Is it your first time traveling to Mexico? Don’t worry! My travel tips for Mexico are guaranteed to help you prepare for your holiday and you can rest assured everything will go smoothly.
Mexico is a country that will capture with its beautiful landscapes and gorgeous beaches; lively cities; unique archeological sites; unique culture; delicious food and welcoming people always ready for a chat and a bit of fun. This is a huge country, and no amount of movies, TV or Netflix series and books you may have ready will prepare you for its stark contrasts and variety.
In this post, I will tell you everything you need to know before traveling to Mexico and to share a bunch of useful travel tips for Mexico.
The Most Useful Tips For Mexico
Basic Safety Tips For Mexico
There are people worldwide that target tourists as the victim of their next crime. My general advice, no matter the destination you are visiting, is to practice common sense when it comes to safety. Mexico is no different. It is a good idea when walking about to use your peripheral vision to evaluate the proximity between yourself and strangers.
Raise Your Voice To Attract Attention
If you have a bad feeling about someone lurking a bit too close, trust your instincts and get your guard up to secure yourself. One good way to deter someone from trying to pickpocket you (or God forbid worse) is to shout out something very loudly to draw attention to you from people nearby. This unexpected spectacle will most likely drive this person away from you.
Don’t Flaunt It
Whether traveling solo or with friends, women traveling to Mexico should be extra cautious. It is best not to wear clothing that is too sexy or provocative out in public. Although you may be tempted to answer back (I only know too well!), do not engage with anyone that whistles or catcalls at you.
Don’t Drink Too Much!
One of the best things to do when traveling to Mexico is enjoying the local nightlife. With all the Tequila, Mezcal, Margaritas and refreshing cerveza you may be tempted to have a drink too many – and there would be nothing wrong with it. Except, when things go bad in a place that is not home, they have the potential of going really bad. The last thing you want is getting so intoxicated that someone could take advantage of you.
The same goes with other substances!
Cash vs. Card
The official currency in Mexico is the Peso (MXN). At the time of writing, the exchange rate is $20 MXN to $1 USD.
You should have a good number of Pesos on hand during your trip. The amount needed really depends on how long you will be in Mexico and what activities you plan on doing while there. However, keep in mind that credit and debit cards are accepted in most stores, retail outlets, franchises, restaurants and hotels.
You only really need cash to pay in smaller stores, markets and street vendors, taxis and buses which normally take cash only, and for tipping. My tip is to use your card for larger expenses and to keep cash and small change handy for smaller ones.
Withdrawing Cash In Mexico
When you are visiting Mexico, you have two ways to get Pesos. At the airport or in kiosks and banks located around a city, you can go to a currency exchange kiosk and exchange your currency for Pesos for a nominal fee. You can also make a withdrawal at an ATM. You just need to be aware of ATM fees and what your bank may charge for the international cash withdrawal.
Some banks have higher withdrawal fees than others, too. HSBC and Bancomer will charge you around 90 pesos per withdrawal, whereas Santander and BanaMex charge up to 30 Pesos. With this in mind, you are definitely better off withdrawing larger amounts at once and avoid paying multiple withdrawal fees.
Keep Your Cash Safe
Once you withdraw cash, make sure to keep it safe. If you have a purse, you may want to strap it across your chest instead of carry it on your shoulder so it cannot be snatched too easily. Carry your wallet in a front pocket instead of the back. There really is no need to place cash in your bra or socks – but if it makes you feel safer, keep a money belt like this one. You can use this stashed cash to get a cab to your hotel or police station or make a phone call for help.
Leave Valuable Items At Home
Don’t take anything valuable when traveling to Mexico – in fact, this tip applies to any trip! Your best guarantee for the safety of your valuables is to just leave them at home. Besides, you can buy lovely earrings or bracelets and more off one of the many street vendors and markets in Mexico.
If you must bring something valuable with you on your trip, it may be a good idea to find a hotel with a safe provided in rooms or at the front desk. You can then get these valuables as you need them and secure them when you don’t. When you do have your valuables with you, don’t flaunt them in front of people. Keep it low key so you don’t draw attention to yourself.
Get Travel Insurance!
It is not mandatory to get travel insurance for your trip. It really depends on your personal preference. You may choose to forgo travel medical insurance and pay out of pocket if any small medical emergencies come up. But for peace of mind I always recommend to take out a comprehensive travel insurance policy. So, one of my best travel tips for Mexico is to purchase a good travel insurance.
Call a Doctor if Needed
Getting sick in Mexico is a common occurrence. Despite using all precautions, I seem unable to avoid it any time I visit.
If you get sick while traveling to Mexico, you should immediately call your insurance, who will put you in touch with a local hospital or clinic and take care of all expenses. However, you will be glad to know that contrary to many other countries, General Practitioners are easy to come across in Mexico, and often free for patients.
Most pharmacies – typically the Farmacia de Ahorro, which is commonly found in all cities – have small walk-in clinics called consultorios where you can show up if you need and for which you don’t have to pay. Most doctors speak some English, so you should be able to explain your symptoms. Once you get a prescription, run to the pharmacy next door and to buy whatever medication you need.
Plan To Arrive And Depart During The Day
I am always wary of budget flights that are scheduled land late at night, leaving you with no other option to either sleep at the airport or get a taxi to your hotel in town – I fail to see how they are truly saving me money. But when visiting a foreign country – Mexico or any other – you also need to consider your safety. It’s much easier for things to go wrong (and much harder to get help if needed) in the middle of the night. Stick to a flight that lands when there’s still light outside, or a day-time bus ride.
Keep Your Multimple Immigration Form (FMM)
Once you land in Mexico, you will need to fill out a customs and immigration form which is then stamped at customs to note doing your arrival date and how long you can stay (between 90 and 180 days for citizens of most countries) before you are officially admitted. The immigration officer will keep half of the form for government purposes, and you’ll have to keep the other half with you to hand it in once you leave the country.
In case you lose it, you can replace it at the immigration office inside the airport for a fee in the range of $500 MXN (around $25 USD).
Getting Around Mexico
Bus Travel in Mexico
Buses are a great, budget friendly way of getting around in Mexico, even for long haul rides. ADO is the best company for bus travel. For safety reasons, one of the travel tips for Mexico you went to note down is not travel on a bus at night if you can avoid it.
Driving in Mexico
A car rental can be one of the quickest ways to get around Mexico. You just need to be cautious driving here, as you would be driving anywhere else where you are not familiar. You will have greater ease navigating yourself around with a GPS, rather than traditional road maps or even local directions.
You may also have to dodge large potholes on roads in some places and livestock and wild animals in rural areas. Once again, driving at night is not recommended as this can make you vulnerable to thieves that prey on tourists driving in the dark.
Taxis in Mexico
Taxis are a great way to get around short distances within a city or village. Just make sure you are hiring a legitimate metered taxi or to confirm your taxi rates in advance, so as to avoid fare disputes as you are about to get off. Keep in mind some taxi drivers often apply an extra fee for foreigners – typically called “gringo taxi.” Speaking good Spanish certainly helps avoiding this!
Get A Local SIM Card
Don’t spend an arm and a leg to stay connecting while traveling around Mexico! International roaming charges for your cell phone carrier can be expensive depending on the carrier and amount of usage.
The best way to make sure that your cell will work in Mexico is to get a local SIM card – my go to company when in the country is typically Telcel, as it has the widest network. You can do this by simply walking into a retail phone outlet with your phone and asking for a local SIM card – you’ll even find some at the airport. These cost up to about $6 USD and it are the most cost-effective way to use your phone while traveling to Mexico.
Use Whatsapp To Communicate
Whatsapp is a common means of communication in many countries, and in Mexico it’s often used by small businesses – restaurants and local eateries and even taxi companies – as a quick way of getting reached. If you are not already using it, make sure to download it as it will make your life significantly easier!
Tipping in Mexico is acceptable and, on some occasions, customary. In restaurants and bars, a service charge is generally not included and it is customary to leave a tip of up to 20 percent of the bill depending on the level of service.
Other people who expect a tip are tour guides. Some will tell you that guides prefer being tipped in US dollars as opposed to Pesos, since the US dollar is worth so much more in Mexico. I am not sure about that – because you inevitably lose a bit when you exchange money at the bank! The amount of tip you leave should be based on your experience, but as a rule of thumb don’t leave less than $50 MXN.
Tips are also expected by cleaning stuff in hotels (around $75 MXN per day); hotel porters that help you with luggage; baggers at grocery stores (up to $10 MXN); shuttle drivers when they help with your bags (around $20 MXN). You don’t need to tip taxi drivers.
Many people suggest that haggling in Mexico is a must – and it certainly is in markets. I have done a fair share of it in San Cristobal de las Casas. In fact, haggling can actually be quite fun too. You can tease the vendor by starting to walk away from them if they won’t budge on price. Most of the time they will yield and try to compromise with you on an agreeable price for the item you are interested in.
However, don’t push your haggling game too far. Remember that many depend on merchandise sales for their livelihood, and there is a fine line between what is a fair price and what is simply offensive.
Scams in Mexico
I can’t possibly write a post on the best first-timers’ tips for Mexico and not mention the scams. As in any tourist region in the world, scam artists are on the prowl for vulnerable people. Below are a few common scams in Mexico and how to avoid them.
FAKE POLICE – These scammers seem to prey on solo travelers. Many have infiltrated themselves into local police units. If you are approached by a police officer asking to see your documents or go somewhere with them for no apparent reason, DO NOT show them anything or go anywhere with them. Immediately contact emergency services by dialing 112.
FAKE ATMS – For the safety of your bank accounts, only use ATMS that are located inside a bank building, as opposed to one standing alone in the street. stand-alone ATMs may contain a skimming device or something that could eat your card or get your account information.
SCAMS IN RESTAURANTS – Some restaurants try to scam tourists by padding their restaurant bill in many ways. This includes doing a bait and switch with menus that have higher prices than displayed outside. They have also been known to add unwanted items and surcharges to the bill. The best way to avoid this is to eat in establishments that are frequented by locals. Always check your bill thoroughly after the meal for all prices and items ordered.
FAKE TAXIS – If you need a taxi, it is best to call one from a reputable agency to pick you up. You can ask your hotel front desk to call the taxi for you, as they know authorized cab companies. If you do get a cab from a transportation hub or on the street, make sure the driver’s license is clearly displayed. Also, reputable taxis have white license plates containing numbers and a capital letter. Do not do business with a taxi driver that approaches you with a fare deal and acts aggressive. Simply wave them off and keep walking.
FAKE SOUVENIRS – Why would you want a cheap knock off souvenir when you can purchase something authentic? Do some checking on items that you are considering buying for souvenirs. If something is too cheap it may not be a legitimate Mexican product. When inspecting the merchandise, check for an artist’s name on handicrafts or a hallmark on jewelry purchases. Before shopping, do some research on how to check for genuine items versus fakes.
Try Local Food
The food in Mexico is arguably the freshest, healthiest, and most flavorsome food in the world. The cuisine is so famous and popular that there are Mexican restaurants located worldwide (though oftentimes the food you get there doesn’t even remotely resemble what you get in Mexico!).
Alas, there is nothing like the food grown, raised and prepared by Mexicans in their homeland. The regional cuisines of Mexico are something that any foodie must experience when visiting.
Including Street Food
Mexico has an outstanding selection of street food for purchase including tacos, tamales, quesadillas, and tostadas—plus many more. You will find so many vendors everywhere that will tempt you with the sights and aromas of this scrumptious food.
Now, I appreciate some of you may be concerned about street food – what with its reputation for being dirty and not hygienic. So, I thought I’d add some extra tips for you:
- LOOK FOR THE CROWDS – If you see a lot of people around a cart of market vendor, chances are that food there is really good and sold fast – so fresh and clean. A mix of locals and tourists is also a good indication of quality you can trust.
- WATCH OUT FOR WHO HANDLES THE MONEY – Stick to carts where the person who handles the food never touches the money.
Avoid Tap Water
One of the first tips for Mexico you will likely hear from friends who have visited before you is “don’t drink the water.” While the government insists that tap water in Mexico is sanitized and safe to drink, it actually isn’t. The tap water here may make you sick. Keep a supply of sealed bottles of water handy in your hotel room and carry a bottle with you during the day. If you want to be more environmentally friendly, bring a water bottle with a filter such as this one.
Some will go as far as suggesting to use bottled water even to brush your teeth, in case you have an extra sensitive stomach and you end up swallowing when you do so. I have always used tap water to brush my teeth with no issues.
How Not To Get Sick
While the food served in Mexico is without a doubt fresh and delicious, there is a chance it may make you sick. You need to be very careful about where and how you eat while traveling to Mexico. The ‘Mexi-sick,’ as some people call it, or Montezuma’s revenge, is where you alternate between vomiting and diarrhea. Unfortunately, sometimes a person can do both at the same time, which can be messy as well as exhausting!
But how do you a void getting sick when traveling around Mexico?
When dining out, take notice of some things about the food preparation. Make sure chicken and pork are properly cooked through – these are the biggest bacteria carrying meats you could get. In fact, both times I got sick in Mexico it was after eating a chicken caesar salad where the chicken wasn’t cooked through, and tacos al pastor where the pork was still raw. If you notice your chicken or pork aren’t fully cooked, send the dish back and ask to make ti again from scratch!
If you order a salad at a restaurant, the vegetables may be washed in tap water – you may want to verify that with your waiter. Chances are the salad is indeed washed in a solution that kills the bacteria, and as such perfectly safe to eat. I have eaten plenty of salads and never got sick off them!
One of the most common tips for Mexico is to avoid ice in drinks. In theory, whenever you order a drink you should specify ‘no ice’ to your server. Honestly though – can you really have a margarita with no ice? No way! In fact, ice is typically made with filtered water and safe.
People In Mexico
People in Mexico are extremely friendly and eager to help anyone in need. Whether it is for an emergency, with directions in helping you find a place or a dining recommendation, you know you can count on the locals.
Mexican people are a combination of religious and superstitious. They celebrate many Catholic traditions with only the reasoning that it is what their parents taught them. Mexican superstitions are based on folklore and legends and many believe in these superstitions wholeheartedly.
The culture is a bit sexist and some still believe that women here are not expected to be more than mothers and housewives. Some men also tend to objectify attractive women with catcalls and flirting.
While many people understand some basic English, to make communication with locals easier, one of the best tips I have is to learn some basic Spanish phrases. The common phrases learned should be related to getting around, dining, and emergency assistance.
You can also download a translation app on your phone and you can speak or type in more complicated questions or sentences. Then your phone can translate the phrase so the other person can hear or read it. You can do this and have a full conversation with someone with ease where everything is completely understood by both parties!
Weather In Mexico
While most people may assume the weather in Mexico is the same throughout the country, the exact opposite is true. The annual temperature range throughout the country usually varies between 50° to 90° F (10° and 32° C). Along the coast, the weather is balmy and has a rainy and a dry season. Of course, the desert regions are warmer in the daytime but considerably colder at night.
However, what many people don’t realize is that temperatures can get below zero in some regions in central and northern Mexico. These mountainous regions can also have some snowfall during the winter.
Beware of the various climates of Mexico when packing for your trip!
Get A Guide
Many will disagree with me, but I am a massive fan of getting a guide!
If you want to visit some sites and want to learn about them and the surrounding area, hire a guide to walk you around and tell you about the history and little-known facts of the site. Guides are available in your language of choice at most sites, and you only have to wait around a few minutes for other tourists to show up to put together a group so that the overall price per person is cheaper.
Many travel booking sites such as GetYourGuide of Viator offer tours to purchase. Many of these tours will pick you up at your hotel or designate a meeting place for the tour to begin. This way you will get a guide that knows about the most famous sites, plus transportation too – and the safety of paying everything online.
Check out my GetYourGuide review here.
Don’t Skip Mexico City
Mexico City is one of the most underrated cities in the world and while some friends may suggest you skip it altogether, i respectfully disagree. There are so many things to do in Mexico City you will have a difficult time deciding what to do during your time here.
You can learn about Mexican history at its many world-class museums and ancient archeological sites. When you take a stroll around the city, you will see beautiful works of art and architecture at every turn.
As far as a tourist destination is concerned, Mexico City can fit any vacation budget. It has many accommodation options that suit all price ranges. Do yourself a favor and explore this city and all its treasures at least once. You will be glad you did.
Check The Latest Travel Warnings
Finally, one of the most important yet often overlooked tips for Mexico is to check the latest travel advisory before traveling to Mexico for updates on the current situation. This is the website for the US Department of State. This is the foreign travel advice site for British citizens.
Make sure to read my other posts about Mexico:
- The Best Mexico Itinerary
- The Best Beaches In Mexico
- The Best Things To Do In Yucatan
- What To Eat In Mexico
- The Best Time To Visit Mexico