Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula is a fascinating place to visit and renting a car in Cancun is one of the best ways to see as much of this stunning destination as possible. A fascinating mix of turquoise waters, ancient ruins, vibrant cities and crystal clear cenotes, a road trip will allow stops at the iconic Chichen Itza, vibrant Tulum, blissful Isla Holbox and cultural Merida.
We highly recommend renting a car in Cancun to have the freedom to explore the Yucatan Peninsula at your own pace and discover everything it has to offer. We found driving safe and easy and we highly recommend renting a car in Cancun. Here are our tips for renting a car in Cancun to help you on your journey!
Tips for Renting a Car in Cancun
Overall, we found driving in Cancun, and the wider Yucatan Peninsula, to be very safe. We encountered good roads and a high standard of driving.
1 | Why rent a car in Cancun, Mexico
Renting a car in Cancun is the best way to explore the Yucatan Peninsula. A rental car allows easy access to the more remote sights: we managed to visit many amazing towns, cities and islands including Tulum, Merida, Valladolid, Isla Holbox, Isla Mujeres and Playa del Carmen. We visited three UNESCO World Heritage Sites, swam in the crystal-clear waters of countless cenotes and explored ancient sites including Coba, Uxmal, Chichen Itza and Ek Balam.
We loved having a rental car to explore. It allowed us to travel at our own pace, visit off the beaten track sights and generally make the most of our time in Mexico.
2 | Booking your rental car
Cancun is a very popular destination during the winter months so it pays to reserve your rental car well in advance both in pricing and availability. We recommend using RentalCars.com to reserve your car. They have a great selection and very competitive prices – click here to book now!
We’re huge fans of road trips and have driven rental cars in over 40 countries so we have a lot of experience renting cars in foreign countries. Book your car now with RentalCars.com, where you will find very competitive prices. Make sure to see our next point on insurance when booking!
Renting a car in Cancun tip: The biggest benefit of having a rental car in Cancun is that you can visit anywhere in the Yucatan Peninsula that you want, whenever you want. It allowed us to visit the cenotes first thing in the morning before the crowds arrived and also to visit all the major sights during quieter times of the day that were convenient for us.
3 | Liability Insurance: Third Party Liability (TPL)/ Public Liability Insurance (PLI)
This is unique to Mexico and can substantially increase the cost of your rental so listen up!
Third-Party Liability (TPL)/ Public Liability Insurance (PLI) is mandatory insurance required by all drivers in Mexico. The insurance covers against injury or damages to a third party (e.g. the other driver) in the case of an accident. Mexican car rental companies will not allow you to rent a car without this mandatory insurance in place.
Depending on the car rental company, TPL/PLI may be included in your agreed rental cost. If it is not included, expect to pay a daily rate starting at about US $20 per day although it can be more expensive. If your rental doesn’t include it and you haven’t budgeted for purchasing the additional insurance, this can make for a stressful start to renting a car in Cancun- on a two week rental, that’s another $280 (at least) on top of what you thought you were paying.
Make sure to check closely what is included when reserving a rental car in Cancun or anywhere in Mexico. The cheapest rates aren’t always the cheapest when it comes to actually pay for the rental so make sure to compare the rental car quotes carefully.
Below is a screenshot from RentalCars.com, who we booked through, showing what you need to look for. Although the two rentals seem to cost a similar amount a first glance, note that the first quote does not include TPL/PLI – when you arrive to pick up your car, you’ll be required to pay at least another US $20 a day for the coverage or you won’t be allowed to proceed with the rental.
Declining the insurance due to credit card coverage or holding a separate policy: Mexican rental car companies do not typically allow a customer to decline this insurance on the basis of credit card coverage or liability insurance policies purchased from a third party. Customers are usually only allowed to decline the coverage if they have proof of a policy that explicitly states that it is valid in Mexico. Even in this case, the rental company often places a hold amounting to a few thousand USD.
Renting a car in Cancun tip: don’t just choose the cheapest option when renting a car in Mexico. Make sure to check if the TPL/PLI insurance is included and, if not, add a ballpark US $20 a day to allow a fair comparison.
4 | Renting Eligibility
Most rental companies require drivers to be 21 and to have held their license for at least one year. Some companies impose a surcharge for renters aged under 25.
5 | International Driving Permit (IDP)
An International Drivers Permit (IDP) is a document separate to your driving licence that is basically a translation of your driving licence to a number of different languages. We always travel with an International Driving Permit when renting a car – although it’s not always required it is useful to have.
The general rule in Mexico is that if your domestic driver’s license is in English then an IDP is not required. It is still recommended that you have a Spanish translation of your licence available, especially if you are travelling outside Cancun – an IDP is the easiest way to achieve this translation.
An IDP is easily obtained in your home country before you travel. You cannot get one after you leave your home country. IDP’s typically last only one year so make sure if you have an older one that it’s still in date.
Renting a car in Cancun tip: we showed our IDP at numerous police checks outside of Cancun and were glad that we had ours to hand.
6 | Picking up your rental car
The rental car agencies at Cancun airport are located close to the airport. You will need to get one of the airport shuttles to in order to pick up your car. The rental car desks in the airport will guide you to your shuttle once you’ve picked up your bags and exiting the luggage area.
7 | Drive on the right-hand side of the road
Similar to the USA and most of Europe, you drive on the right-hand side of the road in Mexico.
8 | Is driving in Mexico safe?
This is one of the most common questions we get asked about renting a car in Cancun! We drove around the Yucatan Peninsula for over three weeks and felt safe at all times. There are lots of police checkpoints dotted around the country and the offers were very helpful and friendly. They always checked our proposed routes and seemed happy to welcome us to Mexico.
Overall the local drivers in the Yucatan Peninsula were nice and courteous and we only had positive experiences. Sure driving in the traffic of Cancun and Tulum during rush hour can be stressful, however this is the same as any other busy city or town in any country! We felt entirely safe throughout our trip.
9 | Sim card
We highly recommend buying a local pre-paid sim card (preferably before you travel). Having a reliable data connection is very important when exploring the Yucatan Peninsula. It’s great for researching sights and stops while on the road and it’s also useful for other members in your group to stay in contact while on the trip. WiFi can also be sketchy in many areas and often only worked in the lobby of hotels rather than in the bedrooms.
There are a number of networks to choose from but trust us when we say Telcel is the best. We initially started our trip with AT&T but, by the time we had driven the short distance to Tulum, the coverage was so bad we swapped over to Telcel. Telcel has the best coverage throughout the Yucatan and pretty much worked everywhere for us. We recommend getting a larger data allowance as you will use a lot of data during your time in Mexico – check prices now!
Renting a car in Cancun tip: You can buy your Telcel card ahead of time (we wish we had) and this avoids the stress and time consuming process of getting a simcard when you arrive in Cancun. Make sure to top it up online as the sim cars do not have credit
10 | Speed bumps
Speed bumps, or traffic calming measures, in the Yucatan Peninsula deserve a mention all of their own. We’ve driven rental cars in over 40 countries and found that Mexico has some of the most extreme speed bumps we’ve encountered! Obviously, we have no issue with speed bumps – they are necessary to ensure traffic slows down – however, the bumps in Mexico can be extremely large and not all of them are signposted or obvious!
Renting a car in Cancun tip: it’s not fun driving into an unmarked speedbump on a road with a 50 km/hour speed limit so keep your eyes peeled for them!
11 | Fuel
Most rental cars are gasoline and there are many fuel stations dotted around the Yucatan Peninsula. Every station we encountered had attendants who filled the car and took payment.
A lot of stations accept credit cards, however some only accepted cash. We used our credit card at a number of the big brand fuel stations where the staff bring the credit card terminal to your car.
Renting a car in Cancun tip: Make sure to set aside Mexican Pesos for fuel in Mexico. Prices are around $20 Mexican (or $1 USD) per gallon so you can quickly blow through your cash.
Make sure to tip your fuel attendant as they usually clear your windows and ask to check your water/oil at the stations.
Renting a car in Cancun tip: Mexico often gets a bad reputation for gas station scams such as charging for more gas than was pumped. In our experience every fuel attendant made sure to show us the machine meter at zero before they started pumping – the attendant will say zero, zero to prompt you to look at the meter prior to filling and agree that it is starting at zero.
12 | Navigation
We used Google maps for all our navigation and it worked great. It saved us quite a bit of time in Cancun as we avoided the heavy traffic congestion with alternative routes.
Renting a car in Cancun tip: although Telcel sim cards have the best coverage you can run into no coverage spots while out on the road between cities in the Yucatan Peninsula. Make sure to save your maps before you decide so you don’t lose navigation. You can do this simply by typing “OK maps” into your Google maps app search bar before you leave and save the required area. It’s super useful and you don’t have to rely on a cell signal while driving.
13 | Tolls
There is one tolled motorway in the Yucatan Peninsula that runs from Mérida to Cancun. We used this road a number of times in different places.
There are two tolls on the road. One is when travelling between Mérida and Valladolid and another when travelling between Valladolid and Cancun. Both tolls are cash payment only so make sure to have some cash with you!
14 | Traffic
Outside of Cancun and Tulum we didn’t really encounter any major traffic issues.
In Cancun, the evening traffic can be particularly heavy when everyone leaves work and the beaches and hotels for the evening. In Tulum there is only a single, narrow road through the town and another along the beach road – the Tulum traffic gets worse as the day progresses so plan accordingly.
Renting a car in Cancun tip: to give you an idea of the traffic – we arrived back in Tulum after visiting the Sian Kh’an Bioreserve only to hit the beach hotel zone at rush hour. A 35 minute drive back to our hotel took almost 2hours due to the chaotic traffic!
15 | Avoid driving at night
Try to avoid driving at night, especially when travelling between towns as, safety-wise, it’s prudent to only drive in busier areas after dark.
Aside from safety, there can be animals on the road. While you might encounter the occasional dog or cat on the road throughout the day you need to be most careful at dusk. As darkness approached, lots of dogs seemed to emerge from an afternoon of chilling in the shade to wander the roads. Apparently, the road surface retains heat and that’s why the dogs favour sitting along the roads so take care to avoid them.
Also, street lighting can be limited making it difficult to see anything along the side of the road – this is especially an issue in Tulum where bicycles, pedestrians and cars all squeeze along the beach road around sunset.
16 | Car parking
All the hotels we stayed in, including in the cities, offered free parking. Parking was also free at many of the archaeological sites and cenotes we visited – the only cost is a tip for the car park attendants who look after the cars.
In general, whether you are at a tourist site or a supermarket, you should only park in lots where there is a car park attendant. Many of these attendants may not look official, but they are there to keep an eye on your car and they usually help with parking and exiting the car park. We generally gave them 20-50pesos for looking after the car.
If you’re planning to take a ferry to one of the islands there is ample paid parking at the ferry terminals.
Renting a car in Cancun tip: on street parking is available in most cities and town. We parked along the street in Mérida, Izamal and a number of times in Valladolid. Street parking is very limited in Cancun and Tulum. Along the beach road in Tulum there is almost no street parking at all, so you’ll have to pay for one of the private parking lots dotted along the road.
17 | Driving style
In general, drivers in the Yucatan Peninsula were polite and observed the road rules. However, we do suggest being more cautious if you are behind the local collectivos (the shared minibuses) and taxis as they can stop quite suddenly to pick up or drop off passengers.
We found the driving very similar to the USA so most visitors should be fine!
18 | Rental Cars and the Islands: Holbox, Mujeres and Cozumel
Many visitors to the Yucatan Peninsula include island stay in their itinerary. If you are considering renting a car in Cancun and traveling to the islands, here’s what you need to consider:
Isla Holbox: leave the rental car on mainland
Isla Holbox is a car free island with the exception of a few commercial trucks and some construction vehicles drafted in to move seaweed when necessary. Holbox is easy to navigate on foot, by bicycle or by golf cart so there is really no need for a car anyway.
How to get to Isla Holbox: If you do plan on traveling to Isla Holbox you can leave your rental car in Chiquila and take the passenger ferry to the island.
Isla Mujeres: leave your car on the mainland
The tiny Isla Mujeres is just a 20 minute ferry ride from Cancun and a trip to the island is a hugely popular excursion from Cancun. Passenger ferries arrive and depart frequently and golf carts and taxis are available on the island.
If you are considering taking a car to Isla Mujeres, the ferry departs from Punta Sam. You will need to arrive at least an hour before departure to try and secure a spot on the ferry and the crossing takes 45 minutes. Parking is limited on Isla Mujeres although it might be easy to secure a spot at your hotel.
We consider Isla Mujeres to be best explored by golf cart or scooter. It’s also possible to take a regular taxi to many of the tourist spots. The extra time and cost of taking a car ferry plus the prospect of very limited parking meant that we left our rental in Cancun and, having experienced the island, we consider this a much easier option! Check out our guide on how to get to Isla Mujeres.
How to get to Isla Mujeres: Passenger ferries leave from the hotel zone – we took the Ultramar Ferry and parked in the multi-story car berry beside the ferry terminal. Car ferries leave from Punta Sam.
Cozumel: dependent on the length of stay
The postcard-perfect island of Cozumel is famous for its scuba diving and pristine beaches. We highly recommend driving in Cozumel and there are two options:
- Take your rental car on the car ferry to Cozumel
- Leave your rental car in Playa Del Carmen, take a passenger ferry to Cozumel and rent a car on the island. There is an underground garage close to the ferry terminal.
If you are planning a longer stay on Cozumel or have lots of luggage we recommend taking the car ferry – the extra cost and additional time required (you need to arrive at the dock over an hour in advance of departure) is worth it. Otherwise, it might be easier to leave the rental on the mainland and pick up a rental on the other side.
How to get to Cozumel: Passenger ferries operate from Playa del Carmen and take about 40 minutes. Two companies, Ultramar Carga and Transcaribe, operate car ferries from the Port of Calica. The car ferry takes about 60 minutes to reach Cozumel and it’s best to arrive at the dock at least 90 minutes prior to departure to secure a spot on the boat.
So there you have it – all our tips for renting a car in Cancun. We hope you decide to rent a car for your time in Mexico, it’s an amazing way to see the Yucatan Peninsula and you won’t regret it!