Driving is generally the best way to explore the coast. If you don’t rent a car, you could easily spend as much on taxis as a rental would cost. Buses are economical and comfortable for travel between cities, but you need a car to reach that bragging-rights beach at the end of a long dirt road or to find authentic Mayan handicrafts in a jungle village.
Two exceptions: Cancún’s traffic is vexing, and addresses can be hard to decipher. And the nearly obsolete stereotype of getting stopped for a bribe (mordida) lives on where the coast highway enters El Centro. You can easily get around on foot, by bus and the occasional taxi. A car can also be a liability in Playa del Carmen, where construction is constant, traffic gridlocked and parking nonexistent. Taxi fares, while not cheap, are well worth it.
On the flip side, cars are a lifesaver in Tulum, especially if you stay in town but want maximum beach time. The beach strip stretches so far south that taxis become a major expense.
Unlike most of the Riviera Maya, bicycles are popular in Tulum, where a lovely (but long) bike trail runs from the pueblo to the beaches. Hola Bike and iBike Tulum are reliable shops in town; some beach hotels provide bikes to guests for free. However, the heat and humidity can be draining; be sure you are very fit and well acclimated.
Renting is expensive once mandatory and optional insurance is figured in. Rejoice if it adds up to $45 a day in low season, but be prepared to pay $80 or more. Don’t skip the optional insurance, either: Under Mexican law, if you are involved in an accident, you may be jailed until authorities determine who is at fault and compensation is arranged. Even if your credit card provides some level of insurance, the best it can do is reimburse you after the fact. But if you’re fully insured, you’ll soon be back on the road.
If you don’t pick up a rental car at the airport, you can in Cancún, Playa del Carmen, Puerto Morelos and Tulum.
Ways to save: Plan your excursions in a cluster to limit your rental to just a few days. This also allows you to rent in town (ideally El Centro rather than the Hotel Zone in Cancún) instead of at the airport, where rates are highest. If you do rent from the airport, reserve online a week before you leave home for the lowest rates.
Most fares are preset by zone in Cancún, and they change constantly. Always agree on the price before you get in. Keep in mind that taxis at hotels, restaurants and bars charge more than those on the street. Wheelchair-accessible taxis are available from CancunAirportTaxi.com.
Clean, modern buses run constantly up and down Cancún’s Hotel Zone and into downtown, where the ADO bus station is the departure point to the Riviera Maya and beyond. Use ADO’s schedulefor planning, but you can’t buy tickets online without a Mexican credit card. Get them at the station, but buy them a day ahead of time during the busy winter or Easter holidays.
ADO buses make three Riviera Maya stops: Puerto Morelos (along the highway in the Colonia, requiring a taxi ride to the beach town), Playa del Carmen and Tulum.
Mexico has made a push toward accessibility in recent years, but still has a way to go. Many curb ramps have been installed in the Hotel Zone, but they’re not everywhere. Sidewalks and walkways downtown are uneven, broken up in places and poorly maintained. While most restaurants have a ramp at the main entrance and one or two accessible bathrooms, shops usually have at least one step to overcome. The biggest problem is public restrooms, which may have grab bars but often are not wide enough for many wheelchairs.
On the upside, many attractions are discounted or even free for those with limited mobility. This often won’t be advertised, so be sure to check.
Most local tour operators go out of their way to help people with mobility problems, and some specialize in serving people with disabilities, such as Cancún Accessible and For Handicap Travelers. Both offer transportation, special services and equipment rentals as well as tours.