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Harvey's Travel Views

This is my pros and cons on my last vacation to Mexico and the Yucatan Peninsula during the last of June and the first of July 2007. This is my opinions/advice and any advice is like all advice in that it is worth what you pay for it and this is, of course, free. Just a little more info than you get via the companies, governments, and other web sites. I am getting tired of being ripped-off and not having it bother those responsible. And the BLOGS are so hard to find on the web -- I hope I can stand out a little more on the web and help my fellow travelers.


Mexico is a country of contradictions -- so what's new or different??? The common people are honest to a fault, the few rich, uncommon people are dishonest to a fault: just downright greedy and dishonest. The few in the middle that want to be rich will screw your eyeballs out: like the PEMEX gas station attendant or the ticket seller at Chichén Itza (pay for your tickets in pesos, not dollars: it will take a longer time and he will try to shortchange you). In general, your maid will not steal from you; the lower class will respect a lock and will respect your property.

Mexico is 110 volts- 60 cps for electricity, but some of the older construction has non-polarized, 3 hole receptacles that your 2 or 3 prong polarized plug won't go into the socket unless you cut down the wide plug prong -- just like our old 2 prong, non-grounded receptacles -- so go to the hardware store and get you some 2-3 prong adapters, if you don't want a grounded appliance, or get a conversion set from a department store, if you want to ensure a grounded appliance - like a hair dryer in the bathroom.

Gasoline (and Diesel) is PEMEX: LPG is different, but who cares. Gas comes in two grades, usually 87 and 92 octane and they can be called Super, Premium, Magna, etc .... just go buy the octane you want. And there are no self-service stations. The attendant will pump the gas, and if you reach for a tip too early, he will pump it slow whilst he cleans your windows. I would check my own oil, etc. every morning. But do tip: a few pesos are OK, and ensure that the pump is at zero to start.

Learn how much it takes to fill a 1/4 tank and buy that much instead of telling the attendant to fill it up (llene - or formally " llene el tanque, por favor"). This leaves less room for getting screwed -- about 400-500 pesos will be about 3/4 tank worth on most cars. Also remember that since PEMEX is nationalized (and the stations are franchised), there is not a station on every corner -- but they are marked on most road maps. 

So learn how to say "fill it up" = "llene el tanque, por favor" 
and "Here is 500 pesos. Right?" = "Aquí están quinientos Pesos. ¿Está eso correcto?" -- not--  "Aquí están cinco cientos Pesos" -------- or just say, "¿Quinientos pesos, verdad?".

The more you sound like you know what you are doing, the fewer problems you will have. Please read the examples below.

Here is an email I recently received, relating the problems with PEMEX stations and the results of informing PEMEX, Mexico of the problems:

My wife and I just returned home to Seattle, Washington, USA after a 7 day stay in beautiful Tulum. We rented a Thrifty Rental PT Cruiser at the Cancun airport, visited several sites, and over the course of the week, we stopped for gas at 3 different PEMEX gas stations. 
At the first station approximately 10 KM North of Tulum, at about 9PM on Friday Nov 16, on the East side of the highway, we were greeted by a heavy set woman in her 30s, and 4 other employees who filled our tank, cleaned our windows, and then cheated us out of approximately $620 Pesos.  Her method was this:  First, she pumped Premium gas instead of Regular which we requested.  They reset the pump before we could see the reading and the total, then said we owed $470 pesos.  We were surprised it cost so much to fill just over half a tank in a PT Cruiser.  Then my wife handed her $500 Pesos out of her wallet.  The woman handed my wife back a $50 Peso bill, and said it was not not enough.  My wife apologized thinking she had made a mistake and handed her another $500 Peso bill, and received change of $30 Pesos.  I asked for a receipt, and received one for $470 Pesos.  On the way back to our hotel, my wife counted her money and realized we were short by $450 Pesos.  I could not understand why it had cost $470 Pesos for just over half a tank of gas in such a small car.  The total should have been closer to $300 Pesos.
At the second station, 1 block north of the Supermarket in Tulum, on the West side of the highway, on Saturday, Nov 17, at approximately 11:30 AM, I was greeted by a good looking man, about 30 years old, who filled my tank.  This time I counted my money before the transaction (I had one $500 Peso bill and three $50 Peso bills).  I got out of the car, I stood next to the pump, and watched everything.  After he finished, the pump read $300 pesos, I handed him a $500 Peso bill, and like a magician, he handed me back a $50 Peso bill and said it was not enough.  I apologized thinking I had made a mistake, but checking my wallet, I had only 3 $50 bills left, and I told him I gave him a $500 Peso bill.  After some discussion, he gave me $200 Pesos in change.
The third station, approximately 5 KM South of the Cancun airport on the East side, on Monday, Nov 19, at approximately 12:30 PM, I watched as the attendant, a man of about 40, pumped $290 into my tank, removed the pump handle, then the pump reading jumped to $396 Pesos, and he attempted to charge me $106 pesos more than he pumped into my tank.  After some discussion, he agreed it was $290 that I owed, I paid, and we left the station.
Being a non Spanish speaking US citizen, and obviously out of my element in the Cancun/Tulum area, I was an easy mark for dishonest activity.  But I was astonished that it would happen at all 3 stops at PEMEX gas stations.  It seemed to me that I, as a US citizen, was targeted by your employees, and the other employees present were accomplices in this activity.  Like magicians, they change money before your eyes, and make you feel like you made a mistake.  They seem to know what to say to confuse me, and seem to forget how to speak English when there was a problem.  More astonishingly, the 3rd station somehow had a way to increase the pump total after he pulled the pump handle out of the tank, either by computer or by pumping additional gas on the other side of the pump.
I don’t expect a refund, but your company should do an investigation into your dishonest employees.  I will never visit Mexico again, and I will tell my friends what happened to me.

Reply from PEMEX: (sic)
We received this email at the Web Portal Management department.
I’m forwarding this email to the Public Relations department.

The Gas Stations are no PEMEX property, they work on a franchise contract basis and they work under the supervision of the Economy Ministry. I guess our PR area will forward this email.

Thank you
Best Regards
S.V. (name left out on purpose)

Here is some recommendations from a native, sent after reading the above (sic):

Unfortunately, us Mexican citizens also suffer this type of abuse. Here are my recommendations:

1.        Get off the car and watch when the gas door is open.

2.        ALWAYS check that the pump shows Zeroes before they start it.

3.        If possible, pay with credit card. Most Pemex gas stations now take credit cards. Make sure all the process is made in front of you and do not allow them to take it away from your view.

4.        If you pay in cash, do not use high denomination bills. Try to use 100 or 50 pesos bills and avoid 500 or 1000 bills.

5.        Ask for a receipt. It may hold you a bit longer in the gas station but the fellows there will realize you are paying attention to the process.

6.        Never leave the car alone and open. If you have to go away from it (going to the restroom or a convenience store) make sure the windows are closed and lock the car.

7.        Never give a tip until you are certain all went well.

8.        If something goes wrong, ask to see the manager in that moment.

I hope this helps in future trips to Mexico



Driving in the Yucatan is not much different than the US. The roads are not as good normally. There is a toll road from Cancun to Merida, and it is expensive -- 2-3 times more than the US --- but worth it, if you are in a hurry and want to avoid the TOPES. Topes is the old word for the old style of speed bumps that look like steel hemispheres about 6-8" tall, and is still used, as well as, for the international signage, for the more modern speed bumps, that we are used to. On the secondary roads, these are marked poorly, at best, so follow a local taxicab and he will slow down when needed. These don't exist on the toll roads (four lanes). These roads have signs though -- ubiquitous -- about like Burma shave signs, but without the rhyming, and very moralistic. Other advice is that if you are driving, please learn little more than rudimentary Spanish - about the first three months of high school Spanish worth.

Another great aid to driving in Mexico is a GPS navigation system. Most systems only come with US maps and not Mexican. My friend, Alberto Najera at BICIMAPAS has a solution for my Garmin NUVI and maybe yours, as well. They have most of the popular areas of Mexico really well mapped.
Check it out at

Chichén Itzá

Chichén Itzá is now designated as one of the seven wonders of the world. It is about a 2 hour drive from Cancun on the toll road ($25) with an exit at Pisté, the town next to Chichén Itzá. Don't bother with stands that try to sell you tickets ($10) and parking ($1), unless you are going at  prime time. I recommend later in the afternoon, when it is less crowded,  has less parking problems, and is cooler. Bring a bottle of water. They sell water in one stand in the park for $2. They don't let you walk up The Temple of Kukulcán (El Castillo) steps any more, so don't train for the 91 steps. Save your parking ticket that they hand you at the entrance, it will be collected when you leave. Pisté has some buffet restaurants that are setup for the tour buses - the largest buses that I have ever seen (with the shortest drivers that I have ever seen). The buffets are really turista, setup with folk dancers that you are expected to tip, and poor food. The dazzling dates for Chichén Itzá are the summer and winter solstices, when the sun's shadows form patterns. Also, every year, on Spring Equinox, the afternoon sun causes a shadow play so that it appears that a huge serpent is descending from the sky, down the pyramid. The ultimate date is May 20, 2012: the end of the Great Cycle and therefore, the predicted end of the world! We can't hardly miss that, verdad?

Río Lagartos

We did not make it to Río Lagartos but everyone told us that we must go. The reason for this is the pink flamingoes and the fair (which takes place about the last ten days of July). It is about a 4+ hour drive from Cancun, if you take the toll road for about half the way.

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