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Travelling within Mexico can be an exciting experience, given some of the country's transport options are, shall we say, not for the faint of heart. Mexico has a relatively well-maintained road network, consisting mainly of toll roads, and a relatively efficient public transport system within and between its major cities. Whatever the mode of transport, we recommend that expats learn at least a little Spanish and familiarise themselves with the local customs – it’d make a world of a difference when getting around in Mexico.
Public transport in Mexico
Mexico’s public transport system is extensive, affordable and efficient, and a good knowledge of Spanish is helpful when navigating the system, especially during peak hours.
The regional passenger train system in Mexico is close to non-existent, and though plans for development have been projected, there has been little progress. That said, tourists and travellers can still see a bit of the country by train. Expats can explore the Copper Canyon area by taking the Chihuahua Pacific Railway, also known as El Chepe, or travel between Guadalajara and Tequila by taking the Tequila Express.
Mexico City, Monterrey and Guadalajara all have metro or light rail systems. Mexico City’s metro system is joined by el tren ligero, the light rail system, reaching the southern suburbs of the city. The Monterrey Metro, better known as Metrorrey, is much smaller than Mexico City's metro and only has two lines.
Expats should be aware that the metro is a prime operating spot for pickpockets and should look after their valuables. Wealthier citizens don’t tend to use the metro, and tourists should avoid it or at least be vigilant during peak hours.
An extensive bus network offers an efficient and affordable way of getting around Mexico. There are three classes available on long-distance bus routes: executive, first- and second class. First-class buses have comfortable reclining seats as well as toilets and movies onboard. Many long-distance routes are non-stop, getting travellers to their destination quickly.
There are local buses and micro-buses (micros) in most cities and towns, such as Mexico City’s metrobús and its green and white micros. These are cheap and tickets can be bought on board, but they can be uncomfortable as passenger limits are hardly regulated.
Taxis in Mexico
Expats can travel around Mexico’s cities by taxi relatively cheaply. Taxis either use meters or charge by zones, with prices varying between different zones.
For safety reasons, new arrivals to large cities and expats who don’t speak Spanish should phone a cab company, use an app such as Uber or Cabify, or get one at a taxi rank (sitio) rather than hail one off the street.
Latin America is home to the colectivo. Colectivos vary between different countries but are essentially a shared taxi, be it a car, minivan or a pick-up truck. Riders will have to wait until the vehicle fills up before they get going.
Mototaxis and tuk-tuks found around large cities are a cheap and exciting way to get around, although the safety of these three-wheeled vehicles is questionable.
Driving in Mexico
Expats driving in Mexico should do so cautiously and make sure to drive slightly under the speed limit. It is important to always follow the rules of the road, even if the other cars don’t seem to be.
It's best to stick to toll roads if one has never driven in Mexico before or if unable to speak Spanish. Expats should make sure to have Mexican pesos in their vehicles as US dollars are not accepted at tolls.
Expats should keep an eye out for particularly elevated speed bumps and unexpected potholes which could damage their car if they do not slow down. Speed bumps are found on major toll roads as well as minor roads. Livestock on the road is also a problem in Mexico; expats should be aware of this and drive cautiously. This is the primary reason why driving at night in Mexico is not advised and can be extremely hazardous.
Drivers in Mexico should always beware of police roadblocks, which function to stem the flow of drugs from Mexico into the USA. Police don’t usually bother foreigners too much but being wary of these checkpoints is nevertheless recommended. Expats can expect checkpoints along most major and some minor roads. Police will most likely search the car and ask drivers to produce their driving licence and insurance information.
Car insurance in Mexico is required by law and it must be administered by local insurance companies licensed in Mexico. It is affordable and expats can buy Mexican car insurance online or in border towns in the USA. Those staying longer than 16 days may find it cheaper to pay for a six-month insurance plan. Insurance is crucial when driving in Mexico. Should a foreigner be in an accident, they could be sent to jail and would not be able to leave Mexico until the damage is paid for.
Mexico has a roadside assistance service called the Angeles Verdes (Green Angels) who drive green trucks and can fix anything from a flat tyre to a leaking radiator. Their services are free, but drivers must pay for parts and petrol, if necessary, and tipping is highly valued.
The Angeles Verdes can be reached by dialling 078.
Expats can use their home country’s driving licence in Mexico, but they are advised to get an International Driving Permit so that it can be translated into Spanish. Expats need to apply for this within six months of arriving in Mexico but can often organise this from their home country. Expats must carry both their International Driving Permit and their home country’s driving licence with them when driving in Mexico.
Driving restrictions in cities
Mexico City and other urban areas have limitations on the number of cars allowed to enter over certain times. Older cars with certain number plates and vehicles not registered in Mexico are restricted from entering Mexico City for specific hours in the mornings. The aim is to reduce pollution, but expats should be aware of this and check on these matters when they are renting or buying a car.
Air travel in Mexico
There are numerous domestic airports in Mexico and, since it is such a large country, travelling by plane is often the best way to cover long distances. Mexico has a range of low-cost domestic airlines to choose from, including Aeroméxico, Interjet and Volaris, affording travel options to suit every budget.
Sea travel in Mexico
Expats and tourists can also travel by boat, ferry or ship. Cruises are popular around the Pacific coast and the Mexican Caribbean given the warm, tropical climate. There are also passenger and vehicle ferries sailing between Baja California, islands off the coast, and various coastal locations along the Mexican mainland.
Walking in Mexico
Walking short distances when exploring towns and cities is generally one of the best ways to travel and get familiar with the surroundings. In Mexico, though, pedestrians must be wary. The terrain and standard of pavements aren’t great and could prove a challenge for some, while it’s important to stay vigilant when walking close to roads as vehicles can drive recklessly, ignoring road signs.
Cycling in Mexico
Another quick and easy way to get around is by bike. Expats can rent bikes in major cities from services such as ECOBICI, Mexico City’s bike-sharing programme, and follow different cycle paths and lanes. This seems like a fantastic opportunity even for children, but cyclists should be aware that the bicycle lanes are not well-maintained, and wearing a helmet and staying vigilant for car and foot traffic are essential.
Otherwise, Mexico’s diverse and unique natural landscape affords extensive opportunities for mountain biking and exploring new areas. Of course, there are necessary precautions to take, ensuring the level of fitness and prepping sufficiently for such expeditions.