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We have been to Mexico numerous times, and have rented a car two times. On our last trip, we logged almost 800 miles driving around the Yucatan with our two children (check out our 16-day Road Trip Itinerary through the Yucatan!). Driving can seem overwhelming, but it is a great way to be able to have the freedom to explore.
Here are some tips we learned along the way.
We have rented from Avant Car Rental two times, without any issues. An employee with an Avant shirt and sign printed with our name has picked us up at the airport and brings us to the Avant car rental place. When you come out of the airport terminal in Cancun, there are so many people trying to wave you down, so just getting out of there with a reputable company is a good start to the trip.
There are three major things to look for in a car rental company:
~ Make sure that we have appropriate insurance on the car.
~ Make sure you choose a car that can fit your luggage.
~ Try to find a rental car without a company logo on it.
Bring accessories for the car
We used our phones for navigation, so we made sure that we could also charge our phones in the car. Aside from time spent driving, it is important to keep your phones charged during travel, so bring charging cables and even a cigarette adapter if needed.
We also used a dash cam in the event anything were to happen during our road trip, from an accident to a police stop.
Plan out your route and use a GPS (e.g. Google Maps)
Plan out your route ahead of time, and then back it up with Google Maps or another mapping software. You do not want to end up lost in Mexico! Another thing to consider is staying on main roads and cuotas (highways). The highways we have traveled on are in good condition, while back roads are often in terrible shape.
There was an instance where we took a wrong turn trying to get to a cenote (swimming hole), and went about a mile in the wrong direction (when we were looking for Hacienda Oxman Cenote near Valladolid). The road went from a nice highway to an awful gutted dirt road by a dump, with vultures chasing us.
Have money ready for tolls
If you go on highways, anticipate that there will be toll booths. For this, you will need a basic understanding of money and the language here, and to be prepared with payment. I always have a small Spanish language phrasebook with me so I can look up words as needed, and you can also find language apps for your phone.
Pay attention to speed limits and signs
Remember that Mexico uses the Metric system, which means 110 km/h is equivalent to 70 mph here in the United States. Plenty of people will be passing you on the highways because they are speeding, but it is not worth getting pulled over in a foreign country in a rental car.
Take your time: be prepared for speed limits and traffic
Google Maps gave us estimates of how long it would take to get somewhere, but this is based on how fast people are driving on average. If you are abiding by the speed limit, it will likely take you longer, as we quickly learned!
There is also a lot of traffic in the city parts of Mexico. In the Yucatan, this included places like Playa del Carmen and Tulum. There was also a lot of construction traffic last time we went (summer 2021), due to a major highway collapsing. We were expecting extra traffic, but it was still a big headache and added quite a bit of time to our drive. If you need to make a flight or other connection, keep this in mind. There were several times where we were supposed to check into a hotel or AirBnB and did not make it until later than anticipated, which had to be communicated to the person we were supposed to meet.
Watch for topes!
Topes are large speed bumps or humps in the road, meant to slow down drivers. There are usually signs next to them as a warning, and most towns have many of them. However, if you aren’t paying attention and hit topes too fast, it can be a disaster. There were a few topes we went over too fast, and it was not a pleasant experience. So to avoid wrecking your rental, watch for topes!
Know your road signs
Be aware of what the different road signs mean. Take for instance, “No Estacionamiento” means “No Parking”. It is not worth the risk of getting your car towed in a foreign country and likely not knowing the language to help navigate your way through the situation.
Keep the gas tank full – and watch for gas station scams
Gas station scams have been around for years, so be careful when you fill up your gas. In Mexico, the stations are not self serve, meaning that an attendant fills your gas tank. You will want to make sure that the pump is zeroed out before they start pumping gas.
On our last trip to Puerto Morelos, the attendant actually asked me to look at the pump to see that it read “0”, which was wonderful. While some places are known for scamming, clearly this gas station did not want a bad reputation.
When you are at the gas station, you will also want to make sure that you know your Mexican currency. Make it clear what money you are handing over, as we accidentally took the wrong change once because we spent too long calculating pesos.
Be sure to keep the car filled up regularly, as you don’t always know when you can get to the next gas station (unless you are staying near a city). There were many long stretches of highways and roads with no gas stations, and I can’t imagine running out of gas in the middle of nowhere.
Driving in Mexico is going to be different, especially when you aren’t in the city. Be prepared for anything from dogs to horses, carts, bikes, motorcycles, people selling food and goods, etc. It can feel a little bit like an obstacle course – just be careful and take your time.
Most places we went had parking lots, but if you are going to park in a city, be careful where you park so that your car isn’t towed. Keep an eye out for “no estacionamiento” or an “E” with a slash through it, which means no parking.
Be careful leaving valuables in the car
We always keep things in the trunk or in bags so that there is nothing valuable to attract thieves. Basically, we do not leave anything out, even charging cables, so as not to attract any attention. Charging cables could indicate we have a lot of electronics with us, and I want to stay safe.
Enjoy roadside attractions & going off the beaten path
Most people see a very limited part of Mexico, but by going on a road trip, you get to see lots of things you normally wouldn’t see. We have enjoyed stopping at lots of places along the way. There have been different vendors and some of our favorites have been paletas (popsicles), cocos frios (fresh coconut juice), churros, fresh fruit, and more.
We also saw lots of Marines, National Guard, and Federales during our road trip, which is something you get used to.
Overall, renting a car is a great way to experience Mexico! It is helpful to do your research and to be prepared, so that you can make the most of your trip.
Check out our other Mexico blog posts here.
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About the Author: Marysa
Busy blogger and mom of two girls. Our family loves traveling and the great outdoors, and are always looking for our next adventure!