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Driving in Cancun: The Only Guide you Need for Practical tips and Car Rentals Recommendations

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Are you wondering if driving in Cancun is a good idea? Want to know the ins and outs of exploring the Yucatan Peninsula on your own set of wheels? Or are you looking for basic info about renting a car in Cancun and why you might want to go that route? If so, this post is for you!

I’ll cover everything you need to know about driving in Cancun, including essential questions like whether you even need a car in Cancun in the first place. I’ll go over safety, rental cars, alternative transportation options, and crucial tips to keep you safe on the road.

First, let’s take a quick glance at what driving in Cancun is like.

Aerial view hotel zone road Cancun
Aerial view hotel zone road Cancun – Photo from Canva Pro
Contents show

Driving in Cancun overview

Cancun is one of Mexico’s most popular destinations, receiving millions of visitors every year. The resort town has lots to offer including fabulous beaches, nightlife, all-inclusive luxurious hotels, and plenty of things to do. Many tourists visit Cancun and stay in their resort the whole time.

There’s nothing wrong with that style of vacation, but if you are reading this post, then I’m guessing you’re interested in going further afield. And I am 100% with you. Driving around the Yucatan peninsula is absolutely worth it! The area is bursting with incredible sites, including Mayan ruins, mystical cenotes, jungle adventures, and more.

Driving out and about Cancún is also much safer than in other parts of Mexico. The roads are in good condition, well with some exceptions, there is decent signage, and toll roads can take you to other major destinations with ease.

Of course, there are also adjustments to make whenever it comes to a driving (or renting a car) in a foreign country.

Read on to find out if driving in Cancun is for you.

Cancun Hotel Zone Road - Driving in Cancun
Photo © Christian Córdova From Flickr

Do I need a car in Cancun?

Whether or not you need a car in Cancun depends entirely on your travel style and your plans. If you expect to stay in your resort or lounge on the beach for most of your stay, you probably don’t need a car. You can get a taxi or use public transportation for brief forays into the city center, or book a tour to explore one of the Riviera’s key destinations.

However, if you don’t want to be limited to the city of Cancun, have a free spirit, and love exploring, driving in Cancun could be a perfect choice.

Also, keep in mind that having your own car rental allows you to explore other parts of Cancun such as the spectacular Isla Blanca just north of Cancun where local transportation hardly go and taxis would charge you an arm and a leg.

Also, you can go out and experience the Cancun culinary scene without having to rely on taxis.

All in all, you can tell that I love having my own car and being independent, but I reckon is not for everyone. Let’s find out if renting a car in Cancun is for you.

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You may want to drive in Cancun if

  • You love exploring on your own and at your own pace
  • You want to visit sites all around Cancún by making day trips or longer trips to see cenotes, Mayan ruins, and hidden gems
  • You welcome the challenge of driving in Mexico, which will actually turn out to be easier thank you thought.
  • You don’t like organized tours
  • You want to skip crowds and enjoy cruising around at your own pace.
  • You love road trips

You may not want to drive in Cancun if

  • You plan to spend most of your time at your all-inclusive resort, in the hotel zone, or at the beach. You may make a few trips downtown, but don’t plan to travel much in the surrounding area.
  • You don’t feel comfortable driving in a foreign country
  • You’d like the ease of exploring via tour groups (or simply want to meet more people)
  • You are younger than 21 years old and can’t rent a car.
  • You think it’s too expensive for your budget

Is renting a car in Cancun worth it?

Car Rental

Depending on your answers to the section above, absolutely! I love having my own wheels to explore the Riviera Maya. Not only can I go at my own pace, but having a rental car also gives me the freedom to hit the road early, beat the crowds, and spend as much time as I want at each destination.

Also, there are so many things to see around Cancun that it would cost an exorbitant amount of money to go on a tour to see them all. Renting a car can end up being more affordable, especially once you factor in the cost of airport transfers and taxis.

Where can I rent a car in Cancun?

There are basically two areas in Cancun where you can rent a car: at the airport or downtown.

Which place is best for you?

Rent from the airport if you plan to rent a car for your entire trip. This will save you money on the airport transfer, which can sometimes cost as much as a full-day rental.

Rent from downtown if you plan to spend a fair amount of time in the city and then make a few trips beyond Cancun.

What’s the best car rental in Cancun Airport?

If you’re wondering how to find the best car rental, check out  DiscoverCars.com. This is my go-to tool for choosing a Cancun car rental.

This website is basically a search tool that will help you find the best car rentals for your needs. You can filter the search according to the car rental company’s latest ratings.

As you go through the booking process, you’ll also learn exactly how much you’ll need to pay for the security deposit, insurance, etc.

Tips for renting a car at Cancun Airport

I like to reserve my rental ahead of time by booking through Discover Cars. Not only is it an easy way to compare all of the Cancun Airport car rental company rates, but Discover Cars also has wonderful (and cheap!) full insurance coverage which is so worth it.

If you’d rather not book through Discover Cars, you can find all the major rental companies at the Cancun airport. Hertz, Avis, Thrifty, and many Mexican companies abound. Some travelers prefer to use smaller family-run companies. Sometimes I find great deals with MexCar Rentals as well.

What’s the best company for cheap car rentals in Cancun Mexico?

There’s no straightforward answer to this question because there can be a lot of variation in prices depending on the time of year and the tourist season.

In general MEX and America Car Rental are considered good rental company brands. However, you must be alert to scams when searching for a budget car rental. If the amount seems too good to be true, it IS too good to be true.

Some rental companies advertise cars for as little as $7 a day, but then hit you up with a bunch of hidden fees once you’re already on the hook.

That’s why my favorite way to find a cheap car rental is by booking through Discover Cars.

Discover Cars is a search tool that lets you compare rates across multiple car rental companies. You can add additional search criteria such as your age, country of residence, type of car, and the amenities you’d like included.

Another advantage of using Discover Cars is that they make it easier to discover hidden fees such as insurance add-ons, young-driver surcharges, airport surcharges, and the amount of the security deposit. 

By the time you hit the “book” button, you should know exactly how much you’re paying. That’s what I call a win!

Also, they have more than 75000 Reviews with an average rate of 4.5/5⭐️. You can check them out on the DiscoverCars homepage.

How much does renting a car in Cancun cost?

Car rental prices can vary widely depending on the time of year, the type of car you rent, your age, etc. The longer you book a car, the cheaper the rate tends to get per day.

However, most car rentals in Cancun cost $30 to $70 USD per day.

If you see extremely low rates (such as 10 USD), know that there will be hidden fees. Although 10 USD may be the base rate, it won’t include Mexico’s required liability insurance, taxes, etc.

What do I need to Rent A Car in Cancun Mexico?

In order to rent a car in Cancún, you will need a few basic documents including your passport, a valid driver’s license, a credit card with a sufficient limit to cover the security deposit, and insurance.

Passport: You will be asked to show your identification when you go to pick up your car, so it’s a good idea to have your passport with you.

Driver’s License: You must have a valid driver’s license for the category of vehicle you are renting. The license must be in the Roman alphabet. If your license is in characters (such as Japanese, Korean, Russian, or Hebrew), you must have an international driving permit to show.

Mind, some car rentals require your driving license to have more than 6 months of validity.

Credit Card: Not only will you need to pay for the rental car, but you will also need to leave the security deposit, which is an amount that the car rental will hold (but not cash) from your credit card in case you have any accident or damages at the car.

The wider your insurance coverage the lower the security deposit amount. On the Discover Cars page, you will find this information once you select the car rental company. Make sure you check it before making your booking.

Make sure you have a high enough credit limit to cover the security deposit.

A note on Debit cards – Car rental may accept debit cards but keep in mind that in this case the security deposit cannot be held, but it’s completely charged to the card. If nothing happens you will be refunded but the process takes more time.

Car Insurance: Liability insurance is required by law in Mexico. It is NOT optional. You can also opt to include additional insurance against robbery or other things. Personally, I prefer to get full coverage insurance either through Discover Cars or directly with the car company. It is very affordable and gives me peace of mind.

Note: If you are under 21 years old, it will be much harder for you to find a rental company that will rent to you. You’ll also have to pay a young driver’s surcharge. In this case, it may not be worth renting a car.

Do I need Travel Insurance in Mexico?

Yes, you do! Keep in mind that Travel insurance and Car Rental Insurance are two different things and one doesn’t replace the other. I always get travel insurance everywhere I go for no matter how careful I am anything can happen that’s out of my control.

If you ask me I have two recommended travel insurance companies, one is SafetyWing, which I find relatively affordable and quite comprehensive.

The other is not a company but a site aggregator, Travel Insurance master which will help you find the perfect insurance for you. You fill out the form with the information about your profile and requirements and they select the insurance company that is a good fit.

Is it safe to drive a car in Cancun?

Although there are always risks when it comes to driving a car in general and driving in a foreign country, driving in Cancun is reasonably safe.

Once you know how to maneuver car rentals, and read through my tips on driving safely, you shouldn’t have any trouble cruising around the highways and byways around Cancún.

Personally, I think driving a car in Cancun is an awesome choice. I love exploring the whole stretch of the Riviera Maya, including heading down to Tulum or Playa del Carmen.

Naturally, it is very important to familiarize yourself with the rules of the road, drive defensively, stay vigilant and aware, and avoid driving at night.

Read more important tips on driving in Cancun in a later section of this post.

Is driving in Cancun easy?

Driving in Cancun is straightforward in some ways, but a bit more challenging in others. A lot depends on what kind of driving you are familiar with. For example, if you are used to city driving and defensive driving, you’ll have an easier time than someone who has only driven on sleepy rural roads.

You should always be alert when you are driving in Cancun. There are often many more things happening around you: people and animals on the road, buses, and taxis making frequent and sometimes unexpected stops, drivers changing lanes aggressively, etc.

None of these things can make the experience hard, per se, but they are things to be aware of.

Be sure to check out my tips for driving in Cancun below.

Is there an Uber in Cancun?

Unfortunately, there is no Uber in Cancun. Instead, you must get around either by taxi, bus, or tourist shuttle.

That is why I always recommend renting a car.

If you need to use a taxi while in Cancun, it is best to ask your hotel for the number of a trusted driver.

Can I Drive In Cancun With a US License?

Yes! You can drive in Cancun with a US license. As long as it is still valid, you will have no problems. In fact, any license written in the Roman alphabet is accepted in Mexico.

You only need an international driving permit if your driver’s license is in characters such as Hebrew, Japanese, Russian, etc.

Tips for Driving in Cancun

Since the rules of the road in Mexico are different than in many countries, including the United States, Canada, England, and most of Europe, there are several good things to know before you get behind the wheel.

Here are my top tips for driving safely in Cancun.

👉🏽 Drive Defensively

Drivers can seem erratic in Mexico. They may change lanes abruptly, stop on short notice, and use their indicator lights in unusual and creative ways. It’s also common for there to be more obstacles in and around the road such as people, animals, potholes, and speedbumps. Stay alert to one-way roads, and stop signs.

If you have the right of way, don’t assume it will be respected. For example, avoid pulling into an intersection until you are sure the oncoming cars will respect your right-of-way.

Pemex Gas station in Mexico
Photo © Ralf Peter Reimann from Flicker

👉🏽 Fill up & Avoid Scams at Gas Stations

There are a few things to note when it comes to Mexican gas stations:

  • Once you head outside the touristy areas along the Riviera Maya into the Yucatan Peninsula, gas stations may be infrequent. Make sure you gas up when you have an opportunity. At a minimum, have an idea of when your next opportunity will be.
  • When you go to a gas station, you cannot pump your own gas. Only gas station attendants are allowed to pump gas in Mexico.
  • Make sure the attendant puts the gas pump at zero before pumping your gas.
  • When you hand over money to pay, take careful note of the amount on the bill. Sometimes, gas station attendants will try to swap out bills and get you to pay extra. For example, exchanging your 500 peso bill for a 50 and claiming that’s the bill you handed over. So be extra careful.

👉🏽 Respect the Speed Limit

It’s vital to follow the speed limit while driving in Cancun and its surroundings. That way, you’ll stay off the radar of traffic cops.

Speed limits in Mexico are posted in kilometers per hour. If you have a rental car, your speedometer will be in kilometers. If you are driving down from the US or another country, your speedometer may be in miles. However, it will still have kilometer markings on the inside of the ring.

👉🏽 Use the Toll Roads (or not)

Toll roads, also known as “carreteras de cuota” or simply “cuota” and are often in wonderful condition and can save you time when driving across big stretches of the Yucatan Peninsula.

It is crucial to have a fair amount of cash handy so you can pay the toll because they don’t accept credit cards or foreign currency. Check this Mexican government route planner for toll fees.

Now you will also find toll road prices on Google Maps as well.

Although tolls can add up, it is usually worth paying because the roads are kept in better condition. 

However, it can also be fun to explore hidden gems on the free roads, known as “carreteras libres.” If I have time I prefer to go through the Libre, especially because you will find amazing hidden cenotes or small towns with spectacular old churches which you would miss if you took the highway.

👉🏽 Left-side Highway Exits

In Cancun and the Riviera Maya, you will sometimes need to exit on the left side of the highway. If you miss your turn, you’ll have to keep driving until you find a legal U-turn, known as a “retorno”.

Cancun road signs
Cancun road signs – Photo © Flickr User

👉🏽 Turn Signals

Be a bit leery of turn signals. Some Mexican drivers may not use them at all, while others will forget about them for long periods of time. Some drivers also use turn signals to tell the cars behind them that it is safe to pass.

Stay alert and give yourself room to maneuver by maintaining a safe following distance from the cars in front of you and expecting the unexpected.

If you pass, be aware that there are few roads with shoulders in Mexico. Make sure you can make the pass safely since some drivers won’t give you the room you need to get back into your lane if you misjudge.

When you do pass, do so decisively.

👉🏽 Be Wary of Buses & Taxis

Bus and Taxi drivers can be very aggressive and rude. Sometimes (not always) bus drivers use their vehicle’s large size to bully other cars on the road, often pulling ahead, lane switching abruptly, and stopping whenever and wherever they want.

Taxis also stop often, sometimes with little warning. Give these vehicles space and let them pass if possible.

👉🏽 Avoid These Illegal Behaviors

Drinking and driving are against Mexican law, as is driving without a seat belt or using your cell phone while driving. Avoid problems with the transit police by driving undistracted.

👉🏽 Park Securely

If you have the option, it is best to pay for secure parking rather than leave your vehicle on the street. Be sure to stow all valuables out of sight.

Rental cars are sometimes targeted more, so it’s worth being extra cautious.

👉🏽 Treat Police Respectfully But Don’t Bribe!

If you are stopped by police, they may only want to see your license and vehicle documents. However, some police are corrupt and will hint that they want a bribe to make the issue go away. For example, they may suggest you can come to an “arreglo”.

Please do not bribe any police officers in Mexico! Not only is it illegal, but it is also encouraging this corrupt practice.

If you committed a traffic violation, be responsible and pay the ticket. Usually, if you pay within a couple of days, you can get a discount on the ticket cost.

If you believe you did nothing wrong, you may be able to wait out the police officer by saying “either give me a ticket or let me go.” That’s how I handle it.

In these situations, the knowledge of some Spanish words will help.

👉🏽 Avoid Driving at Night

It is best not to drive at night while in Cancun, or anywhere in Mexico for that matter. At night, the visibility is much worse and some vehicles may be out on the road with few or no lights.

There is also a higher likelihood of encountering drunk drivers, animals, brutal potholes, or crazy tall speed bumps (known as topes).

Most fatal accidents occur after dark.

👉🏽 Download Maps

Having a working navigation system wherever you go is indispensable. I love using Google maps and downloading it. That way I can access it no matter where I am and whether or not there is cell phone reception.

👉🏽 Have a Working Cell Phone

Of course, having the ability to make phone calls and look things up is also an important safety tip. If you have an unlocked phone, you can easily get a local sim card. If not, you can ask your cell service provider to enable roaming but it may be more expensive.

👉🏽 Carry some Cash

It’s a good idea to have some cash with you in case you end up at a store that doesn’t accept credit cards. Cash is also necessary for paying tolls, and could come in handy in an emergency.

👉🏽 Call 911 in an emergency

If you have a true emergency, you can call 911 just as you would in the United States or Canada. The operator will connect you to the proper emergency service.

If there is a problem with your rental car, get in touch with your rental car company instead.

Airport road Cancun
Airport Road Cancun – Photo © Frank from Flickr

Driving from Cancun to other destinations: a quick guide

► Driving from Cancun to Tulum

The drive from Cancun Airport to Tulum is very easy and straightforward. On the way out of the airport, you just need to turn right and follow the directions to Playa Del Carmen and Tulum.

It’s called the Carretera federal and it’s a two or three-lane high-traffic road with lots of trucks and cars. Make sure you stay focused and keep your eyes on the road also watch what’s happening on your right as you may find many drivers overtaking from the right.

It will take you around 1h 45 minutes to get to Tulum from Cancun airport without stops.

If you are in need of a toilet or snacks you can stop by gas stations, there are many of them along the entire road.

At the gas stations, toilets are normally very clean and they make you pay 5 pesos to use them. Just ask the staff.

Along this road, you will notice a lot of interesting attractions but if you are coming from a long flight you may just want to reach your hotel asap.

Cenote Corazon aerial view
Cenote Corazon Aerial view

If you are reading this post while planning your trip you may want to consider booking the first hotel in Cancun so that you will start your road trip the following day and you will be more relaxed and have the time to make a few stops.

Here below are a few ideas:

La Ruta de los Cenotes in Puerto Morelos – there you find the closest cenotes to Cancun and so many to explore. A paradise for cenote lovers.

Puerto Morelos beach and coral reefs – for great snorkeling and seafood restaurants

Playa del Carmen – for a stroll on the famous Quinta avenida

Riviera Maya Beaches and Cenotes – Along the coast from Playa del Carmen and Tulum you can find amazing beaches such as Xpuha and Akumal and incredible Cenotes, such as Cenote Azul and Cenote Escondido among others.

► Driving from Cancun Airport to Playa Del Carmen

It’s the same road and tips that I previously mentioned for the drive from Cancun to Tulum. Playa del Carmen is located halfway between Cancun and Tulum.

► Driving from Cancun to Cozumel

Cozumel Snorkeling group blue water
Cozumel Snorkeling

If you want to get to Cozumel, you have two choices depending on whether you are taking your car with you or not.

If you go without a car, you can get the ferry from Playa del Carmen. There are many parking lots close to the ferry dock where you can leave your car while you are in Cozumel. Rates are around 180 MXN per day (10 USD)

If you stay longer and you want to take the car with you, you will need to book your ferry in advance from Calica dock, right after Playa del Carmen on the way to Tulum.

There are two ferry companies that take cargo to Cozumel: Ultramar and Transcaribe. Check out the schedule and make a reservation to make sure they have space.

► Cancun to Bacalar drive

Bacalar-drone-cocalito-cenote-
Bacalar Lagoon

From Cancun to Bacalar is a long and beautiful hassle-free drive. You take the same road to Tulum and will continue driving across Tulum and past that towards Felipe Carrillo Puerto.

Mind there are many amazing cenotes past Tulum that you may want to stop by, such as Cenote Corazon, Laguna Kaan Lum, Muyil ruins and lagoon, and the biosphere of Sian Kaan.

The road is 333 km (206 miles) and it will take you about 4 to 5 hours to get there unless you stop along the way.

It’s a very beautiful and easy road with no danger whatsoever. They have recently built a highway that drives around Felipe Carrillo Puerto to avoid city traffic.

I would suggest you leave Cancun in the morning so you can make time to stop by along the way to one of the amazing natural sites.

► Cancun to Chichen Itza drive

Chichen Itza El castillo
El Castillo Chichen Itza

If you want to go to Chichen Itza on your own, it’s indeed a very easy drive that takes you from Cancun to the beautiful Mayan Archeological Site, a UNESCO heritage site, and one of the World’s Seven Wonders.

I would suggest you leave very early or even the day before to beat the crowd and visit Chichen Itza when it opens when fewer people are around and fewer vendors. You will be able to catch the magical vibe of the ancient Mayan city.

Take the highway on the way there to get there sooner, and after Chichen Itza, you can visit some of the cenotes in its surroundings and then head over to Valladolid and visit this colorful colonial city, where you can also have lunch.

There is a cenote right inside the town, cenote Zaci, but also many others in the nearby surroundings.

There are many tours that take you to Chichen Itza but you will have a blast going on your own, even as a solo traveler in Cancun.

► Cancun to Merida drive

Merida historical center
Merida

Getting from Cancun to Merida you have two choices, the fastest but boring route on the toll road, or the longest but more fun road via Libre (regular road).

As I mentioned, the fastest one can get a bit boring but it will take you from Cancun to Merida in 4 hours if there aren’t many interruptions. Keep in mind that at the time I am writing this they are working on the highway to build the Mayan train so it can slow down the ride in many parts of the road.

If you get the “libre”, you can stop by many cenotes that you find along the way or have lunch in Valladolid and make the trip more enjoyable, if you have the time of course.

► Mexico City to Cancun drive

Oh well, this is for adventurous travelers for sure. I have never done that to be honest but it’s on my list and completely doable. Just make sure you don’t drive at night, especially around Tabasco, which is not one of the safest Mexican states.

Other than that, I would take it slow and stop by the pueblos Magicos in Puebla and Oaxaca on your way south, and once in Campeche, you can drive along the coast until Campeche city, stopping by the Lagunas de Terminos ad take a boat tour to watch the dolphins roaming freely around the lagoon then visit the beautiful colonial Campeche city and drive down to Calakmul archaeological site and biosphere, stop by Bacalar and continue to Tulum.

a girl sitting on a temple in Calakmul

Or from Campeche, you can continue to Celestun to see the flamingoes and all the way to Merida and explore the Yucatan Peninsula.

If you have the time and take it slow you can take up to 6 months to see all the spectacular sites between Mexico City and Cancun.

However, if you are in a rush, you can do it in as little as 3 days. According to Google Maps it’s 1600 km (994 miles).

If you are going to go for it I would recommend downloading the IOverland app where you can find useful tips from other road trippers. Also, the FB Group on the road in Mexico can be useful to for quick questions.

► Drive from Cancun to Holbox

holbox beach and palms
Holbox beach

Driving from Cancun to Holbox is easy but you will need to get to the town of Chiquilà and then leave the car parked in one of the paid parking lots.

It’s very cheap, around 100 pesos per day (6 USD). Then you must either take the ferry or hire one of the local fisherman boats.

The drive is about 2 hours to drive 144 km (86 miles)

► Cancun to Valladolid drive

To get from Cancun to Valladolid you have two choices as well, via libre or via cuota (toll roads)

I would take the libre and stop by cenotes and small villages to make your trip more interesting.

One of my favorite cenotes just before getting to Valladolid is Choj Ha. It’s indeed spectacular and worth the visit.

You could get to Valladolid by bus easily, but going by car it will allow you to explore the spectacular cenotes in the surroundings where local transportation wouldn’t get to.

Cenote Choj ha
Cenote Choj – ha

Driving in Cancun: Final Thoughts

As you can see, driving in Cancun does involve a few challenges, but you should do just find by following the aforementioned safety guidelines.

Driving is a wonderful way to enjoy Cancun and the surrounding area. I love having my own wheels and being able to travel the Riviera Maya as freely as I want.

But to each one their own. So the choice is yours. There is no right or wrong, but whatever makes you more comfortable and happier! And whatever you decide, I am here to help 🙂

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