Yucatán scams and how to expertly avoid them on your trip

Yucatan Scams and how to avoid them
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Travelling to the Yucatán Peninsula soon and want to prepare for your trip in the best possible way? In this blog post, I will share some of the scams I have experienced there over the years and – where possible – give you tips on how to avoid them.

As much as I love travelling around the Yucatán Peninsula, I hate being ripped off and cheated. Be it at the airport, when taking a cab or when renting a car. Be it in Cancún, Playa del Carmen, Tulum, Mahahual, Isla Mujeres, Bacalar or any other place on the Yucatán Peninsula and in the two states of Yucatán and Quintana Roo.

13 scams in Yucatán and how to avoid them

I visited this part of Mexico for the first time in 2011 and have been coming back regularly ever since. Why? Because the dive sites are simply fantastic. So fantastic that sometimes you even put up with a small scam.

Important: Yes, Yucatán is generally safe to travel to. Some common sense doesn’t hurt and this blog post is by no means intended to stir up fear or discourage you from travelling to Mexico.

I have either experienced the scams I have gathered for you here myself on 10+ trips or friends have told me about their experiences. Most of them are not big scams, but rather smaller scams that are simply bad or cost some money.

#1 Private transfer from the airport

When I’m travelling with my husband, we usually treat ourselves to a private transfer, which we book directly at the airport building on arrival. These are not exactly cheap and seem costly, especially compared to the ADO bus. As most airlines from Europe (and some from the USA and Canada) arrive in Cancún in the afternoon, the logistics on the ground are overloaded. The waiting time for luggage can take up to 2 hours. This also means that the transfers are well booked or even overbooked. That’s what happened to us. Arrival in the late afternoon, long wait for luggage, then booking the private transfer to Playa del Carmen and then another long wait outside for the taxi. When we then asked, we were told that all the units were currently occupied and that we could take a shared van instead. As we really didn’t want to wait any longer, we did just that. However, we didn’t get any money back as the counter was already closed.

What you can do about it: Very little. My tip would be not to book private transfers if you arrive in Cancún in the afternoon and take the cheaper shared van – or the bus.

#2 Spare tire stolen from rental car

If you want to travel around Yucatán and are looking for a certain degree of independence, there is no getting around renting a car. Recently, my husband and I spent a good ten days criss-crossing the region and wanted to visit some places that are not accessible by local buses. Unfortunately, our car was probably broken into in Bacalar. Fortunately, none of our personal belongings were stolen because we really don’t leave anything unattended in the car. However, the boot lock was damaged and the spare tire was missing. To be honest, we didn’t really notice and it was only when we returned the car in Playa del Carmen that we were made aware of it. The rental company then charged us just under €500 for the damage to the boot and the tires. Fortunately, we had no excess insurance – but they only pay if you can present a damage report, including a theft report. We then spent the rest of the afternoon in Playa dealing with the authorities.

What you can do about it: Don’t leave anything in the car and, if possible, don’t park in dark streets, but on larger streets so that there is less chance of someone playing with the locks. If something is still missing, go to the police and plan the return of the car and the return flight with enough time in between.

#3 Tricks at the gas station: meters

In Mexico, you don’t refill your car yourself. Instead, you drive to the gas station and tell the employee the desired amount in pesos, litres or tell them to fill the tank completely. Occasionally, it may happen that the meter reading at the pump is not zero, and you end up paying also for the previous person’s tank.

What you can do about this: Pay attention to the display before refuelling and point it out if necessary.

#4 Tricks at the gas station: Cash

Another scam at the petrol station is – admittedly – a really good one. Especially if you are not familiar with pesos and want to pay in cash. If you then want to pay with a 500 peso bill, it can happen that the employee turns around or walks around the car and then holds a 50 peso bill in front of your face and says that you didn’t give them enough money. This always unsettles me when it happens to me.

What you can do about it: Show the employee the bill and don’t let go until you get the change. Alternatively, you can always say that you want to fill up with 500 pesos when you fill up. Then there won’t be any problems with the change.

#5 Withdraw US dollars

Especially in pedestrian zones and near hotels, there are often ATMs that dispense US dollars. These are usually horrendously expensive because double exchange rates are running in the background (euros (or whatever your bank’s currency is) to pesos and then again from pesos to US dollars).

What you can do about this: Simply avoid them. If you absolutely want to take US dollars with you, then order them from your bank before your trip and take them with you. Alternatively, if you are flying via the USA, you can simply withdraw dollars at the airport during your stopover.

#6 Fees for cash withdrawals

When I’m travelling in Mexico, I avoid stand-alone ATMs and only withdraw cash from those that are located within a bank. These are secured with surveillance cameras and usually also offer better exchange rates for withdrawals. I wouldn’t consider it a scam per se, but there are significant differences in the fees. These are mostly between 35 and 180 pesos (approx. 1.80-9.40€, 2-10 US dollars).

What you can do about it: This fee is displayed on the screen of the machine and you can then confirm it or cancel the process. I am usually not willing to pay more than 50 pesos (approx. €2.60) and prefer to look for another machine if necessary.

#7 Excessive exchange rates

Another tip that has to do with money: When you withdraw or pay money with your card (regardless of whether it is a debit or credit card), the machine will ask you whether you want to pay in pesos (or US dollars) or euros (or the local currency of your bank). Always (!!!) choose the option in pesos, as this is by far the cheapest. The difference can hardly be noticeable, but the other currencies usually add 10-25%.

What you can do about it: Always choose the local currency – i.e. pesos in Mexico.

#8 Overpriced taxi rides

In most places in Mexico, there are set rates for taxi rides. However, many travellers are unaware of this and allow themselves to be ripped off. The prices can be a multiple of the actual fare, or simply 10-20 pesos more. If it’s a small surcharge, it’s usually fine for me. But if it’s a lot more, then I’ll look for another taxi.

What you can do about it: Find out in advance (e.g. at the hotel) approximately how much the cab ride should cost. This will give you a guideline. Before getting into the cab, ask for the fare – ideally in Spanish: Cuanto es la tarifa a ____(place)?

#9 Ferry ticket rip-off

This scam didn’t happen to me, but to my fellow blogger Annika, who founded Midnight Blue Elephant and The Very Hungry Mermaid. We happened to be travelling in the same place in Yucatán at the same time and she told me about a scam when buying ferry tickets from Playa del Carmen to Cozumel.

She was approached by a ticket seller in the pedestrian zone around the ferry terminal and bought a ticket for the ferry company Winjet. She was surprised that the price was around 200 pesos more expensive than she remembered and asked the man about it. He then said it was a new “environmental tax”. The supposed employee was wearing a uniform from the ferry company, and their “office” also matched the look of the company. She then bought the tickets and later asked me about the supposed tax. Unfortunately, these 200 pesos were not used for the environment, but went into the seller’s own pocket.

What you can do about it: Only buy your tickets at the official sales points directly in front of the ferry terminals in Playa or Cozumel and never on the street. Check the prices online in advance and don’t be misled.

#10 Only buy ferry tickets individually

The next case is more of a tip than a real scam. If you are travelling from Playa to Cozumel (or vice versa) by ferry, you have the choice between three different ferry companies (Winjet, Ultramar and Xcaret Xailing). With a ticket, you are bound to the respective company and cannot travel with a Winjet ticket with Ultramar at will. As I often don’t know exactly when I’m going back, I only ever buy a one-way ticket. There is no discount for return tickets (even if that’s what they suggest). You have to queue twice, but then you have the freedom to travel on the ferry that departs next.

What you can do about it: Only buy one-way tickets, and thus avoid having to wait an hour for the right ferry with round-trip tickets.

Important: This currently only applies to the ferry to Cozumel. There is currently only one ferry company to Isla Mujeres – and that’s Ultramar.

#11 Theft on the ferry

Someone on the dive boat told me about this scam: They were travelling as a couple from Playa del Carmen to Cozumel. A live band was playing on the ferry, and the purpose of this was probably not just to entertain the guests, but above all to distract them. When they arrived, he discovered that his wallet had disappeared and his credit cards had been charged several thousand dollars in a matter of minutes. Fortunately, he was able to have the credit cards blocked quickly, and the money was refunded.

What you can do about it: Always keep an eye on your valuables. Especially if there are distractions.

#12 Two sets of menus

The penultimate scam that I was made aware of in Mahahual was pretty cheeky. Along the promenade (Malecón) you will find one restaurant after another. Especially those in the northern area, which are closer to the cruise ship dock, sometimes have two different menus. One in Spanish, with prices in pesos. And another in English, with prices in US dollars. However, the exchange rate between pesos and US dollars is entirely fictitious and the prices on the English menu are many times higher.

What you can do about it: Always ask for the Spanish menu, and then use the Google Translate app if you have trouble with the vocabulary.

#13 Tours with sales pitches

If you are not travelling around the peninsula on your own in a rental car and are booking tours instead, make sure you find out in advance whether any sales stops are planned. These are often disguised as markets, and the prices there are utopian.

What you can do about it: Either travel independently or research in advance whether the tour really only includes the stops mentioned in the program.

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Viktoria Urbanek Travel Blog Chronic Wanderlust

Grüß dich, I'm Viki!

At Chronic Wanderlust, I write about my two great passions: travelling and diving – and have been doing so since 2013.

I usually spend a solid majority of the year travelling to experience extraordinary underwater adventures, taking road trips through countries I don’t know (yet) or exploring my home country of Austria.

As a certified divemaster, passionate underwater & travel photographer, road trip enthusiast and individual traveller, I collect unique moments all over the world.

I don’t believe that severe cases of wanderlust – aka chronic wanderlust – can be cured, only treated. On this blog, I want to show you how this can best be realised.

Curious to get to know me better?