Driving in Mexico
International rental chains like Hertz, Budget, and Avis sometimes have good online specials but otherwise they tend to be more expensive than local shops. Mexican car rental agencies may have an older fleet; it is rare, however, that travelers are tricked or mistreated.
Regardless of where you rent, be sure to ask about the insurance policy: Is it partial or full? How much is the deductible? Does it offer a zerodeductible plan? Note:
Before renting, have the attendant review the car for existing damage—definitely accompany him on this part, and don’t be shy about pointing out every nick, scratch, and ding. Other things to confirm before driving off include:
- • There is a spare tire (preferably a full-size, not temporary, one) and a working jack and tire iron.
- • All doors lock and unlock, including the trunk.
- • The headlights, brake lights, and turn signals work.
- • All the windows roll up and down properly.
- • The proper—and current—car registration is in the car.
- • The amount of gas in th etank—you’ll have to return it with the same amount.
- • There is a 24hour telephone number for the rental agency in case of an emergency.
Highways and Road Conditions
Driving in the Yucatán isn’t as nerve-wracking as you might think. The highways are in excellent condition, and even secondary roads are well maintained. There are a few dirt and sand roads—mostly along the Costa Maya, in the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, and to some of the lesser-visited cenotes and archaeological sites in Campeche.
The main highways in the region are Highway 307, which runs the length of Mexico’s Caribbean coast; Highway 180, the thoroughfare that links Cancún, Mérida, and Campeche City; and Highway 186, which crosses the southern portion of the Yucatán Peninsula and leads travelers to Campeche’s Río Bec region and beyond.
There is a toll road on Highway 180 between Mérida and Cancún (US$28). It’s not cheap but can shave off a bit of travel time, helpful if you’re in a rush. Otherwise you’re better off taking secondary roads, which pass through picturesque countryside and by indigenous villages.
Off the highways, the biggest hazard are topes (speed bumps). They are common on all roads and highways, save the toll roads. They vary in size, but many are big and burly, and hitting them at even a slow speed can do a number on you, your passengers, and your car. As soon as you see a sign announcing an upcoming town or village, be ready to slow down. By the same token, few roads have much of a shoulder—watch for people and animals on the roads, especially around villages, but even in places you don’t expect.
Los Ángeles Verdes
If you break down or run out of gas on a main road during daylight hours, stay with your car. Los Ángeles Verdes (The Green Angels, tollfree Mex. tel. 078 or 800/9039200), a government-sponsored tow-truck and repair service, cruise these roads on the lookout for drivers in trouble. They carry a CB radio, gas, and small parts, and are prepared to fix tires. If you have a cellular phone—or happen to be near a pay phone—call your car rental agency; the Ángeles Verdes are a great backup. If you are on a remote road and don’t have a phone, you’re better off walking or hitching a ride to the nearest town.
Most travelers have heard horror stories about Mexican police and worry about being taken for all their money or being trundled off to jail without reason. While it is true that there is corruption among the police, they don’t target tourists; foreigners are, after all, the economic lifeblood of the region—the police don’t want to scare them away.
As long as you are a careful and defensive driver, it is very unlikely you’ll have any interaction with the police. Most travelers who are pulled over actually have done something wrong—speeding, running a stop sign, turning on red. In those situations, remain calm and polite. If you have an explanation, definitely give it; it is not uncommon to discuss a given situation with an officer. Who knows, you may even convince him you’re right—it’s happened to us!
Of real concern are gas station attendants. Full service is the norm here—you pull up, tell the person how much you want, and he or she does the rest. A common scam is for one attendant to distract you with questions about wiper fluid or gas additives while another starts the pump at 50 or 100 pesos. Before you answer any questions, be sure the attendant resets, or “zeroes,” the pump before starting to pump.
© Gary Chandler & Liza Prado from Moon Yucatán Peninsula, 9th edition