Travel in Southern Mexico/Yucatan: drive or bus?
March 3, 2006 8:49 AM   Subscribe

Travel in Southern Mexico/Yucatan: drive or bus?

I've seen the threads on crossing the U.S.-Mexico border with a car, but what about renting a car in Mexico? I'm planning a trip to D.F. (am something of a muralism/Aztec- & Mayan-aesthetics nut and I want to see all the big museums) and was thinking about taking an extra week to check out Oaxaca and/or the Yucatan (excluding Cancun).

The bus system in Mexico appears to be universally loved, but I really like the idea of renting a car. says the base rate for a week's rental of an economy car is about $80--which sounds surprisingly affordable even with the inevitable taxes, insurance, and gas costs on top of it--and is infinitely more convenient for tooling around to various parts of the peninsula than waiting for a bus would be. it practical? Is it safe? Is it a nuisance? I know it's recommended not to be out on the highway after dark, but I haven't seen much other info on the well-advisedness of renting a car in that area.

Otherwise: any preferred bus carriers?
posted by kittyprecious to Travel & Transportation around Mexico (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
We rented a 1999 VW Beetle while in Cancun can drove all over the Yucatan. It was awesome. We made it to Chichen Itza, Tulum, Coba, and a bunch of cenotes scattered around the countryside.

Our total rental cost for a week was around $75. For the most part, the roads were wide open and in reasonably good shape.
posted by daveleck at 8:59 AM on March 3, 2006

Best answer: Yes, exclude Cancun. However, the coastal highways and most byways of the area have regular (i.e., several per hour) small colectivo buses, mostly used by the locals for long-distance commuting, which run hundreds of kilometers and almost all the way to the Belize border.

It's practical, inexpensive and easy, and the drivers always know enough English to get you to where you want to go. I've used them several times to get from the Cancun airport to Merida, Chichen Itza, Valladolid, Tulum Pueblo and several points south.

As far as preferred bus carriers - the colectivos are small white vans, not big buses, but they do have A/C and are ultra cheap - for example, a 3-colectivo trip (merida > cancun; cancun > tulum) would cost you maybe US$8. You can get tourist class buses from the bus depot in Cancun for about triple-quadruple the cost of the Colectivos, though.

Playa del Carmen, a tourist town just outside Cancun, seems to be the hub for these. You can catch one here to almost any point south or east. The highway just south of Valladolid is also a good point to get one. You just flag them down.

Just look for white vans and minivans with a government symbol on the side - I think they are regulated by the Quintana Roo regional government.
posted by luriete at 9:02 AM on March 3, 2006

Best answer: I've travelled in the Yucatan a fair amount by both car and bus and definitely prefer bus. You can see some of my recommendations to the Mayan Riviera side of things here [self link].

Every town has a bus station and buses run frequently along the highway. They come in levels from the basic to the luxurious (the highest end have stewardesses) and are almost always on-time. As luriete stated above, there are also collective taxis (known as colectivos or combis) that run up and down the highway between towns. To catch one, simply walk out to the highway and wait for a large white Ford Econovan with a green or red stripe and the word “Colectivo” painted on the side. Flag it down and hop in – no matter how far you want to go, it will only set you back a few dollars. You can also flag down some of the buses of various companies. The collectivos are used a lot by tourists, so don't be shy. Have a great trip.
posted by Staggering Jack at 9:26 AM on March 3, 2006

Best answer: DF to Yucatan is a looooooooong way by land. An awesome trip, but one that would require more than an extra week. Thankfully flights to Merida are plentiful. From there busses and car rental make the peninsula very accessible.

Avoid the East coast of Yucatan. Unless you go significantly south of the miserable tourist hell that is north east Quintana Roo, you are not going to see anything worth the price. Go to Chichen Itza for a day, because frankly, despite the tourists it's incredible, but then get the hell out of there and go to the more "minor" sites like Dzibilchaltun and Ek Balam. Uxmal is also worth the trip.

If you just want to get out of the DF and want to see ruins, go to Tehutehuacan, seasonally touristy, but simply amazing. Also, take a ride up to Papantla, the pleasant and fragrant center of the Mexican Vanilla industry on the gulf coast, and visit el Tajin. See people fly. Afterwards lie on fabulous beaches on the Costa Esmiralda, vacant on weekdays, packed on weekends.

Oaxaca, awesome.
posted by Pollomacho at 10:05 AM on March 3, 2006

Best answer: I haven't bussed in Mexico so I will defer to the judgement of the others above. However I did recently rent a car out of Cancun for a couple of weeks and for me it was the perfect choice. I was interested in visiting a fair amount of ruins in the south, some off the beaten track. We mostly based ourselves in Mahahual, and did drives to various sites from there, sometimes overnighting. Some of these less visited sites are pretty tough to get to by bus - Kohunlich is well worth the trip, for example.

Driving was simple. All the gas stations are run by the government and charge the same price per litre of gas. Just keep your eye on the rolling numbers while the gas jockey is pumping - (we only ran into one scammer). Fill up when your tank is half full, as there is often quite a distance between stations. The roads up and down the coast in Quintanta Roo were good, and they are not too bad in Campeche either. We didn't drive at night, and I have no idea about other areas.

If you do get a car don't forget that your credit card may cover your insurance. Mine did, but it required me to refuse all insurance from the car rental company. Have a great time, it's a beautiful area.
posted by Cuke at 10:39 AM on March 3, 2006

If you like/can stand traveling in a group, camping out, and not having to deal with complex travel plans of your own, there's always the Green Tortoise...? The people are fun, and the food is good. Much to be said for solo travel, of course. But sometimes a "Hey, how about you guys drive us all to interesting places and deal with the permits, etc. while we party/sleep in this big bus? We'll cook for and entertain each other."
They've got half a dozen Yucatan routes, but they may not be on your individual vacation schedule.

I've only done their US trips, but I've done 6 different ones and they all pretty much rocked.
posted by bartleby at 10:53 AM on March 3, 2006

Response by poster: Wow, you've all been so helpful! As it turnns out, I'm going to have to postpone the Yucatan portion of the trip (lots of research left to do, apparently!) and focus on the DF.
posted by kittyprecious at 11:36 AM on March 3, 2006

I'm surprised to hear it took a week to get from DF to Yucutan. I drove from Laredo to Playa del Carmen in 38 hours. Granted, there wasn't much stopping except to crash and get gas, but still.

I find Mexican roads pleasant and nearly deserted in the countryside. I'd drive, for the experience and convenience.

Once, coming back north between Veracruz and Papantla, I passed through a small town on New Year's Eve. A small crowd was gathered around the town's tope, or speed bump, all in costumes. I remember a giant white bottle. As I coasted up to the bump, everybody gathered around my car and jostled it cheerfully while shouting "Happy New Year!"

Then the crowd parted and I drove on, while they waited for the next car.

On the flip side, I got off the main road once, and got shaken down by a motorcycle cop. When I told him no, I wasn't going to give him "Mohney," he said "But..It's Christmas!"
posted by atchafalaya at 1:29 PM on March 3, 2006

If you drive at night in Mexico watch out for animals (like herds of cows) sleeping on the road. I've had a couple of evenings more exciting than I wanted. After dark drive slow enough to stop easily.
posted by anadem at 10:25 PM on March 3, 2006

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