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Tourists Stranded 4 Hours At Toll Booth On Way To Cancun From Merida

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A group of young American travelers are reported to have been trapped at the Cancun-Merida toll booth for over 4 hours last week. This situation was due to the toll booth only accepting Mexican pesos, with neither card payments nor U.S. dollars being accepted.

Tourists Stranded 4 Hours At Toll Booth On Way To Cancun From Merida

Furthermore, this unfortunate incident has sparked debate amongst residents of Quintana Roo across social media, who see this as another example of the deteriorating conditions on the Cancun-Merida highway (route 180).

Local Businessman Highlights The Issue

Influential local businessman Juan Carrillo Padilla, who operates in the hotel and restaurant industry, was central to raising the profile on this incident. In fact, it was the businessman’s own son who came to the rescue of the young Americans, providing them with the toll fee in Mexican pesos so they could continue their journey without further delay.

Mr. Padilla, through social media, spoke of his frustration at the impact this situation has on visitors to the area. Additionally, he called into question the car rental companies, who he believes have a responsibility to warn customers of this situation and the need to carry pesos when exploring the state.

Locals Aren’t Happy

The social media post from Mr. Padilla attracted many comments from locals who agree the current situation is unacceptable. One local commented on the post that the situation the American travelers found themselves in was “totally unacceptable,” with the vast majority of comments backing this position.

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Highway in Cancun

The Condition Of Route 180 Is Unacceptable

To add to the issue of payment, locals have taken the opportunity to voice their concerns about the state of route 180. Large stretches of this extremely busy highway have been reduced to single-lane traffic due to construction work from the new Mayan train project, massively impacting travel times along much of the route.

road works

Furthermore, road traffic fatalities have risen sharply at the same time, with many being linked directly to incidents involving construction vehicles and impatient drivers trying to speed their journey up on the route.

Also highlighted is the lack of highway services such as sanitary facilities and rest stops. Normally seen as basic expectations along a busy highway, the already underserviced route 180 has seen further downgrading of these facilities.

empty highway mexico desert

One Of The Most Expensive Tolls In Mexico

The cost to use this highway is an eyewatering $33 ($608 Mexican pesos). To put that into perspective, the Interstate 880 express lanes in California, which travel from Oakland, CA. to San Jose, CA. cost just $8 ($147 Mexican pesos).

To make the situation even more questionable, route 180 was constructed in 1990 with a 30-year contract for the company that built it to collect toll fees. The agreement was that after the 30-year period, the highway would become public and free for all to use as promised by the President at the time, instead the right to collect toll fees was contracted out to ‘ICA Group’ by the current government in 2020.

Understandably this is enough to draw criticism from locals, but with the added issues of ever-rising toll fees and sub-par conditions on the highway, the situation is becoming highly controversial.

mexico cancun highway infrastructure

The Impact On Tourism

Mexico is the number one tourist destination for Americans, with almost 29 million visiting in 2021 and pre-pandemic numbers reaching almost 40 million in 2019. And with Cancun and the surrounding areas now finding heavy competition from Los Cabos in the north and Puerto Vallarta in the west, off-putting news such as this will be a big talking point in the tourism sector.

While the advice to avoid the same situation these young Americans found themselves in is quite simple, to carry Mexican pesos while traveling, it has highlighted much deeper issues with route 180 for visitors and locals.

Maya Train route map displaying main stops

The first stretch of Tren Maya (the Mayan train route) is expected to open in December 2023. Unfortunately, it’s only the Palenque to Cancun route of the train that has a solid opening date announced.

The ‘Cancun-Chichen Itza-Merida’ route has not been given an opening date yet, leaving many wondering how long tourists and locals alike will be expected to put up with the issues on route 180.

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Saturday 25th of February 2023

They're stupid, if you are in a foreign country you need to get the local currency, learn to travel instead of just scream at another country for not accommodating your stupidity.


Friday 24th of February 2023

We foud ourselves in the exact same situation, two years ago. We had to bribe a guy in Dollars to get out. I understand the Pesos part a little, but it is way too expensive. And if you consider that they won't let you get pesos at an ATM, downtown Cancun and Playa del Carmen makes it even more understandable.

I live part time in Merida now. And traveling on that route is a rip off. Even more with the whole construction going on at the moment.


Friday 24th of February 2023

Same thing happened to me about two years ago I had to flag people down to ask someone to to take 10 American dollars to give just enough pesos to go thru

Jan Hageman

Thursday 23rd of February 2023

This happened to my wife and I a couple weeks ago driving from Playa to Chiquila. Google Maps did not mention it was a toll road. We get to the toll and are told Pesos only. The toll operator then give me my only option, which was to back up and park. I said, OK and then what? He couldn't give me the next step. We got lucky and some locals behind us ran up with pesos and we gave them US dollars.

Getting rid of crime and the stigma is difficult. Accepting other forms of payment at tolls...that is easy

Betsy Ward

Friday 24th of February 2023

@Jan Hageman, Why would you be in a foreign country, any foreign country, and have zero local money on you? That’s ridiculous

Nicholas roots

Thursday 23rd of February 2023

Can I use mexican pesos to pay the toll on the interstate expressway in California, I think not. Any experienced traveler always carries local currency whilst abroad.

Betsy Ward

Friday 24th of February 2023

@Nicholas roots, Exactly right! And if you are flying in, there is no excuse. You pass half a dozen ATMs in the airport alone!