Itching to hit the open road in Mexico? Here we have five epic drives to fuel your wanderlust. Winding through the country's most stunning regions, these classic itineraries take you to jungle-set Maya ruins, dramatic turquoise coastlines and culturally rich colonial cities, not to mention a slew of remote places best reached by car. Happy trails!
The distances provided are not direct between the Start and End points, but assume some diversion from the main route, allowing you to explore more of each region.
Baja California Road Trip
Start – Tijuana; End – Los Cabos – 1000 miles/1600km
Graced with astonishing desert-meets-sea landscapes, otherworldly rock canyons and traffic-free highways, Baja is made for road-tripping. As you traverse the world's second-longest peninsula the road zigzags between the coastlines of the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Cortez, offering glimpses of a Mexico that time forgot.
Start the multi-day tour with some wine-tasting at the Valle de Guadalupe vineyards (Mexico's Napa Valley) before venturing south to laid-back beach town and fish taco mecca Ensenada. Further south await the pristine islands of Loreto with some of the most biologically-diverse waters on earth.
From there the road leads to under-the-radar La Paz before it splits west to surf haven Todos Santos and southeast to Cabo Pulmo, Baja's top dive site. On your final stop, celebrate the long journey in the festive sister resorts of Los Cabos. Consider a road trip in February or March when you can spot blue whales off the coast – the largest animal on the planet.
Further reading: Best time to visit Mexico
Maya Ruins & Mexican Caribbean Road Trip
Start – Cancún; End – Puerto Morelos – 680 miles/1100km
This loop route showcases the most fascinating sights on the Yucatán Peninsula, from jungle ruins and cenotes (limestone sinkholes) to old-world colonial cities and white-sand beaches hugging an aquamarine coastline. As you roll west from Cancún, stop in Valladolid for a dip in an enticing cenote (the Maya believed these natural pools to be gateways to the underworld).
Nearby, don't miss the impressive Maya ruins of Chichén Itzá, but get there early to beat the crowds. Foodies will be licking their chops in Mérida, Yucatán's colonial capital that wows visitors with its extraordinary regional cuisine and vibrant cultural scene.
Next, head southeast to enjoy a leisurely cruise through rolling hills dotted with Maya ruins on the seldom-visited Ruta Puuc. East of Maya country, along the Mexican Caribbean, you'll encounter the impossibly blue waters of Laguna Bacalar, Tulum's dramatically situated clifftop ruins and primo reef diving in Cozumel and Puerto Morelos.
Further reading: Mexico's 10 best beaches
Mexico City to Oaxaca Road Trip
Start – Mexico City; End – Lagunas de Chacahua – 530 miles/850km
The road to the Oaxaca coast serves up a feast for the senses as you visit Mexico's top foodie destinations, marvel at mountaintop Zapotec ruins and linger on sublime beaches. After some excitement in Mexico City, drive south and stop for lunch in culinary capital Puebla, known for its exquisite moles. About four hours away lies cultural colossus Oaxaca City, yet another foodie paradise and a great base to visit the ancient Monte Albán ruins.
As you continue south take a break to sample mezcal in Miahuatlán and then perhaps a stopover in San Jose del Pacífico, a misty mountain town renowned for its magic mushrooms. Yep, those magic mushrooms. From there, the route snakes down a windy mountain road to a spectacular coast where you can enjoy carefree beach-bumming in San Agustinillo, big wave surfing in Puerto Escondido and the unspoiled charms of Parque Nacional Lagunas de Chacahua.
Central Pacific Coast Road Trip
Start – Mazatlán; End – Puerto Vallarta – 275 miles/440km
Kick things off in true norteño (northern) fashion in Mazatlán, where an exciting cultural renaissance is flourishing in its revamped Old Mazatlán quarter. As you move south, take a detour to the tiny island of Mexcaltitlán, a shrimping village believed to be the ancestral homeland of the Aztecs. Next, look for the turnoff to Chacala, a delightful palm-fringed cove where thatched-roof restaurants prepare delectable pescado zarandeado (northern-style grilled fish).
About an hour down the coast you'll reach the neighboring beach towns of San Francisco (aka San Pancho) and Sayulita, family-friendly beach towns with fun-filled outdoor activities such as surfing, kayaking and turtle releases. En route to Puerto Vallarta, drop by the scenic peninsula of Punta de Mita and delight in scrumptious seafood at oceanside restaurant Tuna Blanca. Once in Vallarta, make it a point to visit a stretch of secluded beaches lining the jungle-backed southern coastline.
Around Mexico City Road Trip
Start – Mexico City; End – Parque Nacional Cumbres del Ajusco – 185 miles/300km
This short but sweet tour packs quite a punch as it circles around the edges of Mexico City's southern border states. Start things off with some serious wow factor on a hike in Itza-Popo Zoquiapan National Park, home to two of Mexico's most impressive volcanoes, the active Popocatépetl and the dormant Iztaccíhuatl (aka El Popo and Izta).
Next, follow the highway southwest for an overnight stay in Tepoztlán, an important Náhuatl center where you can climb up to a clifftop Aztec temple. After that, swing by Cuernavaca and check out Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés' old digs at the imposing Palace of Cortés.
Make your final stop at Parque Nacional Cumbres del Ajusco and scale Mexico City's highest peak (Pico del Águila), or simply chill out over a hot champurrado (a comforting corn-based drink) and fresh-made quesadillas at a roadside eatery nestled in the park's fragrant pine forest.
Further reading: Best National Parks in Mexico
Tips for Driving in Mexico
If possible, stick to driving on the toll (cuota) highways. Avoid driving at night to reduce the risk of accidents. If stopped by traffic police, remain calm and stay in your vehicle, you'll often be let off with a warning. Be wary of unmarked speed bumps and ubiquitous potholes. For emergency roadside service call 078.
You may also like:
Getting to know Chichén Iztá, the heart of the Mayan Empire in Mexico
Riviera Nayarit is Mexico's best low-key coastal road trip
Where to find cenotes – Mexico's amazing natural swimming holes