Toll Costs for Cuota System!

A view from a Mexican libre, or free highway.

My dad was a notorious cheapskate, but even Steve lapsed into poetry when he encountered his first cuota, which bypassed one of our least favorite stretches of highway, the spine-chilling Barranca de los Muertos (Canyon of the Dead).

For those of you who have not yet had the pleasure of driving in Mexico, a cuota is a toll road. They began appearing in the 80s and have spread across Mexico, so that now most major routes have two options: libre (free) or cuota (toll). Just as the chicken bus gave way to the air-conditioned Primera Plus luxury liner, Mexico’s infamous pothole-scarred, diesel-perfumed, gridlocked mountain highways can now be bypassed in favor of smooth sailing on spacious four lane autopistas, replete with clean rest areas and regular road signs.

A cuota can be a balm to the road-weary soul, but I still take the libres at least half the time. Yes, like all things related to me, this has something to do with food. Libres offer much better snack options. The cuotas bypass small towns and their ever-intriguing restaurants and mercado. And to compound the problem…instead of  Mexico’s traditional roadside comedors and smoky snack shacks, the cuota pit stop offers only corporate mini marts (OXXO).  (Again the comparison to chicken bus and Primera Plus works: The main drawback to taking a first class plus bus is that the luxury lines don’t allow roving snack vendors and thus you trade golden empanadas and mango con chile for the bus line’s sandwiches of anemic baloney on pan bimbo.)

Also…Cuotas can be pricey, and some routes are prohibitively expensive for a scrounger like me.That said, you’d have to be insane (or posses Mexican cojones) to take the libre on certain stretches of road. The trick is to create a route that incorporates the best of what both the cuota and libre systems offer: a little adventure here, a little comfort there.

It could be my imagination, but fees also seem to vary wildly. For several trips now I have been marking up a map of Mexico to remind me which sections of libre are particularly horrendous and which sections of cuota are particularly pricey. But as usual, I forget that I am living in the “digital age”…Notorious PG correspondent El Codo just reminded me of this most useful list, which shows toll prices for every route in Mexico. Because my own map is far from complete (and probably outdated), I will be printing this scroll and keeping it on the dash of our van as we venture south this December. Andale, pues!

(If you have any advice on particular routes, we’d love to hear from you.)


18 Responses to “Toll Costs for Cuota System!”

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  1. -El Codo- says:

    Partial Redemption Department…

    Oxxo stores have great brewed American style coffee! A perfect wake-up after crashing at an all-night gasolinera (but I don’t park where it is pitch dark, and offer the night attendant a cold soda so he can remember I’m parked back there).

    A major score is if the tamale lady shows up! Coffee! Tamales! Clean restroom! All for less than the price of one fatso burger at a USA drive-through.

    Sonora, Sinaloa, Nayarit, Chihuahua, San Luis Potosi, Zacatecas and Durango are states that I prefer the toll road over free highways due to too many criminal reports. I do not travel in Tamaulipas at all. Coahuila, and Nuevo Leon only when the news reports stay simmered down, and definetly onlt on toll roads – OUCH!

  2. churpa says:

    Thanks for the input re: routes. I agree about the restrooms! I am not so sure about the coffee, but I must admit that I have never been brave enough to try it…

    • -El Codo- says:

      After enduring five decades of Néscafe (No Es Cafe), mixed with tepid hard-as-a-rock well water…

      A bleary eyed encounter with Oxxo fresh brewed cafe rocked me back on my heels. “¡Santa Maria! This is real coffee!”

      Alright already, it isn’t Jamaican Blue Mountain, or shade grown coffee from Chiapas, but fifty or so purchases has left me with the impression that ordinary Oxxo java rates way higher than the average USA roadside greasy spoon GI tract, reamer.

      Speaking of roadside coffee. I now pour my French Press brews through one of those 20 pesos cloth sock filters that are sewn onto a wire handle. They are made in Hermosillo, Sonora and filter out the sediment. I swirl the sock in fresh water to clean it and let it dry for next time.

  3. Lois says:

    I have decided I want to move to the Yucatan Peninsula from Canada. I am a single woman and
    I do admit I am very nervous about driving alone through Mexico. I will enter Mexico through Texas and cross at Matamoros,preferring to stay in the US as long as possible. I will then drive down the
    coast of the Gulf of Mexico and eventually end up in Progreso. Has anyone ever driven this route (or similar?) or is there a better option ? Any advice or information would be very helpful. Also, are there decent accomodations along this route ? I have 2 small dogs and I don’t need luxury, just a clean bed. Thanks !

    • Hello Lois,

      Via Matamoros is probably both the shortest and quickest route to Progreso. Since you say that you intend to move to the Yucatan my suggestion is that you go ahead and take this route. You’ll learn its pros and cons yourself and if you bother to take notes (which I strongly suggest) soon have a “guide” far more reliable and up-to-date than anything we can possibly offer.

      I don’t have a list of hotels and motels but I have no doubt that you’ll have plenty of choices. By the way, we’ve learned that the best way to charm the front desk into allowing dogs is to have them (the dogs) demonstrate a cute trick or two. Nothing fancy — sit, stay, roll over usually does it.

      Let us know how it goes — I’m sure there are others following this website who would like to hear more about your move to Mexico.

      Carl & Lorena

      • Lois says:

        Thanks for the info. I bought a map and it appears that route 180 will take me most of the way. Is this a good highway ? or should I stay on
        the toll routes ?

        p.s I bought your book and I absolutely love it !! Love the the dry humor
        bits and it has great info…recommend it to anyone.

        • Churpa says:

          I’m so glad you like the book! I’m consulting with Codo about that route, and would love to hear from other readers. In general, though…If you don’t have a lot of experience driving in Mexico and are the only driver, I don’t recommend taking the libre the whole way. You might want to treat yourself to a few stretches of cuota…On the other hand, the libre will definitely be more interesting…

          • Churpa says:

            The estimable El Codo says,
            “I can only relay chatter that I saw. RV’ers seemed to hate this route: ‘Millions of topes, and potholes, countless villages, very slow going.'”
            He also suggests that the cuota might be safer on some stretches: “Personally, myself, I would not travel this highway north of Veracruz. I agonize over writing this, but I would just hate myself if I recommended travel on Mex 180 south of Matamoros, and something should happen.”

          • Lois says:

            Thanks very much. Since I am driving alone and estimate the whole trip will be over a week long, I definately want to take the quickest route. I don’t mind paying for tolls if the road is better and safer.
            Also hear that they offer nice rest areas and convenience stores. Will save time looking for a place to get food.?? Are there motels/hotels along the toll routes ?

        • churpa says:

          I’m sad to report that the cuota system does not offer great food options. You’ll find OXXO mini marts with a selection similar to what you would find at a mini mart in the US. PG correspondant El Codo claims the coffee is good at these places, but I have my doubts…Usually you’ll want to get off the highway and into a town to seek food and lodging.

    • churpa says:

      Interesting route! I’ve never taken it (at least not within the reaches of my memory). I’ve alerted Carl to your question so he may have something…Codo have you ever taken this route?

      As to traveling as a single woman in Mexico, I understand your fears. I have usually traveled in Mexico with companions, but I’ve enjoyed my occasional solo foray. I will say that my sainted mother began driving to Mexico on her own every year when my dad passed away in 1999. She was in her 50s at the time and traveling with our dog, Xuxa. She continued to make the drive alone every year until a year ago when she moved to Mexico full time. She never had any problems, other than the occasional breakdown.

      • churpa says:

        Ha. It looks like Carl and I were posting these answers at the same time…

      • churpa says:

        Ditto what Carl says re: your adventure. We would love to hear more about your trip and your adjustment to life in Mexico! Drop me a line at managing_editor at if you have a story or recommendations for the blog…

  4. Kathy Gage says:


    I’m headed for Erongaricuaro, Michoacann (by way of Nuevo Laredo) and would love to eliminate toll costs from my itinerary. I don’t necessarily long to meander through the countryside on this particular trip, however, and after looking at road maps, I’m aware that there are several routes to consider and even more possibilities for getting lost! What suggestions do you have? Do you know what it costs to use the cuotas from the border to Morelia? How much longer would it take, do you think, if I use secondary roads??!!

    • churpa says:

      Hi Kathy,
      As you may have noticed your route is not on the list of toll costs provided by the Secretary of transportation. If you are worried about getting lost, my inclination would be to stick to a route based on major destinations (Laredo-Monterrey-Saltillo-San Luis Potosi–Queretero–Celaya–Morelia). I have not crossed at Nuevo Laredo in many years, so I have no idea exactly how much it would cost in tolls. However, the tarifa list does provide some info: For example, they claim it costs 205.00 pesos to go from Nuevo Laredo to Monterrey via toll roads in a regular car or van. That actually sounds rather low to me. However, it should work decently well as a base number. Because the total distance on MX 85 from Laredo to Morelia is 221 km, that leg of your trip is about a fifth of your total trip of 1,300 k. Therefore, you can estimate that it will cost you about 1,000 pesos in tolls to make the entire trip. That is a very rough estimate and I can’t vouch for it–as I’ve mentioned, tolls vary from road to road. I would imagine the total cost would actually be a bit more than that. On the upside: Remember that toll roads offer the great advantage of well-marked routes and giant road signs every where. You are not likely to get lost when taking the cuota system. At least not VERY lost. If this is your first time making this particular trip, it’s probably worth it to take the toll roads –the total cost is really not that great and it will definitely be more relaxing. Or you could mix it up…We usually take a mix of cuota and libre. If a particular libre is too horrible, we’ll wait for our chance to get back onto the cuota. If a particular cuota is too expensive, we make a note on our map and try the libre the next time around. If you do end up taking the entire trip via libre, more power to your adventurous soul and please let us know how it went!

      • Kathy Gage says:

        Thank you for responding so quickly! I will definitely write to let you know how the trip went; I’m leaving in a little over three weeks and am getting EXCITED!!!
        You know, I still have a dog-eared copy of People’s Guide to Mexico that I bought in 1976. Your Dad and his friends fueled my wanderlust way back when- and now, decades later, you’ve helped me figure out toll costs! CARAY! La vida es un panuelo. : )

        • Churpa says:

          I am still six weeks away from my trip and I am already excited, so I can imagine how you must feel! We would love to hear snippets of your adventure or any advice you might have! I would love to create a tradition/place on this site where readers can share information on routes, cuotas, etc. Drop me a line at managing_editor at if you feel so inclined! Y si, es verdad que la vida is muy raro, y, en un buen dia, maravilloso.

  5. John Galt says:

    I have been in Guatemala 9 months now and “almost” a pensionado. Of course, anyone south of Oklahoma knows “almost” and “immediate” translate slightly differently in Latin America. I have a trip scheduled back to fly back to the states to sell some personal items next year. I think it is time to eliminate my fifth wheel and big diesel truck if I am not going to bring it down. I am thinking about brining my VW Jetta back since it is newer than the Renault I bought. I am concerned about the quality of Diesel going into it and can you suggest a route from Austin, Tx to Antigua, Guatemala that uses the toll roads, but might come past some scenic views.

    I am in the last insurance bracket, one short of Deceased and will be traveling alone, therefore safety is paramount. I am guessing none of my concealed carry items can accompany me, since they wouldn’t even allow agents to US agents to carry in Mexico.

    So route, some scenery (volcanos) and most direct, safety and quality of fuels. If like Guate, you need to know which suppliers for fuel to trust.

    Thanks, John Galt.