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Should you rent a car in Cancun?

In cooperation with: Visit Mexico
British Columbia...
1 post
2 reviews
2 helpful votes
Should you rent a car in Cancun?

Our 10 day trip to Cancun this Dec had 9 days of fun in the sun, with much needed relaxation and family time. Being our fourth trip to Mexico, the latest being 9 years ago, we did notice an increase in hustling when on the streets of the cities, but all in all, what we had come to expect and know from our experiences, including ones shared by other family members.

The last day changed our minds completely, about vacationing in Mexico again… which is a shame for not only us, but also the good people we have met and interacted with from Mexico. The people there have been warm, helpful, and easy to tip because they were working hard. We've even hosted 2 students from different areas in Mexico, in our home, while they participated in our school district's International Education Program. Spending 10 months with these boys was so great and meeting some of their families was an added bonus; what an incredible experience! Warm, caring people who have a strong love for family, a laid back attitude and a hilarious sense of humor.

We rented a car and an Airbnb with no problems, other than the car was smaller than we required. I asked for an upgrade as we are very tall people, but with the high season, none were available, so I asked to be called when one arrived. I never did get that call and ended up having to rent another car as more family arrived. I added my sister in law as an additional driver on the second car and off we went, two families together for some fun in the sun!

It was the drive back to return the first car, on our way to the airport, that changed our views regarding vacationing in Mexico. We were stopped by the police, not once, but twice. We were not speeding and cars were zooming past us. They take your driver's license and tell you that you must go to the police station and pay the ticket to get it back. I asked where the police station was. No answer both times. I then knew that what they wanted. I had read about this before our trip and had warned my husband, so he told the officer we would miss our flight and put some money on the ticket book. The license was given back and we were on our way. The second time it happened; we knew the drill and just wanted to get to the airport and leave a place where there is so much corruption. It is difficult to feel safe when the enforcement steals from you and you feel targeted.

I informed my sister in law about what had happened and warned her that they would probably target her as well. They left the next day and she was stopped twice too! She drove like a granny because we had warned her. Then, outside the airport entrance, the security stopped the family of five and went through their things, taking more; their children were traumatized with the 3 negative experiences. Both families say they will never go back, but I think you have to live through those experiences to truly understand why. I'm sure their full story will be posted as well… its not mine to tell..

My husband, who has 26 years as a trained investigator and law enforcement officer, seems to have figured it all out. When you rent a car in Cancun, he believes the car rental companies are in partnership with the police. They know when you are returning the car and they look for your plate. It may sound far fetched to some, but if you observe and think about it, I agree. We drove there for the first 9 days with absolutely no problems. Then, two families have the same situation, one day apart? When you are leaving enough time to get the car back and check in for your flight, you don’t have time to go to a police station. Also, we were not speeding. We had a 3 hour delay on our flight and we started to talk to people, my husband asking questions. Those we spoke to who rented cars/bikes/jeeps, did not have problems until they were leaving.

Our advice to travelers is to stick to the nice resorts, stay inside, only do tours booked through the hotel and don't rent cars. Stash small amounts of peso and ID all around your person. If you are stopped by anyone, just give them the cash, show there is nothing more in your wallet and hopefully, carry on.

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19 replies to this topic
Halifax, Canada
Destination Expert
for Cancun, Puerto Aventuras, Yucatan Peninsula
Level Contributor
6,857 posts
27 reviews
604 helpful votes
1. Re: Should you rent a car in Cancun?

We love Cancun but I would never rent a car as this is an on going issue. Plus the driving is a tad crazy there for me. Some people rent cars all of the time and say on here that they never have an issue and have only great experiences. It would just be too stressful for me personally but everyone is different. When cars are heading to the airport is when they are usually targeted as they know the time restriction will cause panic and the money will flow. I am so sorry that this happened and twice to both families is horrible.

Massachusetts
Level Contributor
5,538 posts
265 reviews
133 helpful votes
2. Re: Should you rent a car in Cancun?

2 reviews in 7 years on TA, and only 2 posts (other is the same as this) on the forums ....

Calgary
Destination Expert
for Akumal, Riviera Maya, Cancun, Yucatan Peninsula
Level Contributor
26,354 posts
8 reviews
68 helpful votes
3. Re: Should you rent a car in Cancun?

I'm sorry this happened to you.

This is a well known, and well documented scam and the road to the airport is especially notorious as a shake-down spot. There are, however, many threads on these forums as to what to do to avoid paying the bribe. Such threads also tell you how to avoid being scammed by the car rental company and gas stations, although you don't seem to have encountered any problems with those (forutunately).

Dallas, Texas
Level Contributor
231 posts
4. Re: Should you rent a car in Cancun?

I don't get it, why is getting pulled over in Mexico a scam, but getting pulled over here in the USA not a scam?

Police working together with car rental places to scam tourist? That doesn't make sense. Did you guys happen to notice that rental cars have different license plates than regular vehicles? Cops can tell a rental car just by looking at the plates.

When I was younger, had a car that attracted attention, and I lost track of how many times I got pulled over for doing 70mph on the highway, which was the flow of traffic.

Here in the states once you get a ticket you have to either pay it, or take time to go fight the ticket. In Mexico you can do the "right" thing and get your ticket, which requires you giving the officer some type of collateral (usually your driver's license) then when you pay your fine you get your license back. You also have the option to just bribe the officer for a much lower fee than what you would pay for the actual fine.

And to your comment "their children were traumatized with the 3 negative experiences", I can only assume you are white, because here in the states latino and black kids go through much more traumatizing experiences.

I think the issue is much more simple that you might think, there were probably speed traps by the airport the days you and your relatives drove by.

Level Contributor
25 posts
123 reviews
30 helpful votes
5. Re: Should you rent a car in Cancun?

It is disgusting that the Cancun police continue to target tourists, it happened to us last February. I notice that as soon as you start heading East of the Caribbean tourist areas, the police harassment of tourists stops. I would also urge fellow tourists who have had this experience it to post it on travel sites like this. Maybe the city officials and rental car agencies will get the message. I'm considering entering the Yucatan via Merida airport on our next visit and avoiding Quintana Roo altogether.

Tampa, Florida
Level Contributor
3,735 posts
67 reviews
177 helpful votes
6. Re: Should you rent a car in Cancun?

Not to sound like a broken record, but if you don't do research, and you have a hard time saying no, then its best not to rent ca car.

A ticket serves in place of your license for 5 days. You don't have to immediately go to pay it. And you don't have to abandon your vehicle since they have your license. Just make it clear that you know how it's supposed to work and that you won't pay anything and expect a ticket if you did something wrong. If you are going straight to the airport to drop off your car, then who cares? You won't need your license any more and can get it replaced when you return home (or order a duplicate online from the DMV before your trip for a very low price. (only $25 in my state).

cancun.gob.mx/transparencia/files/2011/12/Re…

Here's a very interesting read I found online. The transit regulations for Benito Juarez municipality (which is Cancun). It goes into great detail various infractions and fines and penalties, fines are which are based on the minimum wage For example, running a red light 15-20 times the minimum wage. Using your phone with your hands while driving 20-25 times, speeding, 25-30 times. Driving drunk ; administrative arrest between 20-36 hours. In the case of minor infractions, where the license is retained, the ticket serves as a license for 5 days and you can still drive. The fine is reduced by 50% if paid within 15 days. so a 2600 peso speeding ticket is actually only 1300 when paid early. (See page 52). It even spells out the program to forgive tourists up to two minor traffic infractions with the tarejeton turistico cards the rental car companies used to give out. (But I haven't seen those in years) See page 51

Research and assertiveness are the key to not having problems. This isn't the place to leave your stones (huevos, as they say in Mexico) at home

Minnesota
Level Contributor
124 posts
13 reviews
9 helpful votes
7. Re: Should you rent a car in Cancun?

MommaCanada- you mention the "security" outside the airport taking "more" from the family, please elaborate... I didn't know there was security outside the airport and what exactly did they take?

michigan
Level Contributor
422 posts
2 reviews
1 helpful vote
8. Re: Should you rent a car in Cancun?

I am sorry you experienced this. I needed to rent a van for my family of 6 traveling in August 2017. I read and re- read all of the precautions. Gas tricks, parking tricks, bribes....I was terrified and fully expected to be stopped or pulled over at least once.

We followed the advice on this forum and because the police pulling tourists over on the way to the airport is a well known problem...we avoided it. We dropped our car off in Playa del carmen and taxied to the airport.

It was just less stressful of a solution for me.

We just returned from a 5 day trip in Akumal and because it was a short trip, just my husband and I, we did not have a need for a car so we hired Canada transfers for our transfer to and from our condo. Talking to the driver, he fully acknowledged that tourists attempting to return cars to the airport is just stupid. He, the driver, was the one that brought it up. Any local that you talk to will tell you the same thing. The cops on the way to the airport will and do pull over and bribe tourists. Why not just avoid it?

There are times that NOT renting a van or car ( a group of 6 staying 2.5 weeks ) is not an option, so just know how to avoid all of the problems raised on this forum.

I certainly would not let it stop me from vacationing in paradise. And I would not let it stop me from renting a car. I'm selfish to admit though that it wouldn't hurt my feelings if the area loses a few tourists. The Riviera Maya is so crowded compared to 20 years ago. Again though, when you talk to locals... they like the change. They welcome the tourists dollar as it is much needed to support their families.

I can't stress enough that reading this forum and taking the advice on here really helps provide a less stressful vacation.

Massachusetts
Level Contributor
5,538 posts
265 reviews
133 helpful votes
9. Re: Should you rent a car in Cancun?

You're right, Wendy. Using a good transfer service from airport to lodging makes so much more sense. We rented a car in the hotel zone for 1 day for our drive to Tulum, and had ZERO issues during the drive (except for getting slightly lost by taking a wrong exit off a rotary in downtown Cancun!) My wife kept her eyes on the speed limit signs on route 307, and we just let the locals and buses speed by us, staying in the right lane. Watching for the speed bumps was my job!

michigan
Level Contributor
422 posts
2 reviews
1 helpful vote
10. Re: Should you rent a car in Cancun?

fflbrgst- Thats funny! We had a designated tope person too! We did rent from the airport ( ISIS ) but they had an office in Playa that they said was fine, probably more convenient for them, to drop off at.

There are so many companies that are family run ( ISIS ) that will do their best to accommodate you.

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