All You Need To Know For An Amazing Mexico Road Trip
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Mexico Road Trip: Driving in Mexico
The air was hot and thick and the sun beat down. My hangover hung on top of me like toxic air as I lay on one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. I was on Isla Mujeres near Cancun and it was the day after my 28th Birthday. I’d partied the night away at a beach bar and now I was nursing the day-after pain with new friends I’d made. Miles had travelled all the way here from Burning Man in Nevada just a number of weeks before. He’d completed a road trip through Mexico and wow, he was flying home.
“Do you want to take the car on a Mexico road trip? Drive it around and bring it back whenever?” he asked.
I was so shocked that a guy I’d only known a few days would just hand me his car like it ain’t no-thing.
“She’s a piece of shit, but we love her…”
When someone just hands you a car, you always, always say yes.
Mexico road trip; know before you go
The roads in Mexico are bad
Most of the roads are terrible unless you’re on the main highway or in a town. The best roads to drive on a called “cuota” and they are good quality and FAST. However, you do have to pay for these, but you’ll save a lot of time using them. You can also use the secondary highways which go through small towns along the way. It will take a longer time, but you can “enjoy the drive,” as they say.
Look out for topes
Topes are speed bumps in Mexico. Look out for the signs! They aren’t like the ones you’re probably used to and they can really catch a driver by surprise. They can be found on major highways and small towns. Sometimes, they are even built by locals and aren’t even signposted. Hitting one going too fast could really damage your car. For this reason, it’s better to avoid driving at night.
As mentioned Mexico’s roads aren’t the best. We would Google Map time our drives and often it would end up taking twice as long. There are also lots of military stops, especially between states. You are required to line up then let them search the car before you’ll be able to move on.
Drug violence in Mexico
Possibly one of the scariest problems you might encounter while doing your Mexico road trip would be the drug-related problems/violence, especially if you are driving South coming from the US. There are some pretty scary roads around there. If you are coming from the US – log all your plans with family, etc. Do a bit of research into which entry/exits are better than others. Here’s a great forum with this exact question asked – but it will really depend on where you plan to cross.
Driving in Mexico isn’t cheap
It’s actually really expensive. Expect petrol to be the same price as home and the tolls on the highways too. Everything else is cheap in Mexico, but driving is not!
Driving from the US
If driving to Mexico from the US you’ll need to buy insurance and fill out the required paperwork at the border, or before you leave.
You’ll need to show customs:
- Passport of the registered owner (original and 1 copy).
- Vehicle registration (original and 1 copy).
- Drivers license of the registered owner (original and 1 copy).
- Mexico Tourist Card you received when you crossed the border
At the border the owner of the car/bike gains entry at immigration, their passport is stamped and they are given a Mexico Tourist Card. The owner is required to obtain a temporary import permit for the vehicle as well.
Insurance is mandatory in Mexico, and you will have problems with the Police if you don’t purchase it. You can buy it at the border, or many companies exist online that piggy-back on your insurance from the United States of America
Mexico Insurance Companies:
Note that you must maintain your home country comprehensive/collision insurance.
Do you need an Internationmal Driver’s License in Mexico?
You’ll be fine to drive in Mexico with the license of your home country. Having said that I was pulled over by a corrupt cop once and he tried to “fine” me for not having the right license. I fought it and he let it go. I did have to pay a $5 fine for the broken taillight though. Fair enough.
Right. Enough of the boring stuff – Let’s get into the fun stuff!
WHERE TO GO IN MEXICO
From the US to Mexico City
This drive will take you through some of the most beautiful deserts you’ll ever see and along awesome coastlines to towns. The Baja’s would be a great coastal getaway with incredible beaches and just enough tourists to encounter the same luxuries of home without them getting annoying.
About Mexico City
Mexico City is the multicultural melting pot of Mexico. Some of the strongest Mexican culture can be found in this bustling, sinking city. It’s dirty, grungy and a difficult place to immediately like.
Give it some time though and you’ll find reasons to remember this place. Be it the ancient skulls buried under the Cathedral, the Aztec ruins in the city centre or the gothic-style buildings looming overhead. Have lunch in a brothel; watch a wrestling match or explore museums until your feet scream.
This dark city will never let you get bored and you won’t regret adding it to your Mexico road trip itinerary.
For more info, check out my Budget Guide to Mexico City
From Mexico City to Oaxaca
Driving over the mountains around Oaxaca can be absolutely beautiful, but also scary as shit, especially the drive from Oaxaca City to Puerto Escondido. Think tiny one-way roads with a 45-degree corner every couple of seconds. Just take it slow and don’t drive tired.
Also, make sure you keep the petrol topped up! I’m talking from experience here after we ran out of petrol on the mountains one night and had to sleep in the car at a roadhouse and get a Camioneta to the closest tiny town to get petrol from some random man’s garage. HA!
Oaxaca is a magical place. Not as many tourists get here, as it’s not so much on the main tourist path. But boasting some of the strongest native cultures in Mexico, coupled with dramatic mountains and epic coastlines, it’s definitely worth putting it on the Mexico road trip.
The state is probably best known for its indigenous peoples; the Zapotecs and Mixtecs. These cultures have survived better than most others due to the rugged and isolated terrain in which they live.
Oaxaca boasts a vibrant crafts and arts scene and unique cuisines, colourful festivals and diverse plants and animals.
Oaxaca to San Cristobal and Palenque
Whether you’re going from Oaxaca City or Puerto Escondido, this is a beautiful drive through the mountains. The mountains around San Cristobal are lot less cray cray than the mountains around Oaxaca City. And the Chiapas area is just an absolutely picturesque place to visit.
The multi-cultural and lush state of Chiapas is home to 12 of the 62 indigenous groups officially recognised by the Mexican government. From the beautiful ruins of Palenque, the bright aqua waterfalls of Agua Azul, Christmas Tree Falls and epic canyons.
Chiapas is where you come to see Mexican culture at it’s strongest. Where indigenous traditions coexist harmoniously with old Spanish ones, and Mexican customs are thrown into the mix as well.
For more info, check out my Budget Guide to Chiapas
From Palenque to Cancun and the Yucatan Peninsula
This easy drive will take you out of the gorgeous jungle and either North to Tabasco or Northeast towards Cancun, Chichen Itza and Playa del Carmen.
Although quite touristy, the Yucatan Peninsula is one of the coolest places to visit in Mexico. It’s like a huge playground for water-related activities. Everyone here can find something they will love.
In this area of Mexico, you can see baby turtles hatch (August to November), swim with whale sharks (May to August) and check out amazing underground rivers called cenotes (year round) found only in the Yucatan. Cancun is a popular place to hire cars so you can even start your Mexico road trip here and head the opposite way.
For more info, check out my Budget Guide to the Yucatan Penninsula
From Cancun to Isla Mujeres
There’s either a car ferry you can bring the vehicle on or you can leave it in the secured parking lot at Puerto Juarez. If you’re only staying a little while, I’d just recommend leaving it on the mainland.
About Isla Mujeres
Whenever I think back to my time on Isla Mujeres, I’ll get a little teary smile on my face. It was some of my best times travelling, and since I got stuck there for months I got to know all the locals as well as the best places to hang and eat.
For more info, check out my Budget Guide to Isla Mujeres
MEXICO IN A NUTSHELL
Supermarkets: Oxxo (like 711), Chedraui and Walmart. P.S. Oxxo sells $1 hot dogs with DIY toppings and the melty cheese is flipping amazing!!!
Cheap Accommodation: Mexico has a strong Couchsurfing scene that I highly recommend you try, even if it’s just to meet up with locals. I’ve met some great people and only had positive experiences! You can also camp in some areas of Mexico or sleep in your car during your Mexico road trip like we did.
Speaking Spanish: You won’t NEED Spanish in Mexico, but I suggest you spend some time learning if you want to make the most out of your travels and get the local prices, etc. You can take private lessons all around Mexico for as little as $5 USD an hour.
WHERE NEXT? If you’re heading to Chiapas, check out San Cristobal in Photos!
Place: Mexico City
Currency: Mexican Peso
$1 USD = 18.92 Mex$
I was here: November 2014
Where in Mexico do you want to visit the most?
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