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Driving in Mexico: all you need to know

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If you are wondering whether it’s safe to drive in Mexico and you want to learn about the most important safety tips for a smooth and seamless road trip around the country, this post is for you. I hope you will find it useful


The first thing to know is that, although the basic safety rules are the same everywhere, every state has its own unwritten rules and recommendations, some roads are less safe than others and you should surely dig for more information about the destination where you are going to drive. I am also going to share some sources where you can find real-time information.

In this post, I will talk about driving in Mexico in general, but I will also speak about driving in Baja California and in the Yucatan Peninsula specifically because that’s where my driving experience is.

me by a car driving in mexico

How to stay safe while driving in Mexico

There are a few things you should know while driving in Mexico, from how to not to get scammed by car rental (it happened to me) to road conditions, speed limit, and other important things that you should know if you want to drive in Mexico, which I highly recommend. Let’s explore them one by one.

Tips on Car Rental

I am going to write a specific post about it because it is a topic that deserves more attention. However, here I would like to share few very important tips.

  • First of all make sure you ask for the exact breakdown of the price you are given and what it includes.
  • Keep in mind that the price that is advertised almost never includes the insurance which will definitely blow up the cost. I would recommend going for the full insurance but make sure you ask for 0 deductible and what it’s not included.
  • Also, even if your credit card from the US includes your insurance, you should get one with the car rental in order to avoid issues in case of an accident. Hopefully, you won’t need to use it, but it’s better to stay on the safe side.  

I have found an amazing site where they compare the prices of different car rentals so you can make your choice. Click here if you wish to check it out and have a quote. Keep in mind though that if you buy the insurance with this site it’s not with the carrental but with this site itself. I would suggest you should book the car only and purchase the insurance with the car rental directly.

Regardless of where you are renting your car, you sure want to pay attention to the hidden prices and scams. In the next detailed post, I will list all the things you need to know about renting your car and how to deal with car rentals in Mexico.

But before we move on, keep 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.

road to miguel colorado

Topes

The so-called topes are basically speed bumps, and most of the time are not indicated. They are more frequent in the proximity of small towns and within the towns. Some of them are really huge and if you don’t see them and run over them they can even damage your car. That’s why is very important to keep an extra eye and go slow.

Police

Unfortunately, this is a sad truth in Mexico. Sometimes you must pay attention to the police as well. When you hear a story that police stops cars (especially if they see it’s a car rental) to ask for a bribe, it’s, unfortunately, true, in some cases. Not to justify them, but their salary is so meagre that they feel almost “entitled” to do that in order to put food on the table for their numerous family.

Still, I don’t like that practice and I have never bribed anyone during my 10 years living in Mexico. It’s just not my thing. I was stopped several times for correct reasons, speed, talking on the phone while driving, and lack of seat belt. I am very distracted and sometimes I forget. But I was lucky. I got one fine only and all the other times they just let me go. And when they were holding me longer than usual in the hope that I would hand them some money to let me know, I would just told them to give me the fine.

However, although I don’t want to encourage bribing practice I understand that sometimes they make it so difficult that it’s inevitable, for the sake of peace and time-saving.

This practice is most common in Cancun and along the Riviera Maya mainly, but if you wish to explore Yucatan and Campeche, you shouldn’t have any issue of this kind. There is a totally different attitude, and the people are more genuine and laid back.

me by a car driving in mexico 1 1

Speed limits

Please respect the speed limit not only for your safety and others’ but also because they do speed checks every now and then and they will have a good excuse to give you a fine if you are caught.

There are many police checkpoints especially along the “Carretera Federal”, the federal road that connects Cancun with Tulum and Bacalar, and others all over the country.  You will see them and just need to slow down. Sometimes they ask you to pull over and check your documents, that’s it.

Seat Belt

Don’t give the police another reason for stopping you. Just remember to wear it. I remember a rare case when a police lady would drive beside me and kindly reminded me to put the seat belt on. That was kind of her.

Gasoline

When you travel in isolated rural areas it might be difficult to find gas stations. Therefore it is always advisable to make sure you are driving with the tank half full and fill it up as soon as you have the chance. In small towns, if you don’t find gas stations, just ask around because there might be the chance that they sell gasoline in the convenience stores.

cenote taak bi ha riviera maya driving in mexico

Driving at night

Never drive at night, in any part of Mexico. The reason is that some parts of Mexico are known for assaults at night, but most of all because it’s not safe in general. You won’t see path-holes, also many roads are not lit and you wouldn’t see people or animals walking with the risk of running them over. But also people with worse intentions act at night. So just avoid it.

Roundabouts

In Mexico, the cars within the roundabouts have the priority. So keep that in mind.

Also, many main roads are like highways. If you miss your turn, and need to go back, you have “Retornos”, which means that you must stay on the left carriageway and as soon as you will see the U-turn indication, you can turn back.

Be careful with scooters with 3,4,5 people on it, and people biking or walking on the side of the road.

One way streets

One way roads which are sometimes unmarked. So I usually pay attention to where other cars are going.

Highways

Highways are called CUOTAS and they don’t accept USD only pesos and cash.

yucatan, mexico, sky

Driving in the Yucatan Peninsula

You need to know that the Yucatan state is considered the safest state in Mexico, with the kindest and the most genuine people and I can absolutely confirm it.

The Yucatan Peninsula is a geographical region that includes the Mexican states of Yucatan, Campeche, and Quintana Roo.

Campeche is relatively safe too, except for the city of Ciudad del Carmen on the Laguna de Termino, but you don’t need to go there anyway.

Quintana Roo is one of the most touristy regions of Mexico and safe, but that’s where Mexican police are at their worst and where it’s easier to be stopped and implicitly asked for bribes. So make sure you don’t offer them a pretext for doing it.

Gasoline

In more touristy areas, you can find gas stations everywhere. However, if you drive into more rural areas you run the risk to remain without gas for a long time. So I would recommend you should keep your tank full and put gas in every time you find an opportunity.

Keep in mind though that if you happen to run out of gas while you are roaming around those small villages in rural Yucatan, you might be able to buy gasoline in the convenience stores, that are in fact small local shops. So do not panic and ask around. You will be surprise how people will go out of their way to help.

In general, you will find enough gas stations along the way all-around Yucatan and I would suggest you always check your tank gauge and keep it topped up.

Another important thing to remember is to always check the counter while they pour gasoline at the gas stations and also make sure you pay attention to what kind of bills you are paying with and that they give you the correct change. There has been reports of some scammy practice.

Also, it may happen that they won’t accept credit cards for some reason, which I haven’t found out yet. But they will tell you the system is down. In any case, it’s always advisable to always have some Mexican cash with you and if not, ask if they accept cards before getting gas.

From Tulum to Bacalar the only gas station is in Felipe Carrillo Puerto. So remember to fill up your tank in Tulum. Also in the Calakmul area, gas stations are rare. Make sure you fill up your tank in Xpujil.

Calakmul aerial view

Roads in the Yucatan Peninsula

There are 2 main highways (CUOTA), one that connects  Cancun to Merida and another from Merida to Campeche. It’s obviously the fastest way but the most boring, in my opinion. I always go for the regular roads and enjoy driving through the small villages. You will find amazing hidden churches and cenotes if you ask around.

That’s where the path-holes and topes are, so be mindful and drive slow.

Butterflies 

I am picturing your surprised face while reading this, but in spring, you will see thousands of beautiful white and yellow butterflies dancing in the air but also getting smashed on your front screen. Unfortunately, there is nothing we can do about it, although we feel like murderers. But it’s the course of nature.

Make sure you don’t get distracted though, and stay focused on the road ahead.

Why renting a car in the Yucatan peninsula?

Visiting the Yucatan Peninsula is very safe and easy and you will find millions of tours that take you to the most common places to visit. However, I believe that driving on your own gives you the freedom to choose your schedule and go at your own pace besides getting you places where tours and public transportations don’t go.

For example, if you want to visit Chichen-Itza by tours you will get there with other thousands of people and won’t see the magic of the place, whereas if you drive on your own, you can get there for when they open and be on your own or with few others and enjoy the amazing site.

Driving your own car allows you to get off the beaten path and discover rural areas, with old churches and secluded cenotes, local markets, and other hidden gems, you can mingle with locals and discover the beauty of the regions in a more authentic way.

on the road baja california sur

Driving in Baja California Sur

Baja California Sur is another region where I have been driving a lot. I absolutely love it and I find it super safe. Different from the Yucatan Peninsula, I find it absolutely necessary to have a car here, if you want to enjoy Baja to the fullest. The public service is available but not reliable and only reaches the main cities. But there is so much to do and see and renting a car will be the best option. I did a solo road trip in Baja California Sur and I felt absolutely safe, besides I had a blast. I would suggest you read my post to have a better idea of why I suggest a car rental.

Make sure though, you don’t get distracted by the spectacular views and also keep your eyes on the road and drive slow in proximities hills. The main dangers while driving in Baja California are goats and cows that might appear on the road just out of the blue. You don’t want to crash into one of them.

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Where to find real-time information

If you are driving anywhere in Mexico you might want to check the safety situation and road condition first. I found this facebook group being quite helpful. It’s populated by expats and Mexicans and they share useful information on any area in Mexico. I would suggest you search your topic before posting and if you don’t find anything that’s been already discussed you can ask your question. You’ll receive your answer immediately.

Now, I believe I have shared all I know about driving in Mexico but if you have any further tips to add, please let me know in the comments below.


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