We have all heard the horror stories about tourists being stopped by police and bandits. Being shaken down for money and so on. I’m sure incidents like this happen just like there are speed traps in the south that drop the speed limit from 50 to 15 and then haul you into court to pay an exhorbitant fine. I however have never experienced this in either Cancun, the road to Merida, Merida, the road to the beach, or anywhere on the beach. So chill out.
You will experience many (depending on the time of year) police check points. Here you will have to slow to a couple miles per hour or even stop as they look inside the car. It looks scary but they just wave you on. During holiday periods there are checks like this going into and out of every city, town, and village. We have only been stopped once and that was because our rental car didn’t have front plates. We showed our paperwork and they waved us on.
Another common thing in Mexico is speed bumps. These are not your run of the mill US speed bumps! Go over one of these at more than a couple miles per hour and it can rip the bottom out of your car. You literally need to roll over them no faster than if you were walking. In certain areas they are pedestrian cross walks, but they are also on major roads / highways into and out of towns. This is where the police setup to look into cars. Be on the look out for these things. They are bad!
You will notice that people don’t observe the speed limits. As a tourist, I recommend you do, or at least don’t go more than 10 kilometers per hour over the speed limit. We have a friend who drives like a maniac (40-50 kph over the limit). He brags that he has never received a ticket (he did roll a car though). However, he speaks spanish and when he has been stopped he just gives the officer some pesos. This brings up an interesting point, keep a 200 or 500 peso note (~$10-$25) in your pocket. If you do run into trouble, our friend assures us that that will clear it up. It’s important to have it separated so they don’t see a wad of 500 peso notes because then they will want more. We have never experienced this so take it for what its worth.
Finding your way in best left to Google. Get Google Maps on your phone, and download maps for Cancun, Merida, and Progreso (along with the roads between them) before you leave home. This way you can use google maps on your phone without incuring any data charges. When you are in Mexico, just let Google Maps direct you where you want to go. I also recommend a car charger for your phone, and a phone car mount (suction or vent attached). Then just blindly follow Google. It might make strange turns but it will get you where you need to go without a problem. Since the maps are stored on your phone, it will work regardless of cellphone coverage.
As a tourist you probably won’t run into this, but cities are broken up into areas called a colonia, and each area has its own set of streets. Hence in Merida, you will fine multiple Calle 15 (calle is street) all over town not connected to each other. You will notice the street numbers going 25 27 29 31 33 then 15 17 19 21 23 25 and so on. Its because you went from one colonia to another. Another interesting aspect of navigation is that in any particular colonia the odd numbers go in one direction (say east-west) while the even ones go in another direction (say north-south). Of course just because even numbers go east-west in one colonia does not mean they will go east-west in another colonia. Hence why I say leave it to Google. Oh and when using Google put in the place name not the address. It works better since you might not know what colonia to use.
The road from Cancun to Merida is a toll rode. There are 2 toll stops. The first one is a fixed price of 276 pesos (or something like that). The second one you have to tell them you are going to Merida and its abut 180 pesos (on the return you have to tell them that you came from Merida). You need cash and you need pesos. If you are driving from Cancun to Merida make sure you got pesos. These are government tolls so they won’t accept US dollars.
In closing, just remember those damn speed bumps. They are killers! Other than that relax and enjoy. The signs are in Spanish but use international symbols so you can figure out what they are saying.