Driving in Mexico
Along with my eldest son Phillip and his wife and daughter, and my youngest son Geoffrey I went on a two-week SCUBA adventure to Akumal, Quintana Roo, Mexico. Akumal is a relatively small resort on the Caribbean side of the Yucatan Peninsula. Highway distance is about 105 kilometers (about 65 miles).
During the pre-trip planning we mulled over various schemes for transportation. Our plans had to include: transport from Cancun Airport to Akumal, local transportation there, and then return with all the baggage for four adults, one child, dive gear, and cameras — five large bags five carry-on suitcases, and a complement of backpacks. We visited the gamut of transportation, including: buses, shuttle vans, rentals, taxis, and collectivos.
Eventually we narrowed the choices down to either a medium-size SUV or two mid-sized (Mexican Class E) sedans. The cost of the two sedans equaled the one SUV and gave us the most flexibility. We picked Fox Rentals as the provider.
WOW! The cost of the mandatory Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) insurance quoted by Fox in Mexico would have more than doubled the rental prices. Fortunately, Phillip’s and my US credit cards provided the same coverage. We were warned during our searching the Mexican rental offices would claim our CC insurance was not valid in Mexico. I went armed with a letter from VISA (written in Spanish) that claimed otherwise.
After a walk around inspection noting dings and scratches, all very minor, the cars were in very good shape — when we left the lot, anyway — we packed up and headed out. I had taken two portable transceivers so we could communicate on the road. These are similar to the old CB-handitalkies but with more power. They worked OK, but the only time we used them was on the trip down.
Mexico Highway-307 was our route down from Cancun. It is a highway, not a freeway. Our trek was between Cancun and Tulum and my narrative is limited to that section. Neither car had cruise control but since the speed limit varied from 40 to 60 or 80 or 90 to 100KPH seemingly every couple hundred yards or so, the feature wouldn’t have been worth much. Hwy-307 is, at least where we went, two-lanes each direction and divided by median divider. Typically, ten Kph or so above the posted speed limit seemed to be the norm. Being a foreigner, and not wanting to deal with their law system, I drove pretty conservatively…. most of the time anyway.
Highway sign are plentiful but it pays to know your destination and the driving distance even if you can read and speak Spanish. Even then, I zipped right on by my turn point more than once. Maybe even several times.
“Retornos” are specifically for making a U-turn on the long stretches of highway between towns and off-ramps. I used them a lot. Until I got used to slowing down in the left lane to position for a left U-turn into the high speed lane on the opposite side, the returnos were more than just a little intimidating. That earned me a few beeps from cars that followed me into the zone.
For decades Pemex held a government monopoly for filing stations. A newcomer, La Gas, is encroaching into the business but Pemex outnumbers them. Pemex is semi-full service. An attendant will pump the gas while another cleans your windshield. I didn’t ask for it but I’m sure they would check the tire pressure and oil level also. Only two grades of fuel are available: gasoline and diesel. The price for gas was the same the two times I filled up — 14.8 pesos per liter for ‘regular’. The price per US gallon in US dollars was $2.71 on the day I wrote this article. Make sure you have some cash when you roll into the station. Pemex will accept payment (in advance) in either USD or MXP but will not, as in NOT accept any credit card. I don’t know that it is customary but I made it a point to tip the attendants 10 or 20 pesos for their service.
Driving in the larger towns, like Playa Del Carmen and Cancun posed no problems… other than reading and interpreting the street signs. I had my Garmin NUVI gps with Mexico loaded and it did create some chuckles when the voice would run all the syllables together and mispronounce most of them. Many, as in a lot of streets are narrow and one-way. That was exciting on a couple occasions. Especially when I turned onto one right in front of a cop. He was stern, but did let this Americano Gringo off with just a shake of his finger and a frown. I don’t remember ever seeing a sign warning of the one-way but I’ll bet there were. Parking meters didn’t exist in any place we went. But the same thing might be said about parking spots. We drove around the block a few times looking for a space to stuff our car into.
The smaller towns posed some challenges as soon as you left the main drag. Not only were the streets narrow, they were usually lined on both sides by carts and peddlers stands. Most of the side streets seemed to be unpaved dirt and well punctuated with pot holes.
A frequent feature of the roads, especially when the highway reached into a town, were the “topes.” Literally translated the word means ‘caps’ but in Americanese they are speed-bumps. While most are a patch of large knobs a few inches high and impeded in the road, some of them could easily act as launch ramps. The top surface of those is level with the curb height and act as pedestrian crossings. You only have to abuse one of them to learn a lesson.
All in all, driving was no problem. Well, after the first couple days of jitters went away. After that, I even started cheating a few Kph over the posted speed limit. The convenience earned multiple thumbs up. I won’t hesitate to do it next time I’m in Mexico for more than a couple days.