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, and 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 many 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, Mexico has other essential travel tips 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
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 damages to the system. You will be reminded all the time, but I thought I should let you know and explain why.
WIFI IS NOT AN ISSUE
In the most touristic 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.
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.
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.
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 those mini-dictionary with you or have one on your phone.
Here 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. 🙂
GET A LOCAL SIM CARD
Preferably choose Telcel. It’s always better to have a local sim 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
MEXICO IS SAFE TO TRAVEL WITH SOME EXCEPTIONS
I understand that some not flattering news about Mexico might create concern or fear about traveling to 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. The entire Yucatan peninsula, though, is pretty much safe to travel. Baja California Sur is another super safe state, among others.
But you need to use some common sense…
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
REGARDLESS, TRAVEL INSURANCE IS RECOMMENDED
Do we really need travel insurance? YES, you do. Of course, we hope nothing happens, and we 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 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.
HOW TO AVOID GETTING SICK IN MEXICO
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.
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.
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.
ENJOY STREET FOOD BUT…
Street food is one of Mexico’s best things, as their typical best meals are consumed from the street vendors. However, not all of them are good, and not all of them offer good quality meat and hygiene practice. 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.
ALWAYS KEEP ANTIBACTERIAL WET WIPES
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.
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.
MONEY RELATED TIPS FOR MEXICO
PAY IN PESOS, NOT USD
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 into the Mexican pesos because even if in 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 each 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.
HOW MUCH IT COST TO TRAVEL IN 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).
CREDIT CARD IS 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.
ALWAYS HAVE CHANGE WITH YOU
You will be avoiding annoying situations if you have change 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.
AVOID ATM DURING PAY DAY
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 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 IN MEXICO
PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION IS EFFICIENT AND SAFE
There is a very well organize net of bus lines that cover the major cities in Mexico. To travel around Mexico is very easy and comfortable. Some of them, such as ETN, are real luxury busses. 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.
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.
UBER IS NOT ALWAYS AVAILABLE IN MEXICO
Uber had a hard time entering in 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.
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).
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
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.
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.
…AND GENEROUS (TIPPING ADVISE 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
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.
If your intention is to move to Mexico instead, you can check the interview with a Mexican lawyer post with more detailed information.
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.
Do you have any specific questions? Did I miss anything? please ask in the comment session below. I will be happy to reply in the best way I can.