When we were looking for information to plan our Mexico trip, we found almost nothing useful. But we discovered plenty of things during our visit. Some are surprising, some suck, but all of them are good to know before you set off for Mexico. We are Jan and Karin and this is our travel advice for Mexico.
1. Police will probably stop you. You can negotiate with them.
It’s a sad but true fact that the policemen in Mexico are horribly underpaid. That’s why they will stop you at every opportunity and try to negotiate a bribe. You have two possibilities:
- Either be an exemplary driver and don’t give the police any excuse to stop you,
- or learn to negotiate.
Should plan A fail and you get pulled over, if lucky, you will get a normal fine. But more often, the police will try to ask for a bribe of circa 30 dollars (600 Mexican pesos). For both of you, it’s illegal, so the policemen usually try to do it in secret—they put their hands into your car and so on. It’s very uncomfortable, but if you want to argue, do it very carefully. Why? Mexican policemen have the right to take you in custody. And you don’t want that, trust me.
Not all policemen in Mexico are bribe-eager, but most of them, unfortunately, are. At any rate, avoid giving them your phone or passport, as they would keep it until you pay whatever they ask for.
2. Don’t drink water in Mexico. Unless you want to suffer.
Would you like to get diarrhea? Well, try drinking water in Mexico! It’s full of E. coli bacteria, which cause intestinal problems. Don’t drink it, and don’t even brush your teeth with it. No matter what, always use bottled water only.
3. Use the highways. All the time.
I´m not going to lie: Mexican roads are TERRIBLE. But you can avoid them by taking highways instead. Foreigners are usually afraid to use them but there is no reason, Mexican highways are fast and safe. They even operate the so-called Green Angels — a roadside assistance service that will come and help you in case of any difficulties.
The only thing that sucks about Mexican highways is their price. There are quite a lot of toll gates that will charge you circa 25 dollars per 100 kilometers.
4. Mexican street food is excellent.
When we were traveling in Mexico, I fell in love with Mexican street food. It’s delicious, high-quality and cheap at the same time. You can get for example five tacos or a beef steak for only 40 Mexican pesos (2 US dollars). Try it, you will not regret it.
5. Stay at international hotels in Mexico.
During our trip to Mexico, we stayed at international hotels such as Hilton or Marriott. They are standardized in the whole world so you know exactly what to expect, and their pricein Mexico is much lower than in other countries. So you get high quality for a reasonable price.
6. You will need a power plug travel adapter.
Plugs in Mexico have two flat pins, which is also typical for the USA. If you are from another part of the world, you will need a power plug adapter.
7. You can avoid extra fees if you return the car to the same place where you picked it up.
Alamo in Mexico City is not the same company as Alamo in Puebla. Car rentals in Mexico are not united companies, but only franchises. So if you rent a car somewhere and then return it someplace else (even if the rental has the same company name), you will be charged an extra fee which is rather colossal—around 1,000 dollars.
So never use a car to travel from place A to place B. It’s much better to start somewhere, travel around, and then get back to the same place.
8. Pay by card. ATMs don’t work.
You don’t need tons of cash when you travel in Mexico. The vast majority of shops, restaurants, and even street food stands accept payments by cards. Both credit and debit ones work well.
Sure, you can also pay by cash. But local ATMs are very often out of order. And in smaller towns, there are few of them, so you might need to travel 50 kilometers just to get to a functional ATM. In cities, on the other hand, they are everywhere. So it’s up to you and your location.
In my experience, the ideal solution is a combination of both. It’s good to pay by card but also have circa 50 dollars (1,000 Mexican pesos) in cash just in case you need to pay something. If you have more, it’s a risk—mostly because of the police. If you don’t have more than 50 dollars, they can’t ask for a higher bribe.
9. Flying is better than driving.
Don’t use only a car to travel around Mexico— the country is enormous. It could take days just to get from one place to another. It‘s much better to take a flight to a destination, rent a car, travel in that area, and then return the car and fly to another destination. It is the most effective way to travel in Mexico.
10. You don’t speak Spanish? Good luck.
Do you need Spanish in Mexico? Oh yes, you do. Mexicans don’t speak English at all. If you meet someone who is able to say “Hello” or “How are you”, it’s a miracle.
But don’t worry, you don’t need to sign in for Spanish classes. There is a very good trick you can try: Using Google Translator. You can speak in your language and the app will repeat your words in Spanish. Tried and tested!
11. Buy a new SIM card in Mexico. It’s super cheap.
A good way to save money during a vacation in Mexico is to buy a Mexican SIM card. It costs only like 5 dollars (100 Mexican pesos) and is super easy to get. You will find mobile operator shops everywhere, and the SIM card you buy is ready to use.
In Mexico, there are three mobile network operators:
All their offers are very similar and vary only in detail, so it’s best to choose the operator with the best network coverage in your area. If you travel all around Mexico, I recommend Telcel. However, if you stay only in Mexico City, it doesn’t matter—all providers have good coverage there.
The shops and operators are usually super helpful: they will explain everything and change the SIM in your phone immediately. But what’s interesting is that different shops have different prices for the same SIM cards, so be very careful where you’re buying them.
12. Don’t show off your expensive watch or phone. You might lose it
At first, you will probably not notice—but there are extreme differencesbetween the two social classes in Mexico. People are either VERY RICH or VERY POOR and nothing in between.
That’s why you might lose your property, such as a luxurious watch or phone if you show it too much. I don’t mean to say that the Mexicans are thieves, but you know the saying: Hunger makes a thief of any man.
13. Mexico has a bad reputation, but you will feel safe.
On our holiday in Mexico, I realized that I felt surprisingly safe. I wasn’t disturbed by anything connected to drug cartels or gangsters. Of course, the criminality in Mexico is higher, but as tourists, you won’t perceive it. So don’t sweat it and travel to Mexico without worries.
(The only thing that made me slightly nervous was the police.)
14. Get sunscreen. You will be high.
In Mexico, you will always be high (I mean the altitude, of course). That’s why there is quite a big chance of getting sunburnt, even if it’s cold or cloudy. Don’t forget to pack your sunscreen.
15. Car rentals will try to cheat. Don’t let them.
Sometimes, car rentals in Mexico will try to cheat. If you book a car in advance, you might get a different model. There might be even some other problems—maybe not horrible, but definitely uncomfortable.
So how to rent a car in Mexico without being deceived?
- First, use only the world’s well-known car rentals, such as Alamo, Hertz, Avis, etc. They are usually a little bit more expensive, but it’s worth it.
- Second, don’t book anything in advance. Always rent a car on the spot. It’s cheaper, safer… better in all respects.
16. Look out for topes.
Nothing is as annoying when driving in Mexico, as topes. Topes are speed bumps, extremely big and placed in the worst parts of the roads. They are hidden in shadows, lurking around to catch gringos. When you meet a tope, lower your speed to 10 km/h. Otherwise, you could damage your car. When it comes to regulating the speed, the psychological effect of topes is very effective.
17. Get travel insurance.
Insurance is extremely important when you travel. And even though it’s not obligatory in Mexico, you should definitely consider it. You might come across some things that you’re not used to, such as bad water, dangerous animals, crime, or extremely hot temperatures. Always look for specific information about the destination you plan to visit. But even if you travel in a peaceful area, I really recommend getting insurance.
The cost of insurance depends on the details and specific conditions of your vacation in Mexico.
18. You’ll need an immigration form.
To enter Mexico, you don’t need a visa. But you need a passport and an immigration form that you’ll get on a plane or when crossing the border. Don’t lose it—you will need it for both entering and leaving the country.
19. You can negotiate with taxi drivers.
If taxi drivers see you’re a gringo, they might try to overcharge you. But you can always negotiate before you get in the car. So before you get in, tell the driver where you want to go, ask about the price and negotiate.
20. Swimming could be dangerous. The flags will tell you.
Swimming in the Mexican sea can be dangerous. There may be strong currents, high waves, jellyfish, toxic organisms, and other threats. The information is always on the flags on the beaches. If you see one, always find out what it says.
- Green flag: Everything is safe.
- Yellow flag: You can swim but be careful.
- Red flag: This beach is dangerous. Don’t swim.
- Black flag: The risk is extreme.
21. Summer is the rainy season.
The rainy season in Mexico runs from May to September in the north, and from June to October in the south. You can tell the storm is coming when the temperature drops suddenly. Often it’s unexpected, so if you travel in Mexico during the rainy season, keep it in mind and don’t go for long walks with no possibility of hiding inside.
22. If there is an earthquake, go outside.
Small earthquakes are quite common in Mexico and you will probably experience a few. You don’t need to worry, usually you won’t even notice them. But if the earthquake is bigger, stay where you are.
- If you’re inside, don’t stay anywhere where items could fall on you. The armchair next to a bookshelf is not a good hiding spot. Take cover under a desk or something similar.
- If you’re outside, stay away from trees and power lines.
23. Try scuba diving in Mexico.
The wildlife in Mexico is amazing—especially under the water. There are some beautiful destinations popular with scuba divers.
The most spectacular one is Socorro Island, where you can dive with numerous sharks and rays. The diving season is from November to May, and throughout different months, you’ll see different species. For example, November and December are good for watching whale sharks, and in May and June, the bait ball is typical.
If you want something nearer, try Cozumel with its beautiful barrier reef in the Caribbean Sea. It’s a universal location—you can go there any time of the year and try any level of diving you want.
Other favorite scuba diving locations are:
- Gran Cenote
- Cabo San Lucas
24. On Mondays, museums are often closed.
Museums receive the biggest wave of visitors at the weekends, and they are usually closed on Mondays. It doesn’t apply universally, but in most museums it does. So if you want to visit a museum, it’s better to check the opening days.
25. Tip the waiters (and other people).
When it comes to tipping, every country has its own rules. In Mexico, it’s usual to tip 15–20% in restaurants—if you’re satisfied with the food and the service, of course. Besides waiting staff, you should also tip your guides, cleaning and maintenance staff, and porters.
26. Is there an emergency? Call 911.
The main emergency phone number in Mexico is 911. It’s available 24/7/365 and free of charge. The number covers all major services: police, ambulance, and firemen.
If you’re on a highway and get in trouble, you can dial 078—The Green Angels.
27. Buy tickets for popular attractions in advance.
Are there any popular attractions on your list, such as the Frida Kahlo Museum? Consider buying tickets in advance, otherwise, you might not get in. The tickets are often sold out so it’s better to buy them online at least a day before. It could also help if you arrive at the attractions early.
28. Visit the most beautiful place in Mexico: Canyon Sumidero
There are lots of attractions in Mexico. Some are just fine, whereas others are absolutely breathtaking. One of those is Canyon Sumidero National Park near Tuxtla Gutiérrez in Chiapas, southern Mexico. It’s, without a doubt, the most beautiful place in Mexico, and still—international tourists almost never visit it. Why? They don’t know about the place!
You will find only a couple of mentions of Canyon Sumidero online, but trust me—it’s definitely worth visiting. It’s a 35-million-year-old canyon, surrounded by 1,000 meters high walls. The Grijalva river is full of rapids, there are seasonal waterfalls on the walls, you can visit a pink cave with the picture of the Virgin of Guadalupe and watch beautiful rock formations.
Local guides will take you on a hike along the riverbank, or you can travel the river by boat. Another option is also a road with several viewpoints (called miradores) so you can see the canyon from above.
Wildlife in Canyon Sumidero is spectacular, full of crocodiles, pumas, jaguars, spider monkeys, and vultures. Around the canyon spreads a tropical rainforest with all kinds of various plants—palms, orchids, cactuses, and much more. If you should visit only one place in Mexico, I would definitely recommend this one.
29. Don’t look forward to Mexican cuisine. You might get disappointed.
Mexican food is world-known and popular, that’s why I was looking forward to it. But in the end, I was disappointed. After three weeks in Mexico, I was completely fed up with it. Mexicans eat only tortilla, corn, tortilla, corn, and tortilla again.
What I liked, on the other hand, were Mexican steaks and Mexican sauces. But when I say sauces, I don’t mean mole. Mole is a special chocolate sauce, served with chicken and rice, and in my opinion utterly disgusting. I would never eat it again.
30. Mexican beer is surprisingly good. Cheers!
After my experience with food, I was rather skeptical about Mexican cuisine. But their beer is something else! It’s really good, even at the same level as European beer. My favorite brands of Mexican beer are Corona, Tecate, and Sol.
31. You won’t find tequila. Look for mezcal.
In Mexico, tequila is made only in the city of Tequila. In other parts of Mexico, the drink is called mezcal. But don’t worry, they are the same.
32. Olla is the best coffee in Mexico.
My favorite drink in Mexico was coffee Olla. It’s a traditional coffee spiced with cinnamon, star anise, and cloves, and sometimes also orange and lemon peel. It tastes a bit like gluhwein and is really very delicious.
Olla coffee is traditionally cooked in clay pots and served in clay mugs. Unique recipes are passed down in families, so the drink is always a bit different. I recommend trying it in Veracruz, the major coffee-growing region of Mexico.
33. Don’t travel to Mexico during Christmas.
Guess when I was in Mexico? Yes, exactly. During Christmas. And I can tell you from my personal experience that it’s not a good idea. Why?
Christmas is a very important holiday for Mexicans. Therefore, everything is closed. On December 24, the restaurants close at 6 p.m., and on the following days, they don´t open at all. December 27 is the first normal day.
So if you want a Mexico travel tip, listen to this: Travel either before or after Christmas, but not during the holidays. Don’t make the same mistake I did.