Tips for Driving in Mexico

Duke and I just finished a 6 week road trip. A month of that was driving through Mexico. We drove down the gulf coast to the Yucatan then through Oaxaca and Mexico City and back north crossing  into the U.S. at Nogales.


Here are a few things we learned about driving in Mexico

  • Topes!  The thing that you notice immediately when you start driving in Mexico are the topes. Topes are everywhere.  A tope is a speed bump. They can be big or enormous or occasionally small. Duke did all the driving on the trip. Although he always slowed down to a crawl to go over the topes we must have scraped the bottom of the car at least once a day. Sometimes on the smaller roads vendors will build topes on the road themselves so that drivers will have to slow down to look at what they are selling.


Road trip 2011 216 

  • Maps  If you are going to drive in Mexico you have to get the Guia Roji Mexicoan Atlas. I can't recommend it highly enough. The maps are up to date, accurate and easy to read. I love this atlas!

Road trip 2011 043 (2)

Road trip 2011 044 (2)

  •  Motels – For most of our trip we looked for a place to stay when we arrived in the town where we wanted to spend the night. Early in the trip we were looking for lodging and saw a place that looked secure – It had high walls and garages – and it looked clean and new, We pulled in and immediately did a U-turn when we saw the sign with room rates by the hour! In the following g days we pulled into motels in other towns. One even had a drive through check in with a drawer to put your money in so you never saw the clerk. They all had walls and garages or curtains across the parking spots, and hourly rates!

Towards the end of our trip Duke asked one of the teachers at our language school about motels in Mexico. He found out that motel has a different meaning in Mexico than it does in the U.S. In Mexico motels are for private assignations. If you are on a road trip like we were you probably don't want to stay in a Mexican motel!

We often saw motels with romantic names but my favorite motel name was Motel Dix 🙂

  • Cuotas and Libres -In general the Mexican roads we drove on were good. Often there are two routes shown on signs. For example a road sign might point to Oaxaca Libre and in a different direction to Oaxaca Cuota.  The Cuota roads are toll roads. They are fairly expensive but usually they are much better roads than the free (Libre) roads. Although this was not always the case. A few times, especially around Vera Cruz the toll roads were terrible. We also traveled on some great free roads. On one libre road we did have a detour around some construction that was actually through a lake!

Road trip 2011 012

  • Driving after Dark in Mexico is probably a bad idea. We made a point of never driving after dark in Mexico. While this is probably a good safety precaution a very good reason to not drive after dark is that hazards are often poorly marked, A hazard could be a big tope that you don't want to hit at speed  or it could be a big rock in the road. On one Cuota in the mountains we came around a corner and there was an enormous bolder at least 15 feet in diameter right in the middle of the road. It may have come down on the road very recently but there were no warnings. I can't imagine trying to avoid it on a unlit road. Hazards aren't usually that bed but roads are often poorly lit and you can come upon construction, an animal or a slow moving vehicle very fast,


  • No deja piedras sobre pavemiente – This sign was a very common sign on many roads. It translates "Don't leave Rocks on the Pavement".  It seemed  like a very odd message for a sign. Duke had to explain it to me.  Frequently when a car breaks down people will put rocks in the road to warn oncoming traffic that the car is in the road. In the U.S. we would be more likely to use flares or cones for the same purpose. The sign is instructing the driver to remove the rocks when the broken down vehicle is moved.

 There are lots of other tips for driving in Mexico. They include things like buying insurance and getting your permit to bring your car in but you can find that information in lots of places. The information above is just some of the odd stuff that I never found explained any where else. If you have questions about our experience. Please leave a comment.

Author: marionvermazen

I am a traveler, hiker, avid reader, Sun alumnus, computer geek, Spanish and French language student, knitter and genealogist. I am retired after working for almost 30 years in the Computer Industry. I live in Reno, Nevada with my husband Duke.

2 thoughts on “Tips for Driving in Mexico”

  1. Nothing like personal experience to generate great advice! Based on the latest news, perhaps they should change the “Don’t leave rocks on the pavement” to “Don’t Leave Bodies on the Pavement.” Just heard that 35 bodies were dumped on a freeway. Yikes! Seriously, did you plan/schedule your border crossings around maximizing the “safety zone”?


  2. We did cross the border early on day one and drive as far south as possible by design. But I think that where the bodies were dumped was along a road near Vera Cruz that we drove on on day 4! Of course we could have got caught in the cross fire near Reno as easily as we could have in Vera Cruz. Thankfully we have seen no bodies in either place!


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