why renting a car in cancun

Why Renting a Car in Cancun Will Make Your Trip Awesome

For some travelers who are on vacation in Mexico, renting a car in Cancun seems unnecessary.  After all, there are amazing beaches, huge hotels and all-inclusive resorts that cater to your every need.  However, some of the hotels in Cancun are a bit isolated.  So you can feel trapped.  And if you ever want to do more than lay at the beach, or drink something other than high priced pina coladas, you will find it’s not very convenient to leave the resort.  Plus, we believe some of the very best places to see and things to do are beyond the walls of the resorts in Cancun.

So here’s why you will definitely want to rent a car in Cancun!
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Stopping for a quick bite to eat on our way through the Yucatan

First, Why Plan a Trip to Cancun?

Quickly, if you don’t know already…let’s talk about what people love about Cancun.  For many, Cancun is the ultimate beach vacation destination.  With nearly 14 miles worth of beautiful, white sandy beaches and picturesque blue water, it oozes tranquility and relaxation.  Plus, the area has a great tourist infrastructure set up — with a seemingly endless number of hotels and resorts for every budget as well as a wide variety of activities. But it’s not just Cancun.  

The entire area south to Playa Del Carmen and Tulum is often called the Rivera Maya — and it is a haven for beach vacationers.  The reason visiting the Yucatan region of Mexico is so popular, especially for people from the States, is because it’s just exotic enough.  It’s technically another country, with a unique language and culture, yet it is still familiar for many people in the States — especially those who enjoy Mexican food and culture.  Lastly, for those people coming from the Southeastern part of the States, it’s a relatively short flight with a lot of flight and vacation package deals as well. For more information about planning a trip to Mexico, check out our full Mexico Travel Guide!

So Why Will You Want to Rent a Car in Cancun?

1. Resorts in Cancun Have Limited Transportation

The Cancun area is famous for it’s all-inclusive resorts.  With package deals that include loads of amenities, entertainment, some activities, food and drinks, it’s no wonder they are popular for people who really just want to get away and enjoy their vacation in Cancun. The problem is, regardless of whether or not you choose an all-inclusive resort in Cancun or choose to stay in a normal hotel, you still have limited options for transportation.  Sure some travelers are happy to stay at the resort the entire time and never leave.  But unless you are on an unlimited eating and drinking plan at your hotel, those prices for each margarita and cerveza are going to be sky high!  Plus, we’ve found that some of the best food, conversation and drinks are found away from the hotel.  So at some point, you might want to get away and see something different.

Yes, we did love our all-inclusive resort in Cancun! renting a car in cancun
Yes, we did love our all-inclusive resort in Cancun!

While some resorts will offer shuttle services to popular tourist areas, near the hotel,  it’s still a bit inconvenient and the distance is likely limited.  It doesn’t really give travelers much freedom to explore or venture out of the main areas. In fact, on our most recent visit to Cancun we stayed at an all-inclusive.  And while we loved lounging by the pool, strolling along the beach, and eating at the restaurants, some days we wanted to just get away to experience something different.  We wanted to check out some unique markets and find some amazing (and cheap) local food in Cancun (which we definitely found!). It would have been difficult and more time consuming to navigate with taxis and local transportation — so we were happy that we ended up getting a Cancun car rental for our entire trip!  Having the car just made it so much more convenient to make a quick trip out of the resort and go wherever we wanted…whenever we wanted.

Driving in the center of Cancun - mainly locals. renting a car in cancun,
Driving in the center of Cancun – mainly locals.

2. It’s More Interesting Outside Cancun’s Hotel Zone

Many of the popular hotels in Cancun are in the Hotel Zone — a thin piece of land that stretches out and loops back to the mainland.  It is surrounded by water, the ocean on one side and a lagoon on the other. This means that there are beaches & hotels everywhere.  It’s beautiful, that’s for sure…but there isn’t much else out there. Being a beach destination, the primary things to do during a trip to Cancun revolves around the water.  From renting jet skis, going parasailing, fishing, snorkeling, etc.  So you will find some gear and equipment rental shops as well as day tour operators located out in the Hotel Zone.  There are also a few touristy markets on the northern part of the Hotel Zone, as well as some restaurants. However, we found many of the restaurants to be quite touristy and popular chains that we would find in the States!

Sorry, but I didn’t go on a trip to Cancun to eat at an Outback Steakhouse!

So while there are things to do in Cancun’s Hotel Zone, it is limited.  If you really have any desire to check out the local shopping, food, culture, and historic sites, then you will really want to get out of the Hotel Zone.  This is when renting a car in Cancun will come in handy!

Raphael's set up outside Mercado 28 in Cancun, Mexico. best lunch in cancun, renting a car in cancun
Our best lunch in Cancun – Raphael’s set up outside Mercado 28 in Cancun, Mexico

3. Getting Around is SO Much Easier by Rental Car in Cancun

Cancun’s Hotel Zone is big!  It’s mostly made up of large hotels and resorts, which makes it difficult to explore on foot because big hotel properties mean that you can walk for a long time just to get to the neighboring resort. There are local buses that go up and down the tourist zone, and into town.  You can hop on one easily, just be sure to have Pesos to pay, and be prepared for an non-air-conditioned, possibly bumpy ride.  And if you don’t speak some Spanish, you could have a few difficulties trying to navigate.  Personally, we don’t mind taking local transportation when we travel, but some tourists are not up for such an experience. Another downside is that it always takes longer to get around on public transportation.   You could also take a cab, but cabs can get expensive.  So while cabs may work if you just want to go into downtown Cancun, they won’t be ideal if you want to venture out of the city or to some far flung attractions.  So renting a car in Cancun will really make it easier for you to quickly go wherever you want to go – no waiting for public buses or negotiating with taxi drivers in Spanish!

4. Day Tours Aren’t For Everyone

Many travelers who visit Cancun opt to take day tours as a way to get off the resort and scope out the area beyond Cancun.  As they should!!!  There are many popular day tours available, specifically day tours of Chichen Itza. These day tours are a great option for travelers who don’t feel comfortable driving or venturing out on their own.  Day tours are also a good idea if visitors just want to get away from the resort for only a day and don’t want the hassles of renting a car or navitating.  But day tours are not always best.

See More & Have Flexibility

While we do take our fair share of day tours when we travel, we personally prefer to rent a car when in Cancun so we can explore on our own…mainly because there are so many things to see!  We love being able to pull off the road and check out a hole-in-the-wall restaurant, or stop off at a cool site that wasn’t on the map.  That’s how we ended up at a tequila distillery and how we found the beautiful colonial town of Valladolid.

Stay Longer, If You Want!

There are so many things to do in the Cancun area, that you might get tired from rushing from place to place with a tour guide.  For example, when we stumbled across the town of Valladolid, we actually ended up staying all afternoon!  We relaxed in a restaurant in an old colonial building overlooking the church, waiting out the monsoon rain outside.  Then we strolled the central square and did some shopping. We never intended to stay so long in this town…but we just loved it.  And renting a car in Cancun gave us the ability to change up our schedule for the day and stay longer to enjoy it!

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Enjoying the beautiful scenery in the center of town – Valladolid, Mexico

Get Away From the Crowds

Again, tours can be really good for a variety of reasons.  But during our vacation in Cancun, the purpose of getting away from the resort was to escape from the crowds of tourists.  And unfortunately when you are on a group day tour…you are surrounded by a big crowd of tourists!  It’s not just your tour group though…it’s all the other tour groups too! If you rent a car in Cancun, then you don’t have to follow the crowds and you can go in off-times of the day – perhaps when the day-trippers have already left! A great example of this was when we went swimming at some amazing cenotes outside of Cancun.  These enormous sinkholes are filled with crystal clear, fresh water.  They are wonderfully refreshing to go swimming, but the are not so fun when it is crowded with loud tour groups — echoing off the cave walls!  On more than one occasion, we arrived when the tour groups were already well into their swim-time at the cenotes.  Then shortly after our arrival, they all left.

And I can’t tell you how amazingly tranquil the experience was AFTER the tour groups had left.

Driving in Mexico

Overall, renting a car in Cancun and driving around the Yucatan on our own made it feel like we got to see and do so much more than if we would have just stayed at a resort, and taken day tours each day.  The Yucatan area is quite safe and tourist friendly for driving, so there is no need to worry.  For more information, check out our detailed post about tips for driving in Mexico.

More Accommodation Choices Beyond Pricey Cancun

Another huge benefit to renting a car in Cancun is that you can expand your options when looking for accommodations.  While there are many top-rated resorts and hotels in Cancun, some of those in prime areas of Cancun are crazy expensive.  And they may not actually be the best quality out there. If you rent a car, then you can easily make your way out to more remote areas to stay.  For example, on a previous visit to the Cancun area we stayed at a bungalow on the beach. We LOVED it there, and it was much cheaper than anything we found in Cancun.  However, it was a bit isolated.  So having the car made it easy to get there.

Our favorite getaway - stay on the beach in quite Pa Mul Mexico! Renting a car in cancun
Our favorite getaway – stay on the beach in quite Pa Mul Mexico!

Of course, some resorts will offer transportation to and from the airport.  But again, they you might be stuck out in a quiet area with nothing around you.  This happened to us at the beach bungalow as well.   While we loved the peace and tranquility, we grew tired of the 1 restaurant on-site.  So renting a car in Cancun enabled us to leave the hotel easily so we could go to a nearby town to eat.

A Rental Car Can Save You Money on Activities

Outside of Cancun, you will find so many amazing sights and things to do.  One of the advantages of renting a car in Cancun is that you have flexibility with your timing, but another advantage is that you can actually save money on some activities because you don’t need to pay the cost of a transfer! For example, exploring the underground cave and river of Rio Secreto is a MUST for visitors to the Yucatan area.  We absolutely loved this tour and would recommend it to anyone.  However, you can purchase your tickets for Rio Secreto with transportation or Rio Secreto tickets without transportation.  You will see that the cost without transportation is cheaper!

Discovering an EarthCache while exploring this underground river in Mexico, renting a car in cancun
Loving our time exploring Rio Secreto – a huge underwater river and cave system in the Yucatan, Mexico

We love to snorkel, and the Cancun area offers some pretty great opportunities to go snorkeling.  Places like the MUSA (underwater museum) is a super unique experience that we have always wanted to see (we couldn’t go during our trip because of stormy conditions).  But if you want some excitement added to your snorkeling, how about a speedboat and snorkeling package trip!  If you want a simpler way to see the fish, then how about a glass bottom boat trip? Another recommended attraction is Xel-Ha, and outdoor water adventure park!  It’s famous for it’s snorkeling, tubing, and it’s sister park Xplor is famous for zip lines and adventure sport activities!  The park is huge and is a really great way to spend the day — but it is a bit south of Cancun, closer to Playa Del Carmen.  So you will save money if you don’t pay for transfers in your ticket price! Lastly, if you are passionate about Mexican food, music and culture, then check out Xoximilco Mexican Fiesta!  This is a really cool experience where you can ride in colorful boats along canals at night, all while listening to authentic Mariachi and other traditional music, while sampling a variety of foods from different regions of Mexico.  Who doesn’t want to experience a Mexican fiesta?!?  There may even be some dancing involved!

So, calculate the cost per person…and you can see just how much money renting a car in Cancun can actually save you because you have your own transportation and don’t have to pay the higher ticket fees that include the hotel transfers!

Exploring Lesser Known Ruins

Besides the beaches, snorkeling, cenotes, jungles, and adventurous zip lines, there are also the famous Mayan ruins to explore.  Places such as Chichen Itza and Tulum all have guided tours available from Cancun, but you will spend more money than if you just went on your own.  But there are other ruins less famous, such as Coba, which are great because there are less crowds…and you can actually CLIMB the pyramid (something you can’t do at Tulum or Chichen Itza).  There aren’t many tours out to Coba, so having a rental car is definitely the best way!

How to Rent a Car in Cancun

There are many rental car agencies in and around Cancun.  Of course, you can always rent a car at the Cancun airport when you arrive.  However, most rental car agencies at airports charge hefty taxes and fees.  Another option is to inquire at your hotel.  Usually they can help you, and they may even have some relationships with rental car agencies on-site (or nearby in the hotel zone area). However, we’ve found that the easiest and cheapest way to rent a car in Cancun is to arrange it online before your trip.  This gives you the ability to shop around at different companies, and review all of their terms and conditions before renting.  Plus, many hotels will charge you extra fees for helping to arrange a rental car. Websites like rentalcars.com are great because we can see all the different prices and sort through different companies to find the best rate for the car we need.  They are a big company, trustworthy, and we’ve never had a problem working through them.  Plus, we have found competitive rates on their website compared to other companies.

Considerations for Renting a Car in Cancun

There are a few considerations to think about for renting a car in Cancun.  First of all, you may want to get your international driver’s license (driving permit).  These are easy to obtain back at home, you can actually go to any AAA office (you don’t have to be a member).  Check out our story on how to get an international driver’s license for more information about what it is. Another consideration is the price and how long you want to keep the car for.  If you only plan to go out and explore for 1 or two days, then a short rental would be cheapest.  But if you want to use the car more often, then you should look at a week long rental so that you can take advantage of price breaks at a weekly rate (some companies have good price breaks – making it worthwhile to rent for a week).

Mexican Liability Insurance – Requirement

The other major consideration for the price of renting a car in Cancun is the insurance.  Most companies (especially online travel agencies) will quote you a super low rate — something like $6 per day!  It’s enticing, that’s for sure…but that’s not the final rental price because in Mexico you are REQUIRED to have third party liability insurance!  They usually don’t tell you that. Basically, Mexico requires you to carry this insurance whether you rent a car in Mexico or bring your own over the border.  The kicker is that you CANNOT use your car insurance policy from back at home, and you CANNOT use your credit card’s car rental insurance (like AmEx).  Those policies are no good here (even though they may say they are).  Mexico does not recognize them. This is a bigger topic to discuss, so be sure to check out our post about Renting a Car in Mexico and Mexican Liability Insurance for more detailed information.  Overall, you can buy this insurance through the car rental company, but it’s expensive.  However, there are some ways to price shop and be sure you get the best rate with this extra insurance included.

You Won’t Regret Renting a Car in Cancun

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We always name our rental cars. Meet La Roja

In the end, we can assure you that you won’t regret renting a car in Cancun.  It’s easy to drive here, parking is plenty, and the main roads are quite safe.  You will love having the freedom to venture out on your own, and get away from the mass of crowds going on day tours to the most popular sites.  You will be able to find hidden markets with unique souvenirs, and cheap and amazing local food.

These experiences are what will make your vacation memorable & unique.

And even if you are staying at a big hotel or an all-inclusive resort in Cancun, you will love being able to do things on your own without depending on the hotel to help you with transportation.  Then you can return from your day of adventure and relax with a drink by the pool, while gazing out at that perfect ocean view.

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