Why You Should Rent a Car in Cancun (And How to Do It Right)


You may be wondering if renting a car in Cancun is feasible. The image of driving a car with the sun shining, the windows down and feeling the breezes are inspiring you. Yet, you also want to make sure that the rental will be worth your time and effort in the long run.

Do You Need to Rent a Car in Cancun? If you plan on traveling in Cancun on your own with your own agenda, it can be beneficial to rent a car. This will also allow you to find a preferred rental provider and car type ahead of time. Also, you can make a final decision based on the number of travelers that are going and the amount of time that you will need the car.  Whether it is your first time going or you have been numerous times already, the ability to plan your trip can allow you to make your own decisions.

You will benefit from renting a car if you plan on traveling in Cancun on your own with the flexibility of setting your own schedule.  If you plan to spend most of your time near exploring the area around your hotel, you can most likely rely on taxis or local public transportation.

If you choose to rent a car, you have a wide variety of companies and providers to choose from. Plus, we will give you more information on driving laws, overall safety, and the general road conditions near and in Cancun. Having the essential knowledge of all this information can help the trip become successful, whether you rent a car or not.

Advantages for a Car Rental in Cancun

There are distinct advantages that can help you determine whether it is worth your time and money to rent a car in Cancun.  

  • Hotel Zone vs. the Yucatán Peninsula: Cancun is famous for a unique and densely occupied shoreline near the mainland known as the “Hotel Zone,” where the hotels provide enough activities, features, and attractions so that you could spend all your time there.  However, a rental car can be useful for those who wish to venture further out and explore a wider variety of destinations within the local area of the Yucatán Peninsula instead.
  • Local vs. Chain Restaurants: In the Hotel Zone, restaurants tend to be expensive and crowded. If you wish to taste local food and visit restaurants that are authentic to Mexican culture, then a rental car will allow you to venture out to do so within the Yucatán Peninsula.
  • Convenience vs. Saving Money:  It may seem like it costs less to consider public transportation instead. Buses are usually overcrowded, hot, and are known to be unreliable. Taxis in and around Cancun aren’t hard to find, but they aren’t cheap either. Having a rental car definitely beats the public transportation option.
  • Flexibility & Schedule: Often, travelers may attempt to visit the Yucatán Peninsula through a local tour.  However, the locations and schedules are organized by local travel companies, and they may not give travelers enough flexibility for changes or specific preferences.
  • Unique Locations: The Yucatán Peninsula also may have spots that are visited less frequently by crowded tours such as a more secluded beach or additional Mayan ruins. It also allows those with a rental car to visit well-known attractions at your own pace and during a time when there is less crowding of multiple tours.

Overall, the decision to rent a car Cancun really depends on what you want to do while you’re there.    

What are the Best Areas to Visit Near Cancun?

Cancun is close to many destinations that are noteworthy and famous. Most are within sufficient driving distance from Cancun.  Here are five popular destinations that would require some type of transportation:

LocationDistanceDriving TimeDetails
Isla Mujeres20 kmApprox. 1 hourlocal island
Akumal105 kmApprox. 1-2 hoursbeaches & shopping
Playa del Carmen68 kmApprox. 2 hoursbeaches & coral reef
Tulum131 kmApprox. 2-3 hoursformer Mayan port
Coba132 kmApprox. 2-3 hoursformer Mayan city

Isla Mujeres is the closest island to Cancun, and part of the journey involves individuals and cars to be transported across the ocean using a local ferry. All other locations are within the Yucatán Peninsula and can be visited using the rental car.  

What Do You Need to Rent a Car?

One of the main advantages of driving within and close to Cancun is its physical location.  Located on the Yucatán Peninsula within the Mexican state of Quintana Roo, it is famous for its warmer weather, sandy beaches, and the local coral reef.   You will need the following items to rent a car:

  1. Driver’s License: If the potential driver is an active US citizen, then you will need a valid and active driver’s license. Make sure to take care of any upcoming license renewals.  Depending on the state you are licensed in, processing times, fees, and specific requirements can vary. 
  2. International Driver’s License: If the potential driver has an active driver’s license that is not in English or Spanish, they will need to seek the international driver’s permit. This applies to those who may not be from the United States.
  3. Driver’s Passport: An active and current passport is needed, just in case of emergencies. It can take up to 2-3 months to have a passport application processed. Expediting an application will cost additional fees.
  4. Liability Insurance: Car insurance that was obtained in the US will not necessarily include coverage while you are in Mexico.  This basic insurance is required and can be purchased through the rental provider.  
  5. Comprehensive Insurance: Buy this to provide more coverage in the case of an accident or other circumstances. We recommend that you purchase it.
  6. Car Registration: Make sure that the rental car comes with valid and active car registration documentation. You want this documentation in case there are any emergencies.
  7. Car Rental Contract: Please make sure to have a clear copy of the contract with you when you are driving. It will be useful in case of emergencies. In addition, if you notice any pre-existing damage to the rental car, take pictures to prove the damage occurred before you rented the vehicle. It is common in the states that you do a “walk-around” the vehicle before you even leave the rental parking lot. You should do your own “walk-around”.

Potential Car Rental Companies

Another primary factor in finding a car rental for Cancun is selecting the right car rental provider.  Cancun airport’s website provides information on eight different car rental companies.  You can go directly to the webpage for car rentals by following this link.   

Rental Cars is another website you can use to rent a car online.   

We recommend that you check out these five companies as they consistently receive high ratings and positive comments from customers.    

CompanyPhoneWebsite
Avant+52 998 892 1158https://www.avantrentacar.com/
Yes Rent A Car+52 998 279 6915https://www.yesrentacar.com.mx/english/
Value Car Rental+52 998 321 7066http://www.valuecarrental.com.mx/en/index.php
Easy Way+52 998 886 2464https://easywayrentacar.com/
Enterprise+52 998 881 5285http://bit.ly/39WXPpQ

Alternative to Car Rental Companies

You also have the option of paying to have a driver in Cancun take you to your chosen destination.  Currently, there are a couple of possibilities: a local taxi company, or a driver through the Uber app. Uber became legal in Cancun starting June 2019.  

However, just because Uber is legal doesn’t mean it’s available everywhere.  Local taxi drivers, taxi driving companies, and their unions have been in business for much longer. They have contested Uber and its drivers since they feel it will threaten their operations. For example, an online article quotes a member of a local taxi union: “We are not going to allow the rights of organized workers, their sources of employment and their patrimony to be trampled on, so we will be prepared to take strong actions in favor of the taxi driver family.”  

Furthermore, a knowledgeable blogger on her site goes into further detail on how one can use Uber in Cancun since it requires a potential user to become more familiar with the underlying culture of different drivers in Cancun. The main difference between taxi companies and Uber is that the former tends to inflate their fees depending on the situations and their assumptions on how much a rider can pay. Uber is a service that does not allow such inflation to occur, but a rider can only use this service in areas where there is no designated taxi area. Finally, based on the blogger’s own experiences, Uber is not available from the Cancun International Airport, but you can be taken to that location. 

Is It Safe to Drive a Car in Cancun?

For the most part, driving within and near Cancun can be safe.   Based on multiple searches online, there are consistent guidelines to follow based on Mexican laws and the cultural standards of the local roads. It may be essential to consider such guidelines to ensure your safety. Below you will find essential guidelines.

  • Spanish signs: All throughout Mexico, all the displayed street signs are primarily in Spanish.  Perhaps, having a basic understanding of Spanish words that are commonly used for driving will help you understand the signs that come up.
  • Driving under the influence: It is best not to drink any alcohol and then attempt to drive, even if you feel that it was a small amount. This could lead to local jail time, and local car insurance from within Mexico can become invalid.
  • Cell phone: Just like the United States, it is illegal for a driver to be physically using a phone while they drive. It will give the local police a direct reason to pull the car over.
  • Seat belts: The driver, front-seat passenger, and all back-seat passengers are required to wear seat belts based on Mexican law all throughout the country.
  • “Topes”: Topes, otherwise known as “speed bumps,” are not as prominent and harder to notice from further away.  Often, a driver may not see it until they are closer and when it is harder to brake. That’s why it is best to watch for any signs and their content. 
  • Potholes: The area near Cancun is noted for having a large number of potholes.  The roads near the Yucatan Peninsula are usually straight and flat. This should not allow a driver to go faster since the conditions may not allow for a car to travel on these roads safely if you do so.
  • Nighttime driving: It is frequently recommended that a traveler refrain from driving at nighttime in Mexico overall, including Cancun.  This is because other cars may not have taillights, roaming animals or random pedestrians are less visible, and minimal overhead lights. 
  • Green Angels: If you break down unexpectedly at night, expect to wait to get assistance from Los Angeles Verdes (aka “Green Angels”) only during the daytime, which is a government-funded team of mechanics and first aid responders.  You can reach them by dialing “078” from any local Mexican phone. Meanwhile, if you are stranded at night, please close your windows, lock all doors, and try to get some rest in the meantime.
  • Turn signals: Along with other details above, another consistent detail is the additional usage of a turn signal within Mexico and Cancun.  Not only can it be used to signal a specific turn, but another frequent usage of a signal is to indicate that the driver is asking you to pass them by.  It is best to note the other car’s actions and determine whether they are turning or indicating otherwise.
  • Driving on the shoulder: Another indication that another car is trying to pass is when they begin to use the turn signal from behind you. There may also be another car using your lane to pass another car on their side. In either case, it is best to use the local shoulder of the road so that you can let a car pass by. 
  • Toll roads: This is common near and within the area of Cancun.  Within Mexico, a toll road is known as a cuota, and a free road is called a libre. Mexican money is accepted, and it is indicated that the toll roads are in better condition than the free roads. You can use the option if you are willing to spend the additional money to get to your destination faster.
  • Gas stations: If you start to travel outside of the main Cancun area, gas stations may be less frequent.  Also, there are certain details that are common throughout Mexico.  All gas stations have workers who will pump the gas for you and accept Mexican money only. If they begin to clean your windshield or do additional services, they are indicating that they would like a tip also. One more important thing to pay attention to is the rare possibility a gas station employee could try to overcharge on the gas or attempt to steal from the car.  
  • Highway exits: Depending on the highway that you take to another area near Cancun, there is a possibility that the destination is accessible on the opposite side of the highway. If that is the case, you will have to keep on driving until another exit comes up and then eventually make the U-turn back so that you can get back to the exit where the destination is available. 
  • Bribing police: There is a chance that a local police officer in Mexico may pull you over even if you have not done anything wrong.  There have been enough encounters with other traveling drivers that a police officer may have been trying to get a bribe, which is called a “mordida.” Whenever this happens, it is recommended not to pay them and ask to be taken to a local station to speak to someone in charge instead.

All of the possible details above may come up when you drive in and near Cancun, Mexico. There is no guarantee that all of them happen, especially since it can be based on some of the decisions you make while you drive in another country.  They were included here so that you can be aware of what may happen based on other travelers’ experiences. 

Conclusion

In the end, one of the initial aspects of planning to Cancun, Mexico, will depend on the length of time that you set aside for your potential trip. If it is going to be an extended stay that is beyond a week, then renting a car in Cancun is feasible. It will also depend on organizing a schedule on how to arrive at your chosen locations, especially if it involves at least a 1-day trip to a nearby town or city. Essentially, if you are a traveler from the US, going to Cancun for the first time will be similar to visiting a different country that has a distinct language, unique culture, and a fascinating culture. 

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