Guide to Renting a Car in Cabo
One of the #1 questions I get about travel in Mexico is, “Is it scary to rent a car there?!” I think there’s a lot of fear around renting a car in Mexico, on dealing with insurance questions, & then possibly getting pulled over by the police & having to deal with that situation! I’ve traveled ALL over Mexico, & have rented cars in Cancun (right at the airport), in Guadalajara, & most recently, with a friend when we traveled from Cabo to Todos Santos, then on to La Paz ~ & back to Cabo, doing a big road trip of the peninsula. So I’ve got a bit of experience renting cars in Mexico! Here are my best tips & “Guide to Renting a Car in Cabo!”
Tips for Renting a Car in Cabo
If you’re renting a car from the Los Cabos International Airport (which is the easiest option), & then driving to either San Jose del Cabo or party-loving Cabo San Lucas, you’ll have plenty of agencies to choose from: Budget, Hertz (I rented here), Thrifty, Alamo, & one you may have never heard of: Cactus Rent-a-Car, which is a local’s favorite, & my top recommendation.
Top Tips for Renting a Car at Los Cabos International Airport
- First off, decide if you need to rent a car or not: if you’re simply planning to check into your hotel & lay on the beach (& DRINK!) all day, then you definitely don’t need a car ~ it will be easy enough to Uber around town. But if you’re in Cabo to surf, enjoy destination restaurants like Flora Farms, & explore towns like Todos Santos & La Paz ~ you’ll need to rent a car.
- When you’re searching for rental cars online, prices will look pretty reasonable: but just know, once you check-in at the rental place, they will MAKE YOU choose an insurance package. Mexico does NOT recognize U.S. insurance policies; so that won’t cover you. And even if you have a credit card that covers rental car damage (as most travel cards do), this still doesn’t meet Mexico’s strict insurance requirements, because credit cards typically only cover collision damage. Bottom Line: Expect your rate to double or triple, once you’ve chosen your insurance package. Hertz offered three packages: low, medium, & basically full coverage. I chose the “medium” package, that had a mid-sized deductible ~ & this essentially doubled our initial rate, going from $40/day to around $65. Not the end of the world, but it’s better to be prepared for this ahead of time.
- Once you’ve chosen your insurance package & received your car, take photos and/or video while you walk around the car with the agent; assess the car for any prior damage, make sure they note it on the form, & I always take photos of any large damages to ensure that I won’t be blamed for it when we return. It also lets the agent know that you’re paying attention & have documentation, should anything go awry at check-out.
- There seems to be a clear conclusion on who is the best rental outfit at Los Cabos Airport: Cactus Rent-a-Car wins hands-down. We befriended surf guides who live in Cabo; Cactus was their top recommendation. Though I rented from Hertz & had no issues, my friend Kadi was in Cabo solo for 10 days prior to my arrival; she rented a car through Cactus & extended the rental more than once ~ she said the process was so simple, & they charged her the exact same rate as her existing rate. The bigger companies can tend to gauge you if you wish to extend. Bottom Line: Cactus is not only the highest-rated company at Los Cabos, but the whole process of working with them, particularly at check-out, is consistently described as “super chill” ~ & isn’t that how you want to feel when you’re in Cabo?
- When you’re returning the car to the airport, there’s a “loop” directly next to the airport. Not only will you find all the rental companies here, but there are gas stations located right on the corner(s) of these loops; so it’s VERY EASY to fill your tank before returning your rental car. Don’t stress about getting gas in Cabo; you can easily wait to fill up at the airport.
- Finally, my last & most important tip: ALWAYS rent your car in advance!!! This ensures that you’ll not only get the best rate (companies are far more competitive online than they are in person, especially the day you need the rental), but it will ensure that there IS a car for you to rent! I’ll never forget an awful experience I had in Playa del Carmen (with a very cheap “friend”); we walked to three different rental agencies, he argued with them about pricing at each, & by the end of the day ~ we had wasted so much time, we missed swimming with sea turtles at Akumal. In my book: EPIC FAIL. Save time: just book ahead!
FAQ on Renting a Car in Cabo & Mexico
Q: Is it safe to rent a car in Cabo San Lucas, or even just Mexico in general?
A: As I mentioned above, I’ve rented a car solo in the Yucatan Peninsula, driving it from Cancun to the Pink Sea, then down to Playa del Carmen & Tulum ~ & then alllll the way across the Peninsula to the beautiful town of Merida, which is near the Uxmal Ruins. The only real problem I encountered was SPEED BUMPS!! They are absolutely awful in the Yucatan. But luckily, this is NOT the case anywhere we went in Cabo. I’ve also rented a car solo in Guadalajara, to meet up with friends in Arandas: again, no issues; no safety concerns. In Cabo, we drove up (on a virtually EMPTY highway) to lovely Todos Santos, which is so mellow & easy to drive in: it’s far easier driving than any city in the States. La Paz, because it’s such a large & spread-out city, was the most challenging to drive in; Mexican drivers don’t always stop at stop signs, so you really need to pay attention when you’re crossing smaller roads ~ even at times, larger intersections. We had one encounter with a driver running a red light, & it could have caused a collision had I not seen him coming from the right. Driving in Los Cabos is also a bit challenging, simply because there are so many round-abouts; Kadi said it took her several days to get used to navigating the chaos that is Cabo round-abouts….particularly the massive one by Chedraui!
Q: Have you ever gotten pulled over while driving in Mexico/Cabo, & did they make you pay a fine?
A: On this recent trip to Cabo, Kadi drove most of the time (& she is quite an aggressive driver, I must say!) ~ & NO, as two American girls, we never got pulled over. The only time I’ve ever personally gotten pulled over in Mexico is when I mistakenly went the wrong way down a one-way street in Cozumel; there was a cop sitting right there, & he confiscated my driver’s license until I was able to pay the (cash) fine. I eventually went to the police station to pay it. Aside from that, I’ve been with a big group of people near Ensenada & we got pulled over; our driver paid the cops cash & then we went on our merry way. But other than that, in all my Mexico travels, I’ve never been pulled over.
Q: What’s the drive like between Cabo & Todos Santos?
A: We drove straight from the Los Cabos Airport to Todos Santos, & it took under an hour. I cannot emphasize how EMPTY this road was, with zero traffic (probably because it’s a toll road). And the beauty of driving from the airport is: you can completely avoid driving through both San Jose del Cabo AND Cabo San Lucas; the toll road runs right above them, so it’s just a straight-shot over & then up along the coastline. You’ll pass Cerritos Beach, which is popular with surfers, & about 10 minutes after that, the road will take you straight into Todos Santos, which is a far smaller & quieter than either of the Cabo’s.
Q: How much is the toll between Cabo & Todos Santos?
A: It was around 32 pesos, or approximately $2.75 U.S.
Q: What’s the drive like between Todos Santos & La Paz?
A: This is only about an hour’s drive, & the first 45-minutes are easy-breezy, on a fast & mainly empty highway. But then, you’ll reach the outskirts of La Paz: which has lots of strip centers, industrial buildings, & LOTS of stoplights. This part gets really tedious, & you need to be on your toes, watching for bad drivers here; depending on where you’re trying to go in La Paz, getting through this part could take anywhere from 20-45 minutes, depending on traffic & how far you need to go. This part is not pretty, until you reach the Malecon (waterfront) section of La Paz, where most all the good restaurants & hotels are located.
Q: Is La Paz worth visiting?
A: We originally wanted to visit La Paz for the “Bucket List” experience of swimming with sea lions on Isla Espiritu Santo, which is just off the coast of La Paz. However, we visited at the tail-end of a hurricane, & we called every snorkel shop in town: NO ONE was doing boat trips the day we were in town. Bad timing. So in retrospect, La Paz was the one place we could have done without visiting. BUT, the unexpected silver lining was: all the food we had here was absolutely amazing!! Sooo, it actually turned out to be not so bad.
**GWTW Tip: Vrentino Restaurant, on the north end of the Malecon, is the meal I remember most from our whole trip ~ SO GOOD!! This is a baking company, so not only do they have amazing breads & pastries, but our seafood dinner & salads were absolutely delicious.
Q: Do I need to rent a car in Cabo?
This is something I touched on above: if you’re just in Cabo to drink & party ~ you certainly don’t need to rent a car. But if you’re wanting to explore other towns on the peninsula, or especially if you’re a surfer, & want to find *hidden* surf spots like those on the East Cape (which you’ll find east of Los Cabos, off the same road that takes you to Flora Farms): the only way you’ll get out there is via bumpy dirt roads that require a car. There’s NO WAY you’re calling an Uber from out there! The more exploring you’re going to do, particularly if it’s to more remote places (which also describes Cerritos Beach), I’d strongly recommend renting an SUV or a car with more clearance.
La Fortuna is another popular surf spot, located about an hour east of San Jose del Cabo; there are very few services here, & again, it’s easiest to rent a car if you plan to either stay or surf here.
We travel to Cabo often and so far, Cactus has been our favorite rental spot! They’re so easy-going, very different than dealing with a national chain. Question: did you travel along the East Cape at all? We’re thinking of renting a car to surf over there, but wondering how difficult that road is? Thank you!
Hi Dave, thanks for your question! Yes, we traveled to the East Cape ~ & in fact, several of the photos in this article were taken there! It’s so much less touristy & more relaxed than Cabo proper. If you’re renting a car: I’d get one with high clearance. The road to the East Cape is a dirt/sand road with lots of curves & some pot holes, so if it was me, I’d want an SUV or truck. Our friend had a pick-up truck which did just fine on that road. Hope that helps!