There’s no better way to see Yucatán than to rent a car, grab a map and go exploring. Here are some things to consider when planning a road trip.
Driving in Yucatán is safe and easy. The peninsula is flat and most roads are well maintained. Occasional thunderstorms may impair visibility, so it’s important to inspect your windshield wipers before your trip. On particularly hot days, driving at high speed on smoldering asphalt can cause blow-outs, so check your tire pressure and tread wear as well.
The most common road hazards are topes, or speed bumps, encountered mostly in villages and on rural roads. They are generally marked by a sign, but not always. The topes in Yucatán were probably designed by ancient pyramid builders.
Caution! In rural areas at night, many of the Maya locals must cross the roads to return home from their milpas. Many also work near the roads in the evening to avoid the mid-day heat. For this reason, it is best to avoid driving at night. When driving off the main roads in villages and rural areas, always be alert for pedestrians, livestock and the native fauna.
A valid driver’s license and major credit card qualify you for a rental car. Many models are available. After selecting your car, you will be required to purchase Mexican auto insurance. Prices vary, but expect to pay a bit more than usual. To locate a rental agency, see our list of car rental agencies.
All gas stations in Mexico are operated by PEMEX, the government-owned Petroleos Mexicanos. Service is pretty reliable, and gas stations are relatively frequent; but be sure to always fill up before leaving on a trip and keep your tank topped up. Check that the attendant sets the pump back to ZERO before pumping your gas. There are no self-serve gas stations in Mexico, so tipping is customary. Be sure to pay with exact change or credit card (accepted in most stations; ask first).
Yucatán, and all of Mexico, uses the metric system. All distances are given in kilometers. To convert kilometers to miles, multiply by 0.62. Distances from Mérida:
Dzibilchaltún: 22 km
Progreso: 35 km
Telchac Puerto: 61 km
Izamal: 70 km
Uxmal: 80 km
Celestún: 83 km
Kabah: 101 km
Loltún: 112 km
Chichén Itzá: 120 km
Valladolid: 160 km
Campeche: 160 km
Río Lagartos: 264 km
Cancún: 318 km
Playa del Carmen: 384 km
Tulum: 474 km
Palenque: 554 km
Agua Azul: 614 km
San Cristobal: 789 km
Mexico City: 1514 km
Click here for distances and driving times in Mexico.
Highway 18 from Mérida becomes the 180 toll road, also called a cuota or carretera de cobro, going east to Cancún. This four-lane speedway is by far the fastest route to Cancún. Using it, you can avoid 146 topes and 43 villages. Along the way, you will encounter toll booths or casetas de cobro. Have pesos in hand because the exchange rates at the toll booths are less than generous. There is also a toll road to Playa del Carmen.
Exact tolls are:
Mérida to Chichén Itzá – $92 Pesos.
Mérida to Valladolid – $160 Pesos.
Chichén Itzá to Valladolid – $67 Pesos.
Valladolid to Cancún – $276 Pesos.
Mérida to Cancún – $435 Pesos.
Mérida to Playa del Carmen: $394 Pesos.
There are no parking meters in Yucatán, but you’ll discover a couple of unexpected traditions. You can generally park anywhere, with the exception of yellow or red curbs in the cities. Always remove valuables and lock the car whenever you park.
Some downtown streets, or calles, in Mérida have parking attendants as well. If you see a red, three-wheeled tricicleta somewhere on the calle, there is probably an attendant on the job. They wave a red rag and use a whistle. They are there to prevent minor fender-benders, maintain the flow of traffic and provide security. They will also wash your windshield, or your entire car if you ask (“Tienes tiempo para lavar mi coche, ahora?”).
If you can’t find parking on the street, look for an Estacionamiento (“E”) sign. There is a public parking lot in just about every block of the Centro of Mérida, so you should have no problem. Just look for Estacionamiento Público signs, usually painted on the wall of the entrance to the lots. The charges are hourly, usually 10 or 12 pesos per hour, some as low as 8. Always check what time they lock up, as after that hour (usually fairly late at night, somewhere between 9 pm and 2 am) you wouldn’t be able to get your car till the next morning. Every public parking lot has an attendant who will give you a ticket with the time of entry on it, and the cost is calculated when you return for your car. Some of the lots will require you to leave your keys in case they need to move cars around. Don’t worry about this. Generally, it is safer to leave your car in a parking lot than on the street. Obviously don’t leave valuables in the car no matter where you park. Click here for the location of parking lots in Centro.
You’ll also find parking attendants in most business parking lots, such as for a bank or shopping center. They may usher you into a space, help with loading any merchandise you purchased, and help you navigate out of the lot. They may also be unavailable to help you on a busy day. Tip parking attendants five or six pesos depending on the assistance they are able to provide.
Mexico has a wonderful roadside assistance service called Angeles Verdes or the Green Angels. These are auto mechanics in green utility trucks who patrol the major roads. They can provide gas, oil, tire repair and other minor maintenance, as well as arrange towing. They only charge for parts. Their labor is free and they don’t accept tips. They have been operating on Mexican roads since 1960. Thank you, Green Angels! Their phone number is (999) 983 1184.
Roadside assistance: 01-800-362-9220
Arriving to Cancún and want to get to Mérida?
How to get to Mérida from Cancún: If you are renting a car you do not have to worry since all the car rentals are at Cancún International Airport (CUN). Check our Yucatán map to get a general idea of your drive to Mérida that should take about 4 hours. We do recommend taking the highway one way to save time if you wish, and the freeway back to be able to go through all the villages and get a glimpse of what Maya people and their villages are like. If you are taking the bus to Mérida it all starts when you leave the airport in Cancún and walk all the way to the right end where you take a bus for $50 pesos into the downtown bus station. This bus runs every hour and takes about 35 minutes. For up-to-date information click here. There are 3 levels of service: super luxury “Platino” for 438 pesos, luxury “GL” for 334 pesos, and first class for 268 pesos. There are plenty of buses coming and going all the time, so if it’s not high season you do not need reservations. Visit http://www.ticketbus.com.mx/wtbkd/index.jsp for schedules. (Note: you can also fly between Cancun and Merida; MayAir has one nonstop flight per day.)
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