By Car, Taxi, Tour, or Hitchhiking
Getting around by car in Oaxaca has its pluses and minuses. On the minus side, cars are expensive to rent and roads are often narrow and usually shared with pedestrians, horses, cows, and burros. On the plus side, driving allows you to go where you want on your own schedule. For details on road conditions, mileage, and driving times, see the destination sections. For tips on driving to Mexico from the United States, as well as within Mexico, see Getting There by Car or RV.
Car and jeep rentals are an increasingly popular transportation option for Oaxaca travelers. They offer mobility and independence for local sightseeing and beach excursions. In Oaxaca City, Huatulco, and Puerto Escondido, the gang’s at least partially there. If you make a reservation, they will meet your flight. Agents stationed regularly at the Oaxaca airport are Hertz (tel. 951/516-8268, hertz_oax [at] hotmail [dot] com, www.hertz.com), Alamo (tel./fax 951/514-8534, fax 951/514-8686, oaxalamo [at] hotmail [dot] com), and Europcar (tel. 951/516-8258, www.europcar.com.mx). In Puerto Escondido, contact Budget (tel. 954/582-0312, budget33 [at] hotmail [dot] com, www.budget.com). In Huatulco, Thrifty (at airport tel. 958/581-9000, in Crucecita tel. 958/587-0010, or Mex. toll-free tel. 800/021-2277, www.thrifty.com), or Hertz (at airport tel. 958/581-9092, in Tangolunda tel. 958/581-0588), or Europecar (at airport tel. 958/581-9094, in Crucecita, tel. 958/581-0552).
During the winter high season, especially, make reservations in the United States and Canada prior to departure.
Rental agencies generally require drivers to have a valid driver’s license, passport, a major credit card, and may require a minimum age of 25. Some local companies do not accept credit cards, but offer lower rates in return.
Oaxaca car rentals are not cheap. With a 15 percent or more “value added” tax tacked on and mandatory Mexican car insurance, they run more than in the United States. The cheapest possible rental car, usually a vintage, well-used, stick-shift VW Beetle, runs $30–60 per day or $200–450 per week, depending on location and season. Prices are steepest during high Christmas–New Year’s and pre-Easter weeks. Before departure, use the international agencies’ (Thrifty, Hertz, Alamo, Budget, and Europecar) toll-free numbers to shop around for availability, prices, and reservations. During non-peak seasons, you may save lots of pesos by waiting till arrival and renting a car through a local agency. Shop around, starting with the agent in your hotel lobby or the local yellow pages (under “Automóviles, renta de”).
Car insurance that covers property damage, public liability, and medical payments is an absolute must and is required by Mexican law. Although it is customarily included in the price of your rental car, make certain that you’re covered before signing the deal. Collision insurance is not usually included and costs extra. However, major credit cards, such as American Express, often do furnish coverage that supplements your personal car insurance. Double-check your coverage with both your auto insurance agent and your credit card company before leaving for Mexico.
If you get into an accident in Mexico without insurance, you will be in deep trouble, probably jail. Safe driving in Oaxaca requires more caution and less speed than back home. (For important car safety and insurance information, see Getting There by Car or RV.)
The high prices of rental cars make taxis a viable option for local excursions. Cars are luxuries, not necessities, for most Oaxacan families. Travelers might profit from the local money-saving practice of piling everyone in a taxi for Sunday park, beach, and fishing outings. You may find that an all-day taxi and driver (who, besides relieving you of driving, will become your impromptu guide) will cost less than a rental car.
The magic word for saving money by taxi is colectivo: a taxi that you share jointly with other travelers. Your first place to practice getting a taxi will be at the airport, where colectivo tickets are routinely sold from booths at the terminal door.
If, however, you want your own private taxi, ask for a taxi especial, which will probably run about three or four times the individual tariff for a colectivo.
Your airport experience will prepare you for in-town taxis, which in Oaxaca do not have meters. You must establish the taxi price before getting in. Bargaining comes with the territory in Mexico, so don’t shrink from it, even though it may seem a hassle. If you get into a taxi without an agreed-upon price, you are letting yourself in for a more serious, potentially nasty hassle later. If your driver’s price is too high, he’ll probably come to his senses as soon as you hail another taxi.
After a few days, getting taxis around town will be a cinch. You’ll find you don’t have to take the high-ticket taxis lined up in your hotel driveway. If the price isn’t right, walk toward the street and hail a regular taxi.
In town, if you can’t seem to find a taxi, it may be because they are all hanging around waiting for riders at the local stand, called a taxi sitio. Ask someone to direct you to it: Say “Excúseme. ¿Donde está el sitio taxi, por favor?” (“Excuse me. Where is the taxi stand, please?”).
Tours and Guides
For many Oaxaca visitors, locally arranged tours offer a hassle-free alternative to rental car or taxi sightseeing. Hotels and travel agencies, many of whom maintain front-lobby travel and tour desks, offer a bounty of sightseeing, water sports, bay cruise, fishing, and wildlife-viewing tour opportunities. (For details, see the destination sections.)
Most everyone agrees hitchhiking is not the safest mode of transport. If you’re unsure, don’t do it. Hitchhiking doesn’t make a healthy steady travel diet, nor should you hitchhike at night.
The recipe for trouble-free hitchhiking requires equal measures of luck, savvy, and technique. The best places to catch rides are where people are already arriving and leaving, such as bus stops, highway intersections, gas stations, RV parks, and on the highway out of town.
Male-female hitchhiking partnerships seem to net the most rides (although it is technically illegal for women to ride in commercial trucks). The more gear you and your partner have, the fewer rides you will get. Pickup and flatbed truck owners often pick up passengers for pay. Before hopping onto the truck bed, ask how much (¿cuánto cuesta?) the ride will cost.
© Bruce Whipperman from Moon Oaxaca, 5th edition