Can You Drive to Cancun?

By Teo Spengler

Drive it or don't: The road to Cancun

Can You Drive to Cancun?

Most tourists fly to Cancun, the spring-break favorite and party town on Mexico's east coast. But if you have your heart set on a road trip to Cancun, or if it works out better for your budget, it's possible to drive there. There are several hoops to jump through to keep your trip safe and legal. For information on the roads and the requirements, find answers to your questions here.

Q: Can you drive to Cancun?

A: Cancun is connected to Mexico City by road. If you are able to drive to Mexico City from where you are, you can drive to Cancun. Obviously, you can't drive to Cancun from Europe or Australia.

Q: How long does it take to drive from Mexico City to Cancun?

A: A road trip from Mexico City to Cancun is about 1,000 miles. It takes between 24 and 30 hours. Once you get to Merida along the way, an efficient toll road connects you with Cancun. Good roads connect Cancun to the rest of the Yucatan.

Q: What are good stops along the way from Mexico City to Cancun?

A: Driving from Mexico City to Cancun allows you to visit several interesting towns along the way. Consider stopping at Puebla, a colonial city and archaeological site of the Great Pyramid. Also along the way is the city of Cordoba, a UNESCO World Heritage site with a world-famous mosque and narrow streets lined with whitewashed houses. Merida, capital of the Yucatan, has a European flavor and beautiful architecture. And make time for Chichen Itza, site of ancient Mayan temples and pyramids.

Q: How long does it take to drive from the United States?

A: You can drive from El Paso, Texas, to Mexico City in about 21 hours. From San Diego, it's around 30 hours to Mexico City. Add onto that the 30 hours to get from Mexico City to Cancun.

Q: What insurance do I need to drive a car into Mexico from the United States?

A: Insure your car with a Mexican policy before you drive it into Mexico. Your own U.S. policy, even if comprehensive, won't cover you in Mexico. If you are driving your car without Mexican insurance and you are involved in an accident, you might end up in a Mexican jail until liability is resolved. Buy Mexican auto insurance online or at agencies in border towns.

Q: What other documentation do I need to drive from the U.S. to Cancun?

A: Since you're driving beyond the border area, obtain a temporary import permit from a customs office. It is valid for six months. To get the permit, show your passport, driver's license, auto registration, a tourist card and a credit card.

Q: What about renting a car in Mexico?

A: You'll have a hard time renting a car in the U.S. to drive into Mexico, but you can rent a car in most tourist cities or large cities in Mexico. However, car rental companies generally require that a renter be at least 25 years old. Some require that you have had a license for at least two (and sometimes up to five) years. You don't need an international license, but you must show a valid U.S. license.

Q: What else do I need to know?

A: For your own safety, it's best to stay on toll roads whenever possible and drive only during daylight hours. Car theft is a problem in Mexico, so drive with your doors locked and your windows up, and don't pick up hitchhikers. Never drink and drive. Look out for speed bumps called topes. They are often unmarked. Also keep a wary eye out for potholes and animals on the road.

About the Author

Teo Spengler earned a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an M.A. and an M.F.A in creative writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Spengler splits her time between French Basque Country and California.