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Thursday, March 30, 2023

The do’s and don’ts of flying drones in Mexico

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Carlos Rosado van der Gracht
Carlos Rosado van der Gracht
Born in Mérida, Carlos Rosado van der Gracht is a Mexican/Canadian blogger, photographer and adventure expedition leader. He holds degrees in multimedia, philosophy and translation from universities in Mexico, Canada and Norway. Sign up for the Yucatán Roundup, a free newsletter, which delivers the week's top headlines every Monday.
Drone photography is growing worldwide, but just like anywhere in Mexico, it is vital to know and follow the rules. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Mexico is a beautiful country with stunning landscapes, vibrant cities, and a rich cultural heritage. Flying a drone, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), in Mexico can be great fun, offering stunning views otherwise virtually impossible to capture.

The ruins of a Maya temple in the jungle surrounding Akumal, next to the Caribbean sea. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

What is more, drone technology continues to improve dramatically, offering longer flight times, better tracking, and safety features like “return home” functionality. 

Accidents can still happen and it’s impossible to foresee all possible scenarios. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

However, it’s important to understand the rules and regulations surrounding drone use in Mexico to avoid legal complications. Before flying a drone in Mexico, there are several rules and regulations that must be understood and followed, though some of these only apply to certain types of drones. For example,   flying a drone that weighs in at 250 grams (0.55 lbs) does not require registration with the Mexican government. Not that nothing is off-limits. 

Lightweight drones used to be fairly unstable, especially for video, but thanks to improvements in technology, this is no longer the case. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Locations to avoid

Most drones, other than the ones with very limited capabilities and which are basically kids’ toys come with GPS functionalities that automatically block off airspace over locations like prisons, military bases, and airports — which are off-limits for fairly obvious reasons. While it is possible to work around these restrictions, keep in mind that breaking these rules can result in severe consequences, including hefty fines and even prison time. 

Trying to fly a drone within airports or prisons is a really good way to land in a Mexican jail. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Other locations where flying drones is extremely tempting but forbidden are archaeological sites administered by Mexico’s INAH, or national institute of history and anthropology. Many of these historic sites have signs pointing this fact out, but In recent years, several people have been detained for ignoring these rules.

An “illegal” photo of Chichén Itzá landed its photographer in hot water. Photo: Courtesy

However, while flying the drone within the archaeological site is almost always forbidden, drones today can fly high enough to capture some stunning images from off-site. The photographer is likely to get scolded for doing this, but legally speaking this is more of a gray area. 

Registering your drone

If your drone does not fall into the “extra light weight category,” the Mexican government has strict regulations to ensure the safety and privacy of its citizens. First and foremost, it’s important to register your drone (in Spanish only) with the Mexican Civil Aviation Authority (DGAC). Registration requires proof of ownership, proof of liability insurance, and a copy of the drone’s user manual. 

Spots like Chichankanab lagoon in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo are perfect for getting some amazing shots in secluded areas. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

The explosion of drones means that the government seems to have mostly thrown their hands up into the air unless users do something particularly egregious. But don’t take this as an excuse for not following the rules. Attitude and circumstances can always change without any notice. 

One of the best things about drone photography is the opportunity to experience a place from an entirely different perspective. Pictured, Sisal on the northern coast of Yucatán. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Semi-restricted and controlled areas

Some locations, such as those near government buildings in capital cities, often have restrictions on altitude, or whether or not take-off is permitted at all. Most reputable brands of drones will notify you of this fact and perhaps make users click a waiver expressing liability. But sometimes it’s necessary to request permission to take off from a nearby control tower (usually via the drone’s app). While sometimes the clearance does come through, don’t count on it.

Tourist hotspots like Cozumel and Isla Mujeres often have large no-drone zones. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine 

Oftentimes the greatest risk drones face in the air are other drones, so make sure to keep alert for other UAVs, which admittedly can be difficult. 

It’s especially important to be mindful of safety when flying over urban areas. The best thing to do is find a rooftop or a cleared-out area and just fly straight up. Pictured, downtown Oaxaca de Juárez. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

In conclusion

Common sense and following the rules are the name of the game. In many ways, regulations around flying drones in Mexico are much more lax than in other countries (especially in their implementation) but that doesn’t mean it’s smart to just throw caution to the wind. 

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