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October 19, 2010 12:10:25 | in Peru

The mototaxi, a Peru travel icon

mototaxi travel in Peru
The view from a mototaxi in Peru. (Photo by Tony Dunnell) See more photos of mototaxis in Peru.

By Tony Dunnell

Mototaxis are nothing short of iconic. They are everywhere, trundling along the dirt roads of the Peruvian jungle, negotiating the twists and turns of the Andean highlands and skipping in and out of traffic in the towns and cities of the coastal strip. What would Peru be without these three-wheeled machines? Quieter, probably; less chaotic, quite possibly, but it just wouldn’t be the same.

The Mototaxi Passenger

Mototaxis are perfect for short hops. Just set the price, slide in to the back seat and away you go. There are some downsides, obviously. Don’t expect to be quoted a fair price if you’re a foreigner, but don’t be afraid to haggle either. Safety is also an issue; mototaxis are no match for a truck or a bus but if you avoid routes with heavy traffic then you won’t have many problems.

Mototaxi travel is at its best in those hot Peruvian towns where motorbikes rule the roads and cars are few and far between. Why sit and swelter in a taxi when you can enjoy the breeze offered by these open-sided machines? There is something relaxing, graceful even, about cruising around in the back of a mototaxi. It’s good to watch the world pass by and experiencing all the sights and sounds of Peru with no great barrier between you and your environment.

The Mototaxi Driver

Mototaxi drivers in Tarapoto (where I live) tend to be young males with a fairly laid back attitude. These guys all seem to have “special stops” around town where they take breaks and kick back in conversation with female acquaintances in the back seat of the mototaxi. Some of the drivers, of course, are not so young, not so laid back and not entirely sober. Some of them (two at the last count) are women, but it’s certainly a man’s job.

What a mototaxista earns depends largely on his location and his motivation but 40 to 70 soles daily would be a decent amount for most drivers. Bear in mind that many drivers don’t actually own their vehicles (they rent them on a daily basis for around 15 soles in Tarapoto) so a driver needs to know what he’s doing, and needs to put in some long hours, in order to take home enough cash to make it worthwhile.

Mototaxi travel in Peru
A new Zongshen mototaxi, made in China and in a showroom in Tarapoto, Peru. (Photo by Tony Dunnell) See more photos of mototaxis in Peru.

The Vehicle  

To use a modern expression, some Peruvian mototaxis are more “pimped-up” pound-for-pound than half the cars in The Fast and the Furious. Batman logos, Nike swooshes, flying pendants and sci-fi designs make some of these vehicles look more like miniature carnival floats than public transport. Tarapoto mototaxis, however, are disappointingly bland. Here you’ll see the standard mototaxi design: basically the front-half of a motorbike with a bench seat and two wheels attached to the rear and a roof covering the whole assembly. The sides are open to the elements but the driver has a plastic sheet that he can pull up in front of him when it rains.

Head south to Tingo Maria, however, and it’s not just the aesthetics that change. In Tingo you’ll see a large number of small-wheeled, almost totally enclosed trimovils thrown into the mix. These are often generically known by the name “Bajaj,” this being one of the main manufacturers. This type of vehicle serves the same purpose as the standard mototaxi but has one distinct benefit: it can be, and often is, converted to run on gas. I’m not sure why these trimovils don’t exist in Tarapoto but the price here is certainly prohibitive. While a brand new mototaxi can be had for about 5,000 soles, a new TVS King trimovil (a rare sight here, even in a showroom) retails at a hefty 11,000 soles.

The Manufacturer

So where do all these mototaxis come from? I had a quick chat with the administrator of the Zongshen showroom here in Tarapoto, Juan Carlos Briceño Grónerth. Zongshen has a fairly standard arrangement: The mototaxis are manufactured in China, shipped to Lima and then sent to all the various distributors throughout Peru.

Honda, meanwhile, has a more interesting set-up. These vehicles are assembled on Peruvian soil in Iquitos, stuck out in the Amazon rainforest. A Honda factory in Iquitos may seem like a bad idea considering that the city is not connected to the rest of Peru by road. However, manufacturers in the entire Loreto department enjoy a significant tax break that makes the whole scheme much more profitable. These vehicles, mototaxis included, are assembled in Iquitos then shipped up river before taking two divergent water routes: one along the Río Marañón and the Río Huallaga to Yurimaguas, the other up the Río Ucayali and on to Pucallpa.

The Future of Mototaxis

These marvelous contraptions, designed to take you just a few blocks for a few soles, have therefore generally started life with a much longer trip of their own. So where do they go from here? What about the future of the Peruvian mototaxi? Well, it could be a bright, shiny, clean and green future with solar powered three-wheelers. In 2010, a professor at the University of San Marcos in Lima unveiled a prototype mototaxi powered by twelve solar panels strapped to the roof. A nice idea, but perhaps not something we are likely to see cruising the streets of Lima in the foreseeable future.

Tony Dunnell is an English freelance writer living in Tarapoto, Peru. He writes about travel for MNUI Travel Insurance and has two websites, HowtoPeru and TarapotoLife.

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# Martin says :
19 October, 2010 [ 03:33 ]
The moto-taxis that are presently on the road are a pain in the ass to those driving cars. A single moto-taxi with a 2-stroke engines pollutes more than four or five cars. How's that for the environment! You forgot to mention that the drivers pay no attention to driving correctly or safely.
I guess you could say they are a novel "romantic" experience for the tourists, but for Peru they are a disaster even if they are a way for the under/uneducated to earn a living.
# Luis Vasquez says :
20 October, 2010 [ 06:41 ]
Moto taxis are a mode of transportation in areas such as Moyobamba, the Capital of San Martin, where the density of cars is very low. Farmers for the most part, travel in moto taxi to places like Rioja, Sporitor, Yantalo [the first green 16bed clinic is under construction in Yantalo]. AND,, he ride is only TWO soles!
# Gart van Gennip says :
20 October, 2010 [ 08:13 ]
That's a bit harsh, isn't it, Martin? As far as I know, nobody pays much attention to driving correctly or safely, it's not just the mototaxistas. And I don't know where you get your pollution statistics from, but it seems very unlikely to me that one motokarro pollutes as much as four or five cars. But I could be wrong.
I live in Iquitos, and there are very few cars here. Drivers don't get angry or frustrated by motokarros; they just accept that this is the way it is. In my own experience, that is often hard to do for a gringo. So maybe the problem is not the motokarros, but the gringo's inability to accept the Peruvian way.
In any case, I wouldn't call them a disaster. Sure, there's much you could say against motokarros, but overall they add to the charm of the city, they are cheap, fast and relatively safe, and they don't take up much space. So far we don't have many traffic jams here, which would be quite a different story if everyone was driving cars.

BTW, the rent and the proceeds of a motokarro in Iquitos are different from those in Tarapoto. I have never heard of a mototaxista earning 70 soles a day. But maybe competition is stiffer here, I don't know.
# Tony Dunnell says :
22 October, 2010 [ 09:22 ]
Hi, and thanks for the comments.

Gart, I probably went a bit high on the daily earnings, to be honest. In Tarapoto, at least, it depends on the day of the week and how much an individual taxista actually works on any given day. Some of them do very well on Saturday nights, for example, when they up their prices. I'd probably edge towards the 40 sol mark for a reasonably motivated driver on a decent day. I asked a few of the drivers what they made on average – I kind of got the impression that some of the younger guys were perhaps exaggerating just a little....

As for not mentioning that some drivers pay no attention to driving correctly or safely, I did slip in the "not entirely sober" comment. Incidences of mototaxistas driving around in circles late at night while singing lewd songs have been reported in the local press...

# rgbjr says :
23 October, 2010 [ 08:27 ]
In my experience they are dangerous and a lot of them are partners with thieves if they are not thief's them self. I have a lot of experience with them I use to lice in Ceres Vitarte. I use to see them ride by slowly with two people inside one would hope out and rob someone while the other drove. They overturn because the drivers drive way too fast. They are a danger to the public. If they were that good or safe they would be allowed to be in La Molina, San Isidro, Miraflores and places like that.
# Cherrye at My Bella Vita says :
27 October, 2010 [ 05:18 ]
Hmmm... interesting post Tony and even more intriguing comments. At first they kind of reminded me of the golf cart "taxis" in San Pedro (Belize) but after reading some of the comments I'm thinking they might be more like the "ape," (pronounced aap-aye) 3-wheeled farmers' trucks, that we have here in Italy. The ape in Italy aren't used as taxis, but the drivers go *much* slower than the average car driver and people do get rather agitated to be held up on a long road behind an ape.

How many people can ride in a mototaxi at once?

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