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Driving the Riviera Maya

Driving along this coast isn't difficult, but it takes eagle-eyed attention, especially for first-timers. With only one highway, you can't get too lost unless you miss the signs for your hotel. Hwy. 307 traces the coastline for 380km (236 miles) from Cancún to Chetumal, a 4 1/2-hour trip by car. The section between Cancún's airport and Tulum is now a four-lane divided highway with speed limits up to 110kmph (68 mph). It takes about 2 hours to drive the 130km (81 miles) from Cancún airport to Tulum.

Turnoffs can be from either the right or left lane; if you miss the one you want, go a bit farther and circle back. You're not allowed to stop on the highway to make a left turn, but there are several short left-turn lanes at many points across the road from major resorts. It is impossible to overemphasize just how dangerous this highway can be, especially during high season when you've got locals speeding to work, tour buses clogging the lanes, truck and bus drivers barreling along, and confused or distracted tourists changing lanes on whim. Speed limits are clearly posted and change constantly. Keep an eye out for speed signs, especially around towns and resorts. Lots of drivers ignore speed limits, often to their chagrin. The police have become ever more sophisticated at ticketing speeders and are especially vigilant around stoplights and one-way streets. Several overpasses have been constructed (or are under construction) over the busiest intersections at Puerto Morelos, Puerto Aventuras, and Playa del Carmen, which greatly reduce the danger and traffic congestion. Be aware, however, the roadwork is constant on this highway and can almost double your expected drive time.

All that said, it's hard to imagine traveling around the Riviera Maya without a rental car. So many wonderful places to explore are right beside the highway and along side roads leading to the beach and jungle. First-class gas station plazas with minimarts and fast-food spots are becoming a common sight. Attendants pump the gas (be sure they don't overfill the tank) and will check your oil. Make sure you receive the right change, and tip attendants if they provide extra services. As long as you study your maps in advance and keep your wits about you, driving allows freedom for serendipitous discoveries.

Always carry plenty of drinking water when driving along the coast. Most hotels offer a couple of small bottles in the room upon arrival, then charge close to $2 for each new bottle. Having at least one half-gallon bottle in the car and a reusable water bottle cuts down on expense and waste.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.