Many different ports of call - each with the exact same problem: so much to see, such little time.
There’s many different ways to tackle this problem - and this blog does try to highlight some of the better options in each of these ports of call. One method is to just pick the highlights and see only them, leaving the rest for another day when you can return. Another option is to take in a ships tour offering “the best of _____”.
My personal favourite, however, is the Taxi Tour. With a few of you together you embark on a tour that the taxi driver runs. The benefit of these is the spontaneity of them. A professional guided tour will take you to the “hot” tourist spots, give you a history lesson and provide insight into each place you see and you will feel accomplished. But it is the taxi tour that will take you home to his house for lunch with the family where you will eat traditional food and have lasting conversations about the real state of the nation you are in.
World over, taxi drivers are known for expressing their opinions. Take advantage of this. Recently in Costa Rica Jerry, our personality rich taxi driver, who was simply driving us to a favourite swimming destination decided to use the time to “educate” us. It was fantastic. He chose an alternative route back to the ship that would show us small towns and the way locals lived. Jerry explained how beautiful Costa Rica was, but expressed dismay over what he see’s as the countries largest problem - garbage. He wanted visitors to his beloved country to see the country for what it was, the beauty and the garbage. He also wanted the negative sides to be explained. These are the conversations you don’t get when doing an organised tour.
Tour guides are well informed on what they can and can’t say on their tour. They are fully aware of the advertising they are providing for tourists who will hopefully return one day. They fell they are responsible to have these tourists return. Taxi drivers on the other hand dish out honesty. They show and say things as they are - as they have seen things change and develop over time.
These tours are, granted, unprofessional and they do come with their risks. Plans are out the window when you climb in the taxi, you pay for a time period and request certain sites - the rest is up to your taxi driver. Safety is the biggest concern. We’ve all heard the horror stories of unorganised tours going horribly wrong. But there are things you can do to protect yourself. My big tips include:
Go with a big group
This is the simply theory that there’s more of us than of you. Taxi drivers who like to change the price on you are less inclined when there is a big group of people refusing to acknowledge the drivers story.
Only travel with certified taxi drivers
Within Central America and the Caribbean, taxi drivers who are vying for business within the Ship Terminal are certified taxi drivers - the Local Government has given them permission to work within the security of the Terminal. They usually charge more money, but the extra charge is definately worth it. There is also a Taxi Manager within the area. Deal with this person about cost and your expectations of the tour, that way if there are an problems you can report back to him.
Take the port agent information with you
If something happens - like your taxi breaks down - you need to communicate this information back to the ship so that you aren’t left behind. The best way to do this is to have the contact details of the Port Agent with you. This is the person who is the local contact between the ship and the port. On most cruise lines this information is available on the front page of their daily newsletter, but you can’t find it ask at reception.
Ensure the taxi driver has a way to communicate (ie radio/mobile phone)
This is obvious from above - so you can contact the Port Agent …
Pay half now, half later (or or later if they allow)
This is something I have learnt from travelling in taxi’s to various places in port. If you do approach a taxi driver outside the Ship Terminal I will only pay half when he drops me at my destination and half when he picks me up. I also make this clear before I climb into the taxi. I do this to ensure that the tai driver collects me from the said location - there is nothing worse than having a taxi driver not turn up and then start worrying about how to get back to the ship. To be honest, taxi drivers don’t like this as it takes the control away from them. Use your discretion; however I always feel that if they don’t like this then they were probably going to take you for a ride anyway