The quality of the roads in Mexico are much lower than found in the United States or Canada. Many roads have large potholes, washouts, or fallen debris blocking part of the road. Never assume any of these things will be blocked off or well marked. Many drivers on the road will be driving at dangerous speeds, consider driving slower than other traffic. Read more about roads and driving in Mexico.
Mexico Driving Information
The following section details information on Mexico- see Roads and Driving for more general information driving in all countries.
Many road signs in Mexico have international symbols on them, however not all do. You may want to keep a Spanish-English dictionary handy in the car if your Spanish is not very good. If you are used to driving in places like the USA, you will be used to looking for signs that point out the highway number, but in Mexico the signs pointing out the highway number are often non-existent, or incorrect. It is better to use the green signs at crossroads that point out the next large town in either direction, which Mexico is very good at maintaining.
In Mexico, speed bumps are called topes, and you will find a large amount of them on all roads in Mexico except toll roads or cuotas. Topes are used in Mexico to slow traffic down when entering populated areas, so be alert when driving into these areas. Topes come in various sizes, from a group of small humps the size of garden hoses to mammoth ones which will scrape the bottoms of many cars. Topes may not be marked or painted, which makes them very hard to see even in the daylight - sometimes skid marks on the road indicate that a tope is near.
It seems that almost every highway in Mexico is under repair. You will see a person on the side of the road without a uniform holding an orange flag. If he is waving the flag up and down in front of himself, you need to stop in front of him, and putting on your hazards on for people behind you is a wise move.
Other Road Hazards
Donkeys, cattle, horses, dogs, pedestrians, and bicyclists will be a common site on and along the roads. Many roads lack shoulders or sidewalks, so there are few places for pedestrians to walk except on the roadbed itself. If there are large rocks on the road, it may indicate a broken-down truck or car ahead (despite the signs asking people not to throw rocks on the road), or may simply be the remnants of a recent rockslide. Either way, defensive and alert driving at all times is important.
Toll roads in Mexico are the only freeway type roads you will find in Mexico. They are fast, safe, but very expensive, which is why you will often find the toll roads deserted. Often there is the option of taking a cuota, or toll road, which is often in better condition than the local, libre roads. Cuota roads are indicated with a 'D' after the road number. The cuota highways can cost up to $30 or $40 depending on the location and distance. The toll roads close to the U.S. border seem to be the most expensive. The cuotas tend to bypass the smaller towns as well, while often the libre roads will narrow and slow down significantly as they pass through downtown areas and markets. Calculate the cost of your route with this handy Mexican Toll Road Calculator.
You can take your car on a ferry from La Paz to either Topolobampo or Mazatlan on the mainland. The ferry has a bar and restaurant. you might want to consider reserving a cabin on the slower ferry. You can buy tickets at a booth in La Paz for the La Paz to Mazatlan or La Paz to Topolobampo ferry. The Baja Ferries site has more information (in Spanish). The trip takes around 18 hours on the slow boat, 12 hours on the fast boat. Prices around $75 USD per person, and around $250 USD for a normal sized vehicle. Note that you will pass through customs and you may be searched.
One and a Half Lane Roads
In some areas, you will find two lane highways with a dotted line on the right hand side of the road and a large paved shoulder. Vehicles on these roads drive partially in the shoulder, giving traffic in both directions a narrow amount of room to pass in the middle. Watch for vehicles driving halfway off the road, and be very careful when passing vehicles since an oncoming car may try to pass at the same time. Middle passing lanes have been removed in the United States due to the high rate of accidents.
On many of the non toll roads, especially along the Michoacan coast and in Chiapas, there are many military checkpoints. These can seem alarming with the bunkers, machine guns, and men in full uniforms, but they are mainly there to combat drug dealers and illegal immigrants. If you are stopped, they typically ask where you came from, where you are going, and where you are from originally. They may ask to see your passport and even search the car. They are very professional, courteous, and even friendly, you may want to smile and chat with them if you feel comfortable.
In 1989 Mexico State and Mexico City enacted a series of driving restrictions called hoy no circula (today my car won’t drive) aimed at reducing traffic and pollution. The rules, which do apply to any vehicle not registered and plated in the state of Mexico, mean that the last digit of your license plate determines which weekday morning (5 am to 11 am) you are not allowed to drive your car in Mexico City. For example, if the last digit of your plate is “2” it means you can’t drive Thursday mornings. In 2008 a Saturday restriction was also added. For example, based on the 2 at end of your plate you are not allowed to drive at all on the fourth Saturday of every month. You can exempt your vehicle from these rules by getting an inspection and emissions certification sticker for around $5. However, diesel vehicles are never given exemption. There’s not a lot of info available online but the best information is available at Wikipedia's Hoy no circula article. The cops in Mexico can and will pull you over and the penalty is a $100 fine and they can also impound your vehicle. Technically these rules apply to the entire state of Mexico, however, we have only ever seen them enforced in Mexico City.
In Mexico, if a slow moving truck in front of you turns on their left turn signal, they may be indicating that it safe to pass. However, if the driver turns on their left turn signal and waves their arm out the window, they are indicating that they will be making a left turn.
Gas stations are commonly found everywhere in Mexico, with the exceptions being:
- Baja Peninsula - The northern part of the Baja desert you can go 4 hours without a gas station, with no sign warnings.
- Carretera Fronteriza - The highway that follows the Guatemalan - Mexican border has only one gas station.
- Yucatan Peninsula - Long distances between gas stations.
Gas prices are expressed in the units of the specific country. 10/8/08: Price is in Mexican Peso ($) per liter Regular (Magna): $7.25/liter Conversion: 1L=0.26 gallonsGas prices are expressed in the units of the specific country.
Before filling up your tank, be sure the gas station attendant has zero-d the pump. A common scam is to not zero the pump from the previous fill-up, so you will pay for someone else's gas (that they already paid for) in addition to your own gas.