11 Things Nobody Tells You About Driving a Rental Car in Cozumel

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Renting a car and driving in Cozumel is pretty easy…until you can’t find a gas station or you get pulled over.

Bad luck aside, here are some surprising things you’ll want to know before you sign on the dotted line and hit the road. Read on for tips on what to do, and what NOT to do while driving in Cozumel. 

Renting a car in Cozumel is easy and safe if you drive responsibly, and have a basic knowledge of local street signs, speed limits, and parking rules. There are only a few main roads on the island, and these are typically wide and well-paved, with clear lanes and good bi-lingual signage. Cozumel road traffic is typically very light. 

Once you review and save these lesser-known rental car and driving tips, below, you’ll have nothing to worry about. 

The “Topes” of Cozumel

Topes (pronounced “toe pays”) in Spanish, are also known in English as the dreaded speed bump. 

Throughout town, and also occasionally along empty and otherwise uneventful scenic roads, be on the lookout for the infamous Cozumel “topes”, and their accompanying street sign: 

Speed bump warning sign on Cozumel MX side street

These speed bumps vary in height and width, so while they are often not large or dramatic speed bumps, if they catch you off guard, they could really rattle your car, or potentially do some damage.  

When you’re renting a car in Cozumel – or driving any vehicle for that matter – keep your eyes open for the signs above. Of course, sometimes the signs are hidden by lovely palm trees and flowers. 

The other street signs on the island are pretty typical, like this stop sign, below.  It says ALTO, but of course looks just like a STOP sign in the U.S., Canada, and elsewhere. 

Red octagonal stop sign in Cozumel

Cozumel Now Has a Dedicated Bicycle Lane

This one is not one that people forget to mention (yet), it’s just a brand new one. 

In 2020, Cozumel introduced a dedicated, two-way bicycle lane along the main coastal road. It runs along Melgar Avenue from the southern end of downtown, at the Palacio Municipal, and on to the southern hotel district, past the Internationals and Puerta Maya cruise ports. 

The bike lanes are for bicycles and scooters only – not for motos, not for passing cars, and not for running or walking

Bicyclist and bike lane on side of main road in Cozumel

It is only during this stretch of the island, but that’s a busy stretch.  So if you find yourself slowed down behind some vehicles in that section, just wait it out.  Do NOT be tempted to pass using the right shoulder.  

Furthermore, be extra careful and vigilant about honoring the cyclists.  Cozumel has become a hot spot for triathlons and other road races, and the local population is really turning out to use those lanes, a lot.  Many people get to work on a bicycle, and many others use bikes for recreation and competition, so once again, just remember you’re in a tropical paradise and slow down to protect everyone – including yourself. 

Also, if you are walking in that area, don’t forget to look both ways as you cross the street.  Bikes running northward can come up pretty fast, and most of us are used to checking for one-way traffic. 

No More Horse Carriages in Cozumel

On the upside (for drivers, especially), there are no longer horse-drawn carriages on the streets of Cozumel.

While still in use for tourists until recently, the horse-and-buggy tours here are a thing of the past.

There are horse riding operators, and likely some of the former carriage drivers who could use the business, but if you’re behind the wheel of a car or jeep, or even a rented scooter, a live horse is one less thing you’ll have to worry about.

Cozumel Speed Limits and Speedometers Are in Km/H

Of course, most measures in Mexico are in metric units. Just keep that in mind when you go to drive and consult your speedometer, and again when you are on the road and need to know the speed limit.  

If you’re not used to metric, just take a few moments to make the mental switch

Here are some quick conversions to use as guidelines when behind the wheel:

Km/Hour =Miles/HourYOU:
3019Go very slow/pedestrian area
6038Average when away from town and pedestrians
8050Slow down. Cozumel’s MAX speed limit is 80 Km/H!

While you may find yourself on some stretches of the open road that feel perfectly safe, always be mindful that this is a small island, and a residential community full of motos and bikes, and kids. 

There’s also a good amount of wildlife all over the island, especially in areas where there are not a lot of humans. 

So that wide open road along the shoreline, or through the tree-lined stretch of highway, could easily produce a deer, raccoon, blue crab (in season…), or even the odd crocodile. 

Don’t take any chances and push your welcome – or your ability to seek help (or understand what you’re being stopped for) in Spanish.  

Just chill out and keep it slow. After all, you’re on vacation – the last thing you want to do is get in an accident or get stopped by police in another country. (But if you do get pulled over for speeding, see our advice, below). 

Cozumel’s Gas Stations

Cozumel has lots to offer, but when you are running low on gas, the very few gas stations on the island becomes frighteningly apparent. 

There are 4 main Pemex-brand gas stations, though a few newcomers have opened up in the recent past. 

You’re going to want to know the locations of Pemex Gas Stations as you tour around the main island loop.

map view with gas stations marked with locator pins

Once you find one, you’ll ideally have cash (in pesos) on hand. If not, you can usually use a credit card, or possibly even dollars – but just be sure to confirm with the attendant, first. 

The Pemex stations are all full-serve, so the attendants will direct you toward which pump to use.

If things are busy, just pull into a lane that is servicing passenger cars already. Other lanes are frequently reserved for “motos,” or any motorcycles or the small motorbikes and scooters that are popular in Cozumel. 

Once in place, the attendant will make a point of showing you that the gas pump has been zeroed out (to prove his honesty, and reassure you that you will be getting all the gas you are paying for), and then proceed to pump to the amount you requested. 

The Spanish word “lleno” (pronounced “yay no”) in Spanish means “full”, FYI.

[Given the currency exchange, the fluctuating fuel prices, and the metric conversions, you’ll have to do a little math. But for reference, I can tell you that in a Honda with a 58-liter tank, $500MXN (which is about $25.00USD) normally gets me to about ¾ of a tank.]

If you need more info on using currency and credit cards in Cozumel, read this post next. 

Take the Cozumel Rental Car Insurance

This might be the most important Cozumel rental car driving tip of them all.  

Lots of people know their credit cards offer rental car insurance as a perk of membership and decline the local insurance rider and (small) associated fee.  I would advise against doing so here.

For your peace of mind, and for the best service and coverage should something unfortunate happen, you’re going to want to have instant coverage in place. It’s best if this local coverage is NOT tied to your credit card.  

There has been much hearsay of incidents where credit card-based coverage was disputed, or even just delayed. But, while that was being worked out, it resulted in a visiting driver’s credit card being frozen until the matter could be resolved. Which of course would leave you without insurance and without access to your emergency payment method. 

Also, the determination as to which Cozumel hospital you are brought to (god forbid) is sometimes linked to your locally purchased coverage terms.  

If you get the local policy and keep it with your rental agreement, that should all be listed pretty clearly. 

Whereas, the terms and conditions of the credit card coverage rider you may or may not be able to apply here will be…buried somewhere in your file cabinet, back home. 

Just pay the small amount for the familiar local insurance coverage, drive safely, and enjoy peace of mind. 

Motos Motos Everywhere in Cozumel 

As mentioned above, motorized bikes of all sizes and speeds are ubiquitous in Cozumel, and for good reason.  They’re inexpensive, easier on the budget to fill with gas, easy to park, and easy to fix. 

A few motos parked in front of cool streen mural

They are everywhere. 

And by everywhere, I mean in your blindspot, and very possibly about to pass you on the right, even if you have the right of way, your blinker on, and are making a legal right on red. 

Always check twice and three times.  And then check again.

My biggest fear in Cozumel is hitting another human – or three – that may be traveling on that hidden moto. 

Be careful, and keep it slow. 

Parking Rules in Cozumel 

Like many things here – or any urban area for that matter –things work ok, we all get used to the way things work, and then the system changes.  Suddenly.  

Basically, parking on the streets is pretty easy, except in the busiest downtown blocks.  Just avoid those if you can. 

Or better still, find a safe and cheap off-street parking lot.  Like this: 

Typical private parking lot signage, hand-painted on white wall in Cozumel

In the rest of downtown San Miguel, and anywhere else on the island, curb-site parking is plentiful, or a side lot is available where you’re going.  Super easy.  

When you need to park street-side in Cozumel, be sure to look around for these 3 common parking conditions:  

  • Curbs that are painted WHITE mean you can park there. This is GOOD. It indicates that it is fine to park there 
  • Curbs that are painted YELLOW are no parking
  • Curbs that are painted RED, or spots that are driveways or have other “no parking” signs and symbols (usually a combination of red, white and black and “No Estacionarse”) are all absolute NO PARKING

Then, on some downtown side streets, there are some targeted parking signs marked for specific allowances, like brief daily deliveries only, for motos only, and some for typical time limits to help people run quick errands, like 30-minutes or 1-hour limits.

Yes, it’s all pretty logical stuff, but in unfamiliar towns sometimes you don’t notice. On main streets, the sign could be on the closest building facade, rather than on a posted sign.  Look all around you. 

Get Cozumel’s Public Safety App (Includes Roadside Assistance)

A great insider tip for those traveling to Cozumel, or anywhere within the state of Quintana Roo, is that the Quintana Roo Tourism Board here provides (and maintains!) a downloadable, bilingual tourism app for the web or your phone, called Guest Assist

This reference app includes info on the state’s roadside assistance services.

From the link above, or in your app store on your phone, you can download the app and have lots of handy information and emergency numbers stored right with you on your phone, before you even venture out.  

Screen shot of Guest Assist phone app

The Cozumel Guest Assist app includes pretty current Covid-19 bulletins, including testing info, suggested help numbers, and other information you may need for safety while on vacation or living here.  

Some services and numbers included in Guest Assist are: 

  • Emergency 911 – what to dial, and what kinds of situations are handled by 911 
  • The Green Angels – this is a roadside assistance service that could come to help you in case of an emergency. The app also includes their recommendations to you as a driver, before and during your trip
  • Local guides on how to file reports on various problems from losing your passport, to filing a police report
  • Lots more!  Check it out.  It’s also FREE. 

What to Do if You Get Pulled Over by Police in Cozumel 

This is a hotly debated issue on social media pages, but generally speaking, if you don’t speed and you don’t drink and drive, your experience driving around Cozumel in a rental car should go without incident. 

However, there is a police force here, of course.  And if they see you speeding or suspect you’ve been partying over on the other side, they may very well pull you over. 

Some rumors go around from time to time that rental cars are “targets” and more likely to be pulled over by the police, especially in leaner times. 

Whatever the reason, if you find yourself pulled over by the police here, stay calm and be cordial. 

The hotly debated aspects are A) whether or not cops tend to let you off easier if you pay them…er…directly and B) whether or not you should do so. 

Many people, especially locals, urge drivers of rental cars not to speed, and definitely – of course – not to drink and drive. For everyone’s sake.  

But many of them also urge drivers NOT to play along with any real or perceived culture of bribery or corruption. 

For one thing, under the new national government, a great effort is being made to stop corruption in Mexico.  Cozumel now has a strong National Guard presence to help on that front, so the whole island has a lot of oversight now, and it is far more transparent and focused on the value and importance of tourism in the region.

If you sense this happening, however, the consensus advice is that you should politely agree to pay the ticket, especially when you are in the wrong.  If you believe it’s a made-up infraction, though, it’s still best to indicate that you’ll happily proceed to the police station and cooperate, and also ask for a copy of your ticket with the officers’ names referenced, so you can have a record. 

Many times, this alone would result in the officer letting you off with a warning.  Or, worst case, you follow the rules and pay the fee, and go.

You’ve lost time but haven’t done anything illegal. 

Other people counter that IF this situation truly arises nowadays, then the visitor may feel intimidated and play along, just to keep their driver’s license safely in hand, and be on their way with no further hassle. This side of the argument is that if a police officer is trying to intimidate a tourist, then it’s not the tourist’s job to reform the police and that that behavior should be curtailed by the government. 

Hard to argue…

No matter where you fall on the issue, it is something that has happened enough in previous years that people have openly debated it…so, it is not widespread anymore, but it’s certainly possible.  Just be aware of it, and decide your plans accordingly – preferably beforehand, so you can stay calm. 

Generally, when renting a car and driving in Cozumel, always remember to note your surroundings, know your route (including where to get gas!), pay attention to signs, have cash on hand for gas or other emergencies, never exceed the speed limit, and don’t drink and drive.  You should be just fine. 

It’s Easier and Safer To Take a Taxi In Cozumel 

Of course, there are times when you want to have your own schedule and the freedom to go where you want, when you want.  

In that case, use these reminders and enjoy a safe experience while renting a car in Cozumel.  It’s quite easy. 

However, there are other times when you might want to drink, you don’t want to get lost, you are completely clueless in Spanish, you have a lot of people, or you just want to relax and let someone else take on the stress and responsibility of driving, navigating, insurance, and getting gas. 

New taxi van helping a family arrive at the ferry terminal

And avoid the whole question of being pulled over, to begin with!

After reading all of the above, you might decide not to rent a car after all, and instead rely on the robust taxi culture on the island

The taxis in Cozumel are plentiful, and many of the drivers are either trained local tour guides, or might as well be!

From my experience, most of the drivers are bilingual, funny, and happy to show you a good time.  They’re also often locals, and trained as official tour guides, so can be a great last-minute island tour option for our rare rainy days.

Pre-arrange a taxi and agree on a flat rate fare for what you have in mind before you get going, and then relax and enjoy.

Tipping your taxi cab drivers in Cozumel is customary, in addition to the base fare. 

Many taxi drivers will agree to stay with you for the day (usually meaning 4-5 hours, but ask and agree to a plan), provide a locked car if you want to go in and out of venues and attractions along the way, and are happy to make stops if you need water, bathrooms, or a meal.  

So there you have it.  If it’s your first time here, and you’re thinking of renting a car in Cozumel, you might be better off letting someone else do the driving.

If you do choose to rent a car and drive in Cozumel, it is safe and easy to find your way around. The main roads, clear signage, and light traffic make island driving pretty easy, and navigation is not complicated at all.

If you decide to let someone else take the wheel, and you want some more information on local taxis, please check out this related post all about safely taking Cozumel taxis.

Cozumel Packing Advice: Rainy Any-Day Gear

These are top water-friendly things to pack for your trip to Cozumel (or anywhere!): 

Light, high quality rain jacket with a hood.  (Amazon link to the one I like, but any one will do).

These jackets don’t take up much room in your bag, but provide great protection from sudden showers, sun (especially on a dive boat), and can even serve as a warm layer on the airplane.  

Truly waterproof dry bag(s) for your phones, wallets, and important papers. 

All-terrain tennis shoes that pack easily, and can take you from walking around town, to snorkeling in the water, and then back to lunch at a cool cafe. 

Water-tight dry box for your phone, keys, and wallet, especially if you’re diving and might find yourself on a small fast boat, without tons of protected space on board.  Look for a crush-proof box that will withstand immersion – that’s of course the worst case scenario, but then you’ll know it’ll be absolutely fine with some rain. 

(I think of it as a pretty cheap insurance policy for my iPhone…and all the information that’s on my iPhone!)

Rachel

Rachel plugs away at cozinfo.com when she's not diving, taking underwater photos, or trying a new local restaurant. After decades working on some mighty fine design projects in NYC, she took a gap year to pursue her divemaster training in Cozumel...and never quite made it back.