When I talk to somebody who has never been here and I say that I am driving in Mexico they look at me like I am a superwoman, and the first thing they ask is. Isn’t it dangerous to drive in Mexico? I don’t think it is, if you follow some practical and common-sense rules, which I am going to explain later.
While driving in Cancun I found it a little confusing the first times, because of the way the roundabouts are organized and the multiple crossroads they have, besides Cancun is a real mess and you can get lost easily but with a GPS it’s now super easy and after a little practice and patience I could manage.
Driving in the Riviera Maya is the easiest thing in the world as it’s just one straight road as much as Cancun Merida drive, just one straight road, even boring if you like. I always suggest taking the “libre” as opposed to the highway, as going through the small villages is much more fun if you are not in a rush. Just follow some simple tips that you can read here below.
As I was explaining in this other and more general post on practical information you need to know if you wish to travel to Mexico, the fact that Cancun and the Riviera Maya are such exploited touristic resorts has a huge impact on the way information is divulged and what the big players of Tourism want to communicate.
“Obviously” (only to them) it will be much safer to buy a fully inclusive tour, inclusive of transportation, or go to fake parks where you would be looked after all the time like little kids and nobody can hurt you.
It’s ok to choose organized tours if this is what you prefer because you don’t have to think about anything else and you only need to follow the tour leader instruction. It makes sense. Driving on your own would definitely require more attention and engagement and probably more time.
But if you, like me, don’t like to be told where to go and how much time you can spend there, when you must eat, pee, look or listen, then you will have an issue with tours.
Therefore, what to do? Rent a car, a map ( or a GPS) and explore, mingle with locals (they don’t bite, I assure you) and get a local guide at the ruins. Driving is indeed easy, and not at all dangerous. If you can drive in your hometown, you can drive anywhere.
You just need to understand some unwritten rules, and that is what this article is about, and you will be fine.
Well, if you are Brits you may need to adapt to drive on a different side of the road, but other than that, I don’t see any reason why you should deprive yourself of this freedom and comfort. To rent a car is really easy, because there are so many options, therefore, lots of competition and lower prices. You can either book it in advance online or chose what makes the best impression here.
Driving is for me the best way to visit one country and I was so tempted to drive through Central America as well during my 2 years trip from Mexico to Patagonia, but I then decided to sell my car and moving on busses, just because my car was not in the best conditions and I just wanted another kind of adventure.
Then I didn’t get to Patagonia, but that’s another story. Let’s focus on driving in Mexico now.
Tips on Car Rentals
Just make sure to know exactly the breakdown of the price you are given and whether this includes insurance, and what kind, as it can significantly increase the cost of the rental. Make sure you ask how much is the deductible because sometimes they say “fully insured” and they mean with a deductible, which is NOT FULLY insured. Even if your credit card from the US guarantees you insurance, you should get one here with the car rental in order to avoid issues in case of an accident. In any case, check with your insurance provider first.
Click here if you wish to check it out and have a quote.
Regardless of where you are renting your car, you will want to be aware of hidden costs and avoid any scams. In my detailed post about renting a car in Mexico, I list all the things you need to know about Mexican car rentals.
Bear in mind that picking up the car at the airport is more expensive than anywhere else as the site rental cost is higher, therefore they have to charge more. Also dropping off the car from a place different from where you have picked it up will attract an extra cost, and normally quite high.
Tips and Practical information on driving in Mexico
While driving in Mexico, or, more specific, driving in the Yucatan Peninsula you need to pay attention to the following things
Topes are speed bumps, which most of the time are indicated but many times they are not. So watch for that because they can be quite big and not good for your rental, especially in the proximity of villages and inhabited areas in general.
Yes, indeed! Sad but true. It is known that they love to stop you and make something up so that you feel forced to offer them a bribe.
And to my disappointment, it is all true. I personally don’t like to encourage this unethical practice, and all the time I was stopped for any reason (good reasons I admit), I managed not to pay anything, or I just paid my ticket.
However, I have heard of stories where it was inevitable and I understand that sometimes we have to give up on our principles just for the sake of peace.
It is a common thought that in Mexico we all drive like crazy and speed limits aren’t really signaled, but this is not true. On the contrary, it is a very good reason for the Police to stop you (see above #2) and they would be right to do it. So remember to watch the speed limit on the side of the roads, in and out of towns.
There are many police checkpoints especially along the “Carretera Federal”, the federal road that connects Cancun with Tulum and Bacalar, and all over the country. You will see them and just need to slow down. Sometimes they ask you to pull off and check your documents, that’s it.
That’s another reason why the police would stop you. Just remember to wear it. I remember once a Police lady would drive beside me and while driving would kindly remind me about my belt. That was nice and unexpected.
There are 2 main highways in the Yucatan peninsula, one that connects Cancun to Merida and another from Merida to Campeche. Those have a cost and they are the fastest. However, I always prefer to drive along the toll-free roads that pass through little villages and let you see more about this beautiful area. You never know which hidden cenote is waiting to be discovered or what beautiful old church you can bump into.
The roads are generally well maintained although in more remote areas you can find an excess of path-holes.
And always remember the “TOPES” (speed bumps) which are one of the few certainties in Mexico, especially in the proximity of villages. Just take it easy and enjoy the local life.
You need to pay attention to a couple of things here. In general, you will find enough gas stations along the way all-around Yucatan and I would suggest you to always check your tank gauge and keep it topped up.
However, in case you forget, no worries because in the small towns you will always find some grocery store that sells gas as well. Just ask. Another important thing at the gas stations, always check the counter while they pour gasoline and make sure they give you the correct change.
Also, sometimes they will tell you they cannot accept credit cards because the system is down. I am not sure whether it is true or not, but it is advisable to have some cash with you (Mexican pesos), always.
When you stop for gas, always ask by the quantity and not by the amount of money, otherwise, you will get less gas.
In small towns, they almost never accept credit cards and they won’t tell you before. So it’s always advisable to travel with enough Mexican pesos .
Also, it has been a habit to scam distracted drivers that pay by 500 MXN note by telling them it was a 200MXN so they won’t give you any change. So, make sure you know well how much money you are handing out and if they try to cheat do not be afraid to stand up for your right.
They usually tend to give up if they see you firm on your point. I know it sounds crazy but it happened to a couple of friends of mine.
From Tulum to Bacalar the only gas station is in Felipe Carrillo Puerto. So remember to fill up your tank in Tulum.
Driving at night in Mexico
Avoid driving at night, always. You won’t see path-holes and people walking on the side of the roads and it’s not safe in general. Keep it as a daily activity and you will be fine. Driving at night could be dangerous for many different reasons including the fact that many roads are not lightened and you wouldn’t see people walking or animals. But also people with worse intentions act at night. So just avoid it.
Beware of roundabouts and “retornos” in Mexico
The cars in the roundabouts have the priority.
If you took the wrong road and need to go back, you have “Retornos” you will see indications on the road that you can stay on the left and go back to the other carriage.
Be careful to scooters with 3,4,5 people on it, people biking on the side of the road… or not…
One way roads
One way roads are sometimes unmarked so I always watch if I see other car on my direction in case the road seems too narrow.
Highways are called CUOTAS and they don’t accept USD, only pesos and cash.
I know it seems unreal but in some time of the year, like spring, you will feel like murder because of the thousands of beautiful butterflies dancing in front of your car’s front screen and getting smashed. There is nothing you can do about it, it’s the course of nature. Just make sure you don’t get distracted and look at the road. 😉
I have found this website where you have all the major car rentals on one page so that you can compare prices. Click here to have a look and ask for a quotation.
ENJOY THIS BEAUTIFUL LAND AND DRIVE SAFE, ALWAYS!!
For Further Reading
- Book your transfers between destinations on the trusted booking platform Bookaway
- Store your bags in the main cities and walk around freely hands and weight free with Bounce
- Check if you need a visa and get help processing it with iVisa
- Never ever leave without
travel insurance. Get complete coverage from World Nomads or long term insurance from Safety Wing
- I find all of my flights on Skyscanner, Kiwi.com, Google flights, Scott’s Cheap Flights, and always remember to compare
- Book your daily tours locally to support local businesses, or if you don’t find any reliable company, or you prefer to book in advance, check out GetYourGuide or Viator. Some of their tours are refundable up to 24h in advance.
- I rent my long and mid-term apartments on VRBO
- Book hotels with Booking.com or Hotels.com
- Compare car rental prices at Auto Europe, Discover Car Rentals
- Check out my travel planning guide if you are planning your trip and feeling overwhelmed