Mexico is one of my favorite countries. It boasts delicious food, vibrant culture, tons of history and some of the best beaches in the world!
Mexico’s landscapes range from the Caribbean Coast to the lush jungles in the south to mountains in the middle and deserts up north. It’s a country that takes time and effort to explore, and that is exactly why so many travelers keep coming back here.
After traveling around Mexico, I created a list of tips for Mexico travel to help you plan your next adventure in this incredible country.
You shouldn’t get on a road without comprehensive travel insurance. This tip goes for Mexico travel as well as for any other country.
Nobody goes on a trip expecting bad things to happen, however, you never know what might occur on your next adventure. I recommend World Nomads Insurance that covers many things such as hospital visits, accidents, lost and damaged luggage as well as personal belongings, among other things.
2. Venture outside touristy areas
This is perhaps one of my biggest tips for Mexico travel.
It could be very tempting to spend your entire vacation in the comfort zone if you are staying in one of Cancun or Cabo San Lucas all-inclusive resorts, however, I don’t recommend doing it for one simple reason:
You will miss out on Mexico’s cultural landmarks!
Mexico is full of historical sites, wonderful cities, and small towns where you can learn the country’s pre-and post-colonial history, interact with locals, and taste regional Mexican dishes. You should visit at least a few of these places, even if you just want to chill on the beach.
I recommend visiting Mexico’s Pueblos Magicos, or Magic Towns designated by the Mexican government because of their cultural heritage and significance. When you visit these places, you should expect fewer businesses catering exclusively to tourists and more local flair which makes for an incredible educational trip.
If you plan to visit the Yucatán Peninsula and want to see the culture of the region, I recommend Izamal and Uayma near Valladolid in the Yucatán Peninsula. However, there are plenty of Pueblos Magicos across Mexico, so check the whole list here.
3. Watch out for car rental scams
While scams are not all that common in Mexico, one place where you need to watch out for them are car rentals.
When you are looking for a car, watch out for low bait-and-switch offers that advertise prices as low as $3 per day.
Many times, this low price is only a shield for an exorbitant price that might involve upward of a few hundred dollars. Unfortunately, this type of stuff does happen in Mexico and you shouldn’t fall for suspiciously low offers and instead always reach out to a company and ask about their prices upfront.
I recommend checking DiscoverCars ahead of your trip to look for rental cars in Mexico.
4. Good hotels don't have to be expensive
Yes, Mexico does have some of the most amazing deals on all-inclusive hotels in places like Cancun, Cabo San Lucas, and Puerto Vallarta. While these places have great buffets, huge pools, bubbling jacuzzis, and relaxing spas, it doesn’t mean that you have to spend all your money to stay there.
5. Don't throw paper in toilet
The general rule in Mexico and you will see signs in bathrooms of practically every hotel is that you don’t throw any paper in a toilet. This is because the drainage systems in many parts of Mexico are very old and could quickly break down if they become clogged.
6. ADO is the go-to company for bus trips
If you have traveled to Yucatan, you might be familiar with ADO, a bus company that serves the region. You can download the app and choose your route and pay for your ticket ahead of your trip.
It’s great for those travelers who don’t speak Spanish, as staff in ticket offices speak very little English, and might not be able to be able to help you, if you have a questions.
7. Not all of Mexico is dangerous
Mexico gets a lot of bad rep because of its problems with cartel violence.
However, you should be aware that touristy areas of Mexico are a lifeline of the country’s economy and are well protected. That being said, crime such as robberies and kidnappings unfortunately occur in Mexico, and you should always be aware of your surroundings, no matter what part of Mexico you travel to.
After all, it is your responsibility to check the situation in the place that you plan to visit. Make sure to educate yourself on recent events in the area and properly assess if visiting it is safe. If you are traveling to Mexico from the United States, check the U.S. Embassy Advisory for the most recent updates on the situation in the country.
8. Eat local food
Besides the world-famous staples such as tacos and guacamole with chips, Mexico has a lot of regional cuisines that you shouldn’t miss. Do your best to try local cuisine depending on the region of Mexico that you are visiting.
Also, you should know that street food in Mexico is delicious!
This is one of my biggest travel tips for Mexico if you are staying in a big resort where everything is catered to you. Do get out and try some street food!
From tacos to churros and marquesitas (crispy crepes filled with chocolates or fruit), this country has tons of delicious street food that you shouldn’t skip! Go ahead and treat your taste buds to some Mexican treats on your next trip.
10. Learn basic Spanish
Speaking basic Spanish can go a long way and I can personally attribute it to it! While most people who work in Mexico’s tourism industry speak or understand at least the basic level of English, things are a bit different in less touristy areas.
The further away you get from places that cater to visitors, the less English you should expect. What’s great about visiting these places is that you can see the real culture of the country and get to know its people better. The downside of it is that you need to learn at least basic Spanish to find your way around, get food, buy tickets, and so on.
So grab a couple of textbooks and get your Spanish game on!
11. Get a VPN
VPN is a great way to protect your data while surfing online whether it’s Mexico travel or not. Remember that your data could be at risk every time you connect to a wi-fi at a coffee shop, hotel or any public place. It only takes one wrong person to have you identity stolen!
12. Watch out for scams
One of my safety tips for Mexico travel is to always be aware of your surroundings. This goes for non-touristy and touristy places alike where scams targeting visitors often can be aplenty.
Never let your guard down, even if you are in a country where most people are friendly. As a tourist, you could be an easy target, especially if you are visiting Mexico for the first time and not yet used to things here.
13. Haggling is generally not a thing ... But you can still try it!
Haggling isn’t a thing in Mexico, however, you might still try it, depending on the situation. For example, you could try to lower the price a bit while getting a taxi or buying a souvenir at a popular tourist site such as Chichen Itza.
14. Mexico has many climates
While Mexico is known for its white-sand beaches and turquoise waters of the Caribbean Coast, the country is not all warm and balmy.
For example, the Pacific Coast of Mexico has a dry climate and the middle has more mountainous and desert areas where temperatures can fluctuate significantly. And if you are high in the mountains, you might even see snow.
So if you plan to hop around the country, one of my tips for Mexico is to bring more than just beachy clothes!
15. Tips are expected and appreciated
In Mexico, you are expected to leave from 10 to 20 percent of your total bill in tips. Similar to the United States, waiters and waitresses in Mexico make very low hourly wages, so your gratuity goes a long way.
When you pay with a credit card, you could be asked how much you are going to leave in tips after swiping your credit card, and to do that you will need to hit the right button. Unless the service was horrible, you should leave a gratuity.
Also, if you are traveling to Mexico from the United States, you might notice that service here is generally slower compared to America.
Mexican people take their time, so don’t expect your server to check on you constantly and ask if you are doing OK. And when the time comes to pay your bill, it might take a bit longer.
You too, should enjoy your meal and take things a bit slower!
16. Always carry pesos
One of my top tips for Mexico travel is to carry local currency!
While many businesses accept credit cards (or tarjetas in Spanish) in touristy areas, you should always carry Mexican Pesos with you.
This is especially true if you plan to take a road trip or stop in one of Mexico’s small towns where credit cards might be accepted only in select stores and restaurants. Also, souvenir vendors and local artisans in Mexican mercados (or markets) accept only cash.
17. Consider a tour
Not many people want to buy a tour.
Tours can be expensive, and you have to walk along with a group of other people which can take a lot longer than visiting a place by yourself. However, certain places in Mexico are great for taking a guided tour to learn the history and culture of the region.
You can also do a guided tour of cenotes, water-filled caverns that are found all over the Yucatán Peninsula. This is a great option if you don’t have a lot of time and want to make the most out of your trip.
18. Skip tap water
Tap water is not safe to drink in Mexico. Always ask for bottled water while you travel around the country or go to a restaurant.
19. Show good manners
Most Mexican people are very friendly when they see that you are a foreigner visiting their country.
Yes, they might be pitching tours or trying to sell you stuff when you walk along a busy thoroughfare in Playa Del Carmen or Cancun, however, besides this seemingly pushy attitude, they are mostly nice and will answer any question you have.
Make sure to show good manners and smile.
While Mexican people are relaxed and informal, manners and politeness play a big role in their culture. For example, strangers will always address to you as Usted (which is a polite form for you in Spanish), and service staff will always greet you in stores and restaurants.
Helpful Spanish Phrases
To make things a bit easier, I put together a list of useful travel phrases and expressions in Spanish. Please let me know if you have any questions or want to know something else about traveling in Mexico:
Buenos Dias – Good Morning
Buenas Tardes – Good Afternoon
Buenas Noches – Good Night
Adios – Goodbye
Gracias – Thank you
Por Favor – Please
No entiendo/no comprendo – I don’t understand
Lo siento – Sorry
Disculpe – Excuse me
Hasta luego – See you later
La cuenta, por favor – Can I have a bill please?
Donde es? – Where is …?
Derecho – right
Izquerda – left
Pagar con tarjeta/efectivo – to pay with card/cash
20. Be careful about what ATM's you use
Not all ATM’s are the same. While you should do your best to use only legitimate ATM’s associated with major banks and companies, some of them such as HSBC can charge high fees upward of 70 Mexican Pesos per transaction.
Other ATM’s such as Santander and BanaMex, have lower fees, and they are typically not hard to find around airports, bus stations, and other major areas.
And one last thing ...
One of the most obvious tips for Mexico travel that is often overlooked is…
Don’t forget to book your flight early!
This rings especially true for the winter season (late November through April) and Spring Break when scores of North American tourists come to Mexico to take a hiatus from cold temperatures in their countries. And don’t forget about Christmas and New Year’s, some of the busiest times for travel to coastal areas of Mexico.
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