What is a Tope?

A concern when you're driving in Mexico

Tope Sign: Speed Bump Ahead
••• A familiar sign on Mexican roads. Jill Ferry Photography / Getty Images

When driving in Mexico you are bound to come across many, many topes. It doesn't matter if you bring your own car across the border, or rent a car, you will still have to deal with them. What is a tope? This is the Spanish word for a speed bump, or "sleeping policeman" as the British affectionately call them. Topes are pervasive on Mexican roads, and they come in varying heights, from minuscule to mountainous.

If you're driving a low-slung vehicle you may find the best technique to drive over particularly tall topes is by approaching on an angle. You will need to do this at a snail's pace to avoid damaging your vehicle.

If you're lucky, the topes you come across will be painted and there will be signs warning you in advance that one is coming up. The sign may say "tope" or sometimes "reductor de velocidad," a fancy name for the same thing. There won't always be warning signs, however, and this is one of the reasons why you should avoid driving in Mexico at night. (Bandidos are not nearly so commonplace as unexpected topes, burros, and other farm animals). Driving during the day doesn't always solve the visibility problem either, as shadows on the road may be deceptive. Just keep your eyes open, always be attentive, and keep your speed down to a reasonable limit.

When driving through small towns you may find people standing by topes asking for donations for some cause or another, or offering something to sell.

If you're not interested, just say "no gracias," and keep on driving.

Unfortunately, topes seem to be the only effective way of controlling speed on Mexican roads, as the police are rather ineffective at enforcing speed limits (but good at collecting mordidas).

When driving in Mexico, you should also beware of vados (dips), vibradores (it's not as kinky as it sounds, just a series of small bumps that will shake your car as you drive over them) and of course, baches (potholes).

You should also watch out for drivers coming in the opposite direction who may swerve to the other side of the road (into your lane) to avoid these. Yes, there are plenty of things to watch out for, but as long a you're an attentive driver and always expect the unexpected, you should get used to driving in Mexico in no time.

Pronunciation: "TOH-peh"

Also Known As: reductor de velocidad, speed bump, sleeping policeman