Driving in Cancun: What You Need to Know

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This guide covers the basics of getting around by car, what documents to have on hand, traffic rules, and car rental information!

There are many things to see and do in Cancun. In addition to enjoying the beautiful beaches and your hotel or resort, you probably want to visit some of the nearby archaeological sites and Mayan cenotes, as well as nature and adventure parks. When considering how to get around, driving is a good option, offering comfort and flexibility.

Unlike the driving conditions you can find in other areas of Mexico, in Cancun and the Riviera Maya, you will generally find good signage and roads in good condition. However, there are a few things to keep in mind to make sure your Cancun driving experience runs smoothly.

Driving Requirements

There are certain documents that you should make sure you have in your car if you are driving in Mexico. You don't need an international driver's license if your home country's driver's license is in English (US, Canada, Great Britain, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand) or Spanish is sufficient. You must bring your passport and immigration document (tourist card / FMM document) as well as the vehicle registration and insurance. You must have Mexican insurance as US liability insurance coverage is not valid in Mexico.
In case you are crossing the border with your own car, you will also need a vehicle import permit (often called a TIP for Temporary Import Permit). Make sure you don't leave these documents in your car if you leave them parked somewhere that isn't completely safe.

Cancun Driving Checklist

Valid driver's license:

  • International driver's license (only if the driver's license is not issued in English or Spanish)
  • Mexican liability insurance
  • Vehicle Registration
  • Vehicle import permit (if you drove your car across the border)
  • Car rental agreement (if you drive a rental vehicle)
  • Driver's passport and immigration document

Rules of the Road

In Mexico, traffic rules are much more fluid and not as strict as in the United States, Canada, and many European countries. It's important to always be alert and aware that other drivers may behave in ways you don't expect. These are some of the things you should be aware of when driving through Cancun.

  • Road conditions: The terrain of the Yucatan Peninsula is basically flat and the roads are generally very straight. This tends to provide a sense of security, so many drivers can go too fast and straight roads can become boring, so it's easy to get distracted. Make sure you are always on your toes (other drivers may not be!) and stick to speed limits.
  • Speed ​​limits: Keep in mind that speed limits are posted in kilometers per hour, so be sure to follow these numbers on the speedometer and not miles per hour. On highways, the limit is usually 100 km/hour (equivalent to 62 miles/hour) and 60 km/hour near municipalities. Speed ​​limits can change a lot along the highway, so be aware and adjust accordingly.
  • Toll Roads: A toll road is called a “cuota” and an open road is “free”. Toll roads in Mexico can be expensive, for example, from Cancún to Valladolid, the cost is over 300 pesos in tolls for a journey of 150 km. Toll booths accept cash and Mexican currency only. There are usually no ATMs along the highways, so make sure you have enough weights on hand. You can check distances and tolls on the Mexican government's route planner website. In most cases, it is better to use toll roads because they are in much better condition and include additional insurance coverage for any accidents that might occur. Be sure to keep your receipt for any tolls you pay as it is your voucher for insurance purposes.
  • Gas stations can be few and far between on the back roads, so be sure to refuel before a long journey. Gas stations offer full service, so there's no need to pump it yourself. Beware of some gas station scams, such as the attendant not resetting the counter after pumping or giving the wrong change when buying gasoline in Mexico.
  • Highway exits on the left: From Cancun, there is a long highway that runs south through the Riviera Maya. If you are going to an attraction along this road, and the place you are going to is on the opposite side of the highway, you will have to pass your destination until you reach a “Return” area where you can legally make a U-turn and go back in the opposite direction until you reach your destination.

  • Directional signs: Mexican drivers can be negligent about using turn signals, so always be prepared for lane changes or overtaking without warning. On highways, a turn signal to the left of the driver in front of you can be a message that it is safe for you to pass them. Proceed carefully!
  • Drinking and Driving: Not only is drinking and driving against the law, but your insurance will be invalid if you have been drinking and are involved in an accident. The legal blood alcohol limit is 0.40. It is not illegal to have open containers of alcohol inside a moving vehicle so that passengers can feel free to drink.
  • Seat belts and cell phones: Seat belts are mandatory for the driver and front passenger. Children under 12 years old must sit in the back seat. Using a cell phone while driving is prohibited and you can get a fine for doing so (although this law is often touted).
  • Speed ​​jumps: Watch out for "topes", as they are called in Mexico, which is ubiquitous and often invisible until you're too close to slow down. They are often unmarked, so drive carefully, especially in low-light conditions.
  • Potholes: Very large potholes can be a problem, especially off main roads and in the rainy season. Drivers can swerve suddenly to avoid landing in a pothole, another reason to always be on the lookout.
  • Parking: Whenever possible, park in a parking lot (rental vehicles can be directed to break-ins) and never leave anything of value visible in a parked car.

In case of emergency

Although you should always be prepared and take precautions when driving in Mexico or any foreign country, there is no reason to be afraid: driving in Cancun and renting a car are safe activities for tourists. The US State Department recommends using toll roads when possible and avoiding driving alone or at night. In the event you have an accident or encounter danger on the roads, you can contact Mexico's emergency assistance by dialing 911. If you are on a toll road, you can contact the Green Angels roadside assistance group at 078.

Should you rent a car?

Renting a car in Mexico is a very simple process. You will find many family rental companies such as Hertz, Avis, and Thrifty, as well as Mexican companies. Some travelers report better service with small family rental companies, so do your research. You can book early when you can usually find better rates, or make arrangements when you're there. You can choose to pick up and drop off your rental directly from the Cancun airport, or you can spend a few days relaxing on the beach and then rent a car to do some Cancun day trips for the rest of your stay. In that case, book your airport transfer in advance.

The documents required to rent a car are a credit card for security deposit, a driver's license, and a passport. Some companies do not rent to drivers under the age of 25 or may charge young drivers more. There are often fewer vehicles available with automatic transmissions and they can cost more, and there are also additional fees for airport pickup and drop-off or for returning the car to a different destination than where you rented it. For the best rates, book online a week in advance and be sure to print your contract so there are no discussions of the terms.

Make sure you have full insurance coverage on your rental. Sometimes an advance quote does not include the full cost of insurance, so very low rental rates can be suspected. When you pick up the vehicle, the renter will thoroughly inspect it in your presence, noting any scratches or blemishes before exiting the parking lot. Make sure everything is written down (and it doesn't cost you anything to take some pictures of the vehicle on your cell phone during the inspection) so you don't get charged for damage to the car that was already there.

Meetings with the police

Mexican police receive low salaries and many turns to corruption to fill the gaps. Some may target tourists for bribes, called "nibbles." If you haven't done anything wrong and you refuse to pay for a bite, the cop may very well let you go without a fine, although negotiations can sometimes be long and unpleasant. Learn about bites and what to do when the police stop you.

We hope you enjoy watching this video about Renting a Car in Cancun, Mexico

Source: The Test Drive

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