Most of Mexico’s major tolled trunk roads are four-lane highways, except in very mountainous regions (or stretches of a mountainous route), where at times the road is limited to a single lane on each side due to the rugged topography.
How to identify toll roads on a map
You might not be able to travel your entire journey on a fast toll road. Online maps, including Google and Apple maps, indicate whether the road is tolled or not.
Tolled highways that run near federal roads (‘freeways’) are depicted with the letter ‘D’ after the road number. For example, the road that runs between Mexico City and Cuernavaca is highway number 95 (a federal freeway) and the tolled road that runs ‘adjacent’ to this is 95D.
All tolled roads in Mexico follow this label protocol that enables you to choose the free road or its tolled equivalent, where a tolled highway is available on that route.
Mexico’s City’s elevated beltway
To ease Mexico’s city’s congestion, an elevated section of the capital’s beltway (Anillo Periférico) was constructed.
Colloquially referred to as the ‘Segundo Piso‘ (second floor), the project started in the early 2000s and has since been extended several times. It now runs from the north of the capital (on the road to/from Querétaro) all the way around to the south, with an exit extension that connects with the tolled highway 95D south to Cuernavaca.
Drivers must pay a toll to use the elevated beltway using a TAG device (see section below) fitted in the vehicle’s windshield; no cash or cards are accepted at the automated ramp gateways.
Beltway toll charges depend on how far you travel along the beltway and are calculated automatically based your entry and exit gates.
Mexican toll road terminology
Routes which have toll roads connecting the destinations also have a free alternative road. When you’re driving in Mexico, read the signs and follow the route for the road type you want to use. Here is a list of the three key words to look out for:
LIBRE = Free Road: Free roads are less well maintained, often single lanes each way that will take you longer to travel across. However, to see some of the ‘off the beaten track’ places, you’ll need to avoid toll roads, as they often double as “bypass roads” (see term below). It’s recommended that you don’t take the free roads after dark.
CUOTA = Toll Road: Follow this sign if you want to take the toll road to the destination to which you are traveling. Note that the highway numbers are often the same, so you can be on the right highway number, heading in the right direction, but on a free (slower) road than you’d like to be. For toll roads, follow the signs that read “CUOTA” and/or have the letter “D’ after the highway number.
LIBRAMIENTO = Bypass: Sometimes, major free roads that connect big towns and cities will give you an option to take the “Libramiento” route. This is like a toll road (and sometimes it’s part of the toll road) which, for a fee, will enable you to bypass the smaller town city if you don’t want to go there, saving you the time and hassle of getting lost. Libramientos work in the same way as toll roads, and libramientos (especially around bigger cities) might be free to all road users along certain stretches of that road.
SEGUNDO PISO = Elevated Beltway: This is the colloquial term for Mexico City’s tolled elevated beltway, most of which runs above the anillo periferico, the capital’s long-standing free beltway.
See also: Guide to Mexican Street Speak
Toll road charges in Mexico
The total cost you’ll pay on a particular toll road will depend on how far you travel along it. You effectively pay for your journey in parts, with payment booths set out along the highway at major towns or turnoff points.
Every time you go through a toll booth, you pay an additional fee, that covers your cost to the next toll/exit booth. Charges vary, depending on the route and how long the stretch of road is to the next major town or turnoff point.
Paying for tolls
When you cross a toll booth, you’ll need to pay the corresponding fee. Fees vary and tolls tend to go up by gradual increments throughout the year.
Credit and debits cards
You cannot use any credit or debit cards to pay your toll at the booth. However, you can use a credit or debit card to pay if it’s linked to a TAG device on your windshield (see next section).
You can pay tolls in cash, using Mexican pesos. Foreign currency is not accepted. Toll booths are ideal places to make change, if you need it.
TAG device on windshield
You can fit an electronic ‘tag’ to your vehicle’s windshield and pass-through toll booths (and/or access Mexico City’s elevated beltway) using the automated gates. TAG device credit can be topped up using cash (paying at stores and other retail centers) or linked to a credit or debit card. See next section for more details.
Payment tags for toll roads and Mexico City’s elevated beltway
If you are a frequent toll road user, it makes sense to purchase a TAG for your vehicle’s windshield. If you intend to use Mexico City’s elevated beltway, you must have a TAG to access that road system as cash and cards are not accepted at the automated ramp gateways.
There are two tags you can choose from:
- TAG IAVE, which is administered by the agency that runs the toll roads; and
- the TAG TeleVia
Both TAGs work at toll booth gates across Mexico as well as allow access to Mexico City’s elevated beltway.
You can top-up your tag account at local participating stores and retail centers using cash or cards or register online to link your payment card details to your tag. By linking your card with the TAG, your fees will be charged to the card as you cross through the gates; there is no need to ‘top-up’ and you don’t run out of credit as you travel (beyond your payment card’s limit). Visit the websites above for details.
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