DRIVING IN MEXICO
Cruise through our playlist of videos as we drive around Banderas Bay. Click on the link that reads “Playlist” on the top left of the video to select a location.
Having a rental car while on vacation in Puerto Vallarta opens up a whole variety of wonderful opportunities. You’ll not only have the independence and freedom of being able to come and go as you please on your own schedule, but you’ll also be able to travel in the comfort of an air-conditioned vehicle while listening to your own MP3 playlist. With a rental car at your disposal you’ll be able to see so much more of the whole Banderas Bay area within a short vacation time frame than would otherwise be possible if just relying on public bus transportation or taxis to get you from Point A to Point B. The city is very easy to navigate. The ocean is on the west side and the mountains are on the east. So with big landmarks like that it’s truly hard for a driver to get lost and not be able to quickly regain his/her directional bearings. And once you understand basic rules of the road, driving in and around Puerto Vallarta can be a safe, enjoyable and fun experience.
- Wearing a seat belt is required.
- Use of cell phones and texting while driving is prohibited.
- Speed limits are expressed in kilometers, not in miles.
- Driving under the influence is strictly prohibited. The blood-alcohol limit is .08%. Offenders will be jailed.
- Do not get behind the wheel of a car or truck unless you have liability insurance on the vehicle.
- Your vehicle insurance from back home WILL NOT cover you in Mexico.
- Your credit cards’ insurance coverage benefit on rental cars is not valid for travel outside your own country.
RIGHT TURNS FROM THE MAIN ROAD > MUST BE MADE FROM THE LATERAL
Francisco Medina Ascencio is the main road through Puerto Vallarta. It extends from the airport’s runway at the north end past Marina Vallarta and the Hotel Zone ending just before downtown (Centro) at the south end. This stretch of highway is also known as The Main Road or Las Palmas. With northbound and southbound lanes divided by a strip of palm trees in the middle, there are 4 lanes of traffic on each side of the road. Along each side of The Main Road there are a number of sloping exits points. In order to turn left you must look for the nearest sloping exit point and carefully exit onto the lateral road running parallel to The Main Road. Once on the lateral road you will notice a traffic light. From the left-hand lane of the lateral wait for the traffic light to turn green WITH AN ARROW indicating you may now make a left-hand turn across the lanes of stopped traffic to reach your destination on the other side of the highway (entering the lateral road on the opposite side of the highway) or you may make a U-turn into any of the lanes of traffic going in the opposite direction.
At first this may seem confusing, but it makes perfect sense when you realize that The Main Road is a 4-lane highway and no one should expect that you can just start making left hand turns from the middle of a highway; you must first exit the highway and then wait for a traffic signal to indicate that it’s safe to make your way across the 4-lanes of halted traffic. Initially it does take a little bit of getting used to, but once you get into the flow of things it’s really pretty simple. However, for newcomers to PV the most frustrating thing about this set up is that you need to anticipate all of your left-hand turns way in advance. As you may be heading somewhere and across the highway you see the building or street you want to get, but then you realize that you just passed up the perfect opportunity to exit the highway some distance back so now you must look out for another opportunity to exit the highway somewhere ahead and then with the green traffic light make a U-turn to head back toward your destination. But no use getting frustrated. It is what it is.
Luckily for drivers, other than The Main Road all left-hand turns in Puerto Vallarta are handled in the usual way you are accustomed to back home.
USE OF HAZZARD LIGHTS
Driving around Puerto Vallarta and Banderas Bay you’ll notice that hazzard lights are used just as often as turning signals. It seems as whenever someone is getting ready to make some type of illegal maneuver they just throw on the hazzard lights and feel they have thus given sufficient warning to the vehicles around them. A local might be impatient and not wish to wait for a red light to turn green, so when they think it’s safe to go through the red light, on go the hazzard lights as they blaze right through. Or how about making a U-turn where no U-turns are allowed? On go the hazzard lights and the illegal maneuver is quickly made. As all of this seat-of-the-pants driving is going on around you, remain cautious and steadfastly respectful of the rules of the road and the local laws. If you are pulled over by a transit cop you will not get out of a ticket by arguing that that everyone else is doing it too. Some legitimate use of hazard lights is when a car is having problems, traffic ahead is stopped and to prevent being rear ended cars ahead are alerting those behind that they are slowing down fast, and when there is some type of danger on the road and the drivers ahead are warning the drivers behind. On outlying stretches of highway north and south of Puerto Vallarta you may see a line of cars each with their hazzard lights on to warn other drivers about a road construction crew working ahead; in this instance, please continue the chain of warning by putting on your hazzard lights too.
WHEN A VEHICLE FLICKS ITS LIGHTS AT YOU
If a vehicle coming the opposite direction on a highway flicks its lights on and of at you this is a friendly warning about a potential danger that lies ahead. It’s highly recommended that you take heed of the courtesy warning and slow down. Other motorists often warn each other when there is a policeman ahead looking for speedsters, or about other dangers ahead such as road construction or an object in the middle of the road blocking the highway. Another use of flicking lights is when you come across a bridge where it is difficult for two large vehicles to cross at the same time. The first driver to flick his/her lights on and off is the one who is given the right of way and may cross the bridge first.
SPEED LIMITS, TRAFFIC LIGHTS AND STOP SIGNS
While tourist drivers and many others will adhere to the rules of the road when it comes to speed limits, traffic lights and stop signs, there are plenty of local drivers in Puerto Vallarta who tend to view these as mere suggestions or overall inconveniences that can often be ignored. So it’s important to be careful and look both ways when emerging forward when a traffic light turns green as a speedster may zoom across the roadway in front of you even though the traffic light for him had already turned red when he entered the intersection. And when it comes to the question of which driver has the right of way, it’s clearly understood by everyone that it’s always the driver of the largest and heaviest vehicle on the road. Always give the bus drivers enough room to maneuver as they will make abrupt stops, starts and swerves. So just be aware of these things and drive defensively, knowing that in some situations it may be necessary to step up your driving skills and apply an equal measure of aggression.
Traffic lights in Puerto Vallarta are a bit different than you are accustomed to back home. In Puerto Vallarta this is how the traffic lights work:
GREEN LIGHT: “Go”
FLASHING GREEN LIGHT: Indicates that a red light is coming up. So slow down and get ready to stop!
YELLOW LIGHT: Follows the flashing green light. But unlike the yellow traffic lights at home this yellow light is SUPER BRIEF. You’ll see just a quick flash of yellow and then the light turns red. So do not enter the intersection when the light is yellow. There will NOT be enough time to get across the road. If you decide to chance it you could definitely cause an accident as the anxious drivers perpendicular to you will start to go as soon as their lights turn green. So for safety purposes just consider a yellow light to mean “start stopping now.” But do so in a slow and controlled manner, never abruptly. Give the aggressive drivers behind you enough time to stop their vehicles so they won’t ram into you.
RED LIGHT: “Complete Stop”
GREEN ARROW: Indicates a that a turn can now be safely made across the rows of halted traffic. But not all turning lanes will have a green arrow, some will just have a regular green traffic light. And you’ll notice that many times the placement of the green arrow can be oddly located on the signal-light strip configuration, like instead of being lined up right in front of your lane it’s located farther out the light strip to the right, almost seeming like the green arrow is directing traffic from a lane farther off to the right. But it isn’t. It’s meant for your lane. Oh well, that’s just how it is.
STRIP OF FLASHING YELLOW LIGHTS: Slow down and proceed with caution.
In Puerto Vallarta and around Banderas Bay, one-way streets may or may not be clearly marked. And even when they are marked by a one-way sign posted on a corner building those particular streets may actually see some impromptu two-way traffic just because someone happens to find it more convenient to turn down a one-way street going the wrong way in order to get to their destination faster. Remarkably, with all of this going on the accident rate is really low. The reason for this may be that all drivers are alert and prepared for the unexpected, and don’t engage themselves in incidents of road rage but instead just carefully go with the flow. Unfortunately you cannot always tell if a street is one way or not by looking at the direction the parked cars are facing as many times vehicles will be parked on both sides of the street in a mishmash of facing in different directions.
LEFT-HAND SIGNAL ON A TWO-LANE HIGHWAY
NEVER use your left-hand signal on a highway to indicate you are going to turn left, as doing so could result in a deadly accident. On two-lane highways, primarily heading north or south out of Puerto Vallarta, where there is just one lane going in either direction it may be necessary to turn left to enter a resort, business or other establishment. However, if you use your left-hand signal light this is NOT indicating to the driver behind you that you will be turning left. Instead your signal light is telling the motorist behind you that it is safe for him to go ahead and pass you on the left-hand side! So how do you safely make a left-hand turn? You signal to the right and pull over to the side of the highway, wait until the traffic has cleared, and then carefully cross the highway to the other side.
COWS ALONG THE HIGHWAY IN THE SOUTH ZONE
When driving along winding Highway 200, always be alert. You will notice that along certain stretches of the highway, especially between Boca de Tomatlan and El Tuito, you will see road signs indicating that cows may be present on the road. When driving through this area we noticed a cow inside a fenced enclosure, but the gate was wide open allowing the cow to venture out freely. Cows along the highway is a definite reason that it can be dangerous to drive along the winding highway south of Puerto Vallarta at night when it’s harder to see them.
TOPES, COBBLESTONES AND SIDEWALKS
Topes are speed bumps which can either be a set of small bumps or an actual cement strip. In Puerto Vallarta and around Banderas Bay there are precious few signs alerting drivers to their presence. And sometimes when there are signs warning of topes there are none to be found. Go figure! And many times topes are not painted yellow so they tend to blend right in with the road. Going over topes is a jolting experience like none other and actually caused a member of our family to have a very scary nightmare about them after a full day of driving and encountering many of them unexpectedly. Topes can even be located on an on-ramp to a freeway which seems completely illogical as vehicles entering a freeway start to gradually increase their speed on the on-ramp; one of these is entering the freeway from La Cruz de Huanacaxtle heading southbound to Puerto Vallarta. And of special note is the really nasty cement tope in downtown Puerto Vallarta that you drive over when heading south over the Rio Cuale on Vallarta street. It blends in with the street really well and can easily catch you completely by surprise; that one is particularly bone-jarring and potentially vehicle damaging. Other topes are located along the highway when you’re driving south and north to outlying areas. We’ve found it best to follow behind another vehicle so you can observe when that vehicle suddenly hits the ground hard in front of you; that’s our cue for being really careful as a tope is coming up.
The streets of downtown Puerto Vallarta are cobblestone. So drive carefully as you and your vehicle go bump, bump, bump through the streets. Cobblestones can really do quite a bit of damage to a vehicle’s suspension and other mechanical parts. And when you park your car be sure to remind your passengers that they must be very careful when opening the passenger-side doors of the car to prevent damaging the doors by having them hit up against the sidewalks and/or get scraped up. The sidewalks in Puerto Vallarta are very high as during the rainy season the water from the mountains comes rushing downward through the streets of Puerto Vallarta heading to the ocean. Sometimes temporary flooding occurs during heavy rains and the high sidewalks are designed to prevent flooding within the buildings and residences.
STREET PARKING & PUBLIC PARKING LOTS
During non-peak seasons it is fairly easy to find street parking in downtown Puerto Vallarta. Just make sure you park on the correct side of the street (you will often find cars parked facing both ways on a one-way street), and not in “no parking” areas where yellow paint is on the curb or where there are no parking signs. A white sign with a big big black letter “E” with a red line through it means no parking (no estacionarse). Never block driveways. Sometimes you will see a combination of a huge rock, a broken chair or a bucket of bricks put out along the curb in anticipation of a delivery truck coming by to drop off products, or just to maintain street visibility for their storefront; do not remove these items to clear a parking space for your vehicle. If you are one of their customers coming to shop, then you can roll down your window and ask if they can temporarily clear that space for you to park so you can shop within their store. Do not park in areas specifically marked for taxis, and of course do not park blocking crosswalks.
- Parque Hidalgo: At the north end of the Malecon there is paid underground parking below Hidalgo Park. Driving southbound on Ave. Mexico the entrance is right after crossing Venezula Street.
- Parque Lazaro Cardenas: In the Romantic Zone (South Side) there is a paid underground parking structure beneath Lazaro Cardenas Park on L. Cardenas and Pino Suarez. From what I recall, this underground parking lot is not lit during the day or night.
- Benito Juarez: At the south end of the Malecon just north of the Ignacio Vallarta Bridge (or just north of the Rio Cuale along the Malecon and Calle Rodriguez) there is a parking structure within the Benito Juarez Building.
TRANSIT POLICE AND TRAFFIC VIOLATIONS
You will often see transit police driving along the highway with the lights on their roofs ablaze but with no siren. This does not indicate that drivers are to pull over to the side of the road. The transit police are just reminding those on the highway that they are present and monitoring traffic. If you are being pulled over for a traffic violation there will be the addition of noise along with the display of lights. The noise aspect could be a siren or a horn, etc. Carefully pull over to the side of the road and wait for the police officer to approach your vehicle. He will ask for your drivers license and car registration. There will be a bit of courteous banter back and forth during which time you may be asked to surrender either your drivers license or your license plate. Be aware that this is your choice. Always choose to have the officer unscrew your license plate and take that rather than having him take your ID.
If it looks like the officer is attempting to get a bribe from you, just don’t do it. Some motorists will ask the police officer if he can do them a “favor” (wink, wink) of taking payment for the traffic ticket right there on the spot (supposedly this is to save the driver time from having to go and pay for the ticket at the Transito Municipal office) while handing over a small amount like $50 pesos to $200 pesos. If the officer agrees to “help” you by receiving payment for the ticket he is taking a mordida or bribe. But as a matter of principal and to help keep the cops honest, you should not engage in this type of practice. An average traffic ticket is about $400 pesos, and when you pay it within 10 days you will receive a 50% discount. So your bottom-line traffic fine will be about $15.50 USD, and it’s an easy process to pay your fine. The photos below show the Transito Municipal office where traffic tickets can be paid.
Traffic tickets and parking tickets are paid at the Transito Municipal office in Las Juntas on Calle Revolucion, corner of Jose Maria Pino Suarez, which is just north-east of the PVR airport in the neighborhood behind Home Depot. If your rental car is from Gecko, simply let the Gecko representatives know and they’ll make the trip to the Transito Municpal office to pick up the license plate; that way you won’t have to waste your precious vacation time dealing with it.
The federal government has a monopoly on the country’s petroleum. All gas stations in Mexico are Pemex, and the government franchises the various Pemex stations to individuals who operate them. All gas is measured in liters and is sold at fixed prices which are determined by the government of Mexico. Service stations are full-service operations, and a gasoline attendant will pump your fuel for you. It is customary that a tip be given to the gasoline attendant. A typical tip for pumping gas and cleaning windshields is $10 pesos; however, if other services are performed such as checking your oil level and tire pressure a higher tip is recommended.
Types of gas: The red pumps are Premium (premium unleaded gas). The green pumps are Magna (regular unleaded gas).
Make sure that the gasoline attendant sees that you are attentive and are viewing the pump to make sure that it’s been zeroed out before he/she begins pumping your gas. Although most gas attendants are very honest, it’s always a good practice to ensure the pump is initially set to “0” and remain aware of what is going on so you will not be overcharged. The first time you pull into a gas station with your rental car, the usual question often comes to mind “which side of the car is the gas tank on?” A helpful tip: most cars have a little arrow on the gas gauge indicating which side of the car the gas tank is on, left or right.
ROADSIDE ASSISTANCE & THE GREEN ANGELS
The Mexican Tourism Ministry operates a fleet of more than 250 green and white roadside assistance vehicles with bilingual drivers to help motorists who are experiencing car problems along Mexico’s 262 major highways. These roadside assistance vehicles are called Los Angeles Verdes (The Green Angels) and each driver has proper identification. Motorists in need of assistance can dial 078 on their cell phones to have a Green Angles vehicle dispatched directly to their location, or dial 066 (like 911 in the U.S.) and then ask to be transferred to the Green Angels’ emergency hotline. Motorists without a cell phone can simply pull over to the side of the road, lift up the hood of the car and wait for a Green Angels patrol vehicle to find them. Another option is to flag down a passing vehicle and ask for their assistance in contacting the Green Angels. Routes along major highways are patrolled at least twice daily, with Green Angels working from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. The amateur radio communication system that The Green Angels had previously used for more than four decades is now a thing of the past. The Green Angels’ Dispatch and Service Control Center now employs a modern radio communication system with state-of-the-art technology for radio contact with its vehicles, geopositioning equipment within the vehicles, and the capability for interconnection with other communications equipment (UHF/VHF) to coordinate assistance in the event of emergencies.
Services provided by The Green Angels are as follows:
- Mechanical assistance to motorists in need to include some basic spare parts, lubricants and fuel
- Towing to the nearest repair facility, if needed
- At the scene of accidents act in the capacity as first responder, providing first-aid care and emergency radio support
- Provide guidance and tourist information including state and regional tourist attractions and services
- Provide assistance to the general public in the event of disasters
Assistance provided by The Green Angels is FREE. However, spare parts, lubricants and fuel are provided at cost. Although there is no charge for their help, it is customary to tip The Green Angels driver anywhere from $60 pesos to $120 pesos depending on the amount of assistance provided.
FREE ROADSIDE ASSISTANCE: ALAS DE LA GENTE, RIVIERA NAYARIT
This brand new government service providing roadside assistance is now available in the state of Nayarit (Nuevo Vallarta, Bucerias, La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, Punta Mita, Sayulita, San Pancho, etc.). We stopped by to interview one of the drivers to get the full scoop first hand. The driver my husband spoke with was extremely excited and enthusiastic when sharing information about this program and his job. He even gave us special stickers as a souvenir! He said that this program is run by state employees and is completely FREE. From its inception in 2013, its service vehicles and drivers have assisted more than 100,000 vehicles in distress within its first year of operation. The drivers are specially trained, with continuous ongoing education, in the specialty of electrical problems, advanced auto mechanics, first aid, CPR, etc. They are fully equipped to perform basic car repairs on the road. If they cannot fix your vehicle for you, they will tow it for free to the repair shop of your choice or to the nearest auto repair facility. If you run out of gas on the road and are quite a distance out from the nearest Pemex gas station, then they will provide you with gasoline; however, if you run out of gas and are not far from a Pemex location, then they will tow you to the gas station. In the event of an accident on the highway, if they arrive on the scene first they are fully trained to act in the capacity as first responders. Their coverage area includes ALL of the highways in the state of Nayarit, except for the toll roads that are covered by the Green Angels. They carry oil, coolant, hoses, basic spare parts, water and gasoline. Although the driver did not mention this, it would obviously be very much appreciated if you left them a tip. Call 066 for free emergency help from Alas de la Gente.