Driving in Mexico is not like driving in Canada. We have experienced travel here as a pedestrian, on a bicycle, with a motorcycle, and in a car. All have their pros and cons, but none of them are anything like what we are used to. The conditions in Mexico vary a lot depending on where you are in the country. From crowded and polluted in Mexico City, to quiet and confusing in Cancun, to unpaved and unlit in the country, driving in Mexico can be an adventure!
One of the first things we noticed when we arrived in Mexico was the lack of road rage. Drivers here are more patient, more considerate, and less aggressive. Honking is rarely heard, even when it’s probably deserved! We’re not sure whether it’s due to the more laid back culture, shorter commutes, or reduced congestion, but we like it.
The second thing we noticed was the lack of signage. In Canada you are bombarded with signs telling you what you can and can’t do, so we were a bit uneasy when we began driving here. One way streets are marked with these tiny little arrows (if you’re lucky), speed signs are hard to find, and even the streets themselves are often not labelled clearly (if at all). It’s like everyone here just knows these things and we’re supposed to as well. The best part is that the signs they do have are very misleading. They put up many signs that tell you which street you are coming up to or which direction to go in order to get to a certain street. I can’t tell you how many times we have mistaken those signs as actual street signs telling where we currently were and taken a wrong turn. Why tell people where they are when you can them where they are going? And don’t even get me started on the street names. Naming streets the same as cities or dates is a recipe for confusion. Trying to get to the Chichen Itza avenue or avenue 20th of November? Good luck.
Obviously there are road laws in Mexico, but whether they are followed is a different story. This really depends on where you are, what time it is, and who’s watching. We’ve seen people do everything from drive excessively fast to drive through a stop light. We’ve also seen people riding in the backs of pick up trucks (yes, it’s true) and four people on a single scooter without helmets. People do get pulled over though and by breaking any road law you are risking getting a ticket (or worse). One of the biggest stereotypes about Mexico is that the police are corrupt and will pull you over for bribes. This, again, highly depends on where you are. In many parts of Mexico this is very much true. However, in Cancun, the police (from our experience) seem to be honest and dependable. We have been pulled over 3 times and have never been asked for a bribe. I wouldn’t recommend testing that theory though.
Modes of Transportation
In Toronto you will mostly encounter cars and a decent number of bikes. Pedestrians (mostly) cross at crosswalks and scooters and motorcycles make up a very small percentage of the traffic. In Cancun you can just about reverse all of that. While cars are still the majority, motorcycles and scooters play a much bigger role in everyday traffic. Lane splitting is common and motorcycles seem to be able to get away with much more than the average car. Pedestrian crossings are far and few between, essentially making many parts of Mexico a jaywalker’s paradise. You do see bicycles here, but they are not nearly as common as in most North American cities I’ve been to. There is no bike infrastructure in Cancun (and much of Mexico), making biking a bit dangerous. In the summer especially no one wants to be out pedaling around. (Although Jay and I did it. We’re a bit crazy that way). You will also find a higher percentage of animals near the roads than in most other parts of North America. Even on the highway I found myself having to swerve to avoid running over a tarantula who was crossing the road!
I wrote previously about road conditions in Cancun
and how potholes, flooding, and unpaved roads are not uncommon here. Another thing to watch out for are topes, Mexican speed bumps. Mexican speed bumps are not like Canadian speed bumps. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes, ranging from wide and gradual to rows of little metal bumps that could convince your car to commit suicide. They are usually marked by bright yellow signs, but it’s not uncommon to get a nasty surprise, especially in the dark. I’ve also written about pollution in Mexico
, which easily extends to cars. As far as I know, most states in Mexico do not do emission testing (Mexico City being a notable exception), and it shows. We often see dark smoke coming from cars, and it doesn’t seem like anyone is overly concerned about it.
In Cancun there are many roundabouts and they make me laugh. Normally I’m a huge fan of the roundabout. However, in Cancun the roundabout is (for some reason that I do not understand) paired with normal lights. This means that to make a left hand turn you have to wait at 2 lights instead of one. The mere number of stop lights at a roundabouts also is terrifying for a visitor; figuring out where to look is not as simple as it seems!
All and all we enjoy driving in Mexico purely due to the fact that there is nowhere near the congestion in the state of Quintana Roo as in most parts of Ontario. Jay hates waiting in traffic and he feels much more calm driving around Cancun. As long as you are prepared for the unexpected, you should be fine.
TIP: The Mexican government offers an amazing service called Angeles Verdes (Green Angles) on all federal and toll roads. They provide mechanical, medical and tourist assistance and are free of charge (except for parts and gas)! Just dial 078 on your phone or stop on the side of the road with your hood up and they will stop to help when they go by on their rounds.