TRANSPORTATION IN CANCUN
Bus stops are marked “Parada” and show a picture of a bus. All busses marked “Hoteles R1” go on a circle route from the Hotel Zone and along Av. Tulum to the Crucero. Those marked R2 or R15 go to Wal-Mart. All other busses are a complete mystery that will not be solved by vacationing gringos. Service is quite frequent. During the evening rush hours, crowded busses will sometimes pass without stopping, often because they are on special contract transporting workers for some hotel or construction company.
The best way to go on day trips outside of Cancun as far as Tulum or Chichén-Itzá is to take one of the busses that leave from the central bus station downtown near the second traffic circle. Just try your best to understand the system, as we never quite got the gist of it in some two years of commuting from Puerto Morelos to Cancun. You buy your ticket at either of the two sets of windows representing the different lines.
The difference between first and second class busses is not immediately distinguishable, except there is reserved seating on first class long distance routes. Get to the bus station as early as possible in the morning and make sure that you know what time the last bus in the return direction leaves.
There is also luxury bus service to and from Mérida that is well worth the extra charge and is actually more convenient than going by air. Consult any travel agent.
We defy death here to tell the truth about the taxi situation in Cancun. That is the exact and literal truth and may God strike us down with a thunderbolt if we lie. An informed source told us that the publisher of a leading tourist guide here was threatened with death for printing the official prices of taxi service in Cancun. Each taxi driver feels free to set his own rates, which are determined by secret consensus. You’re supposed to know when the price has changed, even if it hasn’t.
(all prices approximate, as of August, 2000).
 CUATE — buddies or pretty girls who sit in front seat and flirt with driver, could be gratis to, say, $2.
 LOCAL $4.
 NACIONAL Mexican visitors, $5
 TURISMO gringos, $6.
 LOCURA driver is mentally ill, above $6
All rates quoted above are for one stop, from the street, and exact payment. Prices from further out in the Hotel Zone vary according to distance. Anywhere to anywhere in central Cancun is $1.25.
Any additional services, such as giving you change or waiting while you get your laundry will be charged for at arbitrary prices that will vary with each driver and the phase of the moon.
Taxis working out of sitios — taxi stands — have different rates. Ask before getting in. Most hotels have the current sitio fares posted. Street prices from their zones will be proportionately lower, but many drivers will charge gringos the sitio price anyway.
On longer trips, such as to the airport or to Puerto Morelos to eat, negotiate the price in advance. A little bargaining is acceptable on longer trips. As a general rule, radio taxis charge higher rates and are more likely to have annoying drivers who yap incessantly on the CB and drive like maniacs. The best driver for a longer trip is usually middle-aged. Don’t feel bad about rejecting hot dogs, jitterbugs and smog-bombs.
Other towns have their own taxis. The charge from Puerto Morelos to Cancun in a Puerto Morelos taxi would be about $10. On the highway from anywhere along the coast, you can often get a Cancun taxi coming back empty or with other passengers. Depending upon the hour, season and distance, hard bargaining is acceptable in this situation, as the taxi wants the fare and might not get another passenger. Whatever you agree to will be more than a Mexican would pay.
The local rate implies the right to carry other passengers, who will be charged individually at the same rate. Even though this is not legal, it has been ratified by long usage. Don’t complain, as it makes transportation easier for everyone. Most taxi drivers rent their cars by the day and have to pay for their own gas. It’s not an easy way to make a living.
The local rate also usually requires exact change, although some drivers, usually owners, just charge the local rate and will even give you change if you give them too much. This causes cardiac arrest and general consumer mortification among tourists who have innocently paid higher fares and feel that life has no meaning unless they always get the lowest price in any transaction, no matter how small.
If you don’t want to hassle, the best thing is to ask the rate before you get in. This will automatically result in a higher fare, but why get all upset about a dollar or so? It’s your vacation, isn’t it?
A Cautionary Tale
It’s different for those of us who live here and count taxi fares as a household budget item. Faera is ruthless about paying the local price. In her flawless Spanish, she explains the full meaning of certain idiomatic insults they might have not grasped until now. Occasionally, a taxi driver will be left screaming threats and insults in the street as she runs up the three flights of steps to our apartment.
I used to be equally fanatic, but after one scene that took two hours and the arrival not merely of the police but other taxi drivers (summoned by Faera, who has loyal friends everywhere, because she is so visible and social, unlike me, a mole), I finally pretty much gave up being a hard ass.
As a family genuinely concerned with your physical and mental health, we suggest that you follow the lead of pragmatic Anita Brown: If you don’t have exact change, pay what they ask, unless it’s crazy. Even then, decide how crazy, exactly, before going to extremes.
To understand why we say this, let us examine a hypothetical case of taxi stubbornness to the max. If you have not been drinking (which could cause unanticipated results as the event gets intense), and you do have an unresolvable problem with a crazy taxi driver, and you fear no evil, take out pen and paper and ostentatiously write down the number of the cab. They are required to have their licenses prominently displayed. If you have not yet gotten out of the cab, write this down, making sure to stretch your neck inquisitively to put a bullet in the gesture. If the license is not displayed, ask, “Muestrame su gafete, por favor.” Please show me your driver’s license. This will be greeted with outraged disbelief. If you have demonstrated your command of Spanish, the driver may even offer some ridiculous reason why he is not required to do this.
Now say, “Quiero ir al sindicato.” I wish to go to union headquarters. The union has a complaint department that can be quite tough with the drivers. A five-day suspension is the usual response to any valid complaint. If he pretends not to understand this, say it again, or show him this paragraph and point to the words. He will then ask for some absurd fee. You answer: “Lo que dirán en el sindicato. Ya. Vamos.”” Whatever they say there. Now. Let’s go.”
They never want to go, but they will frequently continue to bully you. Show him the complaint form on the last page of the book. If the driver fails to come down to an acceptable price, the single best technique, if you have exact change, is to just leave it on the front seat and walk away. An occasional taxi driver will tear the money up and throw it at you.
Pick up the pieces. Later you can scotch tape them together and take them to the bank. This could lead to the driver getting out of the taxi and acting threatening. Move a few steps out of reach and scream at the top of your lungs: “Policia! Transito!”
He knows that if the police arrive and he is overcharging you, they will just tell him to stop bothering people. If he gives them too much lip, they might just take him to the police station and violate his human rights in ways that he will not easily forget in a single lifetime.
Before this happens, however, he might also wind up punching you, if really crazy. You might also happen to be completely wrong, for some reason, and suffer the dreadful embarrassment of having to apologize to a justifiably enraged father doing his best to feed his children. Is there anything worse in life than being proved wrong? Avoid these eventualities by being noble and reasonable and tolerant, or take the bus.
If you feel that you have been criminally mistreated by a taxi driver and wish to complain, place you’re complaint in writing and deliver it to the Mayor’s Office, on the second floor of the Municipal Building, on Av. Tulum, just past Banamex.
Please don’t do this for anything minor. These guys are working really hard and have a right to be irritable and even a little grasping. We think that the overwhelming majority of the taxi drivers of Cancun would agree, however, that there are limits.