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Driving in Mexico

Convertable Bug Rental CarDriving in Mexico is dangerous, right?

Not if you use your head. Most Mexican drivers are actually amazingly helpful and safe, it is the roads that make things dangerous. The major highway expansion between Cancun and Tulum is almost finished, so the quality of the road is great, but don't let that make you think you are Mario Andretti. The rumors about robberies are completely overblown - much, much less common than in the US - and the majority of tourists never have the famed run ins with Mexican police (although you should read these hints for dealing with police).

Don't drive top speed down the highway. In around towns there are topes (toe-pays), which are nearly invisible but very tall speed bumps, which can rip off your muffler. There are few topes on the main highway, but there are huge potholes which have the same effect. If you do break down after flying over a tope, sometimes there are Green Angels around in green trucks who will try to fix your car for the cost of the parts (please tip them, too). They are sent out by the department of tourism and can be a great help, but they are rare so don't count on it.

Pass with caution. Passing has got to be the #1 cause of car accidents around here. Other drivers are probably going much faster than you realize - so don't pass unless you have more than enough room. If you pass without enough room, the driver in your lane and the one coming the other direction will not make it easy for you to pull back in. It seems to be a form of punishment for not knowing the acceleration speed of your car vs. the other car. Most of the highway lacks shoulders, so there is no place to pull off except a ditch.

Don't drive at night. Seriously. Please. Most of the fatality filled accidents in this area happen at night. This is for a number of reasons: cars without lights, drunk drivers, cows in the road, drunks in the road, no reflective lines on the highway, potholes, etc. Even the Green Angels don't drive around at night - too dangerous. If you fly in late, please stay in Cancun overnight. You can stand it for just one night. Check the driving distance table to make sure you have time to reach your destination before dark.

canoe in the jungles of the Mayan RivieraWatch out on Sunday. From Saturday night to Monday morning, drive with caution and assume every car you see is driven by a drunk driver. Watch for drunk pedestrians as well. This is particularly true around payday (15th and 30th monthly).

Don't be stupid. It seems like some tourists believe that just because the laws in Mexico are different than in their home country, and law enforcement is spread thin, they should do whatever they want on the road. You won't believe how many visitors drive around smashed on margaritas or with their 8 year old kids standing on the seat of a jeep holding onto the roll bar or BOTH. These are people who would never do either of these things at home. If you need some law to get you to be safe, you really should stay home.

Driving gives you a big advantage. The two biggest reasons are obvious - you can stay at different places during your trip, without having to haul your belongings on the bus, and you can decide where and when to go on your own schedule.

I heard there was no unleaded gas

There is definitely unleaded gas ("sin plomo" in Spanish), although premium/high octane gas is only sold in Cancun. To get the good stuff, get on the highway towards Cancun. The gas station is on the left side. There are gas stations on the highway at Puerto Moreles, Playa del Carmen and Tulum (also one on the island of Cozumel). To be safe, don't let your tank get down below 1/4. The gas stations are all run by PEMEX (PEtroleos MEXicanos) the government monopoly. The gasoline prices are the same everywhere in Mexico. Credit cards are NOT accepted.

All the gas stations are full serve. Although most gas station attendants are honest, you should always watch to make sure they reset the numbers to OOOOO before pumping the gas. Watch the guy, say "lleno, por favor" to fill up, then tip him a few pesos. Of course tip more if you have him check the oil or tires. With the oil, make sure the oil container is new and full before he pours it in. The gas stations sell maps, but a better map Can-Do Riviera Maya is available online.

Rand McNally Road Atlas
Includes Mexican maps.

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