Vanlife Hack: Stay in Mexico’s Auto Hotels

Photo credit: Barbara Eckstein
Photo credit: Barbara Eckstein

The term “auto hotel” sounds perfectly innocent, and it kind of is. Sort of. For those of us who live in vans at least.

Every van lifer craves a hot shower, comfortable bed and cable TV, even if it’s in a foreign language, every once in a while. But it’s not always easy to find comfortable, safe, affordable accommodations on a moment’s notice — in Mexico — without GPS. That is, unless you’re willing to stay in an auto hotel.


What Is an Auto Hotel?


Auto hotels, also known as “love hotels,” are Mexico’s pay-per-hour highway hotels. Don’t hate on the Mexicans. They exist in most Central American countries, Korea, Japan and parts of the United States and Canada too.

These roadside establishments are typically used by people in search of a discrete place to get intimate. In many Latin American countries, young people live in tight quarters with their parents and grandparents. These are the places they go to have some time alone. Other instances are a bit less romantic, as some guests are at the hotel to keep their relationships confidential.


Sometimes you just don’t feel like cooking on a cardboard box.

Why Would Anyone Ever Stay There?


To van lifers, these hotels are less about the room service condoms, mirror placement and peculiar furniture. They’re about the relaxed pet policies, free Wi-Fi, cable TV and high-quality bedding. After burying your own poop in the sand and killing scorpions with flip flops, van lifers aren’t typically too concerned about who slept in a bed before them. Plus, the spotless room and waterproof mattress pad have a way of putting a weary traveler’s mind at ease.

This isn’t a blog post for vacationers spending a week in Acapulco. It’s for the road warriors, traveling throughout Mexico with everything they own in their home on wheels, including furry friends (who actually own us). Every auto hotel we’ve visited has included secure garage parking, an extensive room service menu (including steaks AND sexy lingerie), cable TV, a comfortable bed (not typical of most budget hotels in Mexico) and miniature shampoo bottles. How lavish!

Best of all, most auto hotels are located in or around large towns and cities, offering a secure place to call home, whether you’re planning to grab some tortas and pig out or do a little sightseeing. We use them as pet-friendly places to rinse, rest and plan the next leg of the trip.


Everyone needs to stretch their legs every once in a while.
Everyone needs to stretch their legs every once in a while.


Ready to pull over in La Paz or Zacatecas and sleep one night without waking up to the sounds of roosters and barking dogs?


The process of renting a room in an auto hotel goes like this.


  • Pull up to the drive-thru style window at the entrance of the fortress/casino-looking hotel.
  • Tell them which type of room you’d like and how long you’d like to stay (a full 12 or 24 hours for most van travelers).
  • Make your payment, without having to provide a name or credit card.
  • Drive to the entrance of your room, open the garage door, close it behind you and check out the bizarre amenities — one free condom upon arrival!
  • Don’t think about what’s been done on that funky chair and sleep soundly.


Groovy or gross? Let us know! We’re going to keep using them either way.


Author: Courtney McCaffrey

I'm an adventure travel writer and editor based in Wilmington, N.C., Mexico and around the world. This site is named after my grandma’s talk radio show “Bits of Life,” which allowed her to talk about whatever the heck she wanted to talk about, and people loved it.

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