Tips for a rental car and driving in Mexico

We love a good road trip. Although you might not be the first to associate Mexico with this, this country is perfect for your own rental car. The rental prices are reasonable, the roads are great and you will find the coolest places along the way. In this extensive blog we tell you why we would recommend a rental car in Yucatan, how safe the roads are and what costs you should expect.

Merida Yucutan Mexico The Orange Backpack

Why rent a car in Yucatan?

Mexico is known for the super fast, affordable and comfortable bus connections. Then why would you take a rental car? For freedom and reaching more remote places!

We think traveling on a trip is not dependent on bus times. In between your destinations, you no longer have standard travel days, but just grab the car. You drive to your next sleeping place when it suits you. And on the way you stop at a nice cenote, a small village or a nice restaurant. We love it!

Tip: to get a good indication of the prices for a rental car we often check prices on Discover Car Hire. They often have the best deals and it gives you a good indication of the prices for car rentals on your trip.

Some places are also difficult to reach without a rental car. The alternative is a taxi or a guided tour. For example, only a few cenotes – deep blue, underground water pools – can be found in a town or within cycling distance. For most you still need a car. We also thought visiting the Mayan ruins Calakmul deep in the jungle a fantastic experience. How do you get there best and easiest? With your own rental car.

Driving distances | Yucutan Mexico The Orange Backpack

We have driven quite a few miles in almost 3 weeks. All the detours to waterfalls, cenotes and temples eventually gave us 3,500 kilometers. Some days we drove nothing, but we also had outliers of 500 kilometers in one day (from and to Palenque and Calakmul).

Maya site Coba | Aldea Coba | Mexico
Merida Yucutan Mexico The Orange Backpack

Is driving yourself safe in Mexico?

In principle it is extremely safe to drive in Mexico yourself. The greatest danger is speeding, thresholds and holes or animals on the road. Speeding is tempting, because the roads are often straight, long and of good quality. You can fine the accelerator pedal a bit, but keep paying attention, especially for speed bumps, unexpected holes and animals.

Our biggest stumbling block when driving were the speed bumps. The bumps are so high that you actually have to go over them in walking pace. And even then you sometimes hear the car scraping the speed bump. That kind of speed bumps does not have to be a problem, of course, if you have to drive at a certain pace. But that is unfortunately not where the speed bumps are. The main roads do not lead past, but through a village. That means that a highway suddenly leads through a village and there are barriers to reduce your speed. The speed bumps are often well marked with a sign or marking on the road. Or even with a smaller warning speed bump. But it can sometimes happen that you miss a speed bump or suddenly have to hit the brake. You have been warned.

Less common, but also annoying and insidious are the holes in the road. Sometimes a top-quality road suddenly had holes the size of a car tire or even larger. So always pay attention and keep an eye on whether your vehicle in front suddenly moves away.

Then there is the danger of animals on the road. Along the road there are often warning signs with monkeys or even jaguars, but we did not see them on the way. However, there were a striking number of dogs on Mexican roads. So please pay attention to the dogs, even if they seem to stand along the road (but suddenly hurry up the road. We saw sad many knocked-down dogs along the roads. Oh, and then immediately pay attention to the iguanas. Large iguanas sometimes walk on smaller roads near the coast.

An important tip is therefore to drive as little as possible in the dark. We have only done this once, if we had eaten somewhere. Then we drove extra slowly and carefully because of the thresholds, holes and dogs.

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You will also encounter police checks occasionally, but are not a cause for concern. Usually the cars just pass by there and sometimes you get questions. One time we had to show our car papers and driver’s license, another time we were asked where we came from and what our destination was. The police were friendly and there was no further problem.

We want to warn you about the roads in Chiapas. In the states of Yucutan, Campeche and Quintana Roo we have never felt unsafe on the road. But that was unfortunately something else in Chiapas. The road from Palenque to San Cristobal – via Ocosingo (with the Tonina ruins) – is known to be very unsafe. Read carefully about the safety of this road! Evil tribes and crooks are said to have started an uprising in this region and therefore the police and the government can no longer guarantee safety on this road. We read that travelers experienced the roadblocks as peaceful and did not mind involuntarily donating money to the poor people. For example, we would not experience the threat of machetes and destruction of our rental car, so we decided not to visit San Cristobal.

Roadsign jaguar | Tulum Coba Mexico
Campeche Yucutan Mexico The Orange Backpack

Tips for renting a car

Renting a car in Mexico is often slightly different than in other countries. Not all costs are included as standard in the online prices. And those costs can be quite high: around 15 euros a day! We therefore recommend that you only book a car online if you see that all mandatory insurance policies, full coverage and taxes are included in the price. An example where this is the case is Sunny Cars.

If there is no total price online, you will not find out online either. Strangely enough, no rental company wanted to give a total price by email including local costs and insurance. The answers were all vague. What did we do then? We entered Tulum at a few companies and asked for the total price including full coverage. That also proved to be extra handy. That way we could play them against each other and bid against each other.

So: book on location at a car rental or online with everything included in the price.

Campeche Yucutan Mexico The Orange Backpack

Tips for driving in Mexico

In general, driving in Yucutan and egg is not very different from in Europe. After a few days on the road, we started to notice some peculiar Mexican driving habits.

For example, the Mexican overtake – or often called by Americans “the Mexican three lane” – is an interesting phenomenon. This means that wide two-lane roads are often used as a three-lane road. Someone can get to the middle job. So do you see someone with full flashing lights approaching you? Then you have to move slightly to the right to create a third center job. That is the first time a shock, but in no time you’ll do it yourself.

When overtaking also includes your own use of the direction indicators. If the car in front of you turns on its left turn signal, it does not always mean that it will overtake. It means he’s going to the left for you to create that third job in the middle. And yes, that also happened when we did not necessarily need to catch up. When you overtake, it is also common to leave your direction indicator light on until you are back on your side of the road. Probably to show oncoming traffic that you are creating a third job to catch up with.

The hazard lights also require some attention. Do you have the idea that everyone is always using their hazard lights? Nope, those are a kind of extra brake lights.

The priority rules are otherwise not much different than you are used to in Europe. The most difficult are the cities, where the roads are located in a grid. Because of the one-way traffic in many places, that becomes a maze where even Google Maps does not always come out. Usually a road always has priority on all right-angled roads, or you always have stop signs. That is not well marked, but you can see it on the stop signs in front of you or for traffic from right and left.

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Tip: download the offline maps on Google Maps in advance to navigate. We find the offline maps fine for hikes, but not in the car.

Extra tip: take a USB charger for in the car and a holder for your phone with you from home.

Valladolid Yucutan Mexico The Orange Backpack
Merida Yucutan Mexico The Orange Backpack

The parking rules in Yucatan

On the island of Cozumel we are confronted with the parking rules. We apparently did not understand this correctly and received a parking fine. We thought we could do it ourselves by parking in a parking space. Wrong! Afterwards we learned from the police that parking is not allowed in the town on Cozumel at all. That sounded pretty strange to us, because the streets are packed with parked cars. Possibly the fines were only awarded to rental cars, but we will never find out. The fine was not very expensive, so we paid and avoided a discussion in poor Spanish.

We were in any case explained that parking is not permitted anywhere with a yellow marking. Strangely enough, yellow is also the color with which parking spaces in parking places, for example at supermarkets, are indicated. Sometimes there is an exception to that and that would then be indicated by signs. In the town on Cozumel it was sometimes indicated by signs that you were allowed to park there in the evening. According to police, these rules were the same throughout Yucatan.

Then about that parking fine. If you find a fine paper under your windscreen wipers, pay attention. You will not automatically receive an invoice via your car rental afterwards. At least you pay fines this part of Mexico on the spot. To encourage you to do this, the police unscrew your license plate from the car. You get it back if you pay the fine. Remarkably, many cars have only one or even no license plate. Could there be a connection?

Tip: check when you pick up your rental car whether you have both number plates.

Extra tip: pay your fine as quickly as possible. We went to the police the same day and received a substantial discount. We only had to pay 15 euros.

What does a rental car and gasoline cost?

We finally paid 600 pesos per day for the rental of a car for 18 days. That is a lot and normally the rent is much lower. But we were in Mexico in December / January around the holidays and in that high season everything in Mexico is more expensive than expensive. Outside the holidays you can rent a car for 20 euros a day.

You do not refuel yourself, but are done by a pump operator. They often wash your windows too and expect a small tip for that. Make sure that the meter of the device is at zero when refueling. This scam is already so obsolete that many pump operators explicitly point out to yourself that zero. You can often pay with a credit card, but it is also possible that only cash is possible. So inquire about it if you don’t have any cash in your pocket.

The gasoline price in January 2020 was just under 1 euro per liter. For a full tank we paid 700 pesos, so 35 euros converted.

You can also have costs for the use of toll roads. These roads are really recommended. They are top quality and have virtually no entrances or exits. You therefore drive to your destination in no time. For example, we paid 25 pesos for a bridge to Palenque and 165 pesos for the autopista 180 between Valladolid and Merida. We could only pay with cash.