Sparkling white sand beaches, Mayan ruins, quaint fishing villages and turquoise cenotes are just some of the incredible attractions that lure travellers to Mexico. An easy way to explore is by booking excursions through a tour operator or resort, but that sometimes means a higher price tag or being at the mercy of a highly-scheduled itinerary. Instead, more adventurous-types may be inclined to rent a car so they’re free to explore on their own…but is it safe to drive in Mexico?
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The answer is yes, as long as you’re prepared and stick to more travelled routes such as the drive from Cancun to Tulum, or the west coast around Cabo and Puerto Vallarta. Here are a few tips for those planning on renting a car and driving in Mexico, which will helpfully minimize any road blocks along the way.
1) Keep a map handy when driving through Mexico
Roadways in Mexico’s main tourist areas are actually surprisingly well marked and lit, particularly on major highways like the 180 which links popular spots like Chichen Itza and Cancun. However, those turning off the highway to explore a cenote or travel to beautiful islands like Holbox will at some point find themselves navigating through tiny, dusty towns—and that’s where a map comes in handy.
Many rental cars in Mexico come equipped with GPS, or are available to rent for about $30+USD per day. You can save money by downloading MAPS.ME, a fantastic, free app which works just like a GPS (one might say even better!) and is available offline so it won’t eat up your data.
Of course it’s always important to have a paper map just in case there’s no satellite signal or your cell phone runs out of juice, and you can usually find one in the free tourist guides at the airport.
2) Pack your pesos
Mexico is great for margaritas and tequila…and not so great when it comes to letting people actually pay for things.
It’s not uncommon to find the credit card machine down with no ATM in sight—even at major tourist spots like Chichen Itza—so it’s critical to have lots of pesos on hand if you’re driving. Toll booths will only accept pesos (don’t even try offering the operator USD), and there’s a good chance the credit card machine won’t work if you try filling up at a gas station in one of the tinier towns. Make sure you have extra money left over to buy some delicious fish tacos are a roadside stand—just one of the perks of a Mexican road trip!
3) Rent from a reputable company
The last thing you want is the car you rented from some guy in a kiosk who shouted “I give you good price!” to break down in the middle of nowhere. You’re far better off spending a few extra bucks to rent from a reputable company like Avis or Hertz, knowing that if anything were to go wrong with the rental it would be properly dealt with.
It also goes without saying to ensure you’re protected should you have the misfortune of getting into a collision, so be sure to get some car insurance quotes before driving off into the Mexican sunset.
4) Drive with caution when renting a car in Mexico
Once you get off the main highways, expect the unexpected. From tarantulas camped out in the median to navigating dusty, gravel roads to a cenote and sudden summer storms that render your windshield wipers useless, driving in Mexico can be quite the adventure. If budget allows, renting a more rugged vehicle such as a Jeep can be a big help—especially when driving around gaping potholes or over the massive speed bumps that are popular in small towns.
5) Get road trip ready
The key to any successful road trip is great tunes and good snacks, so stock up before you hit the highway. Keep lots of bottled water on hand, along with snacks like Clif bars in case of an emergency. As for music, it’s a good idea to load up your smartphone with songs and bring a USB cord to connect it to the console, as radio signals are intermittent in more rural areas. And remember: when it comes to the music, it’s always driver’s choice!
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- The best of Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
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- Camel riding in Cabo: Adventure in the Baja outback
- 9 tips you need to know before visiting Chichén Itzá
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