Are you thinking of renting a car in Playa del Carmen? Car rentals in Playa del Carmen can be a bit of a pain in the ass if I’m totally honest. It was one of the first things I realized when I arrived here in Playa and we came close to being ripped off by a well-known company.
The issue is, often as tourists here in Playa del Carmen you don’t know how things work and what you need to look out for.
So, in this post, I’ve tried to cover everything you need to know about renting a car in Playa del Carmen.
Just here for a referral?
Call or text my friend Vanessa and rent a car from Turismo Channel.
Click to chat to her on WhatsApp, just click this link and make sure you tell her I have referred you for a special Claire’s Itchy Feet price. Alternatively, pop your details in this form below and someone will get back to you within 24 hours. The price quoted will be the price you pay, no hidden costs or funny business!
Should I rent a car in Playa del Carmen?
First things first, unlike Tulum and Cancun you can actually get around Playa del Carmen pretty easily on foot, riding a bike, or using the colectivos. The only time you really might need to rent a car in Playa del Carmen is if you are planning a trip to somewhere outside of Playa, or if you are staying outside of the center.
If that’s the case then renting a car is a good call.
I normally rent a car if I want to go to Tulum or visit some cenotes or Mayan Ruins and it’s either not accessible by colectivo, or there is a group of us going, and splitting the cost makes sense. I always rent a car, in Tulum as it’s very hard to easily get around without a car.
But if you are wondering if it’s safe to rent a car in Playa del Carmen then that’s a bit more complicated.
Is it safe to drive in Playa del Carmen?
A lot of people worry about their safety when they rent a car in Playa del Carmen. Many people are put off after they read things online telling them how unsafe it is to drive in Mexico. For most US citizens, their normal insurance for rental cars provided by their credit card companies is void here, which also concerns people. But honestly, in my personal experience renting a car in Playa del Carmen, and driving in Mexico, really is no different than renting a car and driving anywhere else.
Now, that doesn’t mean there aren’t risks, of course, there are. But in general, the roads are good, and the road signs are easy to follow, many are even in English and Spanish. The highway that connects Cancun, Playa del Carmen and Tulum is pretty much a straight road. It’s the same if you want to go to other places a little further like Merida, Holbox, Bacalar, or Mahuale. They are all super boring drives in straight lines.
Possibly the thing you might be worried about is the police, or even carjackings and kidnappings… Maybe this is the case in other parts of Mexico, but in general, here in the Yucatan Peninsular the police generally leave tourists alone. It’s not with the hassle for them. And if you do get stopped then you can make them go away with as little as 100 pesos. If you are worried about being kidnapped you have been watching too much TV and carjacking isn’t common here at all.
Of course, what you should be worried about is the drivers! I personally drive here like everyone is trying to kill me. Never take anything for granted. People don’t indicate in general and if they do they often forget to turn it off, so don’t trust indicators.
Driving in El Centro
If you are driving in the center of Playa you need to pay close attention to the one-way system and remember if you are traveling north to south, in general, you have the right of way. This means if you are driving on the Avenidas (1st,10th, 15th, etc) you can drive unless you see a stop sign or traffic lights. If you are driving east to west then you do not have the right of way on the smaller streets and you will need to stop at each junction. This is where you can spot the tourists and where the majority of accidents happen, because people get confused and don’t stop, or look the wrong way. Almost all of the Avenidas are one way, so look for the black and white arrows to check the direction of the traffic.
If you can master this, you will have no problems driving in Playa del Carmen.
Car rentals in Playa del Carmen
So by now, you should have a bit more of an idea about driving here in Playa del Carmen and if you know for sure that you want to rent a car in Playa del Carmen the next step is to find a good company to rent from… this, believe it or not, is the hard part.
There are car rentals in Playa del Carmen on every corner and I personally wouldn’t use 90% of them, no one who lives here would. They are there for the tourists who don’t know any better. Now I’m not saying they are all bad and going to rip you off. But if you aren’t careful and don’t know the scams to look out for you could.
When I first arrived in Playa I was living in Balam Tum which is about 20 minutes in a car from the center. We needed to rent a car. So we looked online and found a lot of super-cheap deals through a third-party search engine. We even paid for the extra insurance cover, just to be safe even though we believed we didn’t need to as my friend would put it on his credit card and that would cover us.
The issues started as soon as we walked into the office. The extra insurance we paid for they informed us was useless, they also told us my friend’s insurance was invalid here in Mexico, the only way we could take the car was to pay for their insurance which was a lot of money extra and they would also need to hold an insane deposit on his credit card. It was a few years ago now, so I forget the actual numbers but we were in there for an hour arguing with them and ended up walking out with no car.
Also, just to say that we were arguing as we called up both insurance companies and checked if the cover was valid and both said it was, but the car rental company didn’t care. If we didn’t pay their insane prices, then we weren’t taking the car, end of discussion… Mine is not an unusual story.
Playa del Carmen Car Rental Scams
Okay so in this section I’m going to go through all of the things you need to watch out for when renting a car in Playa del Carmen. The common theme here is that things are rarely what they seem. Most people book the rental cars online before they even arrive here and they see cars for $1 a day and get excited… there is always a catch!
This is the most common problem, the price you get quoted on the internet is not even close to the price they will charge you when you go to collect the car. They will start adding on extras that they insist you need and then the deposit they will ask you for, especially for these cheap rentals, will be in the thousands! If you are going to book online then always check directly with the company to confirm everything, so you don;t get a nasty surprise when you come to pick up the car.
Common Playa del Carmen rental car issues include:
- Putting large (up to $3000 USD) deposits on peoples credit cards
- The deposits not being returned until weeks after you have returned the car
- Overcharging for insurance
- Telling you that the insurance you get with your credit card doesn’t work in Mexico (this is mostly for people in the USA who get rental car insurance as part of their credit card deal).
I’m going to address each of the issues one by one…
As I’ve already mentioned, this is the most common issue. You book a $1 a day rental car and then you go to pick it up and it jumps to $50-70 a day when they add on their overpriced insurance that you don’t need.
The only way of avoiding these charges often is if you can get in writing from your credit card company that you are covered for driving a rental car in Mexico and you don’t mind them taking a $3000 USD deposit hold on your credit card that you probably won’t get back for a month, you may get lucky and they will let you take the car.
These cheap prices are no more than a trick to get you to book with them. Avoid booking with these companies. If it looks too good to be true, it almost always is!
That brings us nicely on to the next common problem, deposits. It can be almost impossible to find out exactly the deposit that they will hold on your credit card when you book online. If you pay for the full insurance then this will probably be just a few hundred dollars at most. But this will really depend on the company.
The big issue here though with these deposits is that some of the companies can be extremely slow at removing the hold and it can take weeks before you will get the money released. To make sure you avoid these companies do a thorough check of the company’s online reviews to see what people are saying about them.
Car insurance can be a bit of a headache, and it is where many people get caught out, as the daily insurance charge is often more expensive than the car itself. For people who live in the USA and normally get insurance cover from your credit card company unfortunately this insurance is often not accepted in Mexico. So even if your credit card company tells you you are covered it is unlikely that the companies offering car rentals in Playa del Carmen will accept it.
If you decline all insurance then you will need to pay a deposit of up to $3000 USD. I would strongly recommend getting full coverage. The cost of this will vary greatly between companies so I recommend that you check the cost of this before booking.
The golden rule is once you have found the online deal give the company a call and ask them about insurance and deposits. That was you can find out exactly what you are getting into before you turn up there and get a shock!
The Best Car Rental Playa del Carmen
Ok so now I’ve gone through all of the things to look out for and avoid when dealing with car rentals in Playa del Carmen it’s probably pretty clear that booking online isn’t the best way forward when renting a car in the Riviera Maya. Don’t be wooed by the promise of cheap car rental Playa del Carmen because generally speaking, you are going to get a better deal in person than you will online. Cheap car rental in Playa del Carmen doesn’t really exist!
This is why I would NEVER book a rental car in Mexico online. I rent a car in Playa del Carmen often, and I always use the same company. If you want to rent a car in Playa del Carmen then you need to use a local company, not one of the big chains. I personally always book through my friend Vanessa at Turismo Channel. The best way to book a car with her is via WhatsApp, just click this link and make sure you tell her I have referred you for a special Claire’s Itchy Feet price. They also do airport transfers and day tours so be sure to check out everything they have to offer.
You can send her a message in Spanish or English. Please let them know I sent you! They are a small local company and they don’t have an office at the airport, so if you wanted to rent a car from Cancun airport then just let them know and a driver will pick you up and drive you to Playa for an extra charge. Or you could book an airport transfer from Cancun to Playa del Carmen with them and they can drop the car off later.
Either way, this is the company I personally use and trust.
You can also complete this inquiry form and someone will be in touch within 24 hours
Looking for somewhere to stay in Playa del Carmen?
I wrote a whole guide to Accommodation in Playa del Carmen you can read here. I also recommend booking one of these Airbnb’s. They are all in great locations and are super reasonably priced.
Book your trip now
Are you ready to book your trip? To help you get the best deals and service here are the companies that I personally use to book all of my travel online. I always shop around before booking anything, but these are my tried and tested starting places.
- Skyscanner – I’m a bit fan of Skyscanner, it is who I use to book all of my flights. I often will check other like Google Flights or Momodo, but I always go here first and it is who I book 99% of my flights with.
- Booking.com – I LOVE booking.com especially when I can book and cancel free up until a certain point, mostly because my plans are forever changing. It’s easy to use and has one of the widest selections.
- Airbnb – I’m not a huge user of Airbnb, but sometimes I do like to use it, and I ALWAYS check it before I book anything else. You can get some really cool places to stay here, and it is especially good in places like Cuba. If you don’t have an account and you click on this link then you will get $36 off your first booking.
- Hostelworld – If you are looking for hostels then this is a great place to check first. They often have additional places that you won’t find on Bookin.com.
- Agoda – Although I don’t use it as much as booking.com, Agonda is especially good if you are traveling in Asia as they really do dominate there.
- Worldpackers – If you want to travel on the cheap and save money on accommodation then you need Worldpackers in your life. You can read more about it here. If you click this link to sign up and use the code CLAIRESITCHYFEET then you can get a 40% discount on your membership!
- Book a Way – If you are traveling in Asia and want to pre-book your transportation then bookaway.com is a fantastic site to do so. They have buses, trains, and cars.
- RentalCars – Looking to rent a. car while you are away? I always book through Rental Cars as they do a search of all of the big sites and find the best deals.
- Welcome Pickups – Very occasionally getting from the airport to my accommodation is a total pain in the butt, or I’m traveling in a group and it makes sense to arrange a pickup. When I do I use Welcome pickups.
- World Nomads – If you are looking for flexible travel insurance then it’s World Nomads all the way. I wrote all about insurance here if you want a more thorough review.
- SafetyWing – AsI’m a Digital Nomad and not moving around quite so much anymore I personally use SafetyWing now for my health insurance. I wrote a full review here.
- Viatour – Sometimes it can be a little expensive, but I like Viatour for somethings, especially if you can get a discount code! It’s also great for inspiration.
- Klook – If you are traveling in Asia, then Klook is great! You can book all kinds of tours, activities, and train tickets, plus they even have sim cards and WiFi.