Driving in Mexico – practical advices

Before anyone decides to rent a vehicle in a foreign country, let it be a car or a motorcycle, it is definitely worth looking into what the rules in certain countries are.

Of course we did look into (or at least we believed so) all the necessary and useful information to find out how easy and safe it would be to drive around and reach the places we wanted to check out, in a rental car on the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico. Needless to say that renting a car was absolutely worthy so I would like to share some information with you, for you to get a feel for it. Or vice versa 🙂

 

Driving license 

There is no particular requirement to have an international driving license in order to rent and drive a car in Mexico. Allegedly the international driving license is recommended in Cancun. Well, we didn’t have it and it wasn’t an issue at all, we were never asked for it. To rent a car, you need the following:

  • Valid driving license in your country of residence (for EU citizens and EU license is definitely enough) 
  • Minimum age of 25 for renting (other than that the legal driving age is 18)
  • Minimum 2 years experience of driving (also for car rental)

 

General rules

  • They’re driving on the right side of the road!

  • When driving, the use of seat belts is compulsory!

  • While driving, the use of mobile phones are prohibited. Exception is the use of the mobile phone via a handsfree system.

It is good to be aware that  not obeying the rules can result in high penalties..

 

Car rental at Cancun Airport

Our American Airlines aircraft from Miami landed at Cancun international airport. The flight was comfortable, the journey was less than 2 hours, the service was typical American (nice, smiling, helpful).

Exiting the terminal building, you are immediately greeted by latin rhythms from a food-truck where they offer also refreshments and cocktails. In front of the food-truck the minibuses of the car rental companies are lining up (each has its own company logo), and these minibuses take passengers to the rental car offices (about 5 minutes driving).

In front of the terminal at Cancun airport

We used Avis’s services for a very simple reason: one of our friends works at this company, so it was very convenient and cheaper to rent a car for us. The minibus that brought us to the office was completely new, the driver was using the air-conditioning like crazy and he had fresh water bottles for us.

At the office of Avis the employees were already waiting for us (obviously the welcoming was super heartfelt as colleagues met each other) and told us that they had a Jeep Wrangler that was not rented out for our period and they would be happy to upgrade us if we wanted to. Obviously as a driver, I was terrified at first because I’ve never driven such a huge car and we did not even know what kind of road and other conditions were waiting for us. Thank God I had 3 superhero supporters, so after the paperwork (we only paid a little more for the full insurance) we went on to our 10-day adventure!

 

Tolls

Our first trip was to Chichen Itza. From the airport we headed towards Tulum signs, however we quickly turned right to the road 180 which took us after a loose 15km’s to the 180D Cancun-Kantumil highway towards Valladolid.

ATTENTION! On this road you have to pay a fee! The toll can not be purchased in advance, it must be paid at the gates. I thought I looked up all the information on the tolls, but when we reached the 1st gate (after about 50 km’s driving on the highway), we got a big slap in our faces. So you don’t pay in advance, you pay for the road section that is already behind you. So basically there is no way back… and at the gates they except only Mexican peso for the payment. No USD, no EUR, no  bank cards! Well, we had to be creative and patient. We decided that we’ll pull over and ask some locals to exchange money for us. First we were a bit panicking as the highway was almost empty (I assume because of the high fees) so we were afraid we have to wait for a long time. But the first driver passing by gave us pesos for our dollars (at a very fair rate!) and we were on the road again!

1st gate from Cancun to Valladolid

After the gate there are some locals stopping vehicles but you don’t have to stop, they are only trying to recruit tourists and take them to some pay-as-you-go programs.

The first parking lot with a petrol station, restaurant, souvenir shop and currency exchange is about 85 km after the 1st gate (135 km from north of Cancun).

Shop with local traditions

As we were driving to Piste (village next to Chichén Itzá) we had to pay a toll at a second gate as well. In total we spent about 250 pesos (12 EUR or 14 USD).

2nd gate before Piste

Most Mexican highways (= Cuota) are subject to fees. In general, there is a free road to use instead of the highways, those roads are usually more picturesque, but it takes a longer time to reach your target on them.

 

Fuel

First of all we were very pleased that the fuel costs are approx. 30% lower than in Europe.

Since 2018 the oil market has changed in Mexico. Until 2018 a state-owned company Pemex owned all the petrol stations in the county, until other companies have entered the market and raised competition. That’s why fuel prices may vary depending on the location.

At the petrol station there is a  service staff to serve customers, so you don’t even have to get off your car. Generally you can pay by cash (Mexican peso!!!) but at the busy and bigger places bank cards are also accepted.

If you are planning a longer trip, it is worth filling the car full, because for long km’s you can drive without spotting a gas station.

Also, be aware of scams! Although it is not common (it has not occurred to us), but it may happen that the service staff doesn’t set back the meter to 0, so you have to pay more than you actually should. Therefore always make sure the meter is set to 0. The best thing is to state in advance the amount we wanna spend on gas and should pay the exact amount. If change is needed back, let’s make sure we are not being cheated.

 

Driving around

In Mexico, they travel to the right side of the road as we do in most of EU countries at home, so this part should not be a problem. But there are certain things we have to be very careful about!

Speeding: it’s simple – do not do it! In the best case scenario you’ll have to pay a high price for speeding, and there is a worse option too… perhaps no one wants to go to jail in Mexico. Not even for a couple of hours.

Speed bumps: the roads are full of them. Everywhere. And in many cases they are almost totally invisible.

Suicide candidates: well, there are those who run across roads (inside out outside of cities), even across the 3-lane expressways.

Speed ​​restrictions: the road from Tulum to Cancun, for example, seem to be completely off on the speed limits. I believe the limits are set as the entrances to the luxury beach hotels lead from this 3-lane expressway. However, the restrictions, at least in our view, are not quite reasonable. As an example, you’re driving 100 km/h, suddenly out of nowhere there is a 50 km/h limit for about 20 meters, then you can go up to 90 again. Not 100, only 90. Then after 50 meters again you are limited back to 50… for about 300 meters – make no sense at all.

U-turns: If you accidentally drive over your target, no problem at all, there are plenty of possibilites to make a U-turn on the expressways. The only problem with these lanes is that it is quite difficult to get out of them, especially when traffic is denser.

In general the roads are in good conditions (some better than at home…), there are plenty of signs so it would be difficult to get lost. But always make sure to drive on the busier roads even if for example Wazze would be showing a faster route. When it turns dark, be super cautious even in inhabited areas, as there are some places (for example Cobá) without public lighting, and with plenty of stray dogs in the streets and lots of kids running around. So let’s keep them safe!

Safe driving for everyone!

Cocomo – our 4-wheel companion

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