What Is a Colectivo?

There is a war on the streets of Lima. It’s a war of transportation. Undoubtedly, if you spend just a few moments on a corner waiting for a bus or a cab, a horde of vehicles will vie for your attention. Among them are the infamous “Colectivo.”

At first glance, a colectivo in the wild seems inconspicuous, almost invisible. Indeed, they use a sort of camouflage. They look just like any other car to the untrained eye. It takes an astute traveler to note the varied faces in the car clearly don’t know one another and are avoiding eye contact.

You might spot the neon yellow or fluorescent green vinyl sticker across the windshield. It bears the name of a major thoroughfare, such as Javier Prado or Abancay. Aside from these signs, there is nothing that would suggest that this car is actually an illegal method of transportation.

 

But why not hop in?

What is a Colectivo?

Colectivo is the local term for a shared taxi. It’s basically a carpool. Colectivo drivers generally travel down linear paths, following major bus lines or important roads.

 

You’ll often see colectivo drivers near bus stops, typically hugging the right lane. The driver might put his hand out the window and give a sort of forward waving gesture, indicating that he’s just going straight into the horizon. You can jump in any available seat.

What Are the Advantages of Colectivos?

Right away, you can see why taking a Colectivo is popular in Lima. You’re not nearly as crowded as you would be in a packed bus, even if you get stuck riding in the middle seat in the back of the car. Because it’s a car, you stop less frequently and move faster.

Colectivos definitely can save you time, and compared to a taxi, they might make more sense economically as well. Here’s an example of how I would use one.

Starting out in La Molina, I have to head west to Javier Prado and the Via Expresa. I can take a city bus for S/.1.70 that will take me right to my stop. Or, I could cab it and spend probably 12-15 soles for that same distance.

The colectivo sits right in the Goldilocks zone. It’s where liquid water sits on the surface of the planet. At S/.3.50, I get to my destination in half the time of the bus, while paying just about double. Still, I’m only slightly slower than a cab, yet at a fraction of the price.

What’s Wrong With Colectivos?

The problem with colectivos is that they tend to be as aggressive and ruthless as the combi drivers. They’re infamous for flying down the street at breakneck speeds, cutting people off, and hogging space at bus stops. It’s for this reason that the government has been trying to crack down on colectivos in certain areas.

There is definitely a safety issue here, though it’s nothing compared to taking a motorcycle taxi. I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve overlooked it to get a quick ride. But I’d be lying if I said I was completely comfortable on that ride. Colectivos are not for the faint of heart. If that’s your case, you might just want a regular, comfortable, safe taxi ride.

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