Renting a car in Merida can make getting around the Yucatan peninsula a lot easier. It gives you a lot more freedom and flexibility in your schedule rather than depending on buses and public transport.
And while ADO buses can be a low-cost and comfortable way of getting to popular historical and tourist sites, they often run on limited schedules and do not service every part of the state. So, even interesting Mayan cities such as Mayapan and Xcambo can be tricky to get to if you do not have access to a vehicle.
Fortunately, renting a car in Merida and driving around the Yucatan is not as intimidating as it may sound. The roads here are typically well-maintained and in very good condition.
In many ways, driving in Mexico is not all that different from driving in the US and in other parts of the world. The Yucatan police tend to be fairly strict and so, people take a lot of care to adhere to road rules here.
Renting a car in Merida
Several reputable international rental companies operate in Merida. This includes Enterprise, Budget, and Hertz.
Because scams do exist in Mexico, it is generally safer to rent a vehicle from a known brand, rather than a smaller independent firm. Discover Cars is a great comparison platform that allows you to compare and contrast vehicles and rental deals between various different providers in Merida.
You can typically find a car rental in Merida for between $20 and $30 per day, including full coverage insurance. Sometimes you may find cheaper deals available via smaller rental companies.
But for the most part, if something seems too good to be true, it usually is. The search functions on Discover Cars enable you to search by vehicle type, pick-up location, and vehicle properties (e.g. automatic vs manual, air conditioning, etc).
Always check past reviews when searching for Merida car rentals. Discover Cars has its own review section, and you can also check Google reviews.
Requirements for renting a car in Merida
There are a few requirements that you need to meet in order to rent a car in Merida. Most rental companies will only rent their vehicles to drivers who are aged 25 and above.
Some may allow you to rent a car from them if you are over 21, while others may rent to those aged 18 and above. Still, younger drivers should expect to have to pay a premium for both the rental and the insurance.
You need to have a full driving license and a credit card to rent a car in Mexico. If your driving license is written in the Latin alphabet (including UK, USA, Australian, NZ, and most European licenses), you do not need an international driving permit.
However, if it is displayed in another alphabet (e.g. Japanese, Korean, Cyrillic, etc), you need to get an IDP in advance of your trip. The process for obtaining an international driving permit varies from country to country. You can find more information here.
Think about your pickup and drop-off location
You can pick up your Merida car rental from Merida international airport or elsewhere in the city center. Sometimes, the price is marginally more expensive to collect the vehicle from the airport so this is worth looking into.
Merida airport is located within Merida city limits (it is about 25 minutes south of the historic center). So, you can always take a cab from the airport to your hotel and pick the vehicle up a day or two later, if that works out more convenient.
For the most part, you can explore most of the things to do in Merida on foot. So, you really don’t need a car for your Merida itinerary, until you start doing day trips from Merida and exploring other parts of the Yucatan state.
This is worth keeping in mind. You can save yourself some money by waiting until you leave Merida to pick up a Merida rental car.
You should also think about your dropoff location. If you plan on embarking on a wider Yucatan itinerary, you may be considering picking up your vehicle in Merida and dropping it off in Cancun.
However, one-way rentals are often substantially more expensive than rentals where you pick up and drop off the car in one place. So, you may want to consider doing your itinerary in a loop.
Checks to do when collecting your Merida rental car
Once you choose a car rental company and arrange your vehicle pickup, you will be required to sign a disclaimer and an inventory checklist. This is to confirm that you received the vehicle in a certain condition.
You should check both the interior and exterior of the vehicle thoroughly before driving off with it. If there is any issue, scratch, or knick on the vehicle, no matter how minor, be sure to document them.
It is a good idea to take photos of the vehicle. That way, you have time-stamped photo evidence of the condition in that you received it.
Do the same when you return the vehicle at the end of your trip so that you can prove that you gave it back in good condition. Unfortunately, scams exist everywhere so it is always better to cover yourself and be safe than sorry.
Driving in the Yucatan
Driving in the Yucatan is a safe and pleasant experience. While some areas of Mexico require a lot more care and caution for driving in (e.g. Chiapas or Jalisco states), driving in the Yucatan is not really that different from driving in the United States.
The roads in the entire Yucatan peninsula (tristate area of Yucatan, Campeche, and Quintana Roo) are modern and very well maintained. This is in part due to the sheer amount of tourists that visit this region en route to world-famous attractions like Chichen Itza, Valladolid, and Izamal.
You don’t have to worry about potholes, hazards, etc. In Mexico, you drive on the right-hand of the road like in much of the world.
The maximum speed limit on a Mexican highway is 110 Km/h. On main roads, the limit is up to 70 Km/h.
In local areas, it is 40 Km/h, and in pedestrian zones close to schools and hospitals it is 20 Km/h. Roads are well sign-posted and it is easy to navigate.
You should look out for speedbumps (topes) in the Yucatan. There are many of these along roads and highways, some are very steep and they are often not signposted.
Tren Maya construction work in the Yucatan
You should note that a huge construction project is currently underway in the Yucatan to build a train around the peninsula (Tren Maya). This is due for completion in late 2023 and will make it easier for tourists to get around Southern Mexico and to points of tourist interest.
The only issue is that the construction has caused massive diversions and disruptions to traffic. This is particularly true of the stretch of road between Cancun and Valladolid (180D).
Several sections of the road are closed and only one direction of traffic is permitted to operate at a time. Allow more time when planning your journeys if you plan on driving to/from Cancun.
As an example, in normal times, it takes about 4 hours to get from Cancun to Merida. With the construction and diversions, this journey is taking as long as 6 hours.
Is driving in the Yucatan safe?
The Yucatan peninsula is a very safe place in general. You can feel very safe and comfortable driving here.
Merida too is the safest city in Mexico. Most travel resources will advise you against driving in Mexico at night.
In Merida and the Yucatan, this isn’t due to crime or danger, but mostly because the roads here are not well-lit. Most Yucatan highways and roads do not have any street lights so it is more difficult to see hazards at night.
Many sections of the Yucatan peninsula are protected nature zones. So, hazards here are often things like wildlife wandering into the road, packs of stray dogs, and pedestrians in rural areas.
Try to do your long-distance driving during the daytime if you can. In the Yucatan, you don’t need to worry about being held up by bandits or anything like that.
There is little criminal activity around Merida and the Yucatan state. There is a high police presence here too.
Criminal groups do operate in Quintana Roo, particularly around Cancun. It is good to be aware of this, but it is extremely unlikely that this will impact your trip in any way.
Police checkpoints in the Yucatan
You are likely to encounter a couple of police checkpoints while driving in Merida and the Yucatan. These exist for everyone’s safety, rather than being something that you need to be concerned about.
You will note police checkpoints at border crossings (e.g. when you exit the Yucatan state and cross into Campeche, or when you exit the Yucatan and enter Quintana Roo). There also tends to be a permanent police checkpoint just outside the Merida city limits.
The police are looking for any illegal activity. For instance, illegal substances, weapons, criminals, etc.
Most of the time, they just wave you through and you are very unlikely to be stopped. If you are stopped, don’t worry.
Just be sure to carry your passport and any visa documents with you at all times so that you can present these if/when requested. The police will quickly check your vehicle and then send you on your way.
There is also often an alcohol control checkpoint just outside the beach town of Progreso at weekends. Sometimes, you may be asked to breathe into a breathalyzer. If alcohol is detected or your results come back inconclusive, you will be asked to pull over and do another.
Pick up a Mexican sim card
Picking up a Mexican sim card is a good way to stay connected while you are traveling in the Yucatan. If you have a US or Canadian sim card, your plan ought to work in Mexico.
(Double-check before you travel). Alternatively, if you are coming from Europe or elsewhere, you may find that you need to purchase a Mexican sim card.
This is a good safety measure to help you stay connected while traveling, especially in the event of breaking down on remote roads. (It may be unlikely but it is worth being prepared for every eventuality, right?)
Not every Merida car rental comes with GPS unless you specifically request it when you book. It is a good idea to download an offline map app such as Maps Me so that you can easily navigate your way around.
Large areas of the Yucatan (particularly the southern part of Campeche state and the central Yucatan state) have zero signal. You will not have any data or phone signal in some areas so you need to know where you are going.
Insurance and Merida car rentals
Insurance is essential for renting a car in Merida. If you have international coverage through your credit card or via some other insurance plan, do check the small print before you travel.
A lot of car insurance policies do not cover Mexico and you may find that you have to purchase additional coverage. At a minimum, you need personal liability insurance when renting a car in Merida, but ideally, you should purchase full coverage insurance.
If you use a platform like Discover Cars, you can purchase your insurance at the same time that you book your vehicle. That way, you know that everything is covered before your trip.
Scams do exist in Mexico which is another reason why you need to always read past reviews and check the reputation of a car rental company that you are considering before you book. A common Mexican insurance scam is that the car rental company will refuse to let you take their vehicle unless you pay for their insurance.
It doesn’t matter if you have an alternative insurance plan. They simply won’t let you leave the rental office with their vehicle. Since you are at their mercy, people often then find themselves having to pay more.
Do I need full coverage insurance?
It is better to opt for full coverage insurance when you are renting a car in Merida (or anywhere). That way, you know that you are covered for every eventuality.
This usually means that there are no deductibles. Butt again, you need to check the small print.
Some small things such as the windows, the windscreens, the wing mirrors, etc may not be covered. You may not need to pay a deposit with full coverage insurance or at maximum, it may be $100-$200 USD. This can be several hundreds/thousands of dollars with limited liability insurance.
Road rules in the Yucatan
There are a few road rules that you need to be aware of when renting a car in Merida. You need to wear your seatbelt at all times and it is illegal to use your phone at the wheel.
There is a lot of police around the Yucatan, particularly in Merida. They will not hesitate to stop you if you are doing something you shouldn’t be, so don’t give them a reason to do so.
Speeding is an offense here, as is driving under the influence. The blood alcohol limit in Mexico is 0.8, although in other states it is lower at 0.4 (in Mexico City, Hidalgo, Jalisco, etc).
Fines and penalties for breaking road rules when driving in Mexico are severe. People automatically think of corruption at any mention of the Mexican police but the Yucatan police are usually pretty straight.
If you do find yourself in a situation where you have been stopped by the police and you are being asked to give a bribe, ask to speak to the boss ¨jefe¨. That is usually enough to deter them
Gas stations in Merida and the Yucatan
Gas stations in Mexico are full-service. That means that people will pump your gas for you.
You pay at the pump, rather than having to get out of your vehicle and go into the station store. It is polite to give a small tip of 10-20 pesos if you can.
Usually, as one person is pumping your gas, another will ask if you want them to clean your windshields. If you say yes, you should give them 10-20 pesos for this.
FAQs about Renting a Car in Merida
Do you have any more burning questions or concerns about renting a car in Merida? Hopefully, you will find the answers you are looking for below.
Do you need a car in Merida Mexico?
The Yucatan capital of Merida is a large city and the attractions are somewhat spread out. You don’t need a car to explore the historic center and can explore most of the city’s main squares, museums, and promenades on foot.
The Mayan world museum is located in the northern part of the city and is a short drive away from the center. Similarly, Dzibilchaltun is just north of the city center and is best reached by car.
However, both places can be reached by Uber/public transport if you prefer not to pay for a car rental.
How do you get around Merida?
You can get around the historic center of Merida on foot. There are also small buggies offering private city tours and in the interest of being ethical and kind to animals, you can now take electric carts rather than horse-drawn ones.
Buses do run around Merida, and from Merida to Campeche, Celestun, and other places of interest in the Yucatan peninsula. The inner city buses and colectivos (minivans) run on infrequent schedules which can be tricky to understand as a tourist.
Uber and Didi (a local alternative to Uber) and great ways to get around the city. You can usually get from one side of Merida to another for less than $4.
Of course, renting a car in Merida gives you a lot more freedom and flexibility, particularly if you are planning on visiting other places in the Yucatan. Within Merida too, having a car allows you to visit Merida restaurants and Yucatan haciendas that are on the outskirts of town or in the northern part of the city.
Final thoughts on renting a car in Merida
Are you planning on renting a car in Merida during your time in Mexico? It can make getting around the Yucatan peninsula a lot easier, particularly if you are planning to visit lesser-known ruins and archeological sites.
If you are visiting Mexico for the first time, you might also enjoy this list of tips to know before you go. Have a wonderful time exploring Latin America! Buen Viaje! Xo