Are you planning a trip to Mexico? This massive guide will give you all the essential Mexico travel tips you need to learn about before traveling to Mexico, whether you are a first-timer or not.
Mexico is an amazing country brimmed with unique places to visit, an interesting culture to discover, a world-class cuisine, and one of the most diverse ecosystems and landscapes to explore.
There are many interesting facts about Mexico that will keep you entertained and much information you should know about before traveling.
As an Italian expatriate living in Mexico, I suggest you should read this post before planning anything. I am sure safety in Mexico is the first concern you have, and I will discuss this topic more thoroughly on a separate side.
However, there are other essential travel tips for Mexico that you should know about before traveling, in order to have a fantastic and worry-free trip. And that’s what I am talking about in this essential guide (including some safety tips of course).
Read also: 39 most unique places to visit in Mexico
General Mexico Travel tips
1. Toilets are peculiar
Not bad as a first topic! 🙂 In almost every state of Mexico, it is requested not to flush toilet paper in the WC because the pipes are narrow, and paper can get stuck, causing damage to the pipe system. You will be reminded all the time, but I thought I should let you know and explain why.
2. WIFI is not an issue
In the most touristy area, wifi works quite well. It is probably not the case for less touristic areas, but you will be surprised to see that they have free WIFI on the town’s main plaza in small towns off the beaten track. Sometimes a password is required.
Just ask a local. You will see lots of teenagers busy on their phones. They will be happy to help you and share it.
The only touristic place where WIFI is an issue is Holbox, but you don’t need it there as you will be super busy exploring and staring at the blue sea, snorkeling, and watching sunsets.
3. Understand the meaning of ” ahorita”
Time in Mexico is a very subjective concept.
And the expression “Ahorita,” which could be translated in “in a minute,” has many different meanings from indeed “in a minute” to “tomorrow” or “in 10 years”. Make sure you ask specific questions when somebody tells you, “Ahorita voy,” I am coming in a minute. Or go with the flow.
4. Cultivate patience
Following up on the previous point, to not lose your mind, you need to be patient, and things will come to you at the time they are supposed to.
Just bring a book with you. Just this morning, I was in one of my favorite cafes in Playa del Carmen, and I ordered a sandwich.
My friend and I were basically alone. No other customers were around. It took about 40 minutes for my sandwich to land on my table.
Then I ordered a chai latte with almond milk, and they took me a cappuccino.
When I told the waiter, I didn’t order a cappuccino but a chai latte, she took me the chai but with regular milk (not almond). At that point, I just gave up and laughed with my friend.
What else can you do?
Obviously, this was just a random episode that just happened, and I thought it was a funny story to share, but it’s not always like that. Waiting time at restaurants can indeed be longer than usual.
5. Speak the language
I understand that it can be difficult, but I would suggest you should learn a few basic terms in Spanish. It will help you mingle with locals and make friends. Or to have somebody laughing at your pronunciation. (I always get that being Italian). It’s a good conversation starter.
Get one of that mini-dictionary with you or have one on your phone.
Here are some basic phrases
Hola = Hello
Como estàs = How are you?
Por Favor = Please
Gracias = Thank you
Disculpa = I am sorry
Perdon? = Excuse me?
Donde està la parada del bus? = Where is the bust stop?
Una chela por favor = A beer, please
Un jugo, por favor = A juice, please
Cuanto cuesta? = How much is it?
Me puede ayudar? = Can you help me?
Donde està…? = Where is…
Ahorita… Sometime in the future. 🙂
6. Get a local SIM CARD
Preferably choose Telcel. It’s always better to have a Mexican sim card if you need to ask for help, make a reservation, use your google map, or even post on INSTAGRAM. It’s also useful to stay in touch with your family via Whatsapp calls where there is no wireless.
7. Download WhatsApp
In Mexico, WhatsApp is wildly used for calling or messaging, even for business. Most of the time, you can book a tour or communicate for any situation via Whatsapp.
If you meet new people and want to coordinate a meeting or a tour WhatsApp is your friend.
When you install a new sim on your phone, you can keep the app connected with your original number so you can also use it to receive messages from family and friends.
You must share your old number with your new contact if you want them to send you Whatsapp messages.
8. Don’t assume it’s hot everywhere in Mexico
Mexico is a humongous country with an extension of 1973 million km2. You can imagine how diverse its climate is. While in Chihuahua, it snows in winter, people from Cancun or Puerto Vallarta enjoy the beach and 76ºF.
Mexico City (friendly known as CDMX) is at 2000 mt over the sea level, winters are cold, and summers hot, altitude issue can be a fact. So, make sure you check the weather before deciding where to go.
Also, read – The best time to travel to Tulum
9. Bring the right plugs
There are two types of sockets in Mexico: one with flat parallel pins and one with two flat parallel pins and a grounding pin. If your plugs have a different shape, you need to get an adaptor.
You surely find adaptors in Mexico, but I am sure you don’t want to waste time looking for one during your vacation. I would suggest you get one in your trusted store. It will also work without the grounding pin.
10. Museums are often closed on Monday
Unlike the archaeological sites that are open every day except New year’s day, museums are normally closed one day of the week, which is normally used for maintenance and major cleaning.
That day is usually a Monday since weekends are normally packed with visitors because that’s when locals have time to visit. Also, locals and permanent residents don’t pay on Sundays.
For this very reason, I would suggest you plan a visit to a Museum from Tuesday through Friday because that’s when Museums are less crowded unless you are an expatriate in Mexico with a permanent residency visa. In this case, go early on a Sunday and bring your credential with you so that you don’t pay.
11. Carry a reusable shopping bag
More and more supermarkets nowadays are applying eco-friendly practices and don’t give out plastic bags.
Regardless, you can start your own eco-friendly awareness and carry your own shopping bag for any shopping so that we can contribute to creating a plastic-free world.
Travel tips about safety in Mexico
12. Mexico is safe to travel with some exceptions
I understand that some not flattering news about Mexico might create concern about safety in Mexico.
But you need to understand that Mexico is a huge country and not everywhere there is danger. I have lived in Cancun for 9 years now, of which 1 I have spent traveling around Mexico.
Of course, there are places that I would avoid, but there are spectacular areas that are worth visiting and worry-free. One of these is Yucatan, which is considered the safest state in Mexico. Is pretty safe to travel in the Yucatan Peninsula in general. Baja California Sur is another super safe state, among others.
But you need to use some common sense…
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13. Use some common sense as you would anywhere else
I have written a thorough guide on Safety in Mexico if you want to read more in detail. However, I am stressing about using some common sense since dangers are everywhere if you are acting naive. Here are a few pointers:
- Don’t show off your valuables.
- Avoid walking in the dark in isolated areas.
- If you decide to get wasted, do it when you have reliable friends around
- Don’t use ATM at night; be careful in general when you use it.
- Carry little cash with you
- Use a money belt to carry your money, cards, and documents
14. Regardless, travel insurance is recommended
Do we really need travel insurance? YES, you do. Of course, we hope nothing happens, and we are very careful. But still, shit happens for no reason, and we need to be prepared.
Getting sick or having an accident doesn’t happen because of you, but it might happen. What about an airline that is late and you missed your connecting flight with another airline?
The insurance will cover it. Or what if you are getting sick before your trip? The travel insurance will reimburse it. Did I give you enough arguments? If you disagree, please let me know in the comments below. I would love to know your point of view.
Get a quote on World Nomad travel insurance
How to avoid getting sick in Mexico
15. Don’t drink tap water
Tap water is not drinkable unless they tell you so because a special water purifier is used. Make sure you have always a bottle of purified water or natural spring water (agua de manantial) with you.
In theory, you can use tap water for brushing teeth, as I do, but it is advisable to still use bottled water as well, just in case. You don’t really want to spend your vacation in the bathroom.
16. You can eat greens
It is a common myth that tourists must avoid greens, meaning any leafy vegetables consumed raw (lettuce, for example). That’s because it’s believed that it is being washed with tap water, which is not drinkable, and therefore even the greens would be contaminated.
I don’t think this is accurate. It doesn’t make sense if you think about that. Locals don’t drink tap water either for the same reason. Why would they use it to wash their veggies too? Instead, they are cautious in washing their veggies thoroughly with antibacterial and water. So I wouldn’t worry too much.
17. Don’t worry about ice in your drinks
For the very same reason, even the ice is made with purified water. So you can have it in your drink, especially in a beach destination where it’s so hot, you will want your ice. Now you can have it without worrying.
18. Enjoy the delicious street food but be aware…
Street food is one of Mexico’s best things, as their typical best meals are consumed by street vendors. However, not all of them are good, and not all of them offer good quality meat and hygiene practices.
That also goes for the fruit vendors. Make sure you go where there is a line, so you know that’s the most popular vendor, and if you want fruit, ask to cut yours at the moment. Don’t buy fruit standing in the heat for a long exposure to who knows what.
19. Always keep antibacterial wet wipes in your bag
Now more than ever, it’s recommended to keep your hands clean all the time. Some wet wipes to keep with you all the time can come in handy.
20. Vaccines are not required
To travel to Mexico, there are no vaccine requirements. I personally don’t do vaccines, but you should consult your doctor if you are concerned.
21. Keep yourself hydrated
Especially in beach destinations it’s really hot and the sun is strong, so make sure you stay hydrated. Keep a refillable water bottle with you and top it up every time you can. Especially if you go out on tours to cenotes or Mayan ruins where you are even more exposed to sun rays
22. Wear sunblock
Make sure you are wearing sunblock even on a cloudy day especially if you are on the Mexican Coast. It’s very easy to get a sunburn and you will spoil your vacation. Make sure it’s eco-friendly though.
22. Wear mosquito repellent
There are a lot of mosquitoes, especially in the wet season and there have been random cases of Zika and other mosquito-related diseases.
Money related tips for Mexico
23. Pay in Pesos
The local currency is Mexican Pesos (MXN), which you can exchange in the Casa de Cambio or banks, although the first ones usually have a better exchange rate. It’s always advisable to exchange your currency for Mexican pesos because even if in a shop or supermarket, they accept USD, the exchange rates are, most of the time, unreasonable.
Almost everywhere, credit and debit cards are accepted, except in Tulum in many restaurants and hotels or in remote towns where there are still many places that only accept cash. So keep it in mind if you plan to visit the area (which I heartily recommend).
If you want to withdraw from the ATM, please be aware that if you get dollars, you will be asked to pay a commission of 50 USD per withdrawal, which is insane.
I would rather get a small amount in Mexican pesos (check with your bank how much they charge for the withdrawal ) or bring some cash with you and exchange it here for local expenses on the road. Bear in mind that if you rent a car.
Sometimes at gas stations, they don’t accept credit cards for some reason. You should better ask before getting gas.
24. How much does it cost to travel to Mexico?
I see this question coming repeatedly, and although it is complicated to quantify, let me give you some examples. Local restaurants in the non-touristic areas might charge as low as 6 USD for enough tacos and 3 for a glass of wine and a steak, or a ceviche can go from 12 to 15 USD.
In the hotel zone, a full meal with wine can start from 40 USD onward. A bottle of purified water (1l) 75c. A bus ride from the hotel zone to the town of 60c (12 pesos). A car rental from 30 USD per day (without insurance).
25. Credit cards are most commonly used
Although credit cards are used basically everywhere, certain businesses will charge you a commission % if you pay by card, except for Supermarkets and Restaurants.
However, some restaurants do not accept cards, and they usually make sure to let you know before you order.
But some of them don’t and expect you to know. So if you are out of cash, always make sure you ask first. Especially in markets and small non-touristic towns, it is less common to use credit cards, so always take some cash with you.
In the restaurants in Tulum is more likely that credit cards are not accepted although things are starting to change.
26. Always have change with you
You will be avoiding annoying situations if you have changes or notes of low value, like 100 or 200 pesos. Commonly, businesses don’t have change, and you just need to walk away empty-handed.
It happened to me more than once that I couldn’t buy what I needed because they didn’t have a change of 500 MXN (25 USD). Also, remember the tipping tips. You will always need to be ready to tip, so make sure you carry some 10 or 5 pesos coins with you.
27. Avoid ATMs during payday
Mexicans get paid every 15 days, on the 1st and the 15th of the month (día de nomina). So keep in mind that the ATMs will be crowded with long lines for the following two or three days.
If you are anything like me and hate waiting in line, avoid those days for withdrawing.
How to move around Mexico
28. Public transportation is efficient and safe TRANSPORTATION IS EFFICIENT AND SAFE
There is a very well organized net of bus lines that cover the major cities in Mexico. Traveling around Mexico is very easy and comfortable.
Some of them, such as ETN, are real luxury buses. Besides a good choice of airlines, you also have the options of many bus lines, local and national, that connect the main cities and towns.
Traveler Alert: Although traveling by bus is quite safe, please do not leave your personal belonging (see money, camera, laptop) in the overhead compartment. That would not be smart. Please keep it on your lap or under your legs.
This website is an aggregator and can help you to find your connection.
29. Driving in Mexico is safe and fun
There is this myth that driving in Mexico is dangerous. Renting a car is my favorite way to get around. I am not sure about the other parts of Mexico, but I can surely tell you that it is really doable and danger-free in the Yucatan peninsula and Baja California.
Find the best Car Rental deals
Browse through international and local car rentals and find the best deal.
30. Uber is not always available
Uber had a hard time entering Mexico, especially in touristic cities in Quintana Roo. So in Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and Tulum forget about Uber. In all the other big cities that I know of, UBER is pretty much available and the best choice.
I prefer to use UBER in general because it’s more practical. I don’t need to have cash, have better rates, and cannot fool you.
And in my experience, UBER drivers are much nicer. But that’s my own experience only. I cannot speak in general.
31. Confirm taxi rates in advance
If you get a taxi, make sure you agree on the fare before getting in. And it’s always better to pay in pesos. If you want him/her to pick you up, only pay one way and ask for their number (that’s another reason why Whatsapp is helpful in these cases).
32. Consider the long distances
For the same reason stated above (that Mexico is a huge country), consider consulting google maps and understand the distances. I love to drive by bus, but sometimes a flight is more convenient.
For the record, in a couple of weeks, I will be on a bus to San Cristobal de Las Casas from Cancun. It will take me 21 hrs bus. I should have taken a flight but due to the COVID restriction there are no direct flights and it would take me forever anyway. Besides, it’s cheaper by bus, considering I have two bags.
If you want to check out domestic flights here are the local airlines
Mexico travel tips in Restaurants
33. Spicy food is like anywhere else
Whether you love spicy food or not, be careful when you read the word HABANERO, because that is the king of all spices, or so they say. I don’t even dare try.
If you are like me and can’t bear spicy food, make sure to be careful when they say, “It’s just a little spicy” (in Spanish: “pica poco”) because they have their own sense of “little,” and it means to us that it will be burning hot.
You can just ask if it contains chile. If so, it is going to be spicy.
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34. Be extra polite
Mexicans are very formal. I noticed it working in a Mexican office, where the work emails I received were like 400 hundred words, of which only 50 were the actual message. The rest were all formalities. Even in an informal situation, Mexican keep their formal attitude.
Always ask, “how are you” before asking anything else. Just keep it in mind and go with the flow. For example, when you enter a shop, always greet the salespeople with hello and goodbye.
But the weirdest part was to hear strangers wishing me “Buen provecho” (meaning “have a good meal”) while sitting at a restaurant. That was awkward, but I have learned now, and I am doing it too.
The funny part is that when I go back to Italy I feel like doing the same and that would be really embarrassing because we don’t do it.
35. …and generous (Tipping advice in Mexico)
In Mexico, like in the US, tipping is the norm, and, although not mandatory, it’s “kindly required.” Some restaurants include it in the bill, but it’s just a suggestion. You can decide what to tip. The normality is starting from 10% (considered very tight) up.
Where to tip in Mexico – bars and restaurants, gas stations, parking, and the people who put your grocery shopping in the supermarket bags.
Getting to Mexico
36. Entry Visa Requirements
You need to apply for a visa if your passport is from the country listed on this page. If your country is not on the list you can enter Mexico with your valid passport and get a 3 to 6 months tourist permit.
To work in Mexico is more complicated and you should put it in the hands of a good lawyer that can look after all the paperwork for you and spare you all the hustle and headaches.
I was lucky because I was hired by a local company that took care of my paperwork through a lawyer. She was so efficient and trustworthy that I have asked her if I could interview her.
37. Keep your immigration form
When you enter Mexico both via air or land, you must fill out two forms, one for customs, which will be collected by the customs agents before leaving the airport, and another one for immigration.
Once you pass through the immigration agent, you will be given half of the form, which you will need to keep with you in your passport and hand it over to the airline on your way back.
In case you lose it, you will have to go through immigration again on your way out, fill out the form again and pay a fine. So I would make sure to keep it in a safe place.
Mexico travel tip FAQ
In addition to the above-mentioned tips let me answer to some of the most popular questions about Mexico
38. What should I avoid doing in Mexico?
You should AVOID
✔ drinking TAP water
✔ overstress about safety
✔ and yet don’t be naive,
✔ get there unprepared (that’s what this blog is for 😉
✔ flaunt your possession and money
✔ stay in your hotel without exploring around
✔ get involved in drug-related issues
✔ pay the bribe to the police if they stop you. (read also my driving in Mexico guide)
39. What are the dos and don’ts in Mexico?
► DOS in Mexico
✅ wear sunscreen
✅ respect the environment
✅ follow my tips and suggested tours 🙂
✅ chat with locals
✅ go off the beaten path
✅ drive around the Yucatan peninsula
✅ explore the cenotes
► Don’ts in Mexico: see #38
40. What month should you avoid Mexico?
There is no answer to this question. It really depends on what you want to visit and what kind of experience you want to have. There is no specific month that you should avoid in Mexico.
Although you need to know for example that
► Merida is extremely hot in March and April (and the entire summer)
► The Riviera Maya has more change of hurricanes around September and October when it’s hot and humid.
► Mexico city is cold in the winter months, especially in January and February.
► La Paz in Summer is extremely hot but the water is warm and pleasant to swim.
► The best place to celebrate the day of the dead is in Oaxaca.
41. Is Cancun safe?
Cancun is quite safe for tourists. You should refer to this post on safety in Cancun to learn more.
43. What is the cheapest time to go to Mexico?
The cheapest time to go to Mexico is the so-called shoulder season from after holy week through June and from September through mid-December (with exception of thanksgiving and the Day of the dead)
At that time of the year, you will find lower prices and fewer crowds! the best time to travel.
44. What do you need for Covid Mexico?
In some places, you are still required to wear the mask. Make sure you check the law before traveling. Other than that, you are good to go!
45. Is Mexico safe?
Check out my detailed post on the matter. Is Mexico safe?
Mexico travel tips: final thoughts
I believe after reading this post you are well informed and ready to explore this beautiful country. But if you think you have any more questions please be my guest and ask away! I’ll respond as fast as I can!
Mexico Travel Planning Guide
Do I need travel insurance to travel to Mexico?
I would do it if I were you. You never know what can happen and knowing that no matter what, you will be covered with any expenses will give you peace of mind, and make your travel worry-free. You can check out World Nomads or SafetyWing which I have used alternatively depending on my needs of the moment.
Can I drink tap water in Mexico?
No, you can’t! Maybe in some areas or in some homes where they have installed water filters but to be on the safe side, I would say, never drink tap water in Mexico. Carry a water bottle with you and fill it up where you find available potable water sources. Most of the hotels have those.
Is it safe to drive in Mexico?
The short answer is: depending on where you are. Although in general if you stick to the main roads and don’t drive at night you should probably be safe. In lesser tourist areas you should probably check the local news to stay up to date. Driving in the Yucatan Peninsula is easy everywhere, even at night, although I would still avoid it. I usually use Discover Cars because the site offers the options to compare prices among different car rentals and you can add their own full coverage.
Read more on my guide on Renting a car in Mexico.
Will my phone work in Mexico?
It will probably work, especially if you have a European or US phone, but your roaming rates may be to the stars (check with your SIM provider). Even if have an affordable international rate, you will be much better off by buying a Mexican SIM Card. It’s cheap, easy to set up, and it will keep you connected with your friends, family, and, more important, google Maps so you will never get lost!
Is it safe to travel to Mexico right now?
The short answer is, yes it is. However, there are parts of Mexico that are indeed troubled and you should avoid for now, and others that are super safe and easy to travel around. Regardless of where you are you should always use some common sense rules such as, never flaunt expensive clothing, accessories, electronics, or money and keep a low profile. Read more on my detailed guide on safety in Mexico. If you are traveling to a specific destination I have got you covered as well:
Do I need any vaccine to travel to Mexico?
No, there is no vaccine requirement (of any kind) to travel to Mexico
Do I need a visa to travel to Mexico?
If you are coming from the US or Europe you don’t need a VISA to enter Mexico. Once you get in you need to fill out a form which you need to keep with you until you leave. If you don’t have it you will pay a fine. Although the tourist visa for US and European travelers used to be 6 months long which you could easily renew by leaving the country for a couple of days and going back, nowadays they have been stricter. You may be asked how you would sustain your living and other similar questions. Sometimes they even ask you to show your credit cards. It seems odd but they can do that. If you intend to stay longer than a usual couple of weeks’ vacation time, just be honest and explain your plans. If you are not from the US, check this site to see if you need a visa