When planning a trip to Mexico, or anywhere for that matter, it is easy to romanticize the experience and have your imagination run away with you. You envisage yourself sipping margaritas out of a coconut as a mariachi band privately serenades to you. You dream of an exotic land where every day is taco Tuesday and every travel whimsy is satisfied – from exploring ruins of ancient civilizations millenniums old, to lounging on perfect sandy beaches by crystalline waters. However, it is imperative you do research and sufficiently prepare for the Mexican adventure that awaits you. If you go in blind, you will find yourself dealing with unnecessary stress, paying over the odds, and potentially winding up in less than comfortable situations.
This article shares everything we know, after our experience traveling through Mexico as a family unit. We hope that these travel tips will help you avoid problematic situations, and help your trip go as smoothly as possible.
If you have any suggestions from your trip to Mexico, leave a comment below!
Don’t Be Afraid to Travel to Mexico
Some people are terrified of traveling to Mexico and without reason. Millions of people (like our kids and us!) visit Mexico every year and have pleasant, trouble free experiences. Sure there are some scams and matters to be mindful of before traveling to Mexico, but the same applies almost anywhere you go. Remember that Mexico isn’t a scene out of Breaking Bad. You need to keep your wits about you, but that doesn’t mean that every other person that you meet is going to be an International Arms Dealer or a Drug Baron a la Scarface. Just exert common sense, and follow our humble (read: expert) advice.
Typical Costs of Traveling in Mexico
It is a broad spectrum regarding how much you can expect to pay when traveling to Mexico. Mexico is generally a cheap country, but it’s highly dependent on your travel style. It is entirely possible to adhere to a budget and enjoy a trip that offers luxury and home comforts without breaking the bank.
In Mexico City and some of the other larger cities, budget hotels start from around 300 MXN (about $15 US) per night for a budget room that sleeps two. Airbnb is also an option, with entire homes and apartments starting from 640 MXN (about $32 US) per night. If you are traveling as a family like us, then you should expect to pay a little extra due to needing to rent a slightly larger space. Prices are typically a little more expensive in the resort towns such as Puerta Vallarta and Playa del Carmen where rates start from around 600 MXN.
Mexico Travel Tips
Here is an assortment of our best tips and tricks gathered from our time in Mexico to help ensure that you have the best experience.
Wear Light and Breathable Clothing
Mexico is hot and humid all year round, and so you want to ensure you’re comfortable at all times. Nobody wants to be exploring Chichen Itza sporting pit stains larger than the state of Texas. Opt for clothing made from natural materials such as linen and cotton which allow your body to breathe altogether unlike clothes made from polyester and other synthetic materials.
What to Eat in Mexico
Mexican food is filling, tasty and diverse and goes well beyond just tacos. If you have grown up in the US, then the chances are that you are already accustomed to a lot of the delicacies and traditional dishes such as enchiladas, churros, tamales and guacamole. You can find high-quality dishes on the full street food markets that do not break the bank.
Mexican Street Food 101
Many of us are terrified of getting sick while traveling and for the newbie adventurer, dabbling in street food can seem scarier than a night in Dracula’s castle.
It’s normal to eat street food in Mexico, and most of the food that you can find is good quality and tasty. That said there should be some standard protocol to follow when eating from street stands. And in essence, it’s merely applying common sense. Don’t eat food that has been left out for extended periods of time or which has flies dancing around it (to be honest, if you are seeing this spectacle and choosing to eat the food anyway then we have to judge you just a little bit!)
It’s also good practice to eat yogurt before and during your trip. You know – to strengthen the bacteria in your system and help you to avoid Montezuma’s revenge on your gut!
Don’t Drink the Water
Drinking the water in Mexico is a confirmed one-way ticket to an upset stomach. Don’t drink the water or eat the salad or anything that may have had some form of water on it at some point where you’re not sure of the source. This also includes avoiding too many drinks with ice. Here’s where you get to throw all your home training out the window and drink straight from the can/bottle. Pack electrolytes and drink bottled water often to prevent dehydration.
Health Considerations for Mexico
You should consult your doctor before traveling to Mexico and ensure that all of your vaccinations are up to date. Tetanus, Typhoid and Hepatitis vaccinations are typically recommended. Malaria is not widespread in Mexico and the only time it could be a slight concern is if you plan on visiting extremely rural areas. It’s also worth noting that antimalarials often come with side effects so investing in a strong insect repellent is the preferable option.
Don’t Delay in Exchanging Currency
Except for some hotels and resorts, the majority of places do not accept foreign currency so do not delay in exchanging your money to pesos. That considered you should still be mindful of where you exchange your currency. The rates offered at airports, and at sites close to train stations, transportation hubs and in touristic areas are typically not that competitive. We also experienced places where they accepted the paper money but not the coins. The real kicker was an establishment that only took bills that were in pristine condition. The bills were not allowed to have any writing/markings, no rips, nothing! Four $20 bills later we were finally allowed to leave.
Be Informed about Conversion Rates
Typically, you can expect to receive around 17 or 18 pesos per dollar but you should check the latest exchange rate when embarking on your Mexican adventure since these are subject to constant fluctuations. When making purchases decisions, always convert prices back to your home currency before buying something in order to determine if it is worth the price (good practice wherever you go!) We are now the proud owners of $20 sunblock…
- Although international credit and debit cards are widely accepted in Mexico, that doesn’t mean that every store or restaurant will take them. As a matter of fact, some places only accept cash as a form of payment. Ask before you down a whole keg of beer whether this is the case.
- In most establishments, the exchange rate they honor is visibly posted. Choose your form of payment accordingly.
- Never be too busy (or intoxicated) to know your money. Some of the pesos look similar and sometimes someone might switch out your original larger bill for a smaller one and ask you for the difference.
- Not all ATMs are created equal! Use the ones at major banks such as HSBC or Scotia Bank. From crazy fees to plain ole stealing your card (unfortunately this happened to us) it’s not worth the risk.
Tipping in Mexico
Tipping is absolutely a part of Mexican culture much like in the US and any number of other countries across the globe. The difference when it comes to tipping in Mexico is that this often extends to other areas as well as the standard (restaurants and bars) to tipping hotel maids, grocery packers, and toilet attendants.
Don’t Be Afraid to Haggle
Almost everything is negotiable in Mexico so don’t be afraid to haggle. In fact, vendors expect you to haggle. That said, the initial price that they quote you is typically over the odds of what you should expect to pay.
The best way to get around Mexico depends on your personal preferences. If you prefer your independence or are traveling with a large group, then renting a car may be the most convenient option for you.
- Renting a Car in Mexico – If you choose to rent a car in Mexico, then it’s vital you document the state in which you receive your vehicle just in case there is any dispute about its condition later when you come to return it. Take video footage or photographs of the car (preferably with the car rental employee inside) before driving out of the rental shop. If you only get minimal insurance on the vehicle and there is damage they will charge you exorbitantly for the cost. Have your proof of the condition before taking the keys. Even better, spring the extra money for full coverage and only thing necessary in case of damage is paperwork.We were told by multiple locals to not drive at night. Not sure what the consequences to this were but we definitely didn’t want to find out.
- Public Transport – It may come as a surprise to note that the public transportation network in Mexico is good quality and good value for money, therefore suiting independent or budget travelers perfectly. The buses offer both “executive class” and “first class” options with movies, snacks, air conditioning and reclining seats all included – eat your heart out, Greyhound!
Be Wary of Tricksters
Upon arrival in Mexico, most likely you will fall prey to toots waiting in the arrivals hall ready to pounce on the first unsuspecting tourists they encounter. They have perfected this conversation to the point where you will think that you are long lost cousins. Next thing you know, you have been listening to a 20-hour long timeshare pitch!
Some of these people even go as far as to convince you that they are there to collect you from the airport and then, after luring you into their vehicle, they take you to a completely different resort. Don’t feel guilty to simply bypass these people. Mexican timeshare scams are a huge problem that you should be aware of.
Understand Mexican Bathroom Etiquette
There are a couple of things to consider when “doing your business” in Mexico. The plumbing is not as in most western countries, and so it’s forbidden to throw anything in the toilet (and we do mean anything!) That includes toilet tissue. There is typically a small wastebasket next to the toilet for that very purpose.
Often someone is waiting at the entrance to the toilets like a gatekeeper armed with toilet tissue. The tissue is for sale! When you venture into the restroom, you may find that there is nothing. Fortunately, it’s pretty cheap (around 5 pesos) for a fistful of toilet paper. Some restroom gatekeepers will take whatever price you offer them for the tissue, and others have a set amount. It’s worth carrying your own tissue also, just in case.
Solving the Mystery of the Missing Washrags
We still haven’t figured out what the deal is here. If you can’t live without a wash rag, you might want to bring your own. We stayed in several hotels and Airbnb’s that did not provide wash rags.
Most Things in Mexico Come at a Price
Most things come at a price. That nice gentleman in the mariachi band that played your entire wedding song, the lovely lady taking your picture at the beach, the guy washing your car window…all cost. So unless you plan to pay, say no.
Keep an Open Mind
Sure it can feel frustrating when it feels like every man and his dog is trying to trick you out of your hard-earned dollars. However, you will see the funny side of these escapades later. Remember this is your opportunity to experience another culture and observe life south of the border – warts and all.
Ways to Save Money Traveling in Mexico
When you compare the prices of goods and services in Mexico to their similar counterparts in the US, then, of course, things typically come in cheaper (unless you fall victim to one of the numerous tricksters operating around the cities and resorts as mentioned above!). That said, if you spend an extended period of time in Mexico, or you are visiting the country as part of a more extensive travel schedule then, of course, you are going to look for ways to save a few bucks where you can and fortunately there is plenty of opportunities to do that.
- Travel During the Off-Season – Traveling during the offseason (i.e. between April – May, or October – November) enables you to save several hundred dollars – both in terms of airfare and on accommodation options. Prices tend to soar during the holidays so try to avoid these times if you are able to do so.
- Eat from Street Markets – Street Markets are a much cheaper alternative to always eating out at restaurants in Mexico and often offer the same dishes (still at high quality) for a much lower price. It’s common practice among locals and tourists alike to eat here. If you are staying in an Airbnb or another self-catered accommodation then you can also shop for fresh groceries and products at these markets to prepare your own meals.
- Head Inland – As is to be expected, the popular beach resorts in Mexico are among the most expensive travel destinations in the country. If you are willing to travel off the beaten track or head further inland, you will see a significant change in prices.
- Assess Your Accommodation Options – Airbnb’s are a great way to save money while traveling and offer you a slice of home away from home. If you stay for periods of one week or more then many of the hosts offer generous discounts.
There is so much to see in Mexico so no one should fear visiting the amazing country. We hope this advice will help you in planning your next getaway to Mexico!