MexicoEarth > Americas > North America > Mexico
Mexico is a country in North and Central America. Despite its notoriety, hitchhiking in Mexico is not only possible but it can be a rather enjoyable experience. Due to its sheer size it's impossible to give a general hitchability rating for this country: the experiences vary from state to state. As anywhere, you can go fast on highways and very slow on small less used roads.
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Avoid disappointment and unnecessary loss of money by keeping your proof of payment of the tourist fee when you enter the country! They will want to see it again when you leave.
Mexican license plates are very easy to interpret: The name of the issuing federal state is written on them (as you will easily notice once in the country). When traveling longer distances or in central Mexico with its many small states it can therefore be useful knowing which state your destination is in (if you have one).
Hitchability and General Advice
Hitchability in Mexico varies wildly depending on the region and on the setting. by the touristic coast of Oaxaca, for example, it's extremely easy to find rides, while you might wait a few hours on low-traffic rural roads or by the overwhelmingly crowded casetas de cobro near Mexico City.
A peculiarity of Mexican hitchhiking are the ubiquitous pick-up trucks where you just jump in the back, hold onto your hat, kiss the wind and forget about communicating with the driver. Many people will offer you food and drinks, especially Coca Cola! On routes with poor public transportation, payment is sometimes expected and ordinary pickups magically turn into collectivos (shared taxis).
On the small roads, however, hitchhiking can sometimes be time-consuming – waiting times of 2–3 hours are not unheard of. Be prepared with patience, water and sun cream. Although in many places locals hitch to get home from the grocery store for instance, hitchhiking as a lifestyle or as a means of long-distance travel is not so common in Mexico and not everybody might immediately understand what you want. So, on the mountain roads for instance, your brain should be wired more to enjoy the magnificent views and eating the abundance of fruit nature has on offer rather than making a lot of progress.
As for security, most hitchhikers never encounter any major problems. Mexico is an enormous country and experiences vary a lot from state to state. If you want to avoid risks, you can avoid the states close to the border with USA - Tamaulipas, Coahuila, Chihuahua and Durango, i.e. take buses and collectivos when traveling north of the line between Tampico, San Luis Potosi and Mazatlan (the map). Apparently also the states of Guerrero and Michoacán (mostly by the coast), Sinaloa and Veracruz can be risky.
If you go hitchhiking in Mexico, being able to speak and understand at least a bit of Spanish is nearly mandatory. Apart from touristic areas, most people you encounter do not speak English, unless they have lived in the US which isn't all that infrequent. Still, if you know Spanish you can communicate way better with people and get a closer connection with them. Useful Spanish words are "ride" and "aventón", both meaning a lift. Near the Guatemalan border the word "jalón" is used. No one understands what hitchhiking or autostop means so say “busco/buscamos un ride” instead when looking for a ride.
Signs are almost always unnecessary in Mexico. However they really seem to help when you're hitching at a caseta de cobro, especially when the highway splits soon after.
If you're in an area with a lot of local traffic, it might be useful to make a sign that says "Siguiente Gasolinera" (next gas station). Then you can get a ride to a better hitchhiking spot. Similarly, signs that say "reten" (checkpoint) or "caseta" (tollbooth) can be really useful, especially when cars are passing quickly and the checkpoint or tollbooth is only 10 or 20 km away.
Where to hitchhike?
You can hitchhike pretty much everywhere, even on the highway (although pretty much no one stops at such high speeds). In general, asking at gas stations (gasolinera) or even traffic lights (semáforo), especially on bus stops and the like, can get you far pretty easily. Sometimes it is better to be among the cars, in the traffic lights, and directly ask rides from people who have open windows. Sometimes you can just jump in the back of a pick-up without even telling where you are going and just tap on the window when you want to get off.
Other good places include exits from shopping centers, in truck stops or at the restaurants where truckers eat. Some petrol stations in the north don't allow people to do that, but you can try to speak with the manager. It works sometimes. Otherwise, just stay by the cashier of the petrol station or at the door (they can't forbid you that) and ask.
Mexico also has many border control and military and police checkpoints (retén) in the middle of the highways throughout the country. These can be great for hitchhiking. It's usually good practice to ask the personnel for permission beforehand, and oftentimes they'll be asking all the drivers where they're going, so they can even let you know if someone's going to your destination.
You can also catch long rides at the exits of the cities when you travel on the highways. Many cities have speed bumps (tope) where the highway begins at the edge of town. Where there are police posts at the entrance or exits to towns, there are usually topes too. On smaller highways in more rural areas, there are often speed bumps at every little town, making it easy to move quickly with a number of shorter rides.
Many of the larger, faster highways operate on a toll system. It's common for there to be a free road (libre) parallel to the paid one (cuota), the former being slower and easier to catch rides, but the latter much more likely for getting longer rides. The tollbooths (caseta) can be good places too, and the ones near the cities can usually be reached by local transport. However, sometimes you might be told to stand about 100m past the tollbooth itself, so traffic has often already picked up speed by the time they get to you and it can be difficult for cars to pull over. Fortunately, there are often restrooms, gas stations and stores just past the caseta, so you can talk to drivers that stop there. Signs can come in really handy at tollbooths.
In some mid-sized cities like Tampico, Oaxaca, and Pachuca there are no transit roads and you have to cross the city. Taking a bus makes things easier.
It is even less recommendable than in other countries to take drugs or weapons with you, especially since after 2010 the Mexican government, backed by the US DEA who are actually present in Mexico (!!), have decided to crack down on drug and weapon trafficking. This has declined again since the following government of Peña Nieto seems to be more friendly towards the narcos. There still are numerous checkpoints all around the country, but in general it doesn't seem very likely that you will be checked and the soldiers hardly ever search all the way through a large back-pack, unless you answer their questions really bad. If the vehicle you're riding in does get stopped just stay calm, show your passport, say the magic words "turista" ("tourist") and "de paseo nada más" ("just passing"), and if they ask to see your stuff open you bag and show them that it's all clothes and stuff. Small quantities of marijuana are decriminalized and police officers can probably be convinced to overlook them with a small payment, although of course the Hitchwiki community endorses neither drug possession nor bribery. ;-) Be aware that knives are illegal as they are considered "lethal weapons" according to Mexican law and can theoretically be punished by up to five years of prison.
In the south, your drivers might ask you about your immigration status and advise you of immigration check points.
One of the great things of hitchhiking in Mexico is that even if you travel alone, you rarely have to hitch-hike alone, because hitchhiking is such a common activity among locals - joining locals hitching will not only add to the fun, but also your safety. This is especially handy as in certain areas - like in the North, around Chihuahua - men might take you for a prostitute (even if you have a large bag and totally look like a foreigner).
Zenit seriously disagrees with the statement that "you rarely have to hitch-hike alone" in Mexico. In three months, between Baja California and Cancún, he only saw other hitchhikers two or three times.
two_string_sally thinks the day she hitched from San Isidro Mazatepec, Jalisco to the airport (50 km) was a fun ole time! prior to that she'd hitched 2,600 km with her male friend and received the usual creepiness of the world. she will say, however, that mexican men (and turkish, indian etc) seem to perceive us western women as free lovin' (which, relative to their culture, we are), and had the usual, 'do you want to have sex with me?,' leg touching drama you just have to deal with. nothin' dangerous, she might add. FUN TIMES!
Vegetarians/vegans: if you ask food carts or taco places if they have anything vegetarian, and they say no, look at the ingredients they've got in their work area and get creative! One vegetarian traveller's favourite is tomato and avocado taco.
Hitchhikers Katja and Augustas barely fit with all their stuff in the front of this pickup.
Katja is ready to get a ride!
Sometimes hitchhikers can be of help to a driver - here Lithuanian hitchhiker Augustas helping to push a truck somewhere in Mexico.
It may be extremely easy to hitch in mainland Mexico, but in the Baja California peninsula, it's a completely different story! In Baja California, there is only one road, the HWY 1, which isn't hell to hitchhike on but requires a lot of patience: there are often large distances in between cities (which are barely even cities, rather a few ranches and cactus farms) and even larger distances between petrol stations (example: El Rosario is the last one before Guerrero Negro, about 360 km further down in Baja California Sur). Getting stuck in the middle of the desert is NOT fun, and many people can only take you from town to town as it is local traffic or gringos doing one of the many races down in the Baja. Also, unless you are planning on staying in Baja and going back up towards the USA-Mexico border, you should hitchhike from Mexicali south. If you plan on heading to mainland Mexico from the Baja, you must take a ferry in either La Paz or Cabo San Lucas towards Mazatlán, which costs about 80$ USD - Narfette, April 2008
The Yucatan Peninsula (Campeche, Yucatán, Quintana Roo), on the other hand, outshines all Mexico for its ease and amiability of hitchhiking. You might not even fall victim to Moctezuma revenge eating old papaya slushies and bean burritos out of the trash in some of those tourist strips. Hey
In 10 months and tens of thousands of km covered by thumb, my only "bad" experience was between Pto. Angel and Oaxaca City (a notorious drug route, as I later learned). The driver asked me to drive and once I was behind the wheel informed me that the van was full of Colombia's finest. I nearly shat myself, but the experience turned out to be quite interesting, as we were forced to make several detours to avoid police checkpoints, taking me through beautiful and remote parts of the Oaxacan mountains I otherwise never would have discovered. Be careful not to get set up. A very, very, rare occurance, but one that can happen.- unknown hitchhiker, July 2010
I traveled for 8 months in Mexico, all by thumb. I came down Baja California, hitched a sailboat from La Paz to Mazatlán, steamed over to Veracruz for the carnival, went up and around the Yucatán, then down into Chiapas, Guatemala, and then back to Veracruz, across to all the big central cities, and down the Pacific coast to Oaxaca and Guatemala once more. I got picked up by plenty of self-proclaimed drug dealers. Whatever. Lovely country. - Chael777, August 2011
I hitched at exits and on-ramps and speed bumps (topes) and made excellent time from Matamoros to Catemaco. As long as cars are going somewhat slow any place is really a good place to hitchhike. I rarely waited more than fifteen minutes. People were very hospitable. I was treated to lots of delicious food and given places to stay by those who picked me up. This is my favorite country to hitchhike thus far - Eripson, March 2012
The small less trafficky roads, in the mountains and in Chiapas for instance, can test your patience. If you are coming from south (Guatemala) people might be afraid to pick you up because there are so many checkpoints. Even the ones who do stop ask if you have problems with authorities, if you are smuggling drugs or if you have a passport. - Astikain (talk) 15:59, 4 June 2013 (CEST)
I hitchhiked for two months through the mainland and had a great experience. People are very friendly and willing to help. The biggest thing is getting outside the city. The good thing about the big highways is you are more likely to get a long ride, the bad thing it can be rough to have someone pull over. The small villages are easier to get rides but tend to be short. - Jason
ANDALE! México remains my favorite place to catch a ride- starting in san diego, cali and winding up in ciudad de guatemala a month later was a breeze. forget about that one 24 hour wait in Tonalà (7eleven outside Guadalajara, you were cruel to me), and hear me out when i say that topés (speed rumps) are your besties and camionetas (pick ups) are the most splendid way -and most common ride- to view méxico, especially with a cold Modelo in your hand and Chalino Sanchez serenading your ears from the front seat. got our shit checkpoint-searched HARD in southern baja, witnessed bribes in guate, were taken to unknown aguascalientes in jalisco, had too much tequlia in Tequila, got robbed in jocotepec, hitched a ride with turkeys, bread, candy and piñatas, drank the waters of canyon aguacero in chiapas. oh what a wonderful world. thumbed it solo as a chick and with a male and later female road dawg. ¡buen viaje! signing off.- two_string_sally april 2018
For general info about moneyless travels in Mexico, see this handy document.
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