Foreign Driver Rating: !!! clearly you enjoy a driving challenge; sometimes bordering on !!!! this rating exists only to frighten people
Driving in Mexico is surprisingly challenging. A main source of the challenge is the topes, speed bumps, which are often unsigned and so enormous they double as launch ramps (a friend of mine hit one too fast and managed to rear end a taxi cab while still flying through the air). The topes are particularly bad in the south of the country, where enterprising locals will have added to them, hoping to force you to slow down enough so that they can sell you roadside snacks and handicrafts. There are also a lot of pre-car roads. Unlike most other countries in the Americas, Mexico had a lot of development during the colonial era, which makes for some charming towns (e.g, Campeche) but lots of narrow streets.
There are also lots of stray dogs on the roads; and road construction is often undertaken by having construction workers randomly walk onto the road and start digging. At times, potholes will be car-destroying. En route to a waterfall in Chiapas we came across a mountain road with a car-size hole in it, completely unsigned. You will definitely want to use a Road Obstruction Canary.
I have heard lots of horror stories about the Mexican police, but I have never had any problems, and generally found the Mexican fuzz to be both polite and helpful.
There is also an insurance scam to be aware of. In order to drive in Mexico you must have Mexican insurance. This law is basically a gift to the Mexican insurance industry; they charge foreign drivers ridiculous rates. Car rental is usually cheap but you’ll pay about $20 per day for the minimum insurance. You can in theory buy insurance in advance online although I’ve not done so, so I can’t tell you if it works.
Mexican toll roads are like being transported to another world; they are lovely although also amazingly expensive. As in, more expensive than US toll roads.
If you hire a car in Cancun make sure you fill up the tank; one of the toll roads leaving town goes for 100 miles without a single exit or service area. Perhaps there was a competition to make a large infrastructure investment that would be useless to the local community. The Yucatan toll roads would have won such a competition handily – many go through the middle of towns with no exits.
Driving in Mexico is more challenging than you’d think. Photo by the author.