How To Navigate Driving in Mexico City Plus More Van Life Mexico City Tips

How To Navigate Driving in Mexico City Plus More Van Life Mexico City Tips

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Driving in Mexico City under the Hoy No Circula rules

Navigating the roads, locating the perfect campsite and more

Are you planning to drive through Mexico on a road trip? Are you concerned with driving in Mexico City? Maybe you are wondering whether it is safe to drive in Mexico City at all?

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 Mexico road 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 big cities to visit while in a van. And our hope is that you will too!

We have put together a list of everything we know to help you navigate your van life Mexico City adventure. From driving in Mexico City, 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 logistics with these handy tips!

Is it Safe To Drive in Mexico City?

If you are like us, the first question that you are probably asking yourself is “is it safe to drive in Mexico City?” Or, if you are not already in Mexico you may be wondering if it is safe to drive in Mexico at all?

We have found that driving in Mexico is safe as long as you follow some basic guidelines.

First, make sure you do not drive at night. Nothing good awaits those who drive at night whether it be the infamous Mexican topes or even more horrific the drug cartels. Driving during the day makes things simple, simply because you can see what is coming for you.

Next, keep a low profile. Drawing attention to yourself by speeding or not following traffic rules is an easy way to make driving in Mexico City or really any city unsafe.

Lastly, drive as the locals drive. But what exactly does this mean? Driving safely in any foreign country means driving as they drive. In Mexico, drivers tend to drive more aggressively than they drive in the US. Being a passive driver may mean getting rear-ended as the other drive would expect you to nose your way on out there!

If you follow these basic guidelines, you will be well on your way to safe driving in Mexico and in Mexico City. But outside of these basic guidelines for driving in Mexico, there are also a few more rules of the road to consider for driving in Mexico City.

READ MORE: Is It Safe to Drive Through Mexico? The Complete Van Life Guide

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. In an effort to truncate the pandemonium on the road and improve air quality within Mexico City, the government created driving restrictions known as “Hoy No Circula”.

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

Hoy No Circula provides rules for when people can be on the road and driving in Mexico City. Under Hoy No Circula residents of Mexico City have specific days and times that they can 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

But what exactly does this mean for YOU driving in Mexico City? Can a foreigner drive in Mexico City whenever they want?

Yes and no.

The rules under Hoy No Circula are different for foreign vehicles 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 two-week period every six months meaning you can drive your car whereever you want and whenever you want during these two weeks.

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.

If your license plate ends with a certain number, you cannot drive on that particular day.

  • 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 EVERY 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 no driving on Saturdays at all.

Ultimately, 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. And, if you plan to camp at Bosque de Chapultepec (Chapultepec Park) (more info below), then it is easy to grab public transportation to most places you would want to travel in the city.

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 occasions 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. Camping at Bosque de Chapultepec costs $80 pesos 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 traveling 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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