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25 Useful Mexico Travel Tips

After spending over a year living and traveling extensively through Mexico, I’ve gotten to know the country pretty well. I’ve visited most of the top tourist spots, explored rural areas as well as the countryside, and experienced the incredible culture. I’ve also made some mistakes. This list of 25 Mexico travel tips will help you stay safe, save money, and have a smooth trip. This list also outlines some of the top destinations in the country to help you plan the perfect Mexico itinerary.

1. Enter Mexico Legally: Bring Your Passport and Get the Proper Visa or Entry Permit (FMM)

Citizens of the U.S., Canada, and many other countries can enter Mexico without a visa. To see if you’re eligible, look for your country on this list.

If your country isn’t on the list, you can still enter Mexico without a visa if you have a valid multi-entry tourist visa or residency visa from the U.S., Canada, U.K., Japan, or a Schengen Area country. You will need a passport to enter, regardless of your citizenship.

If one of these countries issued your passport and you don’t have a valid visa from one of the above-listed countries, you’ll have to arrange a visa in advance at your nearest Mexican consulate or embassy.

When you arrive in Mexico, you’ll fill out a simple form called the FMM (Forma Migratoria Múltiple.) At immigration, an official will stamp your form, tear it in half, and hand half back to you. This form is your FMM visitor’s permit. Keep it safe for the duration of your trip. You’ll need it when you exit the country.

The FMM visitors permit allows you to stay in Mexico for up to 180 days. During that time, you can tour, do business, study, live, or volunteer. You cannot work or earn money in Mexico on an FMM visitor’s permit.

If you plan to stay for less than 7 days, there is no charge. If you plan to stay longer than 7 days, you must pay a 575 peso (about $30) fee. You pay your FMM fee in cash when you enter or exit depending on the port of entry. Most airlines include the FMM fee in the cost of your ticket. You can also arrange your FMM online here and pay by credit card.

U.S. Mexico border
The U.S. Mexico border

When you pay, you’ll be given a receipt. Don’t lose the receipt or you will have to pay again when you exit. Your airline ticket can also work as proof of payment.

If you’re planning to stay longer than 180 days or you plan to work, invest, get married, or earn money in Mexico, you’ll need to get a temporary resident visa. You’ll need to apply for this at a Mexican consulate before your trip.

If you lose your FMM or entered the country without getting one, you may get fined upon exit. The fine is usually around $100 from what I’ve heard from other travelers. You can also visit an immigration office in Mexico to apply for a new one for around $40 if you lost your original.

For more info, check out my guide to entering Mexico.

2. Don’t Be Paranoid About Safety and Security

Mexico has earned itself a reputation of being a violent and dangerous country. Over the past decade, you’ve probably read shocking stories in the news about brutal murders, kidnappings, and other gang-related violent crime throughout the country.

Unfortunately, the violence seems to be getting worse. According to this article from Aljazeera, 2019 was one of Mexico’s most violent years with almost 35,000 homicides. This makes Mexico one of the more violent countries, statistically speaking.

Mexican police officers

While these violent crimes are very real, the reality is that they mostly take place among those involved in organized crime, such as drug trafficking. Most crime is cartel-related. Violence against tourists is rare.

The vast majority of violent crimes that you read about in the news happen in poor or working-class neighborhoods in just a handful of regions. Mostly along the border, in suburbs, and in rural areas. These are places that you are unlikely to visit as a tourist. Violence in tourist zones is rare. Even cities that are generally considered dangerous, such as Tijuana, are safe in the tourist zones because police presence is high. For example, Tijuana is safe if you take some basic precautions.

Tourist destinations like the Riviera Maya, Los Cabos, Mexico City, Oaxaca, and Puerto Vallarta as well as central historic districts throughout the country are particularly safe. The reason is that Mexico dedicates extra federal resources to security in these areas to ensure that they are safe for visitors. Tourism is critical for Mexico. It makes up 8.7% of the nation’s economy. Mexico doesn’t want crime to scare tourists away.

Having said that, there are a few common crimes and scams to be aware of. Pickpocketing, petty theft, and various travel scams are common in some cities. To avoid these, you should always stay aware of your belongings. Don’t carry large amounts of cash or valuables and avoid dressing too flashy.

The one violent crime you need to take precautions to avoid is robbery or mugging. To avoid falling victim, you should avoid wandering around alone or intoxicated in unfamiliar areas. Stay in crowded, well-lit touristy areas if you want to go out at night.

To reduce the risk of getting pickpocketed or robbed, consider carrying your cash, cards, and passport in a money belt. I like the Eagle Creek Silk Undercover Moneybelt (#ad). You can read my full review here.

Overall, Mexico is a perfectly safe travel destination. Don’t allow yourself to get too paranoid about safety while traveling in Mexico. You don’t want to ruin your trip by worrying the whole time. After all, Mexico sees over 40 million tourists per year. Very few experience any violence or crime.

During my time living in Tijuana, I experienced two crimes. First, a woman pickpocketed my phone. Luckily, I was able to get it back. The second crime was a bar robbery that I witnessed while out drinking.

If crime worries you, check out the latest Mexico travel advisories from the U.S. Department of State. This can help you avoid any hot zones.

For more info, check out my extensive guide: Is Mexico Safe? Avoiding Common Crime and Scams.

3. Always Pay with Pesos or a Credit Card. Never Pay in Dollars

pesos and dollars

Many businesses across Mexico accept U.S. dollars. Particularly businesses that are located in touristy areas, border zones, and resort areas. You could probably take your whole trip without using pesos if you wanted to.

Even though dollars are accepted, you should never pay in dollars in Mexico. The reason is that you will almost always get an unfavorable exchange rate and end up overpaying. Vendors mark up the prices in dollars to cover the cost of converting the money into pesos. They may also add a convenience fee into the price to pay themselves for the trouble. When you pay with pesos, you avoid this and save money.

Having said this, it can pay to ask the price in both dollars and pesos when making a large purchase. On a couple of occasions, I’ve gotten a favorable exchange rate and saved some money by paying in dollars. I like to carry both, just in case.

The best way to get pesos is to withdraw them from ATMs with a debit card. You’ll get the best exchange rate this way. When choosing a debit card, look for one that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees or ATM withdrawal fees. I use a Charles Schwab debit card and love it. Avoid using currency exchange bureaus as the rates are almost always bad. Most charge a fee as well.

Even better than paying with pesos is paying by credit card. This way, you always get the best exchange rate. Credit cards also give you some purchase protection. If you get overcharged or ripped off, you can do a chargeback. If someone steals your card, you can just cancel it. Can’t do that with cash. As an added bonus, you’ll earn some points that you can use toward your next trip.

If you want to use a credit card while traveling in Mexico, make sure your card doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees. These are usually marketed as travel cards. Also, make sure you carry your ID or passport if you plan to pay with a credit card. Some vendors require it for security purposes.

For more info and some recommendations, check out my guide: The Best Credit and Debit Card for International Travel.

Of course, credit cards are not accepted everywhere in Mexico so it’s important to carry cash as well. Mexico still has a cash-based economy. Many small restaurants, street food stands shops, small shops, bars, and motels are cash only. Occasionally, the internet may go down. When this happens, you’ll have to pay cash.

4. Spend Some Time Traveling Outside of Touristy Resorts

It’s easy to spend your entire trip in one of Mexico’s resorts in Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Puerto Vallarta, or Los Cabos. These places offer world-class beaches, incredible nightlife, and all of the amenities that you could ask for.

Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
Puerto Vallarta

The problem with staying in these resort cities is that you miss out on a lot of what Mexico has to offer. You won’t experience Mexico’s incredible culture, history, or geography. Not to mention, they are also crowded, expensive, and full of other tourists. Try to spend at least part of your trip getting off the tourist trail and seeing something outside of a resort. For example, you could:

  • Visit a Spanish colonial town and view the architecture- A few of the most well preserved colonial towns include Guanajuato, San Miguel de Allende, San Cristobal de las Casas, Merida, Oaxaca, Puebla, Valladolid.
  • Explore some different geographic regions- You could explore the deserts of Baja or Sonora, the Sierra Madre mountains of central Mexico, the jungles of southern Mexico and the Yucatan. On my next trip to Mexico, I plan to take the train to Copper Canyon.
  • Visit one of Mexico’s major cities- Mexico City, Guadalajara, and Monterrey are excellent travel destinations that aren’t too touristy.

One of my favorite cities is Oaxaca. The food is world-class and there is plenty of culture and history to learn about. Nearby, you can visit the fascinating archeological sites of Monte Alban and the Mitla Ruins. The beautiful petrified waterfall of Hierve el Agua is another nearby gem.

5. Enjoy the Mexican Cuisine

Mexican cuisine is world-class. During your trip, you’ll want to throw your diet out the window and sample every dish you can. You’ll find everything from fresh seafood to classics tacos to spicy sauces to steaks. Mexican food is complex and delicious. There is something for every palate.

Mexican cuisine is made from a combination of ancient mesoamerican and Spanish styles of cooking. Because Mexico is such a large and ethnically diverse country, every region has a different style of food to try. Different ingredients and styles are used throughout the country. For example, Oaxacan food is completely different from Baja food. Yucatan food has a unique Mayan influence. It’s all delicious.

A few staple ingredients include chili peppers, tortillas, rice, beans, corn, tomatoes, and various herbs and spices. Common meats include beef, chicken, pork, goat, lamb, and fish.

Tacos
Tacos al pastor

A few must try Mexican dishes include:

  • Tacos- Everyone’s favorite. Tacos come in loads of varieties including al pastor (marinated pork), asada (beef), chorizo (sausage), lengua (tongue), cabeza (head), pescado (fish), and many more. Try them in every region you visit to find your favorite. Personally, I think Tijuana has the best tacos in Mexico. My favorite type is tacos al pastor.
  • Tamales- Corn-based dough filled with meat, veggies, or fruits. Tamales are wrapped in corn husks and steamed. They are a traditional holiday food. The spices and fillings vary greatly by region. Many people agree that Oaxaca has the best tamales.
  • Mole- This is a complex sauce consisting of 20 or more ingredients. Recipes vary from state to state. A few types of mole to try include mole poblano, mole verde, mole negro, mole armarillo, and mole chichilo. The best moles are found in the states of Oaxaca and Puebla.
  • Tortas- A Mexican style sandwich filled with sliced meat and veggies served on a warm bun.
  • Chiles en Nogada- Poblano chilies stuffed with chopped meat, veggies, and spices and topped with a white sauce and pomegranate seeds. This is considered one of the most patriotic Mexican dishes.
  • Enchiladas- Tortillas stuffed with meat, cheese, beans, or vegetables and topped with chili sauce. This dish dates back to Mayan times.
  • Pozole- This soup dates back to pre-Hispanic times. Pozole is made from chicken or pork and corn. It is stewed for hours with various herbs and spices.
  • Chilaquiles- This is a popular Mexican breakfast. Chilaquiles are lightly fried tortilla strips topped with salsa, eggs, shredded chicken, beans, and cheese.
  • Ceviche- Most Mexican ceviche contains fish, onion, cilantro, chiles, and of course lemon. Different varieties are available in different regions of the country. It is often served on a tostada.
  • Fresh seafood- In Mexico’s coastal cities, you’ll find excellent fresh seafood including fish, clams, squid, scallops, lobster, and more. The Baja Peninsula and Yucatan Peninsula, in particular, are famous for their seafood.
  • Bread and pastries- Mexican bakeries are phenomenal. A few baked goods to try include oreja (a flaky pastry), empanadas (fruit-filled turnovers), tostadas (round toasted breadsticks), bigote (like a croissant), pan desabrido (like french bread), besitos (small buns with a sweet filling), Buñuelos (fried bread topped with cinnamon and sugar), churros, pan de muerto, and many more. You’ll also find a variety of cookies and cakes.

Mexican food is generally affordable. You can pick up some tacos or a torta from a street food stand for a few dollars. In a casual sit down restaurant, you can get an authentic and filling meal for $5-$10. If money is no factor, high-end options are also available. One of the most famous fine-dining Mexican restaurants is Pujol, in Mexico City.

6. Travel by Bus

Mexico has an extensive network of long-distance busses that can take you pretty much anywhere in the country. Prices are reasonable and the services are reliable, safe, and professional. Mexican busses are clean and comfortable as well. Most cities have at least one bus station located near the city center. Larger cities have multiple bus stations.

Several classes of bus are available for most major routes. First-class (primero clase) is the most common. These busses offer bathrooms, wi-fi, entertainment, AC, and reclining seats.

If you’re on a tight budget, second class buses are also available on most shorter routes. Second class buses are older and less comfortable. The seats don’t recline and there is no onboard restroom. The service may not be as reliable but it is safe. If you don’t mind giving up some comforts, you can save a decent amount of money traveling second class. These busses usually leave from a separate bus station from first-class buses.

On long-distance routes, there is often a deluxe or executive service (de lujo or executivo) option. These busses offer seats that convert into beds, entertainment systems, meals, blankets and pillows, wifi, restrooms, and more. It’s almost like flying business class.

There are dozens of bus companies operating in Mexico. Many are regional. One of the largest is called ADO. They operate first-class service to most major cities in the country. To check prices and their schedule, visit their website here. A few more major bus companies operating in Mexico include ETN, Primera Plus, and ABC. They’re all safe and reliable.

Even though budget flights are available, taking the bus is often cheaper and more convenient than flying. As an added bonus, you’ll get to enjoy the Mexican countryside. Bus travel is also more environmentally friendly than flying as well.

Paying for Bus Tickets in Mexico

You can buy bus tickets at the station in cash or with a credit or debit card. If several buses operate the route per day, you can just show up and buy a ticket the day you want to travel. Buses generally don’t fill up. During holidays and on routes that run infrequently, you should try to book in advance if possible to make sure you get a seat.

If you want to book in advance, you can buy a ticket at any station for any route that the company offers. For example, if you’re in Mexico City and you want to book your trip from Merida to Cancun in advance, you can.

Most bus companies offer online booking. The problem is that they only accept payments from credit cards and debit cards that are issued in Mexico. This is pretty annoying. Some companies allow you to make the reservation online then go to an Oxxo convenience store to pay for the ticket. This way, you don’t have to go all the way to the bus station. There are Oxxo stores everywhere in Mexico.

If you have a friend with a Mexican card, consider asking them to book for you and pay them back in cash. You can save some money this way. For example, I scored a ticket from Mexico City to Oaxaca for around 300 pesos (about $15) on an online special. My friend booked for me and I gave him cash. The price would have been closer to 500 pesos if I booked at the station.

For more info, check out this guide to bus travel in Mexico.

7. Make Sure you Use the Correct Restroom

To save yourself some embarrassment, remember that bathrooms labeled ‘M’ are for women. The Spanish word for women is mujeres. Occasionally the women’s room may be labeled señoras.

Men’s bathrooms are labeled ‘H’ for hombres. Sometimes men’s rooms are labeled C for caballeros.

Another important thing to remember when going to the bathroom is that you can’t flush toilet paper in much of Mexico. Instead, you place the used toilet paper in a waste basket next to the toilet.

You’ll know you have to do this if there is a basket next to the toilet. Some bathrooms also have a sign to remind you.

This is necessary because old sewage pipes weren’t built to handle toilet paper. Flushing the toilet paper can cause clogs and a big mess for someone to clean up.

In big cities, more developed parts of the country, and resorts, you can usually flush toilet paper without causing any problems. If there is no waste basket next to the toilet, you can assume that it’s safe to flush the paper.

8. Visit Some Pueblos Magicos (Magical Towns)

A church in the Pueblo Magico San Crisotbal de las Casas
San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas

Pueblos Magicos is a program run by Mexico’s Secretariat of Tourism that promotes a series of towns and rural villages throughout the country. These towns are selected for their architecture, food, traditions, arts, historical significance, cultural richness, natural beauty, festivals, etc. Basically, something that makes them unique, noteworthy, or ‘magical’. Currently, there are 121 Pueblos Magicos.

The government takes this program surprisingly seriously. In order to apply, towns must meet a strict set of criteria and maintain the program’s standards. Every year, hundreds of towns apply. Only a handful are added to the list every few years. If a town fails to meet or maintain the standards during an audit, it can be removed from the list.

When you arrive in a Pueblo Magico, it’s usually pretty apparent as to why it was selected. These towns are charming, beautifully maintained, and welcoming to tourists.

A few of the most popular Pueblos Magicos include:

  • San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas
  • Valladolid, Yucatán
  • Bacalar, Quintana Roo
  • Tequila, Jalisco
  • Loreto, Baja California Sur
  • Taxco, Guerrero
  • Creel, Chihuahua
  • Valle de Bravo, Mexico
  • Tecate, Baja Norte
  • Tepotzotlán, Mexico
  • Cholula, Puebla
  • San Miguel de Allende- This city was upgraded from a Pueblo Magico to a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

For a complete list of all of the Pueblos Magicos and more info on the selection process, check out this Wikipedia article.

This is one of the best tourism programs that I have seen around the world. Mexico recognized that not every visitor wants to spend their vacation at a beach resort or in a big city. Some travelers enjoy exploring smaller towns and rural areas. Some travelers want to experience culture. This unique tourism program guides visitors to some of the most beautiful Mexican villages that visitors otherwise would never know about.

9. Drink Bottled Water or Pack a Water Filter

Tap water in Mexico is generally not safe to drink. Even though most municipal water departments across the country purify the water, it can get contaminated with heavy metals, bacteria, sediment, etc. while running through old pipes on its way to your tap. To avoid travelers diarrhea, you should stick to bottled water or filtered water during your trip. It’s just not worth the risk to drink tap water in Mexico.

You can buy bottled water pretty much anywhere in Mexico including grocery stores, restaurants, convenience stores, pharmacies, street food stands, your hotel, etc. Expect to spend about 8-20 pesos (about 50 cents to $1) for a 1 liter bottle. A few of the most common brands include Bonafort, Cristal, Ciel, and Epura. International brands are available as well. When buying bottled water, make sure the seal on the cap hasn’t been broken.

There are a couple of drawbacks to drinking bottled water. First is the cost. Assuming you drink 2 liters per day, you’ll spend about $1-2 per day on water depending where you buy your bottles. This adds up on a long trip. Drinking bottled water is also bad for the environment because all of your bottles eventually end up in landfills or the ocean. Bottled water companies also buy up water reserves. Some poor communities suffer water shortages because of this.

Most hotels, hostels, and Airbnbs offer purified or filtered water included in the price of the room. You’ll often find a water dispenser in the lobby where you can re-fill your bottles. Some restaurants offer purified water as well.

The water comes out of 20 liter jugs (called garrafones). These jugs are filled by bottled water companies and swapped out. The water is the same as bottled water. If you see a water dispenser in your hotel, it’s safe to drink from. Drinking this water reduces plastic waste and saves you money.

Another option is to pack a water filter. With a basic backpacking sized water filter, you can filter tap and make it safe to drink wherever you are in the country. After filtering 40-50 liters it will have paid for itself.

I use the Sawyer Mini water filter for travel. This tiny filter measures 1”x5” and weighs just 2 ounces. You won’t even notice you have it in your pack. Best of all, it’s rated to filter 100,000 gallons of water. That’s a lifetime supply. The Sawyer Mini removes all bacteria, debris, and other contaminants that are larger than 0.1 microns. For more info, read my full review of the Sawyer Mini here.

You don’t have to get too paranoid about the water in Mexico. For example, you do not have to avoid ice. It’s almost always made from purified water. You can also drink tea and coffee made from tap water as long as the water was boiled first. If you plan to cook with tap water, make sure it comes to a boil. There is also no issue brushing your teeth with tap water. Just try not to swallow too much. If you wash your fruits and veggies with tap water, dry them off before eating.

If you do get sick from drinking contaminated water in Mexico, you should:

  • Drink plenty of clean water to stay hydrated.
  • Visit a pharmacy and buy some anti-diarrhea medicine like Imodium or Pepto Bismol. You can buy some rehydration salts to mix in with your water if you begin to feel dehydrated.
  • Follow the BRAT diet- bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast.
  • If you’re not improving after a few days, visit a clinic and get some antibiotics

10. Enjoy Mexico’s Excellent Street Food

In my opinion, Mexico has the world’s best street food. It’s flavorful, fresh, affordable, and fast. There’s loads of variety as well. You’ll find snacks, full meals, sweets, and desserts. A range of delicious meats are offered including pork, chicken, beef, fish, and goat. Most dishes include fresh veggies, delicious homemade sauces, and some spice.

Street food is a major part of Mexico’s culture. Over 50% of Mexicans eat street food weekly. The atmosphere of street food stands is great. On street corners all throughout the country, you’ll find vendors selling their food from carts, food trucks, and small stands.

a street taco stand
A street taco stand serving tacos al pastor

Some of the best street food to try in Mexico includes:

  • Tacos- A corn tortilla topped with meat, veggies, and sauce. Tacos are by far the most popular street food option across the country. Every region has its own specialty. A few types of tacos to try include al pastor, carne asada, carnitas, fish, pollo, birria, tacos árabes, chapulines, chorizo, suadero de res, and many more. These days, you can even find vegan tacos. I like to try several different types of tacos from several different taco stands in every city I visit.
  • Quesadillas- A corn or flour tortilla folded over and filled with cheese and meat. Chicken is a common filling.
  • Tortas- A Mexican style sandwich served on a soft bun filled with a variety of meats, cheeses, veggies, and sauces. Tortas vary by region and may be served hot or cold. A typical torta is a pork sandwich with a spicy tomato sauce. These are popular hangover food.
  • Tostadas- A crispy tortilla topped with meat or seafood and veggies. Ceviche is commonly served on a tostada.
  • Elote- Mexican style corn on the cob. The corn is usually steamed then topped with salt, chili powder, lime, mayonnaise, butter, sour cream, cheese, and more.
  • Tlayudas- A large thin crispy fried tortilla with refried beans spread on top. This is topped with Oaxacan cheese, veggies, and the meat of your choice. Tlayudas are a traditional Oaxacan dish. They are often called Mexican pizza.
  • Dorilocos/Tostilocos- A small bag of Doritos or Tostitos opened on the side and topped with cueritos, lime juice, hot sauce, pico de gallo, veggies, Tajín, nacho cheese, or any number of other ingredients. This is a newish phenomenon that was invented by a street food vendor in the 90s.
  • Gorditas- A round, fried corn dough that is filled with meats, cheese, beans, veggies, and salsas. The most popular variety is the gordita de chicharrón. A sope is a similar dish without the top bread.
  • Tamales- A corn-based dough that is filled with meat, beans, potato, vegetables, or even fruit then wrapped in corn husks or banana leaves and steamed. The wrapping is not eaten. Tamale styles and fillings vary greatly by region.
  • Churros- A fried dough pastry topped with cinnamon and sugar.
  • Fresh fruit- Some small stands offer fresh fruit cut up in bite sized pieces. You’ll see mango, pineapple, papaya, watermelon, strawberries, and more. You can enjoy your fruit plain or have it topped with whipped cream, honey, sugar, or granola.

Mexican street food is safe to eat. You don’t have to be paranoid about getting sick. Having said that, the hygiene standards may not be what you’re used to. To reduce the risk, try to only eat at busy street food stands. Chances are, they’ll be serving the freshest food because they have a lot of turnover.

Avoid eating street food early in the day when they may be serving yesterday’s leftovers. Try to look at the utensils and how they are cleaned. Don’t eat foods that look like they’ve been sitting out. Basically, use common sense.

11. Learn Some Basic Spanish

You can get by just fine in Mexico without speaking any Spanish. Particularly in touristy areas like Riviera Maya, Los Cabos, and Puerto Vallarta. Pretty much everyone working in the tourism industry speaks fluent English. English is also widely spoken along the U.S. Mexico border.

In less touristy areas and rural regions, English isn’t widely spoken. In fact, only about 4% of Mexican people speak English fluently. Your trip will go smoother if you learn a handful of Spanish words. You’ll also be able to more easily make friends with locals if you speak a bit of Spanish. Plus, it’s fun to learn another language.

To help you learn Spanish, I recommend Language Transfer’s complete Spanish. This is the best language audio course that I have ever used. Duolingo’s Spanish course is also pretty good. Also, consider downloading Google Translate Spanish to English on your phone. This way, you can just talk or type what you want to say into your phone and it will translate it for you. You can have a pretty smooth conversation this way.

If you want to learn more than just the basics, you can also take language classes or hire a tutor for a reasonable price. Keep in mind that Mexico does have a pretty distinctive accent. Mexicans use lots of slang.

One great thing about learning Spanish is that native speakers are generally very friendly and patient with people who are just learning. Nobody cares if you mix up your words or mispronounce something.

12. Explore Mexico’s Ancient and Colonial History

Mexico has a long and complex history. For over 3000 years before the Spanish conquistadors arrived, ancient civilizations such as the Maya, Aztec, Mixtec, Zapotec, and Olmec ruled this part of the world. Empires rose and fell. You can still visit the ruins of these fascinating mesoamerican civilizations today.

During your trip, take some time to explore the ruins at some of Mexico’s many archaeological sites. You’ll see massive pyramids, temples, and entire cities. The size and scope of these places is just mind blowing.

Teotihuacan, near Mexico City
Teotihuacan

Some of the best archaeological sites to visit in Mexico include:

  • Chichen Itza- This is probably the most famous archaeological site in Mexico. It has been named one of the new wonders of the world. Chichen Itza is located near Valladolid on the Yucatan Peninsula. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • Teotihuacan- Located near Mexico City, this site was once the largest city in the Americas. It makes for a great day trip from Mexico City. Here, you’ll see the Pyramid of the Sun and Pyramid of the Moon.
  • Monte Alban- This Zapotec site is located near Oaxaca City. It is one of the earliest Mesoamerican cities.
  • Tulum Ruins- This picturesque Mayan site overlooks the beautiful Caribbean Sea. It is located in Tulum in the state of Quintana Roo.
  • Templo Mayor- This was the main temple of the Aztec empire. It was located in the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan, which is now part of central Mexico City.
  • Palenque- This UNESCO World Heritage Site is surrounded by jungle and wildlife, near the city of Palenque in the state of Chiapas in southern Mexico.
  • Coba- Located just 40 km west of Tulum, this mysterious site remains largely untouched. It is believed to be one of the largest Mayan sites but is still largely unexplored.
  • Uxmal Ruins- This beautiful site is located near Merida in the state of Yucatan. Uxmal is known for its religious structures and history.
  • Ek Balam- This Mayan site is located near Valladolid in Yucatan. Here, you can see some incredibly well-preserved artwork and explore 45 ancient buildings.

You can visit the above sites either independently or with a tour. You can also hire a guide at most sites. I recommend independent travel because it allows you to explore on your own time. Simply travel to the site with public transportation, usually in the form of a bus or colectivo, then buy a ticket and enter the site.

Mexico’s colonial history is equally as fascinating. The Spanish arrived in the early 16th century. Conquistador Hernan Cortez toppled the Aztec empire in 1521. Mexico became a Spanish colony for the next 300 years.

Throughout the country you’ll find some of the most well preserved colonial cities in the Americas. You’ll see stunning Renaissance, Baroque, and Neo Classical architecture in the form of cathedrals, mansions, government buildings, missions, and plazas. In many cities, the original Spanish street layout still exists.

Guanajuato, Mexico
Guanajuato

A few of the most well preserved colonial cities in Mexico include:

  • San Miguel de Allende
  • Guanajuato
  • San Cristóbal de las Casas
  • Oaxaca
  • Mexico City
  • Puebla
  • Mérida
  • Morelia
  • Querétaro
  • Taxco
  • Zacatecas
  • Cuernavaca

13. Travel By Colectivo for Short Journeys

A colectivo is a shared taxi, bus, or minibus. They operate on fixed routes both in cities and short trips between cities.

Traveling by colectivo is the most affordable and convenient way to get around in Mexico. Particularly in smaller cities. A one-way ride across town usually costs just 10-20 pesos (50 cents to $1) depending on the distance and time of day. A ride to a nearby town usually costs 20-50 pesos ($1-$2.50). The price is usually marked in the window. Colectivos are significantly cheaper than taking a taxi or Uber.

You can hop on or off a colectivo anywhere along the route. To catch a ride, just flag one down going in your direction. Alternatively, you can look for a bus stop where colectivos wait for passengers. If you’re getting on at the origin of a route, you’ll have to wait for the vehicle to fill up before it leaves. How long this takes, depends on the time of day and popularity of the route. Usually, the wait is less than 15 minutes.

When you’re ready to get off, just tell the driver to drop you off. Simply saying “pare aqui, por favor” (stop here, please) works fine. They’ll pull over the next chance they get. You can pay either when you get on or when you get off.

Taking colectivos is safe. You won’t get ripped off because the price is marked on the window. Many city governments operate colectivos. One thing to look out for is pickpockets. Be sure to keep track of your belongings while riding a colectivo.

One drawback to using colectivos is that learning the routes can be challenging. The routes aren’t really posted anywhere. The destination is usually posted on a sign in the window. The best way to find the right taxi is to ask around. If you can find a stop, you can ask one of the drivers if they know which vehicle is going in your direction. Most locals are happy to give you directions if they can as well.

Tip: Make sure you have exact change or small bills when taking a colectivo. The driver usually doesn’t carry enough cash to break large bills. They usually just have a tray of coins for making change.

14. Have Travel Insurance

Wherever you travel, it’s a good idea to have insurance. Quality travel insurance can cover you in the event of theft, loss, accidental injury, or an unexpected medical issue. Even though healthcare is affordable in Mexico*, at the very least, you should make sure that you’re covered in the event of a catastrophic accident.

When I travel, I use World Nomads travel insurance. Check out my travel insurance page for more information and a free quote.

If you’re planning to drive your own vehicle or rent a car in Mexico, you’ll also want to have Mexican auto insurance. This way, you’ll be covered in the event of an accident or theft of your vehicle. For more info, check out my guide: How to Drive to Mexico.

Chances are, you won’t have to use your insurance but it is worth it for the peace of mind. If something bad happens during your trip, you’ll be glad that you bought it.

15. Take Advantage of Mexico’s Budget Airlines

Mexico is a massive place. A cross-country bus trip can take over a day. For short trips, you won’t want to burn up an entire day sitting on a bus. Luckily, Mexico has an excellent network of budget airlines. You can often find flights between major cities for less than $100.

Sometimes you can score a flight for less than the price of a bus ticket. For example, when I wanted to travel from Tijuana to Mexico City, I checked the price of multiple bus companies and they all wanted around $100 and the trip took about 36 hours. At the last minute, I checked the price of flights and noticed that they only cost around $70 and took just 3 hours. I quickly booked it and flew out the next day.

A few Mexican budget airlines include:

  • Interjet
  • Viva Aerobus
  • Volaris
  • AeroMexico

I’ve flown Viva Aerobus and Interjet. Both operated on time and offered professional service. I recommend them.

One problem you may encounter is that you foreign credit or debit card may be declined when booking online. For whatever reason, some companies just have trouble processing foreign cards. The solution is to call the airline and make your payment over the phone. All of the airlines have English speaking staff that can help you. If you prefer, you could look for the airline’s office or go to an airport to buy the ticket in person.

16. Be Careful of Rental Car Scams

One common scam in Mexico for rental car agencies to advertise unbelievably low prices then massively overcharge you for insurance. For example, the company may lure you in with a crazy low price of $1 per day to rent a car.

Once you go to pick up your car, you’ll see a couple of hundred dollar charge for insurance. This charge is not optional. If you want to rent the car, you’ll have to buy the expensive insurance. Basically, if the deal is too good to be true, it probably is.

To avoid this scam, call or email the rental agency before you arrive and confirm the total price. Ask for a breakdown of the bill before you accept the car or pay anything. You should also try to rent from reputable rental agencies.

Don’t let this scam scare you away from renting a car in Mexico. Renting a car can be a great way to get around and explore places you otherwise wouldn’t get to see. It’s also convenient to have your own transportation.

17. Visit Some Cenotes in the Yucatan Peninsula

A cenote is a natural sinkhole, pit, or cavern that forms in the limestone bedrock of the Yucatan Peninsula. The hole fills with groundwater and creates a perfect swimming hole. The crystal clear water of cenotes is perfect for swimming, snorkeling, and diving. Some cenotes are large open pools surrounded by jungle. Others are more like underground caves. There are over 6,000 cenotes in the Yucatan.

A cenote in the Yucatan

A few of the best cenotes to visit include:

  • Gran Cenote- near Tulum
  • Dos Ojos Cenote- near Tulum
  • Cenote Cristalino- near Playa del Carmen
  • Cenote Ik Kil- near Chichen Itza
  • Tak Be Ha cenote- near Tulum
  • Cenote Zaki- near Valladolid
  • Cenote Calavera- near Tulum
  • Suytun Cenote- near Cancun
  • Yaxbacaltun cenote- near Cuzama

Most cenotes have a small entry fee.

18. Be Sure to Visit Multiple Regions of Mexico

Mexico is an absolutely massive and diverse country with a population of almost 130 million. At 1.9 million square kilometers, its about half the size of the E.U. The culture, climate, history, and food vary greatly by region. There are massive metropolitan cities, traditional villages and laid back beach towns. There are deserts, mountains, jungles, canyons, and every landscape in between. Mexico is one of the world’s most diverse countries.

To really experience Mexico, try to visit several different regions during your trip. Your experience will be completely different in the Yucatan than in Baja than in Central Mexico. You’ll taste different foods, see different architecture, hear different music, and experience a different vibe.

Even after spending over a year traveling and living in Mexico, I still haven’t seen even a fraction of it. Mexico is one of those places that you could spend a lifetime exploring and never see it all.

19. Pack Some Warm Clothes

The weather in Mexico varies greatly by region and season. Some places can get surprisingly chilly. Particularly during the winter and in high altitude regions. If you’re traveling to these areas, you’ll at least want to pack some long pants and a light jacket. Especially if you plan to travel between October and March.

Desert regions cool off significantly at night. During the summer, the cool nights offer a nice break from the heat. During the winter, it can get chilly. For example, the weather in the Baja Peninsula and Sonora desert can dip below freezing during the winter months of November and February.

High altitude areas can also get chilly, even in the summer. The Sierra Madre mountain system covers much of central and southern Mexico. Many popular Mexican cities including Mexico City, Puebla, Guanajuato, Morelia, Toluca, Queratero, and Durango, sit at 6000-7000+ feet (1800-2100+ meters). During the summer, nighttime temperatures can fall into the 40s and 50s. During the winter, temperatures regularly drop below freezing. You’ll want a jacket when visiting these cities.

San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
Located at 6200 feet, San Miguel de Allende gets cold at night. Particularly during the winter.

Of course, some parts of the country stay warm and sunny year-round. For example, the Yucatan Peninsula, Southern Baja Peninsula and Coastal areas in southern Mexico stay warm year-round. If you’re spending your vacation in these regions, you can wear your t-shirts and shorts for your whole trip. You should bring a sweatshirt just in case.

A note about hurricane season in Mexico

You should keep an eye on the weather if you plan to travel to Caribbean Coast on the Yucatan Peninsula or Gulf Coast during hurricane season. Most years, the season lasts from June to November. Some years hurricanes even affect the Pacific Coast.

The hurricane season can offer an excellent money saving opportunity if you don’t mind risking having your vacation cut short. You can score some great hotel deals at this time of year. You’ll also avoid the crowds of the rest of the year.

20. Explore Mexico’s Natural Landscapes

Mexico is full of naturally beautiful. There are dozens of national parks, biospheres, and nature reserves to explore. You’ll see canyons, mountains, beaches, deserts, marine environments, and everything in between.

Hierve el agua
Hierve el Agua, Oaxaca

A few top natural sites to visit in Mexico include:

  • Copper Canyon- This is a group of six canyons located in northern Mexico in the state of Chihuahua in the Sierra Madre Occidental mountain range. This area offers some of the best hiking and camping in Mexico. To get there, you can take the famous Copper Canyon train (Ferrocarril Barrancas del Cobre), which runs from Los Mochis, on the Pacific Coast to the city of Chihuahua. This is one of the world’s most beautiful train journeys.
  • Mesoamerican Barrier Reef (Great Mayan Reef)- This is one of the world’s largest reef systems. The area offers excellent snorkeling and diving. It is located offshore from the Riviera Maya.
  • Sea of Cortez- This area is home to one of the most diverse aquatic ecosystems on earth. One of the most well-preserved ecosystems you can visit is Espíritu Santo Island. There is also a large protected area called El Vizcaíno Biosphere Reserve.
  • Pico de Orizaba- This is Mexico’s tallest mountain. It is an inactive stratovolcano that measures 18,491 feet tall, making it the third tallest mountain in North America. you can hike in the area and even climb the mountain.
  • Hierve el Agua- A unique petrified waterfall located in the state of Oaxaca. This is a great place for hiking and swimming. For more info, check out my guide to visiting Hierve el Agua.
  • Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, Michoacán- Millions of monarch butterflies land here a the end of their migration.
  • Cenotes- Thousands of these natural sinkholes and swimming holes are located throughout the Yucatan Peninsula.
  • Sian Ka’an Biosphere- In this area, located near Tulum, you’ll find a massive untouched jungle reserve.
  • Popocatépetl-Iztaccíhuatl National Park- Visit Mexico’s most famous volcano.

21. Visit Mexico City

One of Mexico’s most underappreciated cities happens to be its capital, Mexico City. As the largest city in North America, you would expect the place to be a major tourist destination, but it’s really not. At least not to the extent that it deserves to be.

Mexico City

Many travelers skip Mexico City out of fears of violence, the hassle of dealing with a big city, and general disinterest. In my opinion, they’re missing out. The city is packed with entertainment options including some of the best museums, parks, and archaeological sites in the country.

In Mexico city, you can visit one of the world’s greatest museums, el Museo Nacional de Antropologia. You stroll through one of the largest city parks in the world, Bosque de Chapultepec. Just 25 kilometers outside of the city lies the magnificent archaeological site of Teotihuacan. A few other points of interest include the Frida Khalo Museum, Zocalo, El Palacio de Bellas Artes, and Xochimilco.

Last year, I spent a month in Mexico City and fell in love with it. I was particularly surprised at how affordable the city is. I never ran out of things to do. For some tips, check out my Mexico City Budget Travel Guide.

22. Allow Yourself Extra Time

Mexico is a big country. Distances between cities can be great. Don’t underestimate the time it will take to travel from city to city. For example, it takes about 36 hours to travel from Tijuana to Mexico City by bus. Cancun sits about 1000 miles from Mexico City by road.

You’ll need to account for travel time when planning your itinerary. If you only have 1 week for your trip, you’ll either want to fly from city to city or stay in one region for the duration of your trip. You won’t want to burn up an entire day of your trip sitting on the bus.

In general, buses and flights do run on time. Delays happen but for the most part, bus Mexican companies and airlines are reliable and dependable.

Tip: Take night buses when traveling long distance. This way, you don’t waste a day sitting on a bus. You can also sleep through much of the journey. You’ll wake up in a new city ready to explore.

When traveling in Mexico, you should also allow yourself extra time for day to day activities. If you’re meeting a friend, they may not arrive on time. People aren’t as punctual here. Sometimes restaurants take longer than expected to bring your meal. Your taxi may show up late. Things just move slower. If you account for this in your plans and expect it, your trip will go much smoother.

Another thing to remember is that Mexico is not an early rising country. Many breakfast restaurants and street food stands don’t open until 8-9 am. You can sleep in a bit here. You’re on vacation after all.

23. Visit Tijuana and the Rest of the Baja Peninsula

Tijuana
Tijuana, Mexico

This is my favorite part of Mexico. Probably because I’ve spent the most time here. As a kid, my dad and I would take annual fishing trips to Ensenada. A couple of years ago, I moved to Tijuana to reduce my living expenses and fell in love with the city.

With a metro population of around 1.8 million people, Tijuana is the 6th largest and one of the fastest-growing cities in Mexico. The city is also considered a cultural center of Mexico. It offers some of the best food, craft beer, nightlife, and plenty of activities. The city is located near the beach and is easy to access from the US. For more ideas, check out my list of the best things to do in Tijuana.

The rest of the Baja peninsula is well worth a visit as well. Here, you’ll find some of the best beaches that the country has to offer on both the Pacific and Sea of Cortez. The desert landscape in Baja is also incredibly beautiful and unique. The region is also known for its excellent seafood.

If you’re looking for an all-inclusive resort style vacation, you can find this in Baja California Sur. Cabo is one of Mexico’s top tourist destinations after Cancun. Here, you’ll find some of the best beaches as well as all of the luxuries you require.

El Arco
El Arco, Baja California Sur

24. Make Some Local Friends

Making friends with locals while traveling can be a challenge. Sometimes due to the language barrier. Sometimes due to cultural differences. In some places, locals just have no desire to interact with travelers.

It’s also easy to spend your whole trip interacting only with other travelers. For example, if you’re traveling in a group or staying in hostels with other travelers it’s easy to get into the habit of only spending time with other tourists.

While visiting Mexico, make an effort to meet some locals. For the most part, Mexican people are incredibly friendly and welcoming. Don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation, ask a question, or join in an activity. To help you out, check out my guide: How to Meet People While Traveling.

25. Consider Buying a Local Sim Card

Chances are, your foreign phone plan either won’t work in Mexico or you’ll get charged expensive roaming fees. To avoid that, you can pick up a Mexican sim card and buy an inexpensive phone plan to use during your trip.

A few of the most popular providers in Mexico include Telcel, AT&T, Movistar, and Virgin Mobile. You’ll have to buy a SIM card for around 100 pesos (about $5). You can often buy a basic plan with calls, texts, and a few GB of data for $10-$15.

This allows you to stay in contact with friends and family, share your photos to social media, read reviews, order an Uber, and find directions while you’re not connected to Wi-Fi. You’ll also have a Mexican phone number so you can make local calls.

Of course, you can always just use Wi-Fi at your hotel, restaurants, malls, etc. if you don’t care to buy a phone plan.

Final Thoughts: Mexico Travel Tips

As a travel destination, Mexico has a lot to offer. The climate is great. The history and culture are fascinating. World-class food is available on practically every street corner. What more is there to ask for from a travel destination?

The only potential drawback is the safety concerns. Statistically, Mexico is a violent country. In reality, these fears are overblown. Tourists are rarely targeted. Any existing risk can be greatly reduced by taking some simple precautions. Hopefully, this guide makes your trip to Mexico a bit smoother and safer.

Have you traveled to Mexico lately? Share your Mexico travel tips and experiences in the comments below!

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Andrea Clarke

Sunday 6th of June 2021

Hello, what a wonderfully visual article! I would like to spend a few months in Mexico with my daughter. She is 24 with special needs / autism. Are folks in general welcoming of special needs persons? In the States it's hit or miss and not always kind. Thanks very much!

wheretheroadforks

Tuesday 8th of June 2021

I think people would be pretty welcoming to someone with special needs. People seem to be pretty understanding and kind, in my experience. You might encounter someone who is less welcoming or friendly once in a while.

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