Please tell me about driving & grocery shopping on the Mayan Riviera
February 23, 2015 12:31 PM   Subscribe

In a couple of weeks we're visiting the Mayan Riviera for the 4th time. But it's the first time we're renting a car. What do I need to know about driving along the highway between Cancun airport and Tulum? And where are the best places to get groceries?

We're staying at a villa in Akumal. We've been to Tulum, Puerto Aventuras and Playa Del Carmen on previous visits, but always taken a shuttle from the airport to where we were staying. This time, for various reasons, we're renting a car. We have a reservation with one of the big rental companies at the airport. What should we know about driving from the airport to Akumal, and to various other places along the highway during our stay? I've heard the occasional horror story about tourists being targeted by police for extortion, but hopefully such cases are infrequent? I assume if we're just driving with the flow of traffic on the highway we'll be fine?

The rental booking said something about possible mandatory insurance needing to be bought at the time of pickup. What should we expect in terms of additional charges?

If we go in to Playa for a day/evening, where is the best / safest place to park?

And as a bonus question, as we're staying in a villa we'll need to pick up some groceries on our way there. I understand there are several grocery stores in Playa... which are the easiest to get to from the highway and have a good selection? I also heard there may be a new Chedraui right on the highway near Puerto Aventuras. Can anyone confirm that and whether it is as good as the stores in Playa?
posted by valleys to Travel & Transportation around Playa Del Carmen, Mexico (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
My husband and I rented and drove that road for a few weeks a few years back. No worries -- this isn't an area of robberies and the roads are very to pretty good. Parking in Playa is like parking anywhere, no biggie. We didn't buy groceries but as I recall there are plenty of megamarts. They're fun whether or not you are grocery shopping. And lastly I don't recall the insurance charges being anything exorbitant.
posted by bearwife at 1:19 PM on February 23, 2015


We have rented a car from some agency at the Cancun airport, and never again. It more has to do with the lack of use we made of it, which in turn cost us nearly $300 to rent for four days and then we only used it to get to and from the airport from Playa del Carmen. The drive there was fine and though there were a lot of police on duty, they did not appear to be stopping anyone.

I think we had to buy the insurance, and that is also what a lot of guidebooks say to do in Mexico. The car we received, after waiting 1.5-2 hours in line at the car rental agency, was missing a radio. Be sure to ask for a radio, if that is your thing. It comes nearly empty, and they told us there was a gas station to fill up at a few miles away.

(FWIW, we used a normal car rental agency, this was not a fly-by-night operation.)
posted by wocka wocka wocka at 1:22 PM on February 23, 2015


I just returned from renting and driving a car around Tulum, Playa, and Merida - the last two weeks of January.

What should we know about driving from the airport to Akumal, and to various other places along the highway during our stay?

The highway is fine and easy. You just have to adjust a little to the different driving style in Mexico. Like you said, just go with the flow.

The rental booking said something about possible mandatory insurance needing to be bought at the time of pickup. What should we expect in terms of additional charges?


Yes, You have to buy mandatory liability insurance. It is Mexican law (Same as any other industrialized country requires you to drive with liability insurance). Your non Mexican insurance company is not recognized in Mexico. So you must buy it to rent the car. We rented from America Car Rentals . It was $35 USD a day for the rental car plus insurance. Everything went fine. We didn't have to use the insurance, thankfully.

If we go in to Playa for a day/evening, where is the best / safest place to park?

Any street near the Beach/Center had free parking. We just found a place to park, left the car locked, everything was fine.

which are the easiest to get to from the highway and have a good selection? I also heard there may be a new Chedraui right on the highway near Puerto Aventuras. Can anyone confirm that and whether it is as good as the stores in Playa?

All the Chedrauis are very similar and well stocked mega stores. Found their produce OK. The small fruit and vegetable shops and vendors off the main streets of Tulum consistently had better fruits than any Chedraui I went to.
posted by Lucky Bobo at 1:37 PM on February 23, 2015


We rented a car there last winter and drove all the way from Cancun to Mahahual, down towards the border with Belize, with a stopover at the new supermarket in Tulum for supplies. It's on the road to the ruins so you really can't miss it. That's about 20 minutes further south than Akumal though...I'd imagine there's a Chedraui closer to Akumal itself.

No problems with extortionist cops (although we've never experienced that in multiple trips to the Yucatan).
posted by JaredSeth at 1:48 PM on February 23, 2015


The roads might be good for Mexico, but they're worse than anywhere I've seen in the U.S., including the Road to Hana in Hawaii. Lots of jarring speed bumps, checkpoints with guys holding automatic weapons, and extended periods with lane markers that are merely suggestions. It's fine, we got the hang of it, and so will you, but it is nothing like driving in the states. I was glad our car was so beat up because then I didn't need to worry about getting a ding. For whatever reason, even the "American" rental places seem sketchier. Look for a quote that includes the Mexican third-party liability insurance, it is often more up front but then you don't have to negotiate which insurance you're taking, because they might try to sell you very expensive comprehensive insurance.
posted by wnissen at 2:31 PM on February 23, 2015


the one thing that went wrong when we rented a car for that exact drive from Cancun airport to Tulum was that I'd purposely only brought a card with a low credit limit on it, in case of theft, and without telling us the rental company at the airport placed a hold for... at least $1K, might have been more, on the card. So we hit our card limit well before we were done with our trip, and we didn't have cash, and we were basically screwed. So have a spare card, is my advice!

I never heard of crooked cops on that stretch of road. I do recall some pretty serious speed bumps, much steeper than the ones we are used to in the USA, that require careful slowing-down.
posted by fingersandtoes at 2:31 PM on February 23, 2015


Yes, the insurance on car rentals in mexico is how they get you. They are ridiculously expensive when you pay at the counter, but when booking a car online there is no way to pre pay for it at most agencies. Threatening to walk away when at the counter doesn't work 90% of the time, and they will not accept your credit card insurance coverage, even if you have double checked with the cc company to make sure you're covered in mexico and have a printed out letter to prove it.

The killer is the insurance that is made mandatory by the mexican government is also required to be included in the cost of the rental by the same law, so technically speaking, there should be no other insurances that are mandatory. Doesn't matter what should be happening, only matters what actually happens when you get to the counter.
Having experienced the insurance scam at virtually every single rental agency (the big US names like Avis and Hertz are not exempt and don't care if you complain, in Mexico they are independently owned franchises or something and you will have no recourse with the mother company once you're back here) , this year I rented from America car rentals. I have no complaints except that the car was kind of crappy, but not too much crappier than the other agencies. I rented from America because they were the only place that I was able to pre-pay the insurance online, and as a result it was very much cheaper to do so. It will seem much more expensive than the other online quotes, but remember, this is including the insurance that the other agencies will charge you much more for at the counter.

While I was picking up my car there was another person trying to pick up their rental and essentially throwing a fit because they would not let her use her credit card coverage and were trying to charge her another $35 daily in insurances. She walked and went to find another agency to rent from, but the story will be the same in any agency.
They didn't try to charge me any additional fees, I went over the car and marked on the paper every little scratch, nick, and dent, and also all the damage or missing items on the interior (passenger side shade visor missing), and was out of there quickly. No additional charges on drop off either. They are slightly farther away from the airport than other rental places by about 5 minutes, but worth it to not deal with insurance hassle, IMO.

As far as groceries, on 309 as you head south through Playa there is a service road to the right of the overpass that has a large grocery store in it, going there means you don't have to go into Playa proper. I forget the name and address, but there is a telmex store in the plaza, so you can google map it.
It sounds like your stopping in Akumal, but if you do continue down to Tulum, there is the big St. Francis of Assisi supermarket right on the corner of 307 and the turn off to the Boca Paila Road.
On the road that turns off from 307 (I think this is still called the Boca Paila ) is another really large supermaket that is very walmart like, it's about a kilometer down on the left hand side.

Have fun!
posted by newpotato at 2:38 PM on February 23, 2015


One other thing about the car rental aspect if your trip... if your flight is delayed, call the rental car company and tell them. The person ahead of us in line (Christmas '13) was refused her reserved car because she was six hours "late" due to airline snafus. We were on time but had to wait for another customer to return a car, so I suspect they were short of inventory and used this rationale as a ruse to solve their volume problem, but she got screwed.
posted by carmicha at 4:27 PM on February 23, 2015


I can't say much about car rentals currently because I haven't been to the Yucatan in about 8 years, but I grew up going there often and we would always use Budget car rentals for the drive from Cancun airport to Akumal.
Yes the police stop Americans and extort them for money. It happened to us on that very commute, on the way to the airport. Carry extra cash with you just in case, as losing $30 is preferable to getting a ticket or "going downtown", as the cop put it. It might not happen often but it's a good thing to be aware of, especially if you are female(s) traveling alone.
If you're planning on buying produce, also buy some iodine drops and let the produce soak in water /iodine before you prepare them.
One other word of advice - when you stop to get gas, most of the gas stations are full service stations. Guys descend on your car and start pumping before you can even exit your car a lot of times. Make sure the pump is set back to zero before they start putting gas in your car! These places are notorious for ripping tourists off this way.
posted by lettuce dance at 4:54 AM on February 24, 2015


Seconding keeping an eye out for topes, the speed bump's steroidal Mexican cousin.

Having a car is an excellent opportunity to go visit some more minor and less visited Mayan sites, like Coba, if that's your bag.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 9:22 AM on February 24, 2015


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