If you plan to drive in Mexico there are a few things to consider: toll roads, driving “rules”, and restrictions.
1. Toll Roads
In Mexico the main highway system is a series of connected toll roads, however alternative free roads are offered (at your own risk). We were advised to remain on toll roads as they are better maintained and safer. Of course, the cost of the tolls do add up, but the price is well worth it to drive on a maintained road. The toll varies from as little as $1 to $20, to get an idea of the toll cost for your chosen route check out this mapping service.
2. Driving “Rules”
Driving in Mexico, while similar to the US, has some unwritten rules of conduct. For one, we learned that drivers do not stop at a yellow light, but keep going and only after the light is decidedly red do they stop. For left turns there are not dedicated turn signals, instead wait until the light turns red then go, this is your window of opportunity. Drive as fast as you can with the flow of traffic, the speed limit signs mean nothing, that is why you have to keep your eyes peeled for speed bumps. Called topes, these handy speed deterrents are used all over Mexico for speed control. Last but not least, passing around slower moving cars or trucks on a one-lane road is common, just make sure to avoid passing on hills, curves or blind turns. Driving in Mexico felt like the wild west, no hard and fast rules, just action and guts. I’m not sure how I’ll ever get used to driving in rule obsessed US again!
3. Mexico City driving restrictions
Before arriving in Mexico I read briefly about the driving restrictions known as Hoy No Circula in Mexico City, however I was unclear how they worked until we were forced to postpone our drive from Metepec to Palenque because all highways pass through Mexico City. Due to the large regional population, vehicle congestion and concern about high pollution levels the government enforces a restriction based on license plate numbers, only allowing certain vehicles to drive on certain days within the limits of Mexico City. For example, the license plate number of our vehicle ends in a 2 so we were unable to drive in the city on Thursdays and because we are tourists our vehicle was not allowed to drive in the city on Saturdays and everyday before 11am. I am not sure how rigorous they are about enforcing the rules, but we were not going to risk it to find out, to enter and exit the city you go through a toll booth where there are armed guards, so presumably they are checking license plates. To find out more read here.