Rent a car, plan your itinerary, and prepare for an emergency. Here is all you need to know before you start a road trip at the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico
There is nothing like a road trip in a new country and Mexico does not disappoint. I have been on assignment at the Yucatan peninsula a couple of times in the past years and each time I have rented a car for moving around. It is cheaper, more comfortable and offers more flexibility to the traveler. It is simply the most practical option – as well driving in Mexico is way easier than most people think.
The Yucatan peninsula is also a great place for planning a road trip. Mayan ruins, raw nature and jungle roads on the west while the Caribbean awaits on the east – is there something here not to like?
The hidden costs of renting a car in Mexico
The concerns about renting a car and planning a road trip in Mexico are not the encounters with criminals and drug lords, or driving in a foreign country where different rules apply. I think the biggest concern for a road trip is traveling around without being scammed. Hidden car rental fees, fake taxis, rigged ATMs and dodgy tour operators are unfortunately a big problem for tourism at the Yucatan peninsula and no matter how experienced you are as a traveler, you might fall at least for one of these scams.
The first time I traveled to Mexico I was amazed how inexpensive car rentals were on booking sites. Small vehicles for two people are offered for as low as 5 USD (4 EUR) per day and SUVs for 10-15 EUR more. It is difficult to see those prices and not start typing your credit card number and booking a car for 10 days or more.
However, once you land and get ready to pick up your car, the reality falls in front of you. Your booking never mentioned the additional local taxes, transportation of the vehicle to the airport, liability insurances and credit card fees. Costs like these can go up to 30-50 USD (25-40 EUR) per day and for a 10 day road trip, this additional expense can affect your budget in a significant way.
Car insurances are also a big issue when it comes to booking a car in Mexico. For some companies the insurance purchased with the third party company has nothing to do with car rental, which means that if you book a full coverage with Expedia, you still have to pay for the full coverage insurance from Hertz. Other companies won’t accept your credit card/travel insurance at all. Problems like these are constantly mentioned in so many forums and even if you read the small letters in your contract, there is a big chance you will get scammed in one way or another.
For my last trip to Yucatan I informed myself completely in order to find the best deal. I found out that the most transparent companies are not larger corporations like AVIS, Hertz or Entreprise, but smaller local businesses. Car rental companies like Emporio or Miraite offer clear inexpensive rates, easy communication via WhatsApp and more flexibility with their insurance policy.
I rented for 30 EUR per day a medium size vehicle with Miraite Car Rental. The company couldn’t offer a full coverage with zero deductible, but with no need of credit card, no hidden fees and a deductible of 300 EUR with a deposit of 150 EUR, this was by far the best offer I found.
Read more: Exploring the Underwater Museum of Art
Driving through jungles and coastlines
The beauty of the Yucatan peninsula lies in how easy is to navigate around. Beach hotspot Playa del Carmen is just 1 hour from Cancun International Airport and visiting Chichen Itza is easily doable during a 4-day road trip from Cancun.
Driving conditions in Mexico can be comparable to driving in European countries like Portugal, Italy or Greece. Roads can get narrow from time to time and some people might not fully adhere to the rules. Spanish knowledge is not necessary at all and in some situations while driving through big crosses or through cities, simply use common sense and apply the same driving rules you would use at home.
An international driving licence is also not necessary, unless your local license is not printed in Latin alphabet and most cars in Mexico use an automatic gear.
I never felt uncomfortable driving in Mexico, but I also have to point out that my group and I avoid driving though congested cities and rush hour. We focused on exploring the destinations that were too hard to reach without a rental car and booked accommodation outside city centers in order to not have any parking problems and heavy traffic.
INSIDE TIP: If you want to visit a certain ruin or spot around the city, most of the time is more comfortable to order a taxi. Cab fares using the app “Easy Taxi” are the lowest. UBER and Beat only work in large cities.
Read more: Isla Mujeres or Cozumel – Which Island in the Mexican Caribbean is better?
The biggest differences between driving in Mexico and driving in the European Union are:
- Refueling your car is done by a pump operator and not by yourself.
- Highways are in great condition and seem great for speeding. However, there are hundreds of speed bumps along these and speed limits are usually quite low.
- Standard police checks are almost everywhere and the officers tend to be very polite and friendly.
- You might encounter wild animals crossing the roads (especially at dawn) – However, this is also common in countries like Finland and Sweden.
NOTE: There are numerous blogs/forums talking about fake police officers stopping rental cars and finding a nonexistent reason to get a bribe. Unfortunately it does happen quite often (especially while driving at night through the Cancun-Tulum highway). If police officers pull you over in the rental car and demands a cash payment for a fake traffic ticket, contact the emergency services on 112 or 911 and tell them that you want to confirm the information. They will let you go.
On the other hand, if you feel uncomfortable confronting the officers, simply repeat constantly that you don’t carry cash and “collect” for them 5-10€ to let you go.