Peak spring break travel season (March-April) approaches. Due to recent currency fluctuations, Mexico is a very good deal for Americans. Many TravelSkills readers (or their family members) may be headed there on vacation, so we offer up this Reader Report as word of caution.
It’s important to note that the TravelSkills reader experiences in Mexico are not isolated– We’ve written about this before, and just last week another incident rolled into our email box:
A Cancun motorcycle cop shook me down for $100 US today. Was merging onto the highway on our way to the airport – at a speed safe to merge with ongoing traffic – and got pulled over. The cop said we could come to the police station and pay $2,500 Mexican pesos or pay him $100 US on the spot. We paid the $100, and he left us alone to make our flight.
Here’s a video of a visitor getting a shakedown:
Has it happened to you, too? Please leave your comments below…
Here’s the original story that we posted last year:
Twice in five days, the Cancun police stopped me and issued me tickets while I was driving a rental car in Mexico,
I want to provide a bit of travel history and driving context to this conversation. This is my 22nd visit to Mexico since 1998, and the fourth time I have rented a car in this country in four years. I have been to Cancun four times. Outside of this week’s getting stopped, I haven’t had a speeding ticket in nine years. And I have had no tickets or hassles driving in Mexico.
My encounters with the Cancun police were notably similar, with small and interesting variations. In both instances, the police car pulled me over, the passenger patrolman approached the car, greeted me, shook my hand, took my license, and asked me out of the car–my passenger remained inside. In both instances, the officer explained the infraction (more on these later), and told me that I could pick up my license at the police station in downtown Cancun the following day once I paid the fine of 2000 pesos (the second officer rounded up to 200 US$).
My first ticket was for going 78 kph in a 70 kph zone (akin to going 48 mph in a 43 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 kph 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 $35) 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.
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 travelers 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 Mexico another country? Share your experience below.