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As a San Diego local, I head south of the border to Mexico frequently. It’s one of my favorite North American destinations. But first-timers have questions! So I polled seasoned Mexico travelers and asked them to share their most useful Mexico travel tips.
Do you have questions about safety? Transport? Money? Read on for the best of the best Mexico travel tips here:
- Mexico Tips for Travelers
- 1. Research Your Destination
- 2. Go with the Flow
- 3. Eat the Street Tacos
- 4. Get Travel Insurance
- 5. Be Street Smart
- 6. Negotiate Taxi Rates
- 7. A Little Spanish Goes A Long Way
- 8. Heed the Flags on Beaches
- 9. Register with Your Embassy
- 10. Don’t Drink the Water
- 11. Buy A SIM Card
- 12. Bring Something Warm for the Bus
- 13. Download Google Maps
- 14. Pay in Local Currency
- 15. Book Bus Journeys Online
Mexico Tips for Travelers
1. Research Your Destination
Research the destinations you plan to visit. Check the US State Department’s travel advisory for Mexico. While the advisory is written with an abundance of caution, it gives an idea of the latest conditions in each region.
The US State Department uses a four-tiered system to identify risk level for every country in the world. Mexico has a Level 2 advisory, meaning “exercise increased caution.” It shares its Level 2 status with 58 other countries, including Italy, the UK, China, and France.
Look up the Mexican states you intend to visit. It’s important to be aware which states have a Level 4 “Do not travel” advisory. Even if a state has a no-go warning, though, specific areas may still be considered safe, like the beautiful city of Morelia in Michoacán.
Keep in mind that Mexico is a large, diverse country. Most popular tourist areas like the Yucatan’s Riviera Maya are still considered low-risk.
I’ve visited Mexico about 15 times, often traveling solo, and have never had an issue. By doing your research, you should have no hesitation in visiting this incredible country.
Ingrid | Second-Half Travels
2. Go with the Flow
Travel planning is important but so is relaxing! And sometimes that means that things happen on a different schedule than you anticipated.
Or maybe you’re visiting a boutique that closes for a mid-day siesta. Embrace it. Resist the urge to plan all the magic moments out of your trip.
During my girls’ day out at Rancho la Puerta in Tecate, we enjoyed the best of both worlds…a full day’s schedule that also allowed lots of time for swimming, meditating, and rest.
When we went wine tasting in Valle de Guadalupe, we let our appetite for tacos and interesting wines dictate our schedule, with siestas at our lovely hotel. Wherever you are in Mexico, you’re likely to feel a warm welcome and relaxed vibe from locals.
So sip a margarita. Sigh over a sunset. Mexico awaits.
Chris | Explore Now or Never
3. Eat the Street Tacos
One of the great things about Mexico is the food! Unfortunately, many people have the false impression that eating from street vendors will make you sick so they miss out on some of the best food in the country.
While it may seem safer to eat in a more familiar tourist restaurant, that is rarely the case. In fact, after many months traveling through Mexico the only time I suffered food poisoning was at a fancy beach resort.
Also, to enjoy a delicious, authentic meal that will blow your mind and your tastebuds, but not your wallet, street food is definitely the way to go.
Still unsure? Here are some tried and true tips to help avoid Montezuma’s Revenge when eating street food.
- Choose street food stands with a line-up of locals, especially if there are women and children eating there. Locals eat most of their meals at street stands so if someone gets sick, word will spread fast and business will be lost.
- Look for vendors with good hygiene practices like having a sink or washbasin handy or using rubber gloves.
- Opt for cooked food over raw. People most often get sick from eating raw vegetables that were not properly washed. An exception for this is ceviche because using lime juice kills off a ton of bacteria and seafood is usually very fresh on the coast.
- Try to eat during local meal times as the food will be freshest then.
- If you tend to have a sensitive stomach, stay away from the really spicy stuff and consider carrying activated charcoal or something like Imodium.
Sarah | Live Dream Discover
4. Get Travel Insurance
There’s just no substitute for the peace of mind that travel insurance brings to a trip…and that includes time in Mexico. If you have a credit card that includes coverage, do some digging to learn what exactly it covers.
While some of the premium cards (i.e., those with a hefty annual fee like my Chase Sapphire card) offer excellent insurance benefits, most of the others do not.
If you have any doubt, buy travel insurance. I recommend World Nomads. Why? The no-hassle protection it offers is worth every penny.
Whether you experience a common but frustrating problem—like a missed flight or delayed baggage—or something more serious—like an overseas hospitalization or a stolen camera, World Nomads has got your back.
You’ll simply fill out the paperwork for a claim and can expect prompt payment. You can get a quote on World Nomads travel insurance for your Mexico trip here.
5. Be Street Smart
While traveling in Mexico, it’s important to keep a close eye on your purse and wallet at all times. I would recommend keeping any valuables such as your passport, expensive jewelry, large amounts of cash, and at least one credit card in the hotel safe.
It’s generally best not to travel with excessive amounts of cash; simply carry what you’ll need for the day’s activities as well as a driver’s license or photo ID.
This way, if your wallet were to get stolen, you’ll still have access to your credit cards, passport, and any funds that are secured in the hotel safe.
When you are out and about, I would recommend wearing crossbody purses with zippered compartments for women. For men, I would recommend keeping your wallet in your front pocket. (Or check out this list of backpacks at TravelFreak.)
An RFID wallet is a particularly great way to protect yourself against electronic theft.
For added security on the go, you might also consider purchasing a PacSafe, which is a portable safe that can be secured to fixtures in your hotel room or even your beach chair.
Mexico is full of historic, picturesque towns, beautiful beaches, and adventurous activities. Just be sure to be mindful and aware of your surroundings and you’ll have an amazing time discovering everything that Mexico has to offer.
Allison | Viva La Travelista
6. Negotiate Taxi Rates
My very favorite tip to give people who are traveling to Mexico for the first time is to always negotiate a taxi rate before you get in a taxi. It can be common for taxi drivers to mark up the fair if they believe you are a foreigner and don’t know the customary price for a fare.
Once you get in the taxi, you are at the discretion of the driver and what they want to charge you. To avoid this situation, we recommend always telling the driver where you want to go first, asking the price, and then negotiating on the street.
Once you reach a price you are comfortable with, you can get in and know that you are receiving a fair price.
In places like Mexico City, it is very common and safe to use services such as Uber. Using Uber is generally safer in Mexico City as you can check out the driver before they arrive and you don’t have to deal with negotiating a fair or paying by cash.
In smaller towns throughout Mexico—such as Tulum, Cancun, Guanajuato City, or Oaxaca City—it really depends on the town and whether or not Uber has arrived/is legal there yet or not.
To be sure, just check the app to see if Uber operates there. If it does, it is generally a better bet to use Uber!
Jessica | Unearth the Voyage
7. A Little Spanish Goes A Long Way
My travel advice for Mexico: Your Mexico travels will go more smoothly if you learn some basic Spanish ahead of time. Now, this doesn’t mean that you have to go out and master the Spanish language before visiting.
On the contrary, all you need to do is learn a handful of common words and phrases relating to transportation, restaurants, and lodging. This way you’ll be able to ask important questions, such as directions to a specific location, while you’re visiting Mexico. It will also allow you to briefly interact with locals, which is something worth pursuing.
For beginners, the best way to learn these words and phrases is to use an easy language app such as Duolingo. I’ve personally used Duolingo in the past and I find it to be an efficient method of learning beginner-level Spanish.
The app is completely free and it will allow you to not only learn important words but to test out your knowledge through interactive lessons. These lessons are designed so that you will have a greater chance of remembering the words and a better understanding of pronunciation.
By setting aside five to ten minutes every day to learn some basic Spanish, you’ll be able to navigate Mexico with greater efficiency. Try Babbel, a subscription-based app that focuses on vocabulary you’ll actually use. You can sign up for one month or many months.
Michael | Passport Explored
8. Heed the Flags on Beaches
One of the best and easiest ways for visitors to Mexico to stay safe is to pay attention to the beach flag and warning signs. It’s not just big waves that can pose problems for swimmers.
On beaches everywhere in Mexico—from Cancun to Zicatela—there can be strong and dangerous currents, algae, jellyfish, red tide, sargassum seaweed, lightning or other hidden hazards. Fortunately, on major public beaches, Mexico follows a sign signal similar to those in other countries, where a double red flag means the beach is closed to public use (stay out of the water).
A red flag means there are hazardous conditions (stay out of the water), a yellow flag means medium hazard (use caution), green means calm waters, and purple means dangerous marine life such as jellyfish.
The purple flag is rarely seen in Mexico so it’s worth asking the lifeguards or checking with your hotel for updates if you’re unsure. There are also permanent warning signs at beaches where rip currents are always present or strong sea surges.
Between July and December, it’s also possible to see some beaches posted as off-limits due to arribadas, mass sea turtle nestings when 5,000 or more sea turtles arrive to lay their eggs on the beaches of Mexico. In this case, the beaches are accessible but only with a certified guide.
So, although it’s tempting to go racing into the ocean when you first arrive at the beach in Mexico, it’s prudent to assess the water conditions for safety first.
Michele | A Taste for Travel
9. Register with Your Embassy
Before you leave for your trip, it’s a good idea to register with your country’s embassy in Mexico to let them know where you’ll be. If you’re a US citizen, you can use STEP, which stands for Smart Traveler Enrollment Program.
It’s easy to enroll online and is completely free. You can either register a single trip or create an account, which will allow you to change the details of your travels each time you start a new trip.
For frequent travelers, creating an account is the best option. If you’re traveling with your family, you can make just one registration and then list your family members as accompanying travelers.
Once you register your trip, you’ll receive email updates about the safety and security situation in Mexico and any new developments you should know about. Enrolling also makes it easier for the embassy to contact you in the event of an emergency, such as civil unrest or a natural disaster.
Of course, the embassy will always be available to help you whether you have registered or not, but registering makes it easier for them to assist you during a crisis or emergency. It also gives you peace of mind, since you’ll know that if something happens you’ll receive an alert right away.
So, instead of constantly checking the news, you can relax, soak up the sun, eat delicious Mexican food and have a great time.
Wendy | The Nomadic Vegan
10. Don’t Drink the Water
Mexico is a popular vacation destination that people love to visit. An important thing to know when you travel there is that it’s not a good idea to drink the tap water.
While most may know this, what many people don’t think about is the water involved in the preparation of the food they eat while in Mexico. In addition to not drinking the water, you should not eat anything rinsed in water that is not cooked or peeled.
Think about it for a moment: If you rinse your apple in tap water to clean it before eating it, how is that any different than slugging back a glass of water? That side salad on your plate was all rinsed with the same water you know you shouldn’t drink.
I have joked about this as I have never wanted a salad as much as when I travel to Mexico (or any developing country, for that matter). But, it’s true!
Of course, you can take a chance as no one’s stopping you. But nothing ruins a vacation more than the joys of “Montezuma’s Revenge” or a hospital visit to get antibiotics to put an end to it.
And here’s a last thought: When you brush your teeth, use bottled or filtered water to rinse your mouth and your toothbrush. It’s all the same idea and you will enjoy your trip more for it.
Or, to avoid looking for sources of safe water, just bring a LifeStraw filtered water bottle so you don’t have to worry! It removes 99.99 percent of pathogens from any freshwater source on earth.
Sam | My Flying Leap
11. Buy A SIM Card
You might think you need to have all the travel essentials before you travel to Mexico, but there is one thing that we recommend not buying online and actually waiting until you arrive in Mexico to buy: Telcel, a Mexican SIM card is available for purchase everywhere in the airport when you arrive, the grocery stores or cell phone shops.
It’s just a useful tip for traveling to Mexico. Out of all the Mexican cell providers, Telcel has the most subscribers and widest coverage. As mentioned, the SIM cards are sold pretty much everywhere, so it’s as easy as walking into a store and ask to buy a new SIM. They’ll help you set it up!
The Telcel is a great alternative to buying a costly data plan from your current cell phone carrier. You can get plenty of data for less than $20 USD per month.
This is especially great to use for google maps, as we all know getting lost while traveling is a given! If you are heading out to hit up all the Cancun attractions or beaches in Mexico you’ll want to be connected.
Hannah | Getting Stamped
12. Bring Something Warm for the Bus
Having traveled extensively throughout Mexico, one of my best travel tips for Mexico is to pack a sweater, a thick scarf or a light sleeping bag.
If you are planning to travel by bus, be warned: The buses only seem to know one setting for their air conditions: ice age!
How often have I almost frozen to death on those long-distance or overnight bus trips in Mexico, I honestly can’t remember anymore. Even though the weather outside is mostly pleasantly warm and you wouldn’t think of Mexico as a place where you would need a sweater or long pants, do yourself the favor and be prepared for the bus rides.
Many hotels, hostels, malls, and cinemas are also big fans of ice-cold temperatures, meaning that you should pack something warm for practically any indoor activities.
Pack to wear layer and make use of the onion look – different layers that you can peel off depending on the temperature. Just choose a lightweight solution to minimize bulk when packing.
Viktoria | Chronic Wanderlust
13. Download Google Maps
If you’re going to Mexico, download the Google map for your destination before arriving so you’ll have access to important addresses, names, and directions. Once downloaded on to your phone or tablet, you’ll be able to access all locations even if you’re not on WiFi or using data.
Before arriving in Mexico with my dogs, I pinned all important locations on a Google map and downloaded the map to my phone. This included my accommodation, the airport, all nearby hospitals and veterinarians, as well as touristic spots I knew I wanted to visit.
Other points of interest included the closest public transportation stations—metro, bus stop— the American embassy, information booths, restaurants I wanted to try, and local supermarkets.
Be sure to download the map for offline use before you arrive at your destination and while you are connected to the internet. It’s easy.
Just open the Google Maps app on your phone or tablet, sign into Google Maps, and search for the city or town you’re going to.
Then, at the bottom of the page, tap the location name (in the white bar) and select “download.” That’s it!
Candy | Boogie the Pug
14. Pay in Local Currency
Here’s a key Mexico traveling tip: There are some restaurants that will try to convert your peso bill to USD using an inflated conversion rate…whether you’ve requested it or not! So as a result, you will pay more.
You can avoid these unnecessary fees by making sure that the bill they provide is in local currency (Mexican Peso) and by saying no if they ask you if you want your bill in USD. Always pay in pesos.
Not every Mexican restaurant uses this practice, of course. But we did notice some restaurants in Cancun, Playa Del Carmen, and other tourist hot spots in Mexico scam unsuspecting tourists in this way. (Unfortunately, it’s not a practice that is exclusive to Mexico).
Bill discrepancies can range from small change to a large amount. And even if it’s not much, at the end of the day, these small amounts can add up.
And speaking of saving money on your trip, try to pay in cash as much as possible. Credit cards are subject to foreign transaction fees and also poor conversion rate that can also add up on your trip cost.
Christine | The Travelling Pinoys
15. Book Bus Journeys Online
Whenever traveling to Mexico, there are some basic tips and advice travelers should follow when it comes to traveling around the country, especially if you’ll be traveling by land.
As you get more acquainted with travel in Mexico, one thing that you’ll quickly come to grips with is that the main bus company Ado is everywhere. Meaning, the more you travel by bus you’ll likely find it easier and more accommodating to travel with Ado. Not only that, Ado serves most major bus routes throughout Mexico.
If you’re a first-timer to Mexico, book your bus ticket with Ado on their website to save yourself repeated trips to the station. This wa,y you get to select your seat and there is no need to speak with anyone, nor print off your ticket.
As long as you can show the ticket on the screen of your mobile device, there is no need to do anything else. For those who prefer to use credit or debit cards, booking online also saves you the trouble of ticket offices that may not accept your card due to technical difficulties.
Bonus: You’ll avoid showing up at the bus station to find your bus is fully booked.
Daniel | Layer Culture
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