Every year, hundred thousands of tourists flock to Cancun to enjoy the beach and sunshine. And why not? Cancun is famous for its turquoise waters, vibrant nightlife, all inclusive resorts and above all, better safety record as compared to other areas of Mexico. However, most of the tourists are afraid of renting a car in Cancun because of fear of unknown. Some of the questions that seem to pop up are as follows:
Is it safe to drive in Mexico?
How good/bad are the road conditions there?
Is renting a car really the best way to get to Chichen Itza?
What happens when you’re pulled over?
Are we supposed to bribe the cops?
It is natural to have these questions. In fact, I’d same questions when I was planning my trip to Cancun and Chichen Itza, and I spent many hours browsing so many different posts online to find answers to all my questions. Now that I have (safely) concluded my trip (haha, not trying to scare you, I promise), I think a blog post is a good idea so that you can find all the information you need at a single location.
Renting a car in Cancun
There are 2 options to choose from when it comes to renting a car in Cancun: rent a car for your entire stay or rent a car for only a part of your stay in Cancun. If you plan to spend most of your time in the resort, I don’t think it’s a good idea to rent a car for your entire trip. Since I’d similar plans, I rented a car just for a day to visit Chichen Itza, Ik Kil cenote and Valladolid.
There are again 2 options when it comes to where to rent the car from: either you can rent the car from the airport itself or you can rent the car from the hotel zone. I chose to rent the car from the hotel zone because it was super convenient and cheap. Since I needed the car only for a part of my trip, I didn’t have to travel all the way to the airport just to rent the car. I was staying at The Westin Laguanamar Ocean Resort and the car rental was located right across the road at La Isla shopping mall.
I rented the car from National at La Isla shopping mall. There are other car rentals too like Alamo, Avis, Hertz, etc located at La Isla shopping mall. If you’re not staying close to La Isla shopping mall, don’t lose heart. I noticed car rentals in other parts of hotel zone as well. Check with your hotel or check online to locate the nearest car rental from your resort. If there are none, you can still rent a car from La Isla shopping mall and choose public transport to get there. Hotel Zone in Cancun boasts strong public transport with buses available throughout day and night within an interval of few minutes. If public transport is not your cup of tea, some car rental companies offer complimentary pick up and drop off from your resort.
DO NOT FORGET TO KEEP YOUR PASSPORT WHEN YOU GO TO PICKUP THE CAR FROM RENTAL AGENCY: I would’ve saved at least an hour if I was aware of it. When booking the car through National, I’d provided my license information. Neither did it ask anywhere to enter my passport info, nor it was mentioned in the rental confirmation email that I’ll have to carry my passport. Since I was planning to kick start the day trip to Chichen Itza right after getting the rental car, I didn’t keep my passport thinking its too risky to carry it along the whole day. And then the worst nightmare came true. The person at rental counter told me he can’t open the contract unless he sees my passport. I went back to my resort, grabbed passport, came back only to find a long queue at rental counter. More time wasted successfully!!! Save yourself from all these hassles and carry your passport while going to rent the car.
I highly recommend getting at least Liability Insurance while renting a car in Mexico. Check with your insurance company to see if they cover incidents in Mexico. From what I’ve read online, I don’t think rental agencies in Mexico accepts auto insurance from USA. But, it doesn’t hurt to check with your rental agency and insurance company if your current insurance will work there. I didn’t check with my insurance company and that’s why I took Liability Coverage on my rental. I didn’t take Collision Damage because it is covered through my Citi credit card.
At the time of handing me over the car keys, the rental guy was going over every minute details in the car like scratches, bumps, spare tire, antenna (believe me!!), etc, which we easily overlook while renting a car in the United States. Because of his ‘nit-pickiness’, I decided to make a video of car in front of him in case he shows the same over delicateness when I return the car. I recommend making a video of the car before driving off from the rental location.
Driving from Cancun to Chichen Itza
There are 2 roads from Cancun that leads you to Chichen Itza, 180 and 180D. One is a toll road (180D) with high speed limit and the other one is a free road (180) that passes through small Mexican towns. I highly recommend taking the toll road because of the following reasons:
- Its Faster: The speed limit, for the most part, is 110 Kms/hour which is much higher than the other road. Additionally, you will not encounter ‘topes‘ (speed bumpers) on the toll road which are abundantly available on the other road.
- Its Access Controlled: Meaning there are designated entry and exit ramps. If you’re used to driving on interstates in USA, this road will be a familiar experience. Well, mostly (barring few people/bicycles coming from opposite direction ;))
- Its Safe: The toll road is a 4 lane divided highway (2 lanes each way) and there is very light traffic on the toll road always, and therefore chances of getting into any type of collision is very low. Also, since you won’t have to pass through the heart of other towns, less chances of getting into any trouble.
Chichen Itza is around 215 kms from hotel zone in Cancun via the toll road and it takes around 2.25 hours. Though it’s a long stretch of road, there is just 1 exit located between Cancun and Chichen Itza, and that exit is for Valladolid. The 2nd exit is the one you will get off the road for Chichen Itza. There is 1 rest area too. In the rest area, you will find food, restrooms and gas. I highly recommend close monitoring of gas level in your car because of absence of gas stations on the toll road.
On your way to Chichen Itza from Cancun, you will have to stop at 2 toll booths. The first one is located at a few kms away from the beginning of the toll road and it charges 285 pesos. The other one is located just before the Chichen Itza exit and it charges 70 pesos. Both the toll booths are cash only and don’t accept credit cards. Make sure you have enough cash, in pesos, in hand for the round trip.
SPEEDING ON THE TOLL ROAD: As I mentioned earlier, the speed limit on the toll road is 110 Kms/hour. Unfortunately, some people don’t find this speed limit high enough and over speed. On my way to Chichen Itza and back, I found at least 2 instances each way where the violators were pulled over by cops. I am not sure what exactly happens to offenders, but I’ve heard many horror stories where they either have to go to nearest police station or have to bribe cops. Either way, it could be a time consuming and frustrating experience. Therefore, I highly recommend driving within speed limit.
Most of the toll road is well marked and you won’t have any issues following your way to Chichen Itza. There is not much to follow anyway: just a couple of exits (Exit 1: Valladolid, Exit 2: Chichen Itza) and a rest area. Just to be on the safer side though, I’d my cellular data roaming enabled in Mexico and I used Google Maps on my phone little bit, mostly while getting on and off the toll road. Though the toll road passes through remote areas/jungle, my phone always had network.
It’s recommended to start the day trip to Chichen Itza from Cancun early in the morning (around 7 or 8 AM) in order to beat the crowd and sun at Chichen Itza. It’s also recommended to avoid toll road after sunset as it’s not well lit and it’s mostly empty. Therefore, plan to start your day trip early from Cancun so that you can return to Cancun around 7 or 8 even if you include Ik Kil and Valladolid to your trip.
Chichen Itza – Fast Facts and Recommendations
- Car parking is available at Chichen Itza and it costs 30 pesos.
- Entrance ticket costs around 285 pesos.
- Credit cards are accepted at the entrance. You will have to pay a nominal card processing fee though.
- Guides are available on site. They typically charge 700 pesos for the ‘highlight’ tour and 900 pesos for full tour.
- Chichen Itza entrance has ramps and it’s handicap accessible. The pavements are not paved in the complex though.
- Most tourist buses start arriving Chichen Itza around 10:00 AM. I highly recommend visiting Chichen Itza early in the morning (around 9:00 AM -10 AM) to beat the crowds and sun.
- There is no drinks or food available once you enter the ticket restricted area. Please come prepared with plenty of water and snacks.
- There is no proper shed available inside the ticket restricted area. Don’t forget to bring along your favorite shades and that cool hat. An umbrella would do too!
- There is a little bit of walking involved if you’re doing the full tour of Chichen Itza. So come prepared in those comfy shoes.
- I recommend spending at least 2 hours at Chichen Itza and then heading to Ik Kil cenote nearby for a cool swim.
Ik Kil Cenote – Fast Facts and Recommendations
- Ik Kil cenote is located just 6 Kms away from Chichen Itza. Directions can be found at Google Maps.
- Car parking is available for free at Ik Kil cenote.
- Entrance to Ik Kil costs 70 pesos.
- Changing rooms are available for both men and women.
- Outdoor showers are available so that you can wash off yourself before and after going to cenote. They won’t let you in if you haven’t taken the shower. Therefore, don’t forget to take shower there before you start climbing down those stairs to cenote.
- Lockers are available for rent at 30 pesos per locker. Cash only.
- Life jackets are available for rent at 30 pesos per person. Cash only.
- I highly recommend renting a life jacket. Water is around 160 ft deep and its not easy to swim in cenote even for good swimmers.
- Since it’s a water related activity, don’t forget to keep your swimming trunk, towel and water shoes.
Valladolid – Fast Facts and Recommendations
- Valladolid is a colonial town located in between Cancun and Chichen Itza.
- There are a couple of cenotes located in and around Valladolid, namely Cenote Ek Balam and Cenote Samula. However, since we went to Ik Kil Cenote, we didn’t go to any Valladolid cenotes on our day trip. You can expect these cenotes to be less crowded than Ik Kil cenote.
- Tourists flock to town square (Parque Francisco Canton) to get small town vibes in Mexico. There are colorful buildings, live music, small vendors and a few nice bars.
- I recommend visiting Valladolid town square towards the end of your day trip to Chichen Itza on your way back to Cancun ONLY if time permits.