It’s the topic visitors always ask about and local people love to avoid, tourist theft! Of course it happens, though not on the grand scale that you might see from our neighbors Costa Rica or Honduras. One of the most common forms of scams has to do with taxis. They make their living dealing with people who don’t have cars and most tourists fit squarely in that category. The following are three types of taxi theft in Nicaragua, most of which take place in Managua. Managua Taxi Guide Outside the capital city the taxis are generally regarded as much safer. Safe airport to destination service in Managua
The Express Kidnapping
This is a very effective scam. Effective at draining your bank account and scaring the hell out of you. A sweet lady, usually pregnant, strikes up a conversation with a hapless backpacker waiting for a taxi in Managua or a surrounding town. She suggests they share a taxi since her stop is very close to the tourist’s destination. After all, it’s safer that way! … right?
An empty taxi pulls up. The two get in with the woman in the front seat. The taxi turns a corner and picks up two guys, sandwiching the tourist. When the car is underway to the first destination the men pull out weapons and demand the backpacker’s ATM card. The first destination, one of many, is of course an ATM. The car full of thieves makes the rounds until there is nothing more to withdraw, then they leave the backpacker stranded in the middle of nowhere on the edge of town.
A couple of things to note is that this seems to be a scam run by one group of individuals. They sometimes blindfold the hostage and usually leave them with a few hundred cordobas so they can find a bus back to town (oh yes, thieves with a heart). I haven’t heard of this type of robbery happening since 2013, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t happen to you.
Stay Safe! Common sense taxi rules apply here. The woman is the hook to get you off your guard but rules are rules. Don’t get into a taxi with other people. To avoid taxi drivers picking up other passengers you can pay him a little more for “expreso” service. That being said, 999 out of 1000 taxi rides will be uneventful in the robbery sense (though could be exciting in the stock car racing sense).
The Bait n Switch
This one is one of the most common taxi scams because the tourist usually fall for it, most of them knowing they are falling for it when they pay up. You followed the good taxi guidelines of Managua and negotiated the price before departure. You are mentally checking to remember if you loaded all your luggage, your kids have diarrhea in the backseat and your wife is pestering you about the rush to check in for your departing flight. On the way to the airport the taxi driver stops to squeeze someone else in and then takes a detour. Wait, you say, we got in first and are in a rush to the airport! So sorry, says the taxi driver. This is a colectivo taxi. You have to pay double to go direct to the airport!
Most people pay the extra money. Why? The peace of mind that the extra 10-15 minutes gives them is worth the price. Plus nobody wants an unexpected tour of inner-city Managua when they have wife, kids and all their luggage in tow. The Bait n Switch might turn into the Bait n Catch.
I have interviewed many taxi drivers about this one. Nobody claims to have done it but they have all heard of people who have. They also make about $20 a day take-home pay so a doubling the daily salary is worth it for many, especially when the tourist is just minutes from leaving the country.
Stay Safe! Negotiating beforehand is one way to prevent this scam from happening. A more effective way would be to arrange a trusted taxi through your hotel or a local friend. Nobody wants that kind of surprise!
The Extra Mile
It’s a beautiful day, the sun is shining and you hail a cab to see a big event at the cathedral. The two of you agree on a price and off you go, windows down, hair blowing in the wind, not a cloud in the sky. All the sudden the taxi stops in some neighborhood you have never seen, parked right in front of a local church.
The CATHEDRAL you said. This is a cathedral he says. Yes but, well this isn’t the Cathedral you say. Well that cathedral is going to cost another handful of cash since you are now on the opposite side of town. You might show a bit vexed but be warned, the taxi driver will usually show even more. So what do you do? Pay him the extra? Pay him the agreed-upon rate and grab another taxi? Tell him to take his taxi scam and shove it where the sun don’t shine?
Do this: giggle to yourself and apologize for not being more specific. Your Spanish isn’t perfect but you are learning. Admit that you learned that there is more than one cathedral in Managua thanks to your safe driver. Then negotiate his taxi fare and pay him when you arrive. Why jump into his trap and thank him for it? It’s called finesse, my child. First of all your ultimate goal is to get to the Cathedral safely. You have no idea where you are right now so stick to the safe part of your goal and stay in the cab. Getting to the Cathedral requires a taxi ride anyway so since you are already in one, take advantage of it.
Stay Safe! Tell a fellow traveler about this scam because the taxi driver will probably continue doing it to foreigners (and Nicas) who don’t know their way around the city. Chalk this one up as a learning experience and remember to be clear as the day is sunny when telling your driver where you want to go.
Also remember to not forget anything in the trunk or backseat; there is little chance of seeing it again. Taxi drivers get “tips” every week from people who don’t realize their phone or money has fallen out of their pockets in the car so look twice when getting out.
I will write more about other tourist scams I have heard about in Nicaragua in the coming weeks. If you would like to add something just fill out a comment below!