Heading to Mexico and thinking of driving in Mexico City or maybe even starting a road trip from there? Look no further, in this post, I would share with you some tips on driving in Mexico City and give you some road trip ideas. At the end of this post, I will also share with you my opinion on whether it’s worth renting a car in Mexico City.
Without further ado, let’s get started.
Where to rent a car in Mexico City?
Depending on what’s your itinerary and whether you’re planning to drive in Mexico City or just outside it (on a road trip), you can rent a car close to your hotel or at the airport. We always rent cars either from rentalcars.com or on Avis.com.
Is driving in Mexico City dangerous?
Many people assume that driving in Mexico City is dangerous. Well, while I wouldn’t say it’s dangerous, I’ve seen quite a few cases of reckless driving, especially late in the evenings. The rules on drinking and driving are quite relaxed in Mexico City, so most people drive their cars after having a couple of tequila shots or 3 pints of beer. Hence, there are many accidents happening at night.
Tip: Avoid driving in Mexico City around 10 pm-midnight.
The driving style in Mexico is very different from Europe or the US. People change lanes a lot, there is a lot of traffic and cars just try to squeeze into the other lanes without signalling. We’ve been driving in Mexico 3 times (well, technically, Pepe is from Mexico City, so he’s been driving there for 7 years before moving to the UK) and 3 times I’ve seen the same pattern.
The driving style in Mexico City
Mexico City is huge and traffic in the capital is among the worst ones in the world. You can easily spend a couple of hours in a traffic jam and it’s tiring. Moreover, you need to be 100% attentive because not all people follow the driving rules.
Hours to avoid in Mexico City (Traffic)
If you decide to hire a car in Mexico City, there are certain hours you should avoid, unless you want to spend hours in a traffic jam. First, these are hours, when people are driving to the office. The morning rush hour usually starts as early as 7 am and ends around 9 – 9:30 am.
Then, you need to avoid driving around 1 pm – 3 pm – that’s the time when parents pick up kids from school.
Finally, avoid driving from 5 pm to 8 pm – that’s when people leave the office and drive home.
That leaves you with the time slots of 9:30 am to 1 pm, 3 pm to 5 pm and 8 pm until 7 am, where you get a relatively free city.
Street vendors & window cleaners on the roads in Mexico City
Street vendors are very common in Mexico City. So are street performers and window cleaners. Window cleaners on the road of Mexico City are very persistent. They usually “catch” you in a traffic jam or on a red light. If you spot a window cleaner approaching you – just indicate with your hand that you don’t need a clean. Otherwise, they will clean your window and will demand a payment. The payment can be as low as a couple of pesos, but if you don’t watch out, your windows will be cleaned at every traffic light.
Street vendors are easier to avoid, as they need to sell you their service first. Street performers usually dance or juggle 3 or more balls in front of the cars at the traffic light and then go around and ask for some change. All the vendors are generally harmless, however, make sure that your car doors are locked. Just in case.
Areas to avoid in Mexico City while driving
While Mexico City isn’t a very dangerous place in general, some areas should be avoided. Try not to drive on small streets and always stick to bigger roads (unless you’re in Coyoacan or Condesa). However, don’t try to drive around following neighbourhoods, as they aren’t very safe:
El Barrio Norte
The city centre isn’t very safe either – while you can drive there, don’t leave any valuables in your car.
Valet parking is normal (Parking in Mexico City)
Mexico City has a severe lack of parking in the city centre and generally in some popular areas. So it’s completely normal to leave your car at a valet parking and give your keys to a random stranger working or helping at the parking. At first, it was a shocking experience for me, but then I got used to it seeing people leaving keys to BMW X6 when going to a nice restaurant.
However, make sure not to leave any valuables in your car, when leaving it at a valet parking.
Driving alternatives in Mexico City
While transport isn’t always great in Mexico City and some areas aren’t well connected to the metro, you can always take a taxi. I would recommend taking an Uber instead of a taxi, as there are always controversies of people being kidnapped by a taxi (these cases are sadly relatively common), while there is significantly less risk being kidnapped in an Uber.
But don’t worry, as a foreigner, you will be relatively safe and it’s highly unlikely that somebody will try to kidnap (this mostly happens with wealthy Mexican families).
To sum it up, if you feel like driving in Mexico City isn’t your cup of tea, switch on roaming or buy a local SIM card and use Uber or Bolt instead.
A road trip starting in Mexico City:
If you want to hire a car just to drive around Mexico City – don’t. It’s easier and cheaper to use Uber and other ride-sharing apps. However, if you are also planning on driving outside of Mexico City on a day trip or a weekend trip, then it’s worth it.
One of great road trip ideas would be going to the ruins of Teotihuacan. You can read more about Teotihuacan in this post.
Another great weekend trip idea would be going to the two of Mexico’s pueblos magicos – Guanajuato and San Miguel de Allende. You can read a bit more about our experience driving to Guanajuato and San Miguel here.
Summary of the guide to driving in Mexico City:
To sum it up, I must say that I recommend hiring a car in Mexico City to go on a day trip or a weekend trip somewhere else. In my opinion, it’s not worth hiring a car if you’re just going to drive around Mexico City. Driving in Mexico City is not easy, but it’s not impossible. There are also some areas, which you should avoid. Finally, watch out for the window cleaners!
Some other posts about Mexico you might find useful:
Scams to avoid in Mexico City
Driving from Mexico City to San Miguel de Allende
Visiting Mexico City and Riviera Maya in one trip
Things to do in Coyoacan, the best district in Mexico City
Is Mexico City dangerous?
Our wedding in Mexico
Honeymoon in Mexico
Cancun vs Riviera Maya – which is better
Mexico bucket list – 20 places to visit in Mexico
Best resorts in Riviera Maya