Driving in Mexico City and Other Van Life Mexico City Tips

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Navigating the roads, locating the perfect campsite and more

Thinking of visiting Mexico City on your road trip in Mexico but are concerned with driving in Mexico City? Don’t worry, you are not alone. We thought the exact same thing before jumping (or driving?!?) right in. Mexico City was definitely not a destination we wanted to miss on our vanlife Mexico trip, but we thought having a car in the city would be less than ideal.

We, however, proved ourselves wrong. We found Mexico City to be one of the easiest places to over has been one of the easiest places to overland. And our hope is that you will too!

We have put together a list of everything we know to help you navigate your overlanding adventure. From driving in Mexico City and camping in Mexico City and even where to find a shower in Mexico City, we hope you can spend more time in Mexico City eating yummy tacos rather than sorting out the logistics with our handy tips!

Driving in Mexico City Under “Hoy No Circula”

Mexico City is massive. With approximately 21.3 million people living in Greater Mexico City, it is in a word chaotic especially on the roads. So what is it like driving in Mexico City? How does a city of that size manage with all of the cars on the road?

Well, in 1989, the government stepped in. No, I’m not talking about the standard red means stop, green means go. In an effort to truncate the pandemonium on the road and improve air quality within Mexico City, the government created driving restrictions.

Driving in Mexico City under the "Hoy No Circula" driving rules

In Mexico City, there are rules regarding who can be on the road and when for driving in Mexico City. The name of the rule is “Hoy No Circula”. The government gives residents of the city a specific rules for when they can and cannot drive according to their license plate number. For example, license plates ending in 5 and 6 cannot drive on Mondays between 5:00 am and 10:00 pm.

Foreign Vehicles Driving in Mexico City

The rules are different for foreign vehicles under the “Hoy No Circula” unless you obtain a Tourist Pass. A foreign plated vehicle aged less than 15 years may obtain a temporary permit for driving in Mexico City for a period of two weeks once every six months. A Tourist Pass waives all restrictions and you are free to roam as you wish.

If your vehicle is older than 15 years or if you cannot be bothered to do the leg work required to obtain the Tourist Pass then certain restrictions apply for driving in Mexico City. First, a foreign vehicle is banned from driving in Mexico City on one day of the week from 5:00 am to 10:00 pm according to your license plate number just like the locals. The restrictions are as follows:

  • Monday – 5 and 6
  • Tuesday – 7 and 8
  • Wednesday – 3 and 4
  • Thursday – 1 and 2
  • Friday – 9 and 0 and those ending with a letter

Secondly, in addition to the day ban, foreign vehicles are not allowed to drive in Mexico City each morning between 5:00 am – 11:00 am regardless of your license plate number. Lastly, no driving on Saturdays from 5:00 am to 10:00 pm period.

So basically, there is a lot of time when you cannot be driving, but let’s face it, the traffic in Mexico City is terrible. You are better off walking or catching public transportation anyway.

Other Useful Tips for Driving in Mexico City

The Front License Plate for American Vehicles

License plates
Image by Capri23auto from Pixabay

US plated cars typically do not have a front license plate and Mexico cars (really most other countries) do. The police on several occassions pulled us over to ask about our front license plate, and the same might happen to you. If this happens to you, don’t fret. There is no requirement for US plated cars to have a front plate even in Mexico. Just kindly let the officer know and be on your way!

Narrow Roads

A VW Bug parked in Mexico which is much better suited for driving in Mexico City under the "Hoy No Circula" driving rules with the narrow roads and highways.
VW Bugs are much better suited for driving in Mexico City on the narrow streets

The roads on the highways while driving in Mexico City are narrow. I mean really narrow. We almost took our mirror off, but thankfully the mirror held its ground. That is until Eddie knocked it off in San Cristobal de las Casas on the extremely narrow roads there. Evidently, it is safe to say that lots of roads in cities and towns throughout Mexico are narrow.

Where to Camp in Mexico City

It is customary for us to grab an Airbnb or hotel/hostel due to the sheer inconvenience of inner city camping. The main inconvenience, the fact that our van does not have a toilet. The second inconvenience, being confined to your vehicle the whole time and trying to be as inconspicuous as possible.

In Mexico, however, it is different. If you have been researching van life Mexico City, you may have heard about Bosque de Chapultepec (Chapultepec Park). And it is most likely that you are planning a visit here. Luckily, the massive park is not only home to museums, a zoo, jogging and biking paths, and restaurants, but there is a dedicated parking lot where overlanders can stay for as long as you want. The lot is located in the second section of the park (see coordinates here) and is open 24/7. The lot accommodates all types of overlanding vehicles, vans, buses, big rigs, trailers you name it. When we visited there was plenty of room available even after arriving late in the evening (after 8:00 pm). Make sure not to miss the entrance upon arrival as the entrance road is one way. 

Image by German Rojas from Pixabay

As far as facilities go, this is top-notch for an inner city parking option for minimum cost. To camp overnight, it costs $80 per day. If you arrive on Friday and leave on Monday you pay for three days, not two nights. An attendant comes by and collects your ticket and gives you a “special ticket” for overnight camping. Or if you are lucky, no one notices you are there and you pay only the standard $40 pesos per day. There is no time limit on how long you stay meaning less driving time in Mexico City and more exploring!

A restroom is available in the neighboring parking lot from 6:00 am – 8:00 pm and costs $5 pesos per visit. A local bus runs nearby allowing you to get to anywhere you might want in the city. Plus Uber only costs a few dollars to run between the nearby neighborhoods. 

Another benefit, there is no gate that closes in the middle of the night, so party until the sun comes up. Despite this, the lot feels safe as a guard patrols the lot during the day and night.

Overall, you really cannot beat this fantastic location in the city. It is a great base for exploring Mexico City and Mexico City deserves at least a few days of your time. 

Other Tips for Van Life Mexico City

There are hundreds of blog posts on things to do and see in Mexico City, so we won’t bore you with another post. We have only put together tips we found useful for exploring and overlanding Mexico City.

Showers

Having a shower is a luxury in the Van Life world. If you are travelling through Mexico City, a day pass to Energy Fitness near the Angel of Independence can be purchased for use of the gym and a shower (or just a shower). It comes at a steep price, but the reward smells great.

Advance Ticket Purchase for Frido Khalo

The line gets long at the Frido Khalo museum. Purchase tickets in advance through their online portal and skip the line. The museum is definitely a must see in the city.

Visit One of the Top Ten Restaurants or Bars In the World

Mexico City is home to one of the world’s top ten restaurants, Pujol, and one of the world’s top ten bars, Licoreria Limantour. Take the opportunity to visit one or both of these while in Mexico City. It may be a bit more expensive, but you only live once! And it is a steal compared to other top ten restaurants and bars around the world!

A yuymmy morsel at Pujol, Mexico City

Hopefully driving in Mexico City and understanding the “Hoy No Circula” rules will be a bit easier and help you enjoy your van life Mexico City adventure.

For other great van life spots in Mexico check out our article 4 Free (or Next to Free) Epic Campsites in Mexico!

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