American travelers visiting Mexico’s Caribbean coastline may be unsure of the safest way to get around, as the State Department warned tourists of possible harassment and attacks by local taxi unions for taking Ubers.
The US State Department issued an alert on January 23 for Quintana Roo – home to popular tourist destinations such as Cancun, Playa del Carmen and Tulum – after incidents involving taxi drivers “occasionally turned violent” against drivers. Uber and their passengers that sometimes “resulted in injuries to US citizens in some cases.”
The introduction of Uber, which was allowed to operate in Mexico in early 2023, angered local taxi unions.
Videos of tourists being insulted, surrounded and attacked by taxi drivers circulated on social networks. There were also images and videos of people being forced into police vans to bypass taxi blockades at the airport.
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“Taxistas are a very powerful organization in Mexico and they are not afraid to protest and/or intimidate to maintain their monopoly,” Jeff Lanno, founder of Hola Weddings, a travel agency based in the Riviera Maya, told USA TODAY .
“Quintana Roo is generally a safe place to visit and move around as a local and as a tourist,” said Hola Weddings Community Manager Ricardo Cruz, who is originally from the south of Mexico City and now lives in Playa del Carmen. “I’ve traveled to major cities in the US, Europe and Asia and I feel much safer here than in parts of New York or Istanbul. I think common sense and precautions apply wherever you travel.”
Here’s what travel agents with experience planning trips in the Cancun area had to say about the best and safest ways to get around:
Is it safer to take a taxi or Uber when getting around Cancun?
Although Uber may be more affordable than taxis, the ride-hailing service is not widely available and its driving range is limited – it is not allowed at the airport and often stops at resorts (where taxis usually wait outside).
“The issue surrounding Ubers and taxis in Cancun has been an ongoing situation for the past several years,” said Matteo Luthi, chief product officer of Mexico-based travel company Journey Mexico. Luthi has been based in Cancun for the past 12 years. “However, the Cancun authorities have recently and officially legalized Uber, so we expect things to stabilize in the coming months.”
Lanno agreed. “We have thousands of US-based customers flying into Cancun airport every year and at this time I would absolutely not recommend taking an Uber in the area.”
He said he, his friends and colleagues have yet to get into Uber Cancun. They are also not widely available. One Tuesday night, he said only one was available in its entirety Cancun hotel area.
There are other alternatives. “For people who plan to drive a lot along the coast, a rental car might be worth it,” he said. “However, for those staying in an area or planning to go to a resort and maybe go on an excursion or out once or twice, I would say stick with a transfer company and taxi company and/or tour. More cheaper and less hassle for sure.”
How can you safely get a taxi in Cancun?
If you’re making a quick trip around the area and don’t want a rental car, a taxi may be the right fit.
Cruz recommends taking a taxi from your hotel if you can, as “there’s a sense of order and control.” He said, “It also helps to find items left behind or clear up any misunderstandings while driving.” There are also taxi ranks around most of the visitor spots.
If you’re hailing one on the street, the team at Hola Weddings said to keep an eye out for a few things to ensure a taxi is legit.
- All official taxis have specific coloring. In Cancun and Playa del Carmen, taxis are white with green stripes. In Cozumel, Tulum and Playa Mujeres, they are white with red stripes.
- Taxi drivers have an official uniform issued by the union – it’s a white shirt with a green taxi union logo on the chest pocket area.
- Each taxi has an identification number marked on the side.
- Taxis must have two license plates – on the front and back of the car.
Before getting into the taxi, make sure you ask for a fare card and agree on a price. “Drivers will usually try to overcharge you, or they just won’t take you where you’re going because they think it’s too far,” Cruz said.
If you pay in US dollars rather than pesos, expect the rate to be inflated, he added.
If anything, Lanno said you can ask to see a fare card, which all taxis must have, but “rumor has it that some of them have different cards with higher fares.”
How do you recommend people get to and from the airport safely?
Both Hola Weddings and Journey Mexico said they always arrange private airport transportation for their clients because it’s the safest and easiest mode of transportation plus the prices are locked in. There are also official airport taxis at Cancun International Airport, Luthi said.
Kathleen Wong is a travel reporter based in Hawaii. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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