What To Know About Driving in Mexico

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One of the things we love to do is take road trips. While traveling through Mexico in 2018 and 2019, we didn’t really have access to a car. Our opportunities for a road trip in Mexico were pretty rare. However, we did have a chance a road trip last week to visit a Monarch butterfly sanctuary in Michoacan state. We had such a great time traveling there and driving in Mexico.

Our Mexico road trip was a relatively short one. The butterfly reserve is only a three to four hour drive from San Miguel de Allende, where we were staying at the time. We decided that a quick weekend road trip would be perfect to get a feel for what driving in Mexico is like. After about of month of being stationary, the kids and I were itching to hit the road!

This post was updated on May 18, 2020.


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The Monarch Butterfly Reserve in Michoacan state (November 2018)

Heading out on a road trip in Mexico

Since we flew into Mexico, and mostly traveled between cities by bus, we needed a way to get to the Monarch butterfly reserve. Direct buses from San Miguel de Allende to the butterfly reserve don’t exist. You would actually need to transfer multiple times to get there. So renting a car for a Mexico road trip was a much better option, and more convenient, for us.

If you’re planning to rent a car in San Miguel de Allende there are a few places where you can rent cars. TransportArte Mexico offers car rentals. As does BajioGo.

We opted to go with a company called BajioGo, which has an office in the central part of San Miguel de Allende. We rented a 4-door Nissan sedan for about 1,000 pesos per day, which equates to roughly $50 per day.

This may be a bit on the pricey side, but the cost includes all the insurance costs. While driving laws in Mexico do not require you to have car insurance, as a traveler, you’re well advised to get it. You never know what might happen on the road!

The Monarch Butterfly Reserve in Michoacan state, where travelers sometimes visit when driving in Mexico
My daughter during our road trip in Mexico (November 2018)

Important things to know before driving in Mexico

The legal driving age in Mexico is 18 years old. According to driving laws in Mexico, if you have a US driver’s license, you can drive and rent a car in Mexico without any special permits. This same rule applies to Canadians. For citizens of other countries, you will need an international driving permit.

For our family, though, we opted to purchase an international driving permit anyway before coming to Mexico, just in case. This is something that you have to get in your home country, before coming to Mexico. American citizens can get their international driving permit at any AAA office around the United States. They cost $20.

The driving laws in Mexico are not that different from the US. This makes getting around Mexico pretty straightforward. The speed limits are in kilometers rather than miles, and are generally slower around cities than when you’re on the open road. One thing that helped us navigate our way around the highways was having an offline Google Map downloaded to my phone. That way I could still follow the driving directions on Google, even when we didn’t have phone signal.

Driving in Mexico on a road trip in Mexico
On the road in Mexico (November 2018)

What it’s like driving in Mexico

My husband did all of the driving while we were in Mexico. According to him, driving in Mexico was relatively easy. Sure, there are the occasional potholes to look out for. But for the most part, the roads were pretty smooth. We also didn’t get stopped by police (thankfully) during our road trip in Mexico, and we avoided accidents.

That said, we have heard stories of people getting stopped by police on the road. Often, they will require some kind of bribe. I can’t offer any advice in this situation as this kind of thing never happened to us while we were driving in Mexico. But just know that it might happened, and be prepared.

Another thing to keep in mind about driving in Mexico is to make sure you stay safe. This means driving the speed limit and wearing your seat belt! Mexican roads are not always in the best condition. We often had to swerve to avoid potholes, and speed humps are not always clearly marked. You might end up doing a number on your car, if you drive too fast over those potholes and speed humps. During our Mexico road trip, I think we must have gone past hundreds of potholes!

My husband driving in Mexico (November 2018)

Navigating Mexican highways

Unlike the United States, there are very few multi-lane interstate highways in Mexico. Many of the highways are one or two lanes in each direction. They cut through small towns and cities along the route. Drivers often enter the flow of traffic directly from cross streets, rather than via an on-ramp.

Cities are clearly marked, however. And turn-offs towards other highways and cities are also marked. You can use Google Maps to navigate your way through Mexico’s highways. Many of the roads and cities are up to date. Keep in mind, however, that drive times will likely take longer than the suggested time on Google Maps. This is due to a combination of the condition of the roads as well as traffic on the roads.

If you’re the type that likes to have a tangible map, you may want to order a Mexico road map before you go. That way, you can see the highways and plan out your route before driving.

The town of Angangueo in Michoacan state, where travelers can stop and visit while driving in Mexico
The town of Angangueo in Michoacan state (November 2018)

Exploring Mexico from the road

Exploring a country from the vantage point of the road is always fun. We love taking road trips in Mexico. And we enjoye the freedom that comes with having access to a car. With a car, you don’t have to deal with bus schedules, and we can go pretty much where ever you want.

If you’re planning on taking your own Mexico road trip, make sure you give yourself a lot of time. And don’t forget to have fun! Mexico is a beautiful country to explore. During our time in Mexico, we’ve had a great time getting to know as much of the cities and nature as we can.

Have you done a road trip in Mexico? Share your experience of driving in Mexico in the comments!

What To Know About Driving In Mexico | The Wandering Daughter

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