Mexico is so diverse in the experiences that it offers and there’s something to enjoy for any type of traveler.
But traveling in Mexico can be quite intimidating especially if it’s your first time venturing into this country.
In this post, we have listed out a few tips and things to know before traveling to Mexico that will make your trip so much more comfortable and enjoyable.
Here are 22 essential Mexico travel tips you should know before you go:
- Mexico Is Huge
- There’s Something To Do For Everyone
- Don’t Be Afraid To Venture Out
- It’s A Lot Safer Than You Think
- English Is Not Widely Spoken
- Avoid Traveling On Semana Santa Holiday
- Weather In Mexico
- Dress More Conservative In Big Cities
- Only Drink Filtered Water
- Tipping In Mexico
- There Is No Rush
- Take Ubers
- WiFi Is Not Always Reliable Or Available
- Bargain To Get The Best Price
- Pay In Cash
- Watch Out For Common Scams
- Toilet Seat Can Be A Luxury
- Tips For Bringing Your Own Car To Mexico
- Don’t Drive At Night
- Places To Watch Out For
- There Is Military & Police Everywhere
- Music Is Always Playing
Mexico Is Huge
Before traveling to Mexico we didn’t realize how big this country really was. During our Pan-American road trip, we only planned to spend 1-2 months in Mexico but we ended up spending 6 months driving through the entire country and even then we only scratched the surface.
If it wasn’t for our Mexico travel visa expiring at the 6-month mark, we probably could have spent another 6 months (or longer) in this beautiful country. There is just so much to see and do in Mexico – and everything is so cheap, that we just didn’t want to leave.
There’s Something To Do For Everyone
When it comes to landscapes and attractions, Mexico is very diverse.
Within Mexico, visitors can relax at pristine white sand beaches, go on jungle adventures, visit ancient ruins, roam through colorful colonial towns, or go diving in mystical underground cenotes. There really is an endless amount of activities and things to do whether you’re a backpacker on a low-cost budget or if you’re planning a family summer vacation.
Want to relax at a 5-star resort? No problem – head over to Cancun or Tulum to unwind at one of their top-notch hotels. Interested in fun jungle adventures? Check out our guide on all the best things to do in La Huasteca Potosina, a remote region known for having turquoise blue waterfalls and other natural wonders. Or maybe you love exploring cities? Mexico City is one of the most beautiful cities in the world with tons of things to see within its metropolitan area.
Don’t Be Afraid To Venture Out
Some of the most popular places for travel in Mexico include Cancun, Tulum, Mexico City, Cabo San Lucas, Acapulco, San Miguel de Allende, Guadalajara & Oaxaca. But if you are planning a trip to Mexico, don’t be afraid to venture outside of these cities.
In fact, some of the best-hidden gems in Mexico often lie just a few hour drive outside of the main cities.
About 4 hours north of Mexico City you can find Grutas Tolantongo, one of the dreamiest hot springs in the world. Or within a quick drive outside of Tulum, you can visit unique underground cenotes and the turquoise blue Lake Bacalar.
It’s A Lot Safer Than You Think
Despite the stories that we hear or read on the news, Mexico is a lot safer for travelers than you think.
We spent over 6 months traveling through Mexico and during our trip, we didn’t really encounter any major issues. The worst thing that happened to us was having our car’s side window stolen in a city while we were out exploring the downtown.
Overall people in Mexico, especially in small towns were super friendly and always tried to help us if we got lost, stuck in mud or needed help with anything.
But when we travel abroad, we always use extra caution, especially in big cities. Here are a few safety tips to keep in mind for Mexico that have helped us stay out of trouble:
- Always travel with other people if you can
- Never walk alone on empty streets
- Avoid taking small alleys or narrow roads
- Avoid going out at night past sunset
- Don’t get drunk or wasted
- Try to blend in and dress conservatively especially in major cities
- Keep a copy of your passport and driver’s license online in case your wallet gets stolen
- Don’t take photos of locals unless you get their permission. Sometimes they can get really upset at having their photo taken
- Never keep a lot of cash in your wallet
- Keep a family member or a friend updated with your travel itinerary
English Is Not Widely Spoken
To our surprise, outside of the touristy cities, most locals don’t actually speak any English.
Thankfully my husband grew up speaking Spanish so we were able to communicate with the locals but otherwise I would have had a pretty hard time getting around in Mexico.
If you plan to travel to Mexico, especially to smaller towns, I highly recommend learning some basic Spanish especially phrases that will help you get directions, buy entrance tickets, food or check into a hotel. Overall people are pretty nice even if you don’t speak any Spanish and will try to help you out, but knowing a few phrases will make your experience so much better.
As a tip, there are also translating apps like Google Translate that you can download before your trip which can come in pretty handy.
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Avoid Traveling On Semana Santa Holiday
Semana Santa is one of the biggest holidays and travel times in Mexico. The Samana Santa holiday falls on the week before Easter and most people in Mexico get two weeks off work to celebrate this holiday.
Many locals take advantage of this time to go on their annual vacations so if you’re planning a trip to Mexico, try to avoid traveling during the Semana Santa holiday because accommodations and transportation will be crowded, more expensive or even sold out.
Weather In Mexico
In general, weather in Mexico is pretty great all year round, especially if you love tropical warm weather.
We’ve been to Mexico at all seasons and our personal favorite is winter (November to February) when temperatures are a bit cooler, there is less rain and it’s less crowded.
Summer is the most popular time for travel in Mexico but the summer months (June to August) in Mexico can get really hot especially the more south you go.
Summer is also considered to be the rainy season and it can rain quite a lot making sight-seeing and tours a lot more challenging and less enjoyable. If you do travel to Mexico in the summer make sure to pack a small travel umbrella so you don’t get caught in a downpour while out and about – which has happened to us a few times.
Dress More Conservative In Big Cities
Coming from Southern California short sleeve tops and shorts has been my go-to outfit for years. But in Mexico, a place that is still very conservative, you’ll rarely see women dressed like this.
I quickly learned that after arriving in Guadalajara and went to roam around the Old Town while wearing shorts. At first, I didn’t quite get all of the eye rolls and “Ay Dios Mios” from the elderly ladies sitting on the corners but I started to sense something was off especially after guys started whistling while walking by. I turned to my husband and asked him what was going on and he said that the ladies were calling me a “streetwalker”.
I was so shocked and almost down to tears since so far along the coast nobody gave me two looks for wearing shorts but it was quite obvious that the dressing standards in the main cities were quite different. I quickly went back and changed into jeans after which I felt much more comfortable and all of the looks and whistles stopped.
After that, I tried to keep my outfit’s pretty conservative and low key in big cities and only dressed up on special occasions or for photoshoots. As a foreigner, you will stand out no matter what, but wearing conservative clothing and colors will help you blend in more and not draw attention to yourself.
Only Drink Filtered Water
When I’m in Mexico I try to stay away from drinking tap water and only drink filtered water. Although my stomach can handle quite a lot and I’m a huge fan of street food, when it comes to water I only stick to filtered water.
During my international trips, I always bring along a Brita water bottle with a built-in water filter. I’m just very cautious and wary when it comes to consuming water outside of the US and having a reusable water bottle with a filter just gives me extra peace of mind.
When traveling abroad, I also bring along charcoal pills that help with gas, bloating, stomach pains and diarrhea. It’s always a good idea to have a few on you in case you get hit with stomach issues while out and about.
Tipping In Mexico
When it comes to tipping in Mexico, it depends on where you’re planning to go and what you’re planning to do.
If you plan to travel to touristy places that get a lot of international travelers, tipping 10-15% at restaurants, bars, hotels, all-inclusive resorts and spas is expected. BUT, if you plan to travel to smaller towns that don’t get many international visitors, tipping in Mexico in general between the locals is not customary.
If you go to a fine dining restaurant, the tip might actually be already included with your meal especially if you see a line called “Propina” which means “Tip”. A 10% tip is pretty standard but if you feel that the service was exceptional, 15% tip is well above the local tipping average.
If you plan to take any tours, the tour guides usually expect a tip at the end of the tour for their time and guidance.
At small mom and pop eateries, food stands or markets, tipping is not expected.
There Is No Rush
If you’re someone like me who likes to plan a lot of sightseeing tours during your trips, make sure to give yourself plenty of buffer time in between your plans in case things move a lot slower than expected.
Unlike the US where we have our days planned down to the minute, in Mexico things are a lot more relaxed. For some boat tours, we’ve waited around for hours before setting out on the tour.
As a tip, when you go out to eat at restaurants, it usually takes about an hour to dine. If you’re in a rush, don’t feel bad to flag down your server to get the check. In Mexico, I felt like the servers stayed away to give diners more privacy so it’s almost expected to flag them down if you need anything.
In times when we don’t have our own car in Mexico and need to get around, we always choose to take an Uber over a Taxi.
After Uber started operating in Mexico the local Taxi drivers were pretty upset about it. Once we even got stuck in the middle of a Taxi protest in Tulum. But for safety and reliability reasons I would personally take an Uber than a Taxi – although there have been times when we got overcharged for Uber rides as well.
While Uber works in most major cities, it might not be available in smaller towns. If you do end up taking a cab, make sure to confirm the fee upfront otherwise you might get overcharged at the end.
WiFi Is Not Always Reliable Or Available
One of the most challenging parts about traveling in Mexico as a digital nomad is the lack of reliable WiFi.
While major hotels usually offer WiFi, outside of the big cities WiFi was pretty scarce and often non-existent. Even coffee shops or cafes that advertised WiFi sometimes didn’t have it yet used it as a ruse to draw people in – which was super frustrating especially if we found that out after ordering a few items from the menu.
Whenever we stopped at a coffee shop or café to use WiFi, we always made sure to ask for the password first and checked the internet speed before committing to staying there.
Bargain To Get The Best Price
If you’re planning to do any souvenir shopping in Mexico, always pay in Mexican Pesos and try to bargain down the price especially at street markets. Just about every street vendor will try to overcharge you so bargaining is a MUST.
In general, the USD to Peso exchange rate is around 1:20. Even if you don’t speak a lick of Spanish, you can try to bargain by showing the price on your calculator.
No matter what, the chances are that even after bargaining you’ll end up paying way more than a local would. Even my husband who is Mexican and speaks perfect Spanish would get overcharged all the time especially if I was around.
Pay In Cash
Credit cards, in general, are not widely used in Mexico. While most major hotels and restaurants will accept credit cards, for the most part, businesses in Mexico are still cash-based so you’ll need to get cash from an ATM upon arrival to pay for food, entrance tickets, cabs, souvenirs, etc.
Paying in cash is also a lot safer because it will protect you from credit card fraud. Credit Card fraud is pretty common in Mexico, especially at gas stations. When paying with a credit card you can request that the credit card machine is brought out and it’s done in front of you to prevent someone from making a copy of your card.
Watch Out For Common Scams
Everyone is always trying to make an extra buck in Mexico and with that, you might encounter a few scams along the way. Even with the utmost precaution, it’s so easy to fall for one and it happened to us a couple of times while traveling in Mexico.
Some of the most common scams in Mexico that we encountered included fake tour guides and restaurant scams.
When arriving at attractions a lot of times you will be approached by tour guides that will tell you that you need to hire them if you want to enter the attraction. I can tell you that in 99% of the attractions, you DO NOT need to hire a guide. However, these guys can be quite persistent and have convinced us a couple of times to hire them. Then halfway through the tour, we’ll notice that we are the only ones with a “guide” and locals are just exploring attractions on their own.
Restaurant scams are a bit tricky to avoid since usually, you won’t know that you are getting overcharged until the end. Often during our meal servers would add unexpected charges like water or desert when we didn’t ask for it. In some cases, restaurants even make two menus – one in English and one in Spanish. The menu in English is usually given to international tourists and will have higher prices than the menu in Spanish.
Toilet Seat Can Be A Luxury
We spent half a year living and traveling through Mexico but it didn’t take us long to realize that some of the things that we take for granted in the US are luxuries in Mexico – like toilet seats.
Since we were traveling in a van we had to use quite a lot of public toilets in Mexico whether it was at the grocery store, the mall, at a coffee shop or a campground. After a while, we noticed that many bathrooms were often missing toilet seats to the point that we even thought about buying one and carrying it with us when we had to go (but we also realized how ridiculous that would be).
Tips For Bringing Your Own Car To Mexico
If you plan to bring your own vehicle to Mexico, you will need to keep a few things in mind.
For those who plan to drive their car in Mexico, you’ll need:
- Your car’s registration – which has to be under your name.
- Valid driver’s license and passport.
- Temporary Importation Permit (TIP) – you can get this at the border.
- Mexico Immigration Card which will give you a short term travel visa for 180 days – you can get this at the border too. Just make sure not to stay past the 6-month mark or you might face immigration issues in the future.
- Mexico car insurance which you can get online. If you get pulled over or if you get in a car accident in Mexico without local car insurance, you can potentially get in quite a lot of trouble.
Don’t Drive At Night
If you plan to drive or rent a car in Mexico, my biggest tip for you is to avoid driving at night.
Outside of toll roads, the road conditions in Mexico are not so great. Even driving during the day can be quite challenging because you have to watch out for topes (speed bumps), stop signs, potholes, dogs and chickens running on the streets, kids playing along the roads and people crossing.
If you haven’t hit a speed bump in Mexico going full speed, consider yourself lucky.
I was just in Mexico for a quick trip to the Valle De Guadalupe wine region and broke my own rule. We decided to drive to a restaurant at night and almost got stuck in a mud ditch. Thankfully we were able to reverse out but another car in front of us wasn’t that lucky.
Places To Watch Out For
While in general, I felt that traveling in Mexico was pretty safe, there are a few places that I would use extra caution at.
One of the most dangerous cities in Mexico is Tijuana. Tijuana is the first city in Mexico after passing through the US-Mexico border by San Diego and unfortunately has one of the highest homicide rates in the country. In general, any border town in Mexico is not a place that you want to be at especially at night.
Another area in Mexico that I didn’t feel 100% comfortable during our Pan-America road trip was the Palenque region in Chiapas. In general, I really loved visiting Chiapas for its natural beauty, turquoise waterfalls, and ancient ruins but there were a few communities in Palenque that set up roadblocks to ask for money from travelers passing through.
But again, nothing bad happened to us during our 6 months in Mexico. These are just areas that I would still travel through in the daytime, just with more caution and awareness.
There Is Military & Police Everywhere
In order to make the country safer, the government has stationed military and police just about everywhere. Sometimes we would pass through multiple military checkpoints in a single day’s drive.
At first, it felt pretty intimidating having guys with big guns stop us to ask questions or even search our van, but we got used to it pretty quickly. They were always super nice and usually, they were just more curious about us traveling in a van across two continents than being suspicious.
During these military and police checkpoints, we were always very polite and kept a light mood. We didn’t have anything to hide so after answering a few questions about our travel plans they would let us pass and continue on.
Music Is Always Playing
Latin countries, especially Mexico, love loud music. No matter where you go. No matter the time of the day.
You could be in a small mom and pop eatery eating tacos while listening to party reggaeton beats on the radio.
Sometimes it did interrupt our sleep if the nearby restaurants or businesses played music all night long (especially after hearing Taki Taki on repeat for 6 months) but it did make our Mexico trip feel a lot more lively and we kind of missed it once we got back.
Mexico is pretty awesome and one of our favorite countries to visit in the world. It’s cheap, the weather is warm and it always feels like a party.
If you’re looking for more Mexico inspiration don’t forget to check out some of our other popular Mexico posts below:
- 10 Unique Places To Visit In Mexico You Didn’t Know Existed
- Top Things To Do In La Huasteca Potosina, Mexico
- 10 Best Cenotes To Visit In Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico
- Guide To Visiting Valle De Guadalupe Wine Region
- 10 Unbelievable Places To Visit In Chiapas, Mexico
Interested in how I capture photos on my trips? Here is my suggested camera gear that I use to create my images:
- Main camera: Sony a7II Camera With 28-70 mm Standard Lens
- Polarizer Filter for the standard lens (helps eliminate reflection and enhance color especially on super bright days): Amazon Basics 55 mm
- Wide Lens (great for nature shots): Sony 16-35 mm F4
- Polarizer Filter for the wide lens: Amazon Basics 72 mm
- Small Tripod (to stabilize photos and eliminate blur): JOBY Gorrilapod
- Memory Cards: SanDisk 32 GB
- Batteries: Wasabi Power battery charger and extra battery pack
- Camera Bag: Lowepro weather-resistant bag
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