Driver, beware. Since we are in the peak of spring break travel season, and many TravelSkills readers (or their family members) may be headed to Mexico on vacation, we offer up this Reader Report as word of caution.
It’s important to note that TravelSkills reader D.D.’s experience in Mexico is not isolated– nearly the exact same thing happened to me many years ago in Cancun. And we’ve heard similar reports from other readers from other Mexican cities and resorts recently. Has it happened to you, too? Please leave your comments below…
Twice in five days, the Cancun police stopped me and issued me tickets while I was driving a rental car in Mexico this week.
I want to provide a bit of travel history and driving context to this conversation. This is my 22nd visit to Mexico since 1998, and the fourth time I have rented a car in this country in four years. I have been to Cancun four times. Outside of this week’s getting stopped, I haven’t had a speeding ticket in nine years. And I have had no tickets or hassles driving in Mexico.
My encounters with the Cancun police were notably similar, with small and interesting variations. In both instances, the police car pulled me over, the passenger patrolman approached the car, greeted me, shook my hand, took my license, and asked me out of the car–my passenger remained inside. In both instances, the officer explained the infraction (more on these later), and told me that I could pick up my license at the police station in downtown Cancun the following day once I paid the fine of 2000 pesos (the second officer rounded up to 200 US$).
My first ticket was for going 78 Km in a 70 Km zone (akin to going 39 mph in a 35 mph zone, for the metrically afflicted). My second was for going through a yellow light, which the patrol car happily facilitated, by driving at 30 Km in front of me, then turning so as to deposit me in the center of the now yellow intersection. And yes, he was ready, with flashing lights once I made it through.
Rather miraculously, the first encounter ended with the ticket-writing officer suddenly deciding to let me go–he handed me my license, and waved me off. Throughout the exchange, I was polite, but insistent that I was driving the speed limit.
In the second case, the patrolman started bargaining with me from the start. “The ticket is $200US if you pay it at the station tomorrow, but if you pay it right now, it is only $100.” I protested that I didn’t have $100, and perhaps a warning made more sense–he then offered $80. Sensing that we were now bargaining as if negotiating over sunglass prices with a beach vendor, I offered $50, which he rejected–but I handed him 700 pesos (about $48) and he gave me back my license.
Needless to say, once we got back to our hotel, the car stayed garaged for the trip duration. And the drive from hotel to airport was incredibly mindful of every speed limit, traffic sign, and red light.
We joked that our leaving Cancun would be a bit like the last minutes of the movie Argo. I love to travel, and usually regret having to leave a destination. In this instance, however, we couldn’t wait to go.
Throughout all the troubles and travel advisories Mexico has experienced, I have been an advocate for continued travel here. Mexico provides color and texture and warmth–both temperature and service–with unrivaled value and noteworthy proximity to the US. And Cancun–on paper, at least–is a perfect place to rent a car. The roads are great, signage clear, and attractions numerous. Moreover, renting a car is inexpensive by US standards.
But I cannot endorse this destination–Cancun–any longer after this experience; at the least, renting a car here is contraindicated. While it is clear that citing law-abiding travellers is easier than stopping drug cartels, it is equally clear that Cancun turns a blind eye to the harassment of visitors in this fashion.
Cancun’s tolerance of such corruption by its police certainly affected my perception of the place, and dampened any enthusiasm for returning that I might have otherwise had. And next time I hear some Mexican tourism authority official pleading for individual or group business amidst the stigma of ongoing drug violence, I will ponder this: You can’t end your petty corruption let alone fight your crime problems. Throw a tarp over your hotels in Cancun for all I care.
D.D., Denver, Colorado
We found some helpful advice about how to deal with demands for a “mordida” or bribe in Mexico and other Latin American countries here.
Another site recommends having a copy of your drivers license available when driving in Mexico, and only providing the real thing at the police station.
Have you ever been asked for a bribe when driving in another country? Share your experience below.
Like what you just read? Then say so! Scroll back up to the top and LIKE the post on Facebook, post it on Linked In and/or tweet it!
Would you rather get TravelSkills Weekly instead of Daily? No probs! click here to sign up for TravelSkills Weekly.