Yucatan Peninsula Roadtrip

22.01.20 09:09 AM By Putri

For our 2019-2020 winter getaway we were planning to go to Guadeloupe and Martinique but thanks to my inexistent time management skill, I couldn’t find the time between my chaotic work schedule to apply for the visa to enter the countries (which means that, for a weak passport like mine, I would need to apply it via the French embassy and go through the same procedure as applying for a Schengen visa). 

I know that Nico was super annoyed at me because of this, I could tell from his glare so intense, it's enough to melt what was left of the planetary ice cap. So as a measure of good intention, I told him that I could take him to Mexico if he felt like it. Little that I realized, Mexico is huge. Apparently. It ranges from the resort-full coastal area to Mayan jungle, to desert area, to Aztec ruins, to tamales. What I’m saying is I know shit about Mexico, let alone to have a trip there. But Nico seemed interested and he was instantly happy again. All good in the hood, olé!

I need to check my bank balance. 

The Yucatan Peninsula

Yucatan is a word that I learnt only a few months before our departure from a friend who spent their summer traveling in the area. One might think (one means me) that the word Yucatan somewhat derived from the word yuca the root (cassava).  To my disappointment, it does not, proven by the lack of yuca ingredients in their local meal.  
Yuca , without the tan...

The Yucatan peninsula lies in southeastern Mexico and it separates the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico, and it is nominated as the safest place in Mexico to travel. Yucatan peninsula itself is divided into 3 states Yucatan, Quintana Roo, and Campeche, and we managed to drove around two of the three states: Quintana Roo and Yucatan. Click here for our simple itinerary that visits the major Yucatan spots.

Driving in the Yucatan Peninsula

Road trip is honestly the best way to travel because it allows us to travel where ever we want,  on our own pace and the Yucatan peninsula road and traffic conditions are just perfect to have a road trip, and here is why:

1.    Renting a car is easy. 

Car rentals are easy to find. Assuming you fly into Cancun airport, you will find yourself harassed by car rental sales as soon as you get out of the custom. Big rental cars like Alamo, Hertz, Thrifty have their own shuttle service that offers pick-up from the airport to their garage, and they will take you to the airport once you drop off the car at the end of your travel at their garage, free of charge! 

Insurance. Big brands of international car rentals operate side by side along with the local brands, and every one of them seems to have a very low price. Some crazy prices we saw were as low as 7$ per day! But of course, this is the bare cost for smallest car, without insurance, and you WANT insurance for your car, especially when you are abroad. Don’t be surprised, before getting your keys, the final bill will be more than what you’ve expected (doubled, even). 

Tips: the garage will  take a close look at the car with you to fill out the form to state the condition of the car before you take it on the road, take pics of the car, inside and out, just in case. 

GPS or no GPS. We didn’t add any GPS because we have a carrier unlocked cheap phone dedicated when we go abroad. This travel phone is useful for putting a local sim card in and act as GPS. We (we means Nico, because I don’t know how to use a map, electronic one nor papyrus one) downloaded Google maps for Yucatan beforehand so we can use it even without the internet. Mr. Eveready even marked places we wanted to visit so we just had to click on the destination, et voila, the map led us to it. 

Tips: Get a local sim card at the nearest OXXO (some kind of a local brand 7eleven) and ask the guy to activate the card for you. 

International driving license. Nope, didn’t need one, they only asked for a driving license. 

Big cars or small cars. Although most of the roads are in good condition, most of them are not that wide, it’s best to get an economy car, it’s easier in urban conditions, easy to park and cheaper on fuel as well.

2.    The road condition is well maintained and we all drive on the right lane

The roads are surprisingly well maintained with clear signs of directions and speed limits. We were there right on the Christmas – New Year period, and the traffic wasn’t terrifying at all. Well, getting out of the airport area was a mess because we had to compete with buses, taxis, cars, and big shuttles. It was a bit overwhelming to drive among them while at the same time trying to figure out where we were going. But eventually once we were out the airport area, the traffic cleared out and my butt cheeks unclenched. 

Paid highways. There are not many paid highways (Cuota) in the Yucatan peninsula, we took only one for the long-distance; Chiquila – Valladolid, and Valladolid-Cancun. The paid highways aren’t that expensive, it just long and boring
The (in)famous Topes. Topes are Mexican speed bumps. It comes in every size and shape. Some are made from tiny metal lumps, a block of  cement, or a piece of old tire. Like any speed bump, these topes are meant to slow down traffic. You will find these topes mostly before entering or exiting a village, busy intersections, around schools and markets. Most topes are well indicated, most of them..

Parking. Speaking about parking, free parking is available by the roads in most places. It is well indicated by the road and relatively safe. Just make sure you park on the designated area (look out for the E sign for Estacionamiento (parking)) and don’t leave anything on the back seat that might attract the curious minds. 

Fuelling up. Fuel price is almost the same as what we pay in Canada, around 1 CAD++. The staff will be happy to help you fuel, simply tell them how much you want to fill, half tank, fuel tank, or how much you are paying. Sometimes they offer complete service where they wash your winshield, which is very useful after all those suicidal insects smudged themselves against your moving car. Tips are not obligatory, but much appreciated. 

Tips: not every gas station accepts cards so prepare some cash with you, at least keep cash for tipping. If you use a credit card to pay, make sure you have your passport close by because they will check the name on the credit card to match your passport, and your passport  photo to match your actual face. 

3.    Military or police checking points are just doing their job

Okay, for those who gets nervous for no reason in the presence of the authority, you might get intimidated whenever you see a check point with guards in uniform holding ratata guns. I know I was. But then again, I am that kind of person that suddenly has a panic attack before going through the scanners at airports worrying that some 3 kg of pure cocaine and a hand grenade would magically appear in my hand luggage that I prepared and locked before I left home.  Military or police checking points are everywhere, especially on the big roads and you are obliged to slow down or even stop if they ask you to. 
We all heard about the corrupt Mexican police stories that would stop you for money, however, not once did his happened to us (yeay!). We did get stopped multiple times especially because our car DID NOT HAVE A FREAKIN’ PLAT NUMBER. Yep, the car was so new, barely made 18km of mileage, that it hasn’t even had its plate number yet. What it had was a piece of paper stuck on its back window as a temp replacement for the legally needed plat. Although we didn’t get into real trouble because of it, it did cost me some more butt-clenching moments every time some police asked us about the absent plat number, all I could say is ‘’rentar, senor’’, lucky for us, they all let us continue our trip without any hassle. It’s must be a Christmas miracle. Make sure your rental car has a plat number on it, y'all! Makes life easier.

All and all, I am more than glad that Nico decided to do our Yucatan trip on the road. Yes, it was Mr. Eveready that had the idea to rent a car. I would never come up with that because I don’t have a driving license. The car gave us the freedom to do the trip on our pace, our own style (read: lots and lots of stops for toilets, picture taking, and taco breaks), and it cost around 20$ per day in average which actually pretty cheap, compared to taking public transport where you have to pay per butt, per trip, which can eventually add up.