First of all, there is good reason to warn about the traffic in Mexico, regardless of whether you're driving, biking or walking. Tourists come down here worried about sharks, malaria and the Mexican Bandido with a big, bushy moustache and a machete, but one of the biggest health hazards here is actually traffic. Many times, tourists seem to think common sense doesn't apply when on holiday, so they drink and drive, or do other stupid things they would never do at home. There is definitely good reason to issue a warning about Mexican traffic behavior. Do not try to apply logic to a situation, but assume that every other driver will act randomly. People often don't look where they're going and they are often going too fast. Do not trust a vehicle's turn signal, nor the lack of one. Two people on a bike (the passenger standing on the hub of the wheel on little extensions called ‘diablos', devils) or a whole family on a scooter is a common sight in Playa. Apart from that, roads in Mexico are sometimes badly planned and sometimes in horrible shape. There is a general lack of awareness in this area and safety isn't always of highest priority. So, be careful! Heads up and eyes open and you'll do just fine.
When it comes to the road surface, there are a few things to warn about. They can be small, huge, deep or hidden in a puddle after a rain, so keep your eye out for potholes! Streets are getting better as more of them are getting surfaced, but potholes can still be a potential danger. You also need to be on the lookout for topes - speed bumps. They are sometimes quite randomly placed it seems, but you can be sure to find them in the outskirts of villages. They are not made after any kind of standard, sometimes they are high and narrow and sometimes low and wide. Quite often they are unmarked, which is another reason for you to plan your trip so that you don't have to drive in the dark. An unexpected tope can easily wreck your car.
Highway 307 is pretty good, but you should always be very attentive to what's going on around and behind you. Add more of a safety margin than at home. Be aware of cars parked on the shoulder and unexpected lane changes. Road engineering in Mexico isn't always up to standards. The speed signs on the highway indicate kilometers per hour. Definitely avoid driving on the highway at night, as you might run into animals (not so common), cars with no lights (common), drunks behind the wheel (very common) or people just walking around on the side of the road (also very common). Drunks in traffic is a problem, especially on Saturday and Sunday. Be very careful when trying to pass, as you might meet another passer who isn't as careful. A left turn signal from the car in front of you means you can pass. Or it can mean he actually wants to turn left (what can we say...). Be extra careful when you want to turn left and make sure nobody tries to pass you. If you need to cross the highway and there's traffic, pull over to the right until it's safe to cross. One rumor about Mexico is that you will be pulled over and robbed on the highway. We've never heard of that being a problem here, in fact drive-by crimes are much more common in the States than here. In case you need help with your car, the highway is patrolled by the Green Angels, who can help you with a flat tire or other minor malady.
All gas stations in Mexico are called Pemex. We recommend avoiding morning fill-ups. They quite often line up, which is a bummer when you want to get going and have fun. Gasoline is about 6-7 pesos per liter. All gas stations are full service and don't forget to give a few pesos to the guys filling up your car and cleaning your window.
Having warned you about Mexican traffic, we have to say that it is actually easy to get around in Playa. You don't need a car to get around town, in fact it's easier not to have one. Playa del Carmen is small enough to for you to walk almost everywhere. Taxis are cheap and are found all over the place. Familiarize yourself with the taxi rate sheet and you don't have to fear getting overcharged. As soon as you leave the center area of town, the rates rise steeply and inconsistently, so ask before you go. Another popular means of transportation is the scooter or bike, both of which are available for rent in Playa. There are plenty of buses going to Cancun or Tulum, and if you want to go on a day trip it's easy to rent a car in Playa.
While in Playa, do be aware of the one-way-street system. There are usually signs with an arrow telling you the direction of the traffic, but they are not always correct and quite often not respected. Going the wrong way down the road must be the number one reason for being pulled over here, so try to avoid that! This is the part that is difficult for a newbie driving around town here. Your best bet is to watch the traffic flow, drive defensively, and if a cop walks up to your window to stop you, just ignore him, smile and drive away. Seriously! If you do get pulled over, and cannot make a get-away, be polite and calm. Under no circumstances try to speak Spanish with the police. Very few police officers speak English. You want them to become frustrated and think that they are wasting time. Shake your head, speak smoothly and quickly in any foreign language, and offer no money. With good manners and an apologetic look on your face you might get out of the ticket, but if you don't, they are usually fairly cheap. It is common in Mexico for the police to remove license plates from vehicles to force the offender to show up to take care of the fine. This usually has the effect of getting motorists to cough up a few pesos, and then the plate is returned, and the officer moves on to the next prey. If you are driving your own vehicle in Mexico, use carriage bolts to attach your plate and you have nothing to worry about.
There are several car rental agencies in town. Many of them are represented at the airport also. Usually they impose an extra fee if you want to return the car in a different place than where you picked it up. The cheapest car to get here is the VW beetle, which you can get for about 40 bucks. You might want to go for a slightly safer car though, for the reasons mentioned earlier in this article. A Nissan Tsuru, for example, rents for 45-70 dollars. Vans or bigger vehicles usually go for 130-150 usd per day. Do get all the insurance you can. There's usually a 1000 dollar co-pay anyway. A lot of foreigners get cheezed-off having to sign an open credit card slip, which the agent will normally insist upon. We suggest noting the date signed, and put "without total" with your signature. We are not bankers, so if you are concerned about this, you should ask yours about it. Check the car carefully before you take off and don't forget to control the quality of the spare tire. Make sure to mark every little scratch and bump, so you don't get in trouble when you return it.