Car Travel

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Car Travel

The entire coast from Cancún to Chetumal is connected by one highway, the Carretera 307. Between Cancún and Tulum it's four lanes and divided, after Tulum it's two, but it's in excellent condition the whole way. (A section of the highway sometimes is not referred to as the 307 but by the towns it connects: Carretera Playa del Carmen-Tulum, Carretera Tulum-Chetumal). Because this is the only road connecting cities, towns, parks, and jungle attractions, expect to spend a lot of time on it to see the region. Addresses along the highway but outside of towns are usually referred to by kilometer mark on small white upright signs at the side of the road.

If you want to explore beyond your accommodations, you'll need a rental car. Be aware that some roads off the highway are bumpy or potholed, and the road between Majahual and Xcalak in the extreme south can be downright impassable after heavy rain.

Driving: The most dangerous place on the Caribbean Coast may be the road. Carretera 307 is in excellent shape, but secondary roads can develop a serious case of the potholes. Combine that with poor lighting, invisible speed bumps, and the occasional big crab skittering across the tarmac, and you've got ample reason to drive slowly and carefully. Speed bumps, called topes, deserve special mention: They range from well-built and marked tarred hills to a simple but effective thick rope lain across the tarmac. When they're marked, you'll see a yellow or white sign showing bumps or reading TOPE. Often, however, they're not, so use caution and watch the road.

Obey speed limits: Police radar and sudden decreases in speed limits are easy traps for travelers. Should you get pulled over, hand over your license and expect to get it back the next day, when you pay your ticket at the police station. Most police officers are honest, but some will pull you over just to see if you'll pay them to avoid the hassle—don't fall for it. In many cases you'll get off with a warning when you make it clear you're prepared for the paperwork. A new program to combat police corruption by providing car renters with a two-strikes-free Tourist Travel Card is still in experimental stages, but when fully implemented, it will be a free pass for your first two minor traffic offenses. Ask at your rental counter.

Precautions: Before your trip, purchase travel insurance, monitor the weather, and notify your embassy and credit card company of your whereabouts. Make a copy of your passport and leave your travel itinerary with a friend or family member. To avoid unwanted situations, steer clear of remote locations, travel with a partner, and refrain from driving long distances at night.

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