I’ve had more than a few get a little too personal.

How much do you pay in rent? Are you rich? Are you married? Do you have a boyfriend? Is he Paisa?

Damn – I didn’t know my E! True Hollywood story was coming out so soon.

The solution? If questions get too personal, you can pull the old, “No entiendo,” or call a friend (or pretend to) until the drive is over.

I know you!

This can easily be one of the creepiest situations, especially for a lone female. Picture this: You get into the back, glance up at the rear view mirror, and give your directions. You settle into your seat when you’re greeted with, “I remember you,” or worse, “I’ve been thinking about you.”

The Solution? Inducing a sense of both guilt and anxiety, there is no easy way to handle this situation if you have no clue who the guy is. You can try to smile through it, or hurl yourself out of the window at the next red light.

It’s not all bad

One of the best parts about this weird and wonderful world is when I get one of those drivers who is really interested in me and my life, is happy go lucky, friendly, and drops me off at my location with a smile on my face and that reminder of why I love Colombia so much.    Luckily, this happens more than not… but the weird ones make the best stories.

Do you have any weird or wonderful taxi stories? Share them in the comment section below.

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  • Haha I also have a number of interesting conversations with taxi drivers here in the Philippines. There are some who whines about our government or about the latest showbiz news. I am planning to write a series soon on my blog.

  • Philip Bello

    Sorry to say that if you slammed my car door you would get a verbal battering as well, unless the car is old and battered, there is no reason to slam the doors!
    As for the extended journeys, yep, they definitely have a habit of that, I asked one driver who had taken me round the block a few times, how long he had lived in Medellin, he said all his life, so I suggested he bought a GPS, as he was obviously never going to learn his way around :)

  • Haha I’d love to read it, paste the link here when you’re done!

  • Good point. Sometimes though I’ve noticed that even a regular door close will be interpreted as a slam.

    Love the GPS comment, that’s funny.

  • Philip Bello

    Yes I know all women say they closed the door softly ha!ha!… OUCH!!! Thanks for a fun read, I have put your link on my Blog!

  • Hilarious… Reminded me of a taxi driver we once had in Barcelona. Basically, he couldn’t find our hotel and just ditched us at the end of the alley and pointed. Turns out it was on the complete other side of Las Ramblas, but we found it OK…

  • Thanks!

  • Haha! I had a taxi driver named Fidel in Colombia – that was a hilarious experience. His cab was so run down it looked like a bomb had gone off inside…and he pointed out all the women he found attractive along the side of the road (telling me in detail why he thought so, of course). He did give me the honor of naming the taxi though, so now its name is El Terrible.

  • Gringo

    Ah the taxi door slam. Took me awhile to not slam the door. Our doors are just bigger and have more weight to them here and its habit to slam to get them to close. But yes, i got the look and comments. Also, several just seen a gringo and knew it was going to happen and did put out the hand to stop it.
    Let see, traveling out of Bogota, that double yellow line in the middle of the road, traveling down the mountain road, at high rates of speed was more of a suggestion to the driver that not crossing over it, in a sharp turn with no visibility. Lets see, the finger waves to other drives, the hidden siren used. HA! but I had no BAD experiences, just some hair raising ones but they always got me where I was going alive and made the trip interesting to say the least. I literally has to trust them wiht my life. :)

  • Haha I will be on the look out for El Terrible!

  • Yes, the overtaking along windy mountain roads is always fun! At that point, I just decide to distract myself with something else, usually studying the intricate workings of the seat cushion.

  • Pierre

    Closing the cab door… Cabs in Medellin are cheap tiny “Hyundai” and similar types. They are basic so they are not equipped with “door-slam-stoppers” like US cars. When you in Medellin, just do not shut the car door the way you normally do it in the US. You will apply just enough strength to close it, but it won’t slow down and just slam making your driver crazy. Most of those cab drivers have never driven a US or good European or Japanese car so they don’t understand and will simply think that you are being rude. I’d recommend just close the door, but not all the way – leave it to the driver to close it the way they like. They always appreciate it.

  • Sebastian

    ha! scares the crap out of me. i too was guilty of the taxi door slam, well any car door slam. In the US the car doors are much heavier and I never fathom I could cause damage. But i definitely had a taxi driver berate me for slamming his door in Bucaramanga. I can’t say I’ve experienced any scary rides here in Colombia: more in LA and NY than Medellin for sure

  • Miami has some scary drivers too

  • Adam Wester

    One time in bogota I got into a taxi, remembered to close the door very softly (I have to repeatedly tell myself before entering/exiting :)), but the inside handle literally fell off the door! The driver wasn’t too mad, so I think it happened quite a bit.

  • Matthew B

    The bus rides can be fun too when the singers and musicians put on their little show during the ride.

  • John J. Ivory

    Hysterical. I was in Colombia for a couple weeks in December, and I got better at closing cab doors, but not great. I had one twenty minute ride during which the driver lectured me the WHOLE time. Next time, I think I’ll close them with my pinkie; so I can’t possibly close them too hard.