Lined with white-sand beaches, filled with snow-capped volcanoes and mountains, and inhabited by people with a welcoming and vibrant culture, Mexico is a country on most peoples’ bucket lists, and with good reason. After visiting Mexico many times and living and studying in one of its biggest cities, we have experienced first-hand just how incredible Mexico really is.
While many visitors flock directly to world-renowned places like Tulum, Puerto Vallarta, and Los Cabos, it is definitely worth making a few stops in lesser-traveled places to get a feel for the rest of what Mexico has to offer. Driving a car in a different country can be intimidating, but sometimes it is the best way to experience your destination. In Mexico, we found that the best way to explore the natural beauty of Mexico is absolutely by car. If you have an American driver’s license, you may drive in Mexico with no additional documentation.
If you’re on the fence about renting a car on your next trip, or you’ve already decided on renting but want some advice on driving in Mexico, this post will give you some valuable advice about getting behind the wheel in Mexico.
1. Be Confident When Driving in Mexico
The first thing you’ll notice when you drive in Mexico is that it requires a certain level of aggression. In the United States, aggressive driving is generally frowned upon outside of big cities, but in Mexico it is the expectation. In fact, being a defensive driver may actually put you at risk. In many places, even in major cities, there aren’t lines on the road. When you encounter a road like this, it is best to pick a side and keep an eye out for cars looking to pass you. They may honk at you, but don’t let this alarm you! Unlike in the United States, a honk in Mexico is usually a friendly sign letting you know someone is about to pass you.
2. Keep an Eye out for One-Way Streets
In many towns and cities in Mexico, there is no such thing as a two-lane road. In fact, almost every Mexican road you’ll find (except for highways, which usually have a median) only allows traffic in one direction. This can get tricky, as there usually aren’t “one-way” signs like in the United States. To a Mexican person, these signs would be redundant, as they already expect that every road is a one-way street. In a city or town, much like in the United States, the direction typically alternates after each block. If you’re ever in doubt and there are no oncoming cars to alleviate your confusion, look about 8 feet up on the wall of whatever building is on the corner. There will often be a subtle arrow pointing in the direction of the flow of traffic!
3. Obey the Tricky Traffic Lights
This one may sound obvious, but in Mexico there is a slight twist in the rule, and breaking it may result in a not-so-fun encounter with the police. While traffic lights in the United States follow the “red means stop, yellow means caution, green means go” mentality, Mexico adds a blinking green light into the mix. Its meaning is similar to the U.S. meaning of a yellow light, in that you may cross through the intersection if you don’t need to accelerate. A yellow light in Mexico, however, is not much different than a red light, and if you cross through an intersection on a yellow light there is a chance you will be pulled over. Also, turning either direction during a red light is generally frowned upon in Mexico.
4. Beware of Unmarked Potholes and Speed Bumps
The roads in Mexico receive mixed reviews from drivers, and it largely depends on which roads they’re talking about. On the nicer end, Mexico has a good number of well-maintained toll roads that rival those north of the border. On these, be sure to have cash, as the toll booths do not accept credit cards. While the tolls are often a bit hefty by Mexican standards, the roads are well worth the price of admission. They are generally very well-maintained and safe, and there are convenience stores and gas stations every few kilometers.
On the lower end, some Mexican roads look like the surface of the moon. There are massive potholes and one-foot-tall speed bumps everywhere, and extreme levels of caution are required. Many of these speed bumps are marked with yellow paint, but a large portion of them are not. In a pothole infested stretch of road, it is best to slow down and feel free to use the whole road to navigate the minefield ahead of you. When it comes to the speed bumps, all we can say is good luck! Often, you won’t realize there’s a speed bump on the road until it is beneath your axles while you’re moving at 30 miles per hour.
5. Turn Signals Are for More than Turning
Whoever designed the turn signal probably had a straightforward vision in mind: to create a tool that lets other drivers know when you’re turning or switching lanes. This straightforward idea, like many things in Mexico, can become very overcomplicated. It is recommended that you use your turn signal when you’re going to turn, but you should not use it when you’re going to pass another car. In Mexico, the turn signal is a sign letting other cars know that they can pass YOU on the indicated side.
Let me repeat that.
On Mexican highways you may see large trucks with their left turn signal on – with all necessary caution, of course, this is your invitation to pass them on the left. However, the same applies to you. If you use your left turn signal to switch lanes, especially on a tight city road with no lane-lines, you may be placing yourself in unnecessary danger. If your instincts tell you to use it in these cases, more often than not you’ll probably be fine. But if you can remember, try to limit its use to just making turns.
All in all, driving in Mexico is very easy and is quite similar to driving in the U.S. or Europe. There are only minor differences, which we have outlined in this post. If you decide to drive in Mexico, try to remember these five tips in addition to exercising general caution. If you have any questions, feel free to either drop a comment below, email us at [email protected].