Taxis are one of the cheapest means of transport in Panama City. But be aware as Panamanian taxi drivers like to rip off tourists. And to be honest, this happens almost to every newbie unless you know how to avoid this. So it happened to me too. In this article I will explain you how to avoid to get ripped off and give you some information about the taxi fares et cetera.
Fare zones in Panama City
First of all, Panamanian taxis don´t have any taximeters, so you don´t pay for the time you spent inside a taxi. Instead, Panama City is subdivided into special taxi zones. As long as you stay within one zone, you pay always the same fare. You can even stay in a traffic jam for an hour. But as long as you do this within the same zone, the price will not rise.
To sum it up: you pay not for the driven kilometers but for the number of zones within you are moving and which you are crossing. Besides that, the price will also rise, when the amount of the passengers rises.
How much does it cost?
If you are driving alone and stay within one zone, you would pay about $2 Dollars. When there are two persons, the price could rise up to $3 Dollars. Actually I did not fully get the system how they calculate the price when there are more than one person to be carried.
One time we paid $2 dollar for a ride. But the next time we paid $3 dollar for another ride to the same place from the same start position with another taxi driver. After I gave him $2 dollar, he said $2 dollar are not enough, because a ride with two persons does cost $3 dollar within this zone. I did not know if he was lying to us and trying to rip us off. So I paid the $3 Dollars because I did not want to grumble just because of one dollar.
So next time I just applied to the following rule you could also adapt: when there are two persons and you move within one zone, pay always $3 dollar and you will be on a safer side. But this is really the highest price. If a taxi driver says to you to pay more, be aware. Maybe he is trying to rip you off!
As we did several rides with a taxi, I made some notes about it and put it into a map. So you can better estimate how much you would pay in case that you want to go to Panama City and take a taxi there.
Avoid to be ripped off by taxi drivers in Panama City
How would you usually find out the price for a taxi ride in a foreign country? Normally you would ask the driver and he will give you an approximate price which depends on the driven kilometers / miles.
But in Panama City you would be ripped off if you would do this! Why? The answer is simple: as there are no taximeters in Panamanian taxis, the price is not bonded to the driven kilometers / miles. So when you ask one of them for the price, this bastard will know you have no idea about the fare system and will name you a price much higher. So instead of two dollar you would pay about $5 to $10 dollar. Sorry if I chose an inappropriate word but I try all the time to treat other people with respect and I await to be treated with respect too. So, be aware and don´t let you rip off.
With this knowledge you need to do the following: Never ask the taxi driver for the price. Instead, get into the taxi / cab and name your destination outrightly. Thereby you are signalizing you are familiar with the taxi prices in Panama City and that he would have no chances to rip you off.
Driving taxi at night in Panama City?
Well, in some other blogs I read, you should not take a taxi at night, especially if you alone and a woman. We did not use a cab at night and don´t like to spread false information. But several almost identical reviews on other websites are indicating that it seems to be something true about this. If you have had some bad experience with taxi drivers in Panama City, you could share your story by leaving a comment. I think, this could be helpful for other visitors of this city.
Some more information about driving taxi in Panama City
Firstly, don´t await comfortable vehicles. Usually, Panamanian taxis are shabby boneshakers. If you go shopping, you might see some comfortable taxis parking close to the entrance of the mall. But be aware, this taxis would try to rip you off and standardly name you a much higher price as you should to pay. When I said to the one of them I know the prices he answered, he will not drive me unless I pay $5 dollar for a $2 dollar drive. I yelled at him “we are not idiots!” and walked away. Obviously he did not expect this and just looked at me with a dumb expression. So next time you notice that some of them try to rip you off, don´t be shy and let them know who brings the money into this country.
Secondly, taxi drivers in Panama City speak a quite poor english. So as a tourist it might be a quite challenge for you if don´t speak spanish.
Thirdly, if you speak spanish, some of them would try to find out if this is your first time in Panama. When you say “yes”, some of them could offer you some excursions and say it is cheaper than normal. I am always cautious with this kind of offers. Of course it is cheaper, but is the quality the same? Since I have been in Cuba and have seen a lot self-proclaimed experts in tour guiding, I am always wary about this.
So my advice for you: If you don´t want these kinds of offering and want to be left alone, just say, you have been several times in Panama and name them some touristic places with some small details. This would be enough and they shouldn´t get onto your nerves anymore.
Fourthly, sometimes when you see a taxi and name the driver your destination he could just drive away wordless. It happened to me two or three times and I took it personally. But I learned later that this means, he either doesn´t know the way or does not want to go to your address (for whatever reasons). So obviously they do this with no ill intent.
To sum it up
A taxi is a good and affordable means of transport in Panama City. Take the information I gave you and would be on a safer side. Don´t let you rip off, and don´t let them treat you badly. We, the tourists, come in their country and we bring the money they need. So let them know it when they try to treat you disrespectful.