Latin America can be intimidating for first-time travelers. Here are three apps to download, to use with WiFi, to make your trip go more smoothly.
An often-repeated bit of advice given to travelers in the Colombian capital, Bogotá is to never hail taxis off the street. That said, if you are not confident enough in your Spanish to call a taxi company on the phone, you can be left with few options. Created in response to diminishing yet still present threats of kidnapping, robbery, and plain old fare-gouging, the Tappsi app launched in 2013. Download the free app (which is available in English), type in the address where you want to be picked up (the app uses GPS to figure that out, too), and enter your name and phone number. Once you've entered the information, Tappsi will send a confirmation with the driver's full name, the license plate, an estimated arrival time (almost always very quick), and a secret security code. You'll get a notification when the taxi arrives, then all you have to do is check that the license plate matches; that the driver confirms your name and asks for the "clave" (secret security code), and you are on your way. Besides Bogota, you can use Tappsi in the Colombian cities of Barranquilla, Medellín, Cali, Bucaramanga, Cartagena, Armenia, Pereira, and Manizales, as well as Peru and Ecuador.
Although WhatsApp was developed in the United States, it hasn't really caught on much here -- at least not to the level of enthusiasm it receives in Latin America. Data from GlobalWebIndex, for example, puts usage in Latin America as high as 61 percent, compared to only seven percent in North America. WhatsApp allows you to send text messages via WiFi, thereby allowing you to keep in contact with your local friends (and those back home) while avoiding pricey roaming charges. You can also send photos and videos for free through WhatsApp. Note that it does not have a calling feature, so you will be charged by your provider if you make a phone call, even with WhatsApp installed. The app is free for the first year; after that, you then have the option to renew at a cost of 99¢ per year.
A direct competitor to WhatsApp, Viber is a cross-platform messaging app that counts Latin America as one of its biggest markets, alongside Southeast Asia and Russia. Viber is free to download and, like WhatsApp, it allows you to text and send photo and video messages to other Viber users for free over WiFi. An added bonus, though, is that Viber also allows you to make free phone calls, even internationally, to other Viber users. If your friends don't have Viber, you can make calls for lower than normal rates (from 1.5¢ a minute from Mexico to a U.S. landline) by using ViberOut (currently only available on iPhone and Android devices). Just last week, Viber launched the ability to make video calls to other Viber users via mobile in addition to desktop platforms.