Renting a Car in Merida, Mexico: Find a Local Gem

How we got fed up with Mexico car rental horror stories, found a local company and enjoyed smooth sailing around Yucatan
Merida, mexico, street

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Opinions ranged from “Rental companies will rip you off, hold your credit card hostage, you’ll end up penniless or worse, and anyway, you should never drive on those crazy-ass roads if you value your life!” to “Don’t stress, just book through Discover Cars, get a dirt-cheep rental and be on your way!”

We had spent weeks researching the ins and outs of renting a car in Mexico online and grew more and more confused. But then, we stumbled on our smoothest car rental experience to date.

You know your driving is bad when your GPS says, “In 300 feet stop and let me out”

Wheels of Fortune in Yucatan

Yucatan’s ancient Mayan ruins and vibrant culture beckon travelers, but questions about renting a car in Mexico can leave you scratching your head and spinning your wheels in the mud.

“Discover Cars” – the Elephant in the Room

Discover Cars seems to be the wise bloggers’ anointed winner for renting a car in Mexico, promising transparency and customer service nirvana. At first glance I noticed they’re a kind of Expedia for cars, a.k.a. the middle man.

There’s a hefty referral program lurking beneath the surface; bloggers get paid handsomely for every car rented, every insurance policy purchased – the terms are pretty generous (for them, not you), look here and here. While completely understandable (bloggers need to pay bills too), it left us skeptical of the hype.

The feedback on renting a car in Mexico through Discover Cars was all over the map. Some had smooth sailing, while others shared nightmare stories. Those in the latter camp would book their rental online, only to face sneaky upsells and demands for much more money when picking up the car. Unless they caved, it was a no-car, no-refund situation.

My experience mirrored this. I obtained two quotes on the Discover Cars website, one with Avis and the other with National, both at a seemingly reasonable $30 USD per day, all fees included. When I called Avis to confirm, I was in for a surprise. The quoted “final” price on Discover didn’t cover all fees, and I’d actually be expected to pay an additional $101 per day at the Avis kiosk. National had a similar story, with the total price ballooning to $149 per day.

Enter Miguel, the Knight in Shining…Office?

But sometimes, amid the review minefields and horror story threads, you stumble into an unexpected oasis of human decency. Frustrated with big-box options for Yucatan car rental, we turned to local companies. We liked the sound (reviews) of Leon car rental which is a few steps from the airport, but they were sold out for months ahead.

We took the bus from the airport to town and made a beeline for Yucatan Vacations Car Rental, a local, well-reviewed company a 5-minute walk from our hotel, Courtyard Marriott (and even closer to Hyatt Regency where we stayed later, paying with points, of course). I was clutching notes from my weeks of research and a printout of my credit card’s rental car insurance policy as we, with stony determination on our faces, pulled open the glass door into the small office.

A slender man named Miguel with large, brown eyes of a shy deer and aura of honest sincerity, greeted us with a warm smile. He patiently listened and offered one his cheapest cars if we could wait a couple of days.

But we needed our ride pronto. He quoted us 1000 pesos a day for the next step up – which, as I’m writing this, is $59 USD. The price was much steeper than I was expecting for Mexico but worlds better than what Avis and National quoted us a few hours prior, or the Discover Car’s not so final “final” quote.

Most importantly, Miguel put no pressure on us, no salesy bamboozling. He seemed to operate from that rare mindset of simply providing a good service, rather than extracting every penny from everyone who crosses his threshold.

He led us to inspect our rental wheels – a white Chevy that looked more than ready for all the duties we were about to put her through. He apologized profusely for the rain drops on the windshield, as if he personally had ordered the drizzle.

Then both Miguel and my hubby, armed with their phone cameras, circled the car documenting every minuscule ding and blemish, ensuring no blame would fall on anyone’s head on the return day.

I couldn’t help but wonder what this bizarre dance might have looked like to the ancient Mayans – perhaps a sacred ritual honoring the four-wheeled god of journeys standing between the two men.

With the car approved, paperwork dispatched, and a reasonable deposit paid, Miguel wished us a bon voyage and, just like that, we were on our way, ready for our maiden voyage to the ancient city of Chichen Itza the next morning, in our first-ever rental car in Mexico.

Our Chevy turned out to be a good, reliable car, an automatic with a strong A/C. Thanks to her, we got to see the famous Chichen Itza pyramids and five ancient settlements hidden along Ruta Puuc oftentimes having the place all to ourselves.

Preemptive Strikes: Hotel Room Car Wash

Fast forward to a week later, and there’s the hubby, meticulously scrubbing any lingering echoes of our Mayan Yucatan adventures off of the car’s rubber floor mats – in the hotel shower. We read that even a small sprinkle of sand can trigger a hefty “excessive cleaning” charge, a menace haunting many a car rental review. After a midnight pit stop at the next door gas station to refill the tank, I fell asleep to the sound of Being the Ricardos that the hubby and Paul, our friend and co-wanderer, were watching.

The Grand Return

We pulled up to Miguel’s shop the next morning to return our white chariot with some trepidation, despite the full tank and sparkling mats. Alas, Miguel wasn’t on shift to receive us. Instead a new smiling gentleman checked us in, unhurriedly asking about our adventures and genuinely pleased that we enjoyed Yucatan.

After some pleasant banter, I braced for the inevitable white-gloved inspection of crumbs on upholstery and pedantic nickle-and-diming. But our man barely glanced at the car, thanked us for bringing it back on time, took the keys and waved us inside to complete the checkout paperwork.

No vengeful damage reports, no extortionist cleaning fees, no deceptive fine-print rivulets to navigate. Just human civility, and goodwill to get us on our way with funds and good memories intact.

The Moral

I had to chuckle at the profound lack of drama. Not once have we been stopped by the police. Not once were we threatened in any way while driving or walking in the dark. Everyone was welcoming, smiley and lovely.

So, no, you will not find any affiliate links for renting a car in Mexico in this article; just a personal story about a lucky roll of the dice. It reminded me of the simple power of face-to-face interaction, where sometimes a friendly conversation can unlock the kindness hiding in all of us.

Don’t let anyone (least of all “The Internet”) scare you away from your adventures!

Random Tips

  • When renting a car (anywhere), book the cheapest car they offer and schedule to pick it up after 10am. By then, the rental company will likely be out of the smallest, cheapest cars and you might get upgraded, for free, to a more comfortable car.
  • When booking seats on a plane as a couple, book one isle and one window. People are less likely to choose the middle seat and you might be able to enjoy the whole row to yourself. In case someone does get the seat between you, they’ll be thankful to swap to the window or the isle seat and you’ll end up sitting together anyway. Thank you, Paul, for this tip, it works!

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