Driving in any foreign country is an adventure and there are certainly some places where it is advised not to drive, but the Riviera Maya is a fairly easy place to rent a car and get around. There are certain caveats (see sidebar) but as a general rule driving can be quite economical and a great way to really see the authentic parts of the area. When you have a car, you can visit small town taco stands, thrilling cenotes and caves, and almost deserted beaches, usually all within a few miles of where you are. The most important thing to remember about driving is that you are a tourist, therefore you should be driving generally slower than everyone else. This implies a certain courtesy, so move out of the way when cars behind you want to pass! The roadways frequently have pedestrians waiting nearby, sometimes in large gatherings for transportation, and care should be given anywhere you see pedestrian overpasses or intersections. The rewards of pulling into a thatched roof cement pad restaurant on the side of the road with plastic chairs full of local people with lots of food on their tables makes the sometimes minor hassles of renting a car all worthwhile.
Rent from a reputable car rental agency, either at the airport or off the airport (they will come pick you up when you arrive) in advance over the internet. Remember that the car size categories are much smaller than the US standard, so choose appropriately. Most importantly, get full insurance coverage and check the car carefully. Pay with a credit card so you have all that protection that yours may offer.
Be aware of the gas station scam! When you pull up to the gas station (Pemex) have your pesos ready to show the attendant how much gas you want. Be sure the pump is zeroed out before he pumps. One person should keep their eyes on the pump numbers at all times. Do not be distracted by the attendant trying to point out something on the tire, etc. Show the pesos (i.e. 200) say “200 pesos, and do not take your eyes off the transaction. Sometimes they will try to switch bills to make you think you did not give them enough pesos.
Be aware of the speed bumps (called topes). They are often unmarked and can damage your car or health! If you see a walk-over the highway, there will be topes!
Be aware of the speed limit even though everyone will be breaking it! If the police pull you over for any reason, they will tell you that you need to follow them to the police station to get your license back. Tell them you would like to pay the fine right here and offer $20. Do not show any other cash, and do not tell them if you are on your way to the airport (they may try to hold you even longer to make you desperate to hand over even more cash)
You will probably more than likely not experience these driving hazards, except the topes, but it is good to be aware, and the gas station scam is very common.