If you look at a map of the Yucatan Peninsula, you will clearly see that Mérida and Cancun are connect by one very straight road. This is actually Highway 180 (or carretera federal 180). It starts in the north of the country and winds its way down through many states before connecting Merida to the Caribbean Coast. You can drive directly from Mérida to Cancun or take one of the exits and travel further south to Playa del Carmen and Tulum. Ready to learn more about the Mérida to Cancun highway?
We hear lots of questions from travelers making their way from Mérida to the state of Quintana Roo and the glorious Caribbean Coast. So we’ve put them into an article, helping you find all the information you need!
Is the Mérida to Cancun highway safe?
The highways in the Yucatan Peninsula are generally very safe. You are unlikely to have any incidents driving between the Mérida to Cancun highway along the toll road, or cuota in Spanish. They have been constructed with tourism in mind so the roads are easy to drive on. There are usually police vehicles stationed at the border between Yucatan and Quintana Roo but they don’t usually stop drivers. You might just have to slow down as you pass by!
Under normal circumstances (when there is no construction), the highway is generally not bustling with traffic. Why is this? Well, the toll roads are considered expensive and there is still the option to take the non-toll route across the peninsula. It’s also a dual carriageway so the chances of traffic are quite low unless you hit a spot with some work taking place.
As the peninsula is rather flat, so is this highway. We suggest not travelling alone and making sure you’re prepared for a somewhat monotonous journey. There also aren’t many opportunities to use the bathroom so stop at the services by Valladolid or at the toll booths.
How much are the tolls?
So you’ve chosen to take the toll road. Good job! We highly recommend taking the toll road as opposed to the longer route through the towns of Yucatan. The cost of tolls might surprise you. To enter and depart the 4-lane stretch of highway that crosses the peninsula you will hit 2 toll booths. This applies whether your final destination is Cancun, Tulum or another destination.
Currently, as of December 2021, cost for a single vehicle is $196 MXN at the Merida end and $336 if you travel the whole highway and end up in Cancun. You absolutely MUST have cash as these toll booths currently only accept cash and sadly not card. If you find that you have no cash there is an option to transfer money. Just be prepared to add a small additional chunk of time to your journey.
An alternative is to purchase a prepaid card which means that you can pass through the toll without stopping. This involves topping up the card online in advance and is a good option if you regularly make this journey.
Can I stop for gas along the way?
For such a long road on the Mérida to Cancun highway, there are surprisingly few gas stations for you to top up your vehicle. We strongly recommend thinking this through before you set off on your journey. Heading out from Merida you’ll pass a few Pemex and other gas stations for the first 10-15 minutes. But after that it might be tricky to find a gas station until you near Valladolid. And coming from the other direction, DEFINITELy make sure you have a full tank before you leave the towns of Quintana Roo. Even Playa del Carmen and Cancun have very few stations on the way out of town.
The person who tops up your gas can also check your tires for you and clean your windscreen. But remember to tip! Around $5 pesos is sufficient and a little more if they’ve pumped up your tires.
Is there food or drink along the way?
Again, our advice is to stock up on snacks before you embark on your journey. The only “services” are close to Valladolid and, despite being on of the only stops on the whole highway, they don’t really really have a lot of options. You can grab a snack or a coffee at Subway or Italian Coffee or some Mexican food at the canteen-like kitchen. There are a couple of shops too and always some guys selling fruit, snacks and miscellaneous items from boxes or baskets. It’s the best stop for a bathroom break but that’s about it.
If you want to break up your journey and eat in a restaurant, take the exit for Valladolid. Enjoy lunch in this beautiful colonial town center and enjoy some local Yucatecan food. Travelling in from the highway will take about 20 minutes so consider this when organising your trip.
Does Tren Maya construction interfere with traffic?
The answer is simply yes. Due to finish in 2024, the construction of the Tren Maya route most certainly has affected the highway connecting Merida to Quintana Roo. As of December 2021, you can expect to find sections of the highway blocked. You will cross onto either brand new highway or single lane traffic on the old highway. Add between 45 minutes to an hour to your expected journey time. All it takes is a period of being stuck behind a construction truck and you’ll be set back by up to an hour!
Some important sign vocabulary to remember while you’re traveling during the Tren Maya construction:
- Inicio de obra or Inicio zona de obra = construction work starts here or construction zone starts here.
- Alto = if you live in Mexico then you’ll be accustomed to this already but a red Alto sign means STOP.
Additional tips for your journey for the Mérida to Cancun highway
If you don’t have your own vehicle, we recommend renting a car with Mayan Drive Rental Car.
For some ideas on what to take with you if you are exploring the peninsula, check out another one of our recent articles. Use this list of important items to make sure you prepare yourselves fully for your Yucatan adventures!
There is currently a lot of misinformation about the Mexican government cracking down on entry visas for visitors from the USA and Canada. Whatever your situation, take all your documents (plus copies) with you! It’s better to be prepared, just in case you should need to prove your status or purpose here in Mexico.