Finally, today is the day! These were the words that had been circling through my head for ages.
It was December 4th, we were heading towards Vienna airport to catch our flight to Cancun. Obviously, when you are travelling to such breath-taking places like Mexico you have your things to do list ready but first let us tell you more things to keep in mind first.
To get to Mexico you can fly with a few different airlines (depending on your departure destination) but we decided on a flight from Vienna with SWISS Air operated by Edelwiess. When you take this route, the first leg is a short flight to Zurich Switzerland, with a short stopover there, then the long haul flight to Cancun. For some who do not travel very often, or have not taken flights longer than 6 hours, it might feel like it is too long a flight, but trust me the time spent on-board is worth it!
Depending on your location it may take all day to get from A to B, however on your flight the airlines offer in-flight entertainment that helps bring down the boredom of a long-flight a bit. The flight from Zurich to Cancun takes 12 hours, whereas on the way back you shave off about 3 hours on your E.T.A. You are probably asking how’s that possible? It is simple! It is the Jet Stream phenomenon – a high-altitude current of wind that rotates around the globe from west to east, and therefore flights from east to west usually take longer.
After a good night’s sleep in a hotel nearby the airport – we stayed overnight in the Marriott Courtyard – it was time to hit the road to the first point of interest. We chose the Yucatecan cultural hub of Valladolid located approximately 1 hour and 50 minutes by car from Cancun. Of course, you can travel by bus which is the most common mode of transportation in Mexico, but car hire gives you the freedom to visit whatever place you want as quickly and conveniently as possible.
Car rentals can be found at the airport and because Courtyard hotel operates a free shuttle-bus service for their guests every 30 minutes, it is easy to return to the airport precinct where the car-hire companies operate pretty much 24hrs a day. Most car-hire offices are located very close to the airport but some are also available directly near Terminal 1 and 4, and there are also service-desks within the arrival terminals for most well-known car-hire companies like Hertz and Avis.
We chose Mex Rent-a-Car. In Europe you would pay a few hundred Euros for a 2 week hire, but here we only paid 110 USD and an extra 30 USD for a ‘return with empty fuel tank’ option Total price then was 140 USD (128 EURO) ; a super cheap option if you are planning a few trips. At the time we went in December 2019, prices of petrol ranged from 19 MXN up to 22 MXN per liter which is 0.92 to 1.07 EURO or 1.01 to 1.17 USD.
Although the price was low, the car we hired was not at all bad – an automatic, air-conditioned, well maintained modern 4-door Kia sedan. Of course we could have chosen from Ford mustangs, BMWs, Minis, luxury sport cars, 4WDs – all of which were available at Mex car-hire.
As the maximum speed limit is 110 km/h on the highway and 40 to 60 km/h while driving through towns and villages there is really no need for a high-end powerful muscle-car, unless you are a serious petrol-head! You can drive anywhere hassle free really. Just one warning, petrol stations are more likely to be located in cities or towns so rather fill your tank up before travel because petrol stations are quite rare on the highways in the middle of the Yucatan jungle!
When you arrive a Valladolid bear in mind that the streets are narrow with cars parked right up against the side so drive carefully. However overall orientation in the town is easy. The town is mostly laid-out in a grid pattern with each street or road labelled ‘Calle’, followed by a specific number sequentially, so all you need to remember is the street number of a place you are going to, and count the streets as you pass-by! Our destination was Hotel El Mesón del Marqués opposite el Parque la Mestiza, directly in the middle of Valladolid, a fantastic place to stay and soon we will give every reason to book a room.
Generally, taking a bus is the most common way of transportation in Mexico but it does not give as much freedom as hiring a car. Of course, we had looked at all the options of car rental availability but in the end it was MEX Rent a Car who won it with us.
They usually offer 2 types of cars in a certain price range that you can choose from (usually the price-range categories are classified as either small, standard, luxury, sport, SUV, family van) – either an automatic or manual transmission car. Whichever one you pick, their recommendation is always best as they know the roads better and also their car’s condition and quirks. Personally, we are used to manual cars, but this time we chose an automatic car – to try something different and also make the driving less hassle some.
Also, Petrol/Benzine cars were much more common than Diesel cars in the small-medium categories offered by the various car hire companies we checked-out at the time of our stay, we opted for a petrol-engined car. Electric cars were not offered for hire – probably due to the lack of charging facilities across the Yucatan peninsula, especially outside of major towns like Cancun, Merida and Valladolid.
The entire rental period of 14 days cost only 3200.61 MXN, which is around 140 USD or 125 EURO. There is also a refundable damage deposit payable up-front, which is usually in the form of a ‘hold’ on a credit-card, which is reversed upon returning the car in the same condition that it was when hired.
Take plenty of detailed photos of the car as you inspect it (especially damage, scratches, other faults both externally and internally) before taking possession of the car, and confirm the accuracy of the condition-report with the representative who inspects the car with you before you sign – that way any disputes can be quickly resolved. In our case, the car was variously scratched and dented in minor ways, but on returning the car it was in exactly the same condition, so there was no dispute and no problem with reversing the deposit ‘hold’ on our credit card when we returned the car.
When you travel around the peninsula bear in mind that petrol stations are not located at every corner. For this reason we strongly recommend getting some ‘‘juice’’ before traveling, or on your way divert via a bigger town where petrol stations are more likely to be to fill-up if you have low fuel.
Yucatan is a very green lush part of Mexico where everything flourishes and is in harmony with nature which means not much street lighting is available, even on the highways. Direction and turn-off, speed-limit signage were sometimes obscured by the fast-growing and thick jungle trees and vines on our trips from Cancun to Valladolid, also from Valladolid to Tulum along the main highway, so be aware of when you should be taking an exit by estimating the distance travelled from the odometer, or use dedicated map software on your phone and keep to the speed limits to avoid missing a vital turn-off or exit.
Another important driving caution to be aware of, particular to Mexico is that within the towns, and at certain points along the highways (where there are main crossroads or security checkpoint stations between the provinces) and also before passing through a small local town or village, there are dramatically raised speed-bumps designed to slow cars down. They are called ‘Topes’, and are well signed beforehand, but are a smaller width and have a much higher profile than the type common to Europe.
So, if you travel across them at more than 30 km/h you risk scrapping the underside of the car and causing damage. Be careful, as they are not all uniformly the same height and width profile and thus will require a much lower speed than recommended – as low as 10 km/h in some cases. Take the hint from cars travelling in front of you, if possible, and watch carefully how the local drivers negotiate them, keep well below 30 km/h and pay attention to the highway signs is my best advice.
Usually places like Tulum, specifically along the beach side road at night-time, pedestrians rely on either incidental lighting from hotels or cars headlights to illuminate their path, or you must have a torch/headlamp. The best way to go for short-distance walks at night is either to use your mobile phone or a torch/headlamp for lighting your path, so you can have a safe evening walk perhaps to one of the plentiful local restaurants.
There is also a large and vibrant taxi service in Tulum’s beach area, so if you decide that the walk is too odious, then flagging down a taxi is very easy, though the fares can vary from driver to driver, so asking the driver exactly how-much the fare is, after you flag him down, is a good idea – there are no set tariffs.
Hope you find all this information useful for your visit. Get ready for a ride through the jungle!