Driving in another country can be particularly daunting and you’ll find driving in Mérida will be quite different than driving in other parts of the Yucatan Peninsula. Most notably, in Cancun or along the Riviera Maya; think Playa del Carmen and Tulum. In this article, The Complete Guide to Driving in Mérida: 21 Tips BEFORE You Get Behind the Wheel, you’ll discover everything you need to know about how to drive like a local and (hopefully) avoid an accident. If you’ve ever driven in other parts of Mexico, you’ll know driving in the Yucatan is a luxury with well-maintained highways. Not surprisingly, city streets can have their share of potholes. While larger potholes seem to appear after periods of harsh rainy storms, they eventually get filled.
This article was updated in August of 2023.
Driving in Mérida Mexico
Go slow, watch the streets, and look out for the numerous vehicles and pedestrians. You’ll also want to pay careful attention to cars stopping in front of you to allow their passengers to get out of the car. Uber drivers are notorious for stopping quickly on both the left and the right-hand sides of the street. As you are learning to drive in Mérida, keep laser-focused and confident and keep these 21 Tips for Beginners in mind.
#1 Survive driving in Merida by driving “The Mexican Way”
Some drivers are courteous and some are not. Drivers of all types of vehicles weave in and out. Yes, that’s right. Bicycles, trici-taxis (3-wheeled bikes with a seat for passengers), regular taxis, motorcycles, scooters, and other modes of public transportation share the road. Turn signals? What is that? Observe how the locals drive and fall into their examples. You’ll eventually find your way that is a combination of locals, expats, and foreigners.
#2 Use street parking in Mérida with caution
While there are some parking lots and garages around town, typically found in grocery stores or malls, parking can be a challenge. Street parking is to be used with caution. Dents and dings are common. As well as the person that pulls up so close behind you that you can’t get out of your parking place. 2 things to keep in mind: a. Don’t feel like you can park anywhere you want. b. Don’t assume if someone else did it, then you can too.
Pay close attention to the No Parking Signs: the capital E with the red line through it.
#3 Speed limits in Mérida can be suggestions
I would say the majority of Mexicans do not speed. Any kind of traffic offense leads to dealing with the police, it’s better not to do it. Speed limits are posted both in the city and on the highways. However, sometimes it is hard to find the speed limit if you are out for a drive. Maximum speed limits on these roads range from 90 – 110 kilometers per hour. It’s also important to note . . . . Drivers go along with the flow of traffic. So if the speed limit says 40 and the flow of traffic is at 50, then maintain a speed that feels safe and legal for you.
#4 Be aware of the one-way streets in Mérida
While driving in Mérida, you’ll find a system of one-way streets that grid the city. You’ll know the directions by one of these things:
- There may be a small direction arrow on the street sign located on the corner of a building. The street signs are usually a square with the number of the street on them.
- Look at the direction the cars are facing (this is not a hard and fast rule, though).
- Notice which way the signs are facing.
#5 Mexican speed bumps come in all sizes
From a rope across the road to dots on the road to larger humps and massive bumps, all these are used to reduce your speed. The Spanish word for speed bumps is tope or topes. Pronounced TOE-PES, these are intended to slow you down, serve as a warning to a busy intersection, or as a cross-walk for pedestrians. Sometimes there is a warning sign and sometimes there is not. Regardless – Use caution as they can surprise you. They can also do a number on your car if you are going too fast.
#6 Passing tips for tourists who drive in the Yucatan
While the culture of Mexico is a slower pace, this does not apply when driving. If you are going slow, stay in the right lane, or get ready to go with the flow of traffic. On highways, only pass on the left such as the left-hand lane. On smaller roads, like the one you’ll take for a day trip, maintain your speed legally. If another car comes up behind you, pull carefully to the shoulder, and allow them to pass. It’s a common occurrence to find a line of cars behind you if you are not going the speed they want you to. When you want to pass, frequently look all around you to make sure a motorcycle or oncoming car hasn’t snuck up on you while driving in Mérida.
#7 Be overly respectful of the police
Unfortunately, the police are not well respected in Mexico. For this reason, it is an absolute necessity to be overly respectful. If you do get pulled over for any reason, normally the first thing you will hear is about “el respeto” or respect. I’m not sure if the police want foreigners to respect them more. But, by all means, be sincere and do not be confrontational or raise your voice. You may even have to remind them that you are a tourist or new in town and are learning the rules of driving in Mérida.
#8 Why you need Mexican car insurance
There are 2 very important reasons to purchase insurance on your rental car:
- At times, insurance offered by your credit card or your local insurance company does not cover you in Mexico.
- If you get pulled over by the police, they may ask to see a copy of your rental agreement. They are looking to ensure you have proper insurance in the event of an accident. If you don’t have Mexican insurance coverage on your contract, they may write you a ticket.
#9 Is it legal to turn right on red in Mérida?
The rule for turning right is indicated by the sign marked “Continua”. This means you can turn right with caution as oncoming traffic has the right of way. If you are in the Continua lane but are unsure of your next move, wait until you feel secure. Don’t worry about other drivers honking at you. The sign may even say Continua con Precaucion meaning continue with caution.
#10 Road rules for Yucatan pedestrians
Yes, there are cross-walks for pedestrians so be sure you know what these look like. Knowing when you need to pause for people crossing the street is important. However, pedestrians do not have the right of way. It is up to the pedestrian to watch out, pause, or stop to defer to the oncoming traffic. Note . . . The most important pedestrian crosswalks are usually the massive topes that are the same height as the curbs and go across both lanes of the street. Notably, watch out for the continua sign above. Cars may not be looking out for pedestrians when a continua sign is present.
#11 Learn who is really in charge on the road
You’ll find a plethora of vehicles on the road. Not surprisingly, the largest vehicle will rule the road. Yes, trucks are large but buses are bigger and more intimidating. Bus drivers also live on the dangerous side as they know other drivers will avoid them at all costs. They can weave in and out of traffic like they are small scooters. They slow down for nothing. Repeat that three times.
#12 Alto does not mean stop (most of the time)
Mexico has some perfectly fine traffic laws, but they tend to be viewed as suggestions more than rules, or perhaps many drivers are just oblivious – it’s hard to know which. Running red lights, for example, is quite common if the intersection appears to be clear. Alto means stop in Spanish. I’ve yet to come to a full stop and count to three before proceeding. Other drivers have honked at me more times than I can count for actually stopping at an Alto sign.
#13 What happens if there’s an accident?
Make sure you have your rental agreement in the glove compartment. You are not allowed to move your car. DO NOT TALK TO ANYONE! Call your insurance agent OR your rental car representative and let them handle the process. In the event someone is hurt, it’s possible both parties will be detained until the person at fault is determined. Sometimes the police will impound vehicles depending upon the circumstances. If you are found at fault, most likely you’re responsible for the other person’s medical bills and other expenses. Make sure you are covered with the right insurance!
#14 Get used to driving during the day before you drive at night
This may seem like an obvious suggestion but it can be taken for granted. Learning to navigate the narrow streets, watching out for smaller vehicles including motorcycles and bicycles during the day will help you at night. Many streets have poor or no lighting. It can be hard to see motorists much less looking out for the other people on the street. Once you are confident, then begin driving at dusk to acclimate then integrate driving at night. My point is this – One of the hardest things I found driving at night was slowing down for the topes which seem to disappear into the pavement at night.
#15 Watch out for the two-way streets that turn into one-way
You’re finally driving in Mérida and so proud of yourself. But wait, why are people motioning to you from the sidewalk? Oh no! The two-way street you were on turned into a one-way street without any warning. Believe it or not – This has happened to almost all drivers in Mérida. It can be difficult, and even impossible, to understand the nuances of the neighborhood streets unless you actually live in that particular one.
#16 Become familiar with how you pump gas
Remember, gas stations have attendants that will direct you into the proper lane to have your gas tank filled. Locate the gas stations closest to you. Be sure you have all the information you need including how much gas you need, how you are going to pay and, of course, a few pesos for a tip. You won’t find any self-serve gas stations in Mérida. I’ve yet to find a self-serve station in the Yucatan Peninsula.
#17 Do you understand the layout of the city and the addresses?
On the grid of Mérida, even-numbered streets run north-south while odd-numbered streets run east-west. Most of these streets are one way. An important factor to note is that numbering begins anew in each colonia or neighborhood of the city. What does this mean? You’ll find Calle 11 in several different colonias. You’ll need the cross streets as well as the zip code or name of the colonia to find exactly where you are going. Need more information on the layout of Mérida? See A Comprehensive Guide to the Mérida Mexico Map
#18 Lanes are not consistently marked OR you can’t see the lane marking
Narrow, neighborhood streets typically don’t have any type of lane indicators. On some, you may find faded yellow crosswalk lines with a white line indicating where you should stop at a red light. Don’t take for granted that you’ll see visible lines on larger streets either. The Paseo de Montejo or even the Periferico loop that encompasses the city both have faded lane marking making it hard to see the actual lane boundaries.
#19 Rules for Glorietas (roundabouts) are confusing
The lovely center of these round islands typically showcases memorial statuary or monuments. But these can be a huge distraction. Fair warning, you must be calm and careful on these anxiety-causing circles. Yes, there are rules. However, I’ve yet to determine the hard and fast rules for actually using the lanes, which ones to use if you need to go all the way around or if you are making just a quick right turn. You’ll also find traffic lights and odd-off circle lanes.
My best advice (and the way I learned the rules), Angel helped me drive for a few days. In the beginning, I observed the flow of traffic and what drivers were doing. But in the end, it was too confusing and I asked for help. A small price to pay to learn to navigate what I think is the MOST difficult thing to learn while driving in Merida.
On another note –
At one of the largest glorietas on the Paseo de Montejo, catch your breath at a famous Merida Monument. Called the Homeland Monument, Monument to the Fatherland, or in Spanish, Monumento a la Patria, it is the work of sculptor Romulo Rozo. This is an important part of Mexico’s history from the founding of Tenochtitlan until mid-twentieth century. Colorful lighting showcases the monument in the evenings.
#20 Motorcycle accidents are a serious threat in Mérida
Motorcycles of all sizes including scooters zip in and out of traffic at lighting speed. They are the method to deliver food, groceries, and other essentials offered via many apps and online platforms. While wearing helmets is required by law, you will see some people not wearing them. It is also common to see families riding 3, 4, or even 5 people on one scooter. Use special caution when driving because these smaller methods of transportation can creep up on you in a hurry.
#21 Mexico’s Green Angels offer roadside emergency assistance
If you break down, there is a free service called Green Angels. Think about the Mexican equivalent to Triple-A. This helpful bilingual crew patrols federal highways and toll roads throughout Mexico to help stranded motorists. If your vehicle breaks down, pull over to the side of the road. Lift the hood to signal them. Call the phone number: +52 999.983.1184. Although this service is free, be sure to tip your helpful crew. I promise it will be most appreciated. If you break down inside town, you can always walk to the nearest establishment to ask for help. People in Merida are extremely helpful especially in a time of emergency.
If you have an emergency, you can also dial 911 and ask for an English speaking operator.
However, it may take some time before one comes on the line – just to manage expectations.
Final Thoughts on The Complete Guide to Driving in Mérida
5 important tips on my cheat sheet for driving in Mérida:
- Don’t be afraid to drive in Mérida. Get out there and do it. Just like anything else, step by step you’ll learn.
- When you need help, ask for help. This is truly one of the most helpful cities I’ve ever lived in. People love to help, so let them.
- Slow down and pull over to a safe place if you feel frustrated or anxious. Stop, take a few deep breaths and calm down. This happened to me numerous times after being cut off by a bus or a motorcycle. I’ve had more than a few close calls which could have resulted in an accident.
- Learn the layout of the city. If you lose your Wifi signal, this is helpful to know how to get to a major street to get your bearings.
- Be confident in your ability to drive and navigate the streets of Mérida. Own them like a boss.
Ready? Set? Go driving in Mérida and let me know how you did! To chat with other expats and locals, head over to the Facebook Group, and share your driving stories. Everyone has one . . . happy driving!