Upset stomach or traveler’s diarrhea is the most common travel sickness according to the CDC. It’s so common that there is a cliché joke you’ll hear pretty much every time you mention traveling to Mexico. ‘Remember, don’t drink the water!’ or ‘Don’t catch Montezuma’s Revenge!’ This guide answers the question: Is tap water in Mexico safe to drink? I explain exactly for which purposes it is safe and unsafe to use the tap water in Mexico. I also outline where to get clean and safe drinking water in Mexico, wherever you are in the country so you don’t get sick.
Is Tap Water Safe to Drink in Mexico?
The short answer is no. Tap water in Mexico is generally not safe to drink. Even though most municipal water departments across the country purify the water at their facility, it can become contaminated on its way from to your tap. Unfortunately, there is no way to know short of taking a drink and waiting to see if you get sick. It’s best to bite the bullet and fork out for bottled or purified drinking water just to be safe. Luckily, clean drinking water is readily available everywhere in the country.
Potability of tap water in Mexico depends where the water came from, how it was treated, and how it was delivered. Tap water in Mexico can come from 4 different sources including:
- Municipal water supply- In urban areas, the city water department delivers water through a series of pipes. This is the most common.
- Local spring or well- This could be a shared or private well. Wells are common in rural areas.
- Delivery from a water truck- The truck pumps water into large holding tanks. This is common in rural areas during the dry season.
- Rainwater collection- This usually supplements water delivery in rural areas during the rainy season from May-November.
Most municipal water departments across Mexico purify the water in a way that makes it perfectly safe to drink when it leaves their facility. Water delivered in a truck is purified and potable. Most well water is also potable.
So why can’t you drink the tap water in Mexico?
Problems arise during the water’s journey from the source to your tap. The water can flow through old pipes or sit in holding tanks where heavy metals, bacteria, parasites, viruses, and other various debris can contaminate the water. Without testing the tap water in a lab, there is really no way of knowing if it is safe to drink or contaminated.
There is one exception. Some high-end hotels, resorts, homes, and apartments have an on-site water purification system. These usually have a separate tap that dispenses clean drinking water. If this is the case where you’re staying, there will probably be a sign next to the tap indicating that the water is potable (agua potable in Spanish).
How to Get Drinking Water in Mexico: 3 Options
Because the tap water is questionable at best, you’ll have to get your drinking water elsewhere. Luckily, clean and safe drinking water is readily available everywhere in the country. After all, everyone needs water and Mexican people don’t drink tap water either. In this section, I’ll outline three ways to get clean drinking water, wherever you are in the country.
This is the safest and most convenient option. Every supermarket, convenience store, restaurant, hotel, pharmacy, and roadside stand in Mexico sells bottled water. Most bottled water comes in 500 ml, 1 liter, 1.5 liter, or 2 liter bottles. You can also buy 5 liter and 20 liter jugs. A few of the most common brands of Mexican bottled water include Bonafort, Cristal, Ciel (bottled by Coca Cola), Epura (bottled by Pepsi), Santa María. You’ll also find some of your favorite international brands including Dasani, Evian, Fiji, VOSS, etc. All bottled water is safe to drink. The brand doesn’t really matter. It’s all safe to drink.
Many mid-range and higher hotels and resorts include a couple of free bottles of water with the room. Some hotels and resorts stock bottled water in the minibar and charge for it. Be sure to check before you drink so you don’t get surprised with a big bill. If your hotel or resort charges for bottled water, consider stopping by a nearby grocery store or convenience store to buy bottled water to avoid paying inflated prices.
If you ask for water at a restaurant, the server assumes that you want to buy a bottle of water. You’ll never be served tap water. To order bottled water at a shop or restaurant, you can ask for ‘agua embotellada’ or ‘una botella de agua’.
Tip: When buying bottled water, always check that the seal on the cap hasn’t been broken. People will sometimes collect old bottles, refill them with tap water, and sell them. This scam is uncommon in Mexico but not unheard of.
Cost of Bottled Water in Mexico
Assuming you drink 2 liters per day, you’ll spend around 20 pesos ($1) per day or 600 pesos ($30) per month on bottled drinking water while traveling in Mexico if you drink bottled water exclusively. The price of bottled water varies by region and neighborhood.
The cheapest place to buy bottled water is in a supermarket. 1 liter bottles cost 8-12 pesos (around 50 cents). 2 liter bottles cost about 10-20 pesos (50 cents-$1) each. If you want to save some money, you can buy a 5 liter jug for about 20-30 pesos ($1-$1.50) and refill a smaller bottle. A few major Mexican supermarket chains include Soriana, Chedraui, and Casa Ley.
Bottled water prices are a bit higher at restaurants, street food stands, resorts, hotels, convenience stores, and around tourist attractions. Expect to pay around 20 pesos ( $1) for a 1 liter bottle. Premium or international brands also cost more than local brands.
Purified or Filtered Drinking Water
Many hotels, hostels, and Airbnbs offer filtered water from a water dispenser for guests to refill their own water bottles. The water comes from 20 liter jugs called garrafones. This purified water is delivered from a water company. It is the same as bottled water, just sold in large containers. If you see a water dispenser in your hotel lobby, you know the water is clean and safe to drink. That’s what it’s there for.
Purified Water Refills and Delivery
If you’re staying in Mexico long term, you’ll probably want to buy your own 20 liter water jug and have it refilled or swapped with a full jug periodically. You can buy these jugs at many convenience stores, grocery stores, water shops as well as directly from bottled water companies.
This is much cheaper than constantly buying bottled water. It’s also more convenient because you can get the jugs delivered so you don’t have to drag the heavy 20 liter jugs upstairs to your room. You always have plenty of water on hand as well.
Mexico has 3 main water companies that offer delivery including Crystal, Bonafont, and Agua Pura. Once you buy a bottle that is marked with one of these company’s brand name, you must swap it out with full bottles from the same company. If you want to switch, you’ll have to buy a new bottle.
You can also purchase generic, unmarked bottles and have them refilled at a convenience store or a purified water shop in your neighborhood. Some of these independent water businesses offer delivery as well.
Several times per week, a water truck or man on a cargo bicycle will come through the neighborhood with full jugs and swap out your empty jugs for fresh ones. They yell out the name of the water company they deliver for. Sometimes they are independent. You can just flag the guy down and purchase a full bottle and hand in your empty. You pay the delivery guy directly in cash.
In some cases, you can schedule a delivery or call your delivery person when you need a refill. The water delivery service works a bit differently in different parts of the country or even different neighborhoods. Some companies offer better service than others. It’s a good idea to buy several bottles so you always have plenty of water and only have to get delivery every couple of weeks.
If you prefer, you can also go refill the jug yourself. Every neighborhood has a few shops that sell purified drinking water. Sometimes they have a vending machine that operates with coins and sometimes there is an attendant to fill the jug for you. You just bring your jug in, fill it up, and pay for the water.
If you buy a 20 liter jug, you’ll probably want to buy some type of dispenser. That way, you don’t have to lift the massive jug up to pour your water into your glass or bottle.
Starting at around 100 pesos, you can buy a small hand pump to attach to the top of your 20 liter jug. Most supermarkets sell these. Another option is a dispenser like the one below that holds the jug upside down and dispenses water with gravity. For around 1000 pesos, you can also buy nicer dispensers that cool the water. These use electricity. Other styles are available as well including stands that allow you to tilt the jug to pour your water.
Tip: Store your water jug out of the sun so it stays cool. Also, keep some water in small bottles or a pitcher and store them in the fridge so you always have cold water to drink.
Cost to buy purified drinking water
A plastic 20 liter jug costs around 80-100 pesos ($4-$5). Refills cost about 25-40 pesos ($1.20-$2.00) including delivery. If you have the delivery man bring the heavy water jug into your home, a tip is appropriate.
Assuming you drink 2 liters per day, you’ll spend around 90 pesos ($4.25) per month for the water alone. If you add in the cost of the jug, you’ll spend around 200 pesos or $10 per month.
Filter Your Own Drinking Water
If you’re on a tight budget, the cheapest way to get clean drinking water is to filter your own with a handheld water filtration system. With one of these, you can filter tap water as well as water from a river, lake, stream, or even a muddy puddle. As long as the water isn’t contaminated with chemicals or viruses, it will be safe to drink after filtration.
These days, I always filter my own water when traveling. I have used my Sawyer Mini (#ad) water filter to drink tap water all over Africa, East Asia, and Mexico. I even used it for several months while living in Tijuana. It’s lightweight at just 2 ounces and easy to pack at just 1″x5″. I fill a bottle with tap water, screw the filter on top, and drink directly from the filter.
The Sawyer removes all bacteria, debris, and other contaminants that are larger than 0.1 micron. It does not remove most viruses, chemicals, pesticides, or heavy metals. For more info about the Sawyer Mini, check out my full review here.
As an alternative to filtering water, you can boil it. Boiling water kills bacteria, viruses, parasites, protozoa, etc. and makes it safe to drink. Ideally, you want to boil water for 3 minutes to be safe but 1 minute is generally sufficient.
Health Note: Some parts of Mexico have high mineral content in the tap water. Most water filters can’t remove minerals. Over time, these minerals may build up in your body and cause kidney stones and a number of other health problems. It’s not really a worry for shorter trips but it could cause problems if you’re drinking it for months or years at a time. If you will be living in Mexico, it’s best to buy purified water.
Water filter cost
A decent water filter costs around $20 and will last a lifetime as long as you periodically clean it and don’t lose it or break it. After filtering 40-50 liters your filter will have paid for itself. These filters are designed to filter over 300,000 liters of water before they need to be replaced.
You can get tap water to filter for free pretty much anywhere including hotels, bathrooms, gas stations, restaurants, etc. You can also get free water from streams, rivers, puddles, and lakes.
What do the locals drink?
Locals and tourists drink the same water. If the tap water is unsafe for a tourist to drink, it is also unsafe for a local to drink. While staying in Mexico City, I asked a few of my friends if they drink the tap water. Most do not. They usually buy a few 20-liter bottles and a dispenser and have fresh bottles delivered once every other week. I have met a few people who claim to drink from the tap. Water quality varies from region to region.
FAQ About Drinking Water in Mexico: What’s Safe and What’s Not?
In this section, I’ll answer a few common questions about water safety in Mexico.
Can I Drink the Water in Restaurants in Mexico?
Yes. Restaurants don’t want their customers to get sick. Any water they serve will be safe to drink. They know that most people won’t drink tap water in Mexico. If it makes you feel better, you can ask your server if the water is purified but that really isn’t necessary anymore.
Every restaurant sells bottled water. Some serve purified water by the glass. If you order bottled water, you’ll be charged for it. Usually around 20-30 pesos for a 1 liter bottle. Many restaurants offer complimentary purified water by the glass with the meal. You’ll usually have to ask for water if you don’t want to buy bottled water.
If you don’t want to buy bottled water at the restaurant or drink the purified water, you can bring your own bottle with you. Nobody will care.
Can I Drink the Water from the Dispenser in the Hotel in Mexico?
Yes. This is purified water that the hotel has delivered. It’s the same as bottled water. It is perfectly safe to drink. It’s there for customers to refill their water bottles.
Should I Avoid Ice while traveling in Mexico?
No. Many tourists avoid ice, thinking that it is probably made from tap water. While this was a problem in the past, it’s not really anymore. Pretty much all ice is made from purified water. You don’t have to deny yourself a cold drink out of fear of contaminated ice. Feel free to order an iced cocktail or water in restaurants, bars, and your hotel.
There are some exceptions to this. If you’re buying an iced juice or other drink from a small stand in a market or roadside stand, there is some risk. It’s possible that the vendor made their own ice with tap water. The best you can do is to look at the ice. If it appears to be made in a machine, it’s probably safe. For example, cylindrical ice with a hole in the center comes from a factory. If the ice looks homemade, skip it or order your drink without ice.
Can I Brush My Teeth With Tap Water in Mexico?
Yes, it is fine to use tap water to brush your teeth in Mexico. There is no need to waste perfectly good bottled water or filtered water. Having said that, you should be careful not to swallow much tap water while brushing. Avoid gargling because you’ll probably swallow some accidentally. When you rinse your mouth, spit a couple of times to make sure you get all of the water out.
Some people will disagree with this but I have used tap water to brush my teeth all over the world including India, East and Southern Africa, Latin America, and Southeast Asia, and have never gotten sick from brushing my teeth with tap water. Swallowing a few drops of tap water isn’t going to do you any harm.
Can I Make Coffee and Tea with Tap Water?
Yes. As long as you bring the water to a boil for at least one minute, it is perfectly safe to use tap water for making coffee and tea in Mexico. Boiling water kills any bacteria and viruses that may be present.
The only problem is that some tap water has a funky taste. This could be from excessive mineral content or other contaminants. In this case, you may want to use purified water or bottled water. This isn’t really a health concern, but your beverage will be much more enjoyable if it tastes the way it’s supposed to.
To boil water, you can use an electric kettle. Another option is to pack an immersion water heater like this Lewis N. Clark Portable Immersion Water Heater (#ad). You can also buy one of these for 40-50 pesos in most Mexican supermarkets.
Tip: Most standard drip coffee makers don’t heat the water hot enough to kill bacteria. If you’re using the coffee maker in your hotel room, use bottled or purified water just to be safe.
Can I Cook with Tap Water in Mexico?
Yes. As long as you bring the water to a complete boil for at least one minute, it is fine to cook with tap water in Mexico. Boiling the water kills all bacteria and viruses. Food will overpower any poor taste that the tap water leaves. There is no reason to use purified water for cooking your rice or pasta.
One issue you may encounter is that tap water can leaves some white residue on your pots and pans. This comes from the mineral contents in the water. Some parts of Mexico have harder water than others. Try to clean this off after cooking so it doesn’t build up on your pans.
Can I use Tap Water to Wash Food in Mexico?
Yes. Most people rinse their fruits and vegetables off in tap water before eating them or while preparing them for cooking. To be safe, try to dry your foods off after washing so you avoid ingesting too much tap water. If you’re going to cook it anyway, it doesn’t really matter.
Washing your fruits and vegetables is particularly important in Mexico because produce generally isn’t cleaned very well during processing. E Coli is a risk. Pesticides may also be present.
One type of food to be extra careful with is leafy greens like lettuce. These tend to hold quite a bit of water after washing. Shake them off well before you eat them. Many travelers choose to avoid eating salads in Mexico to avoid this issue. You never know how well the veggies were washed and dried.
If you are worried about getting sick from tap water on your food, consider using Microdyn Fruit and Vegetable Wash (#ad). This product is designed to kill any harmful bacteria in the water. You simply mix it with tap water before washing your food. It is also available in every Mexican supermarket.
Can you Bathe in Tap Water in Mexico?
Yes, of course. There is nothing to worry about when taking a shower or bath in Mexico. To be safe, you should avoid getting water in your mouth while you bathe. Try to keep your mouth shut while rinsing the shampoo out of your hair.
You should take this precaution even if you’re staying in a resort that claims to filter the tap water. Even if the tap water is filtered, chances are the shower water is not.
Should I Give My Pet Tap Water?
Almost all pet owners in Mexico give their dogs and cats tap water. Some may serve them purified water. This choice comes down to personal preference and how bad the water quality is where you are. Generally, pets can drink tap water without any issues. Their immune systems are stronger than ours.
What to do if you get traveler’s diarrhea from drinking tap water in Mexico
20-50% of travelers suffer from stomach problems at some point during their trip. Even if you take every possible precaution, sometimes you just get unlucky and get sick anyway. For example, Maybe you went to the one sketchy restaurant that used tap water to make ice. Maybe you didn’t bring your tea water to a complete boil. If you spend enough time traveling in Mexico, you will pick up a case of traveler’s diarrhea or ‘Montezuma’s revenge’ at some point. It’s unavoidable. It’s not the end of the world if you get sick. Traveler’s diarrhea is a common occurrence in Mexico and is usually easily cured.
Traveler’s diarrhea from drinking contaminated water usually lasts a few days and goes away on its own. It is usually caused by an infection from water contaminated with various bacteria, viruses, or parasites. Symptoms include diarrhea, cramping, nausea, vomiting, and dehydration. Some people experience fever, headache, and abdominal pain.
If you get sick from drinking contaminated water you should:
- Drink plenty of clean water- Buy some bottled water that you know is clean and drink a lot of it. Your body gets dehydrated quickly when you have diarrhea. You need to stay hydrated.
- Drink rehydration salts- You can buy these in most pharmacies. Rehydration salts help your body rehydrate if you’ve lost too much salt or other minerals. You don’t want to let yourself get dehydrated. Extreme dehydration can lead to organ damage.
- Follow the BRAT diet- BRAT stands for bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast. These foods are easy on the stomach and may help to reduce your symptoms.
- Try taking some anti-diarrhea like Imodium or Pepto Bismol- You can get this at any pharmacy for just a couple of dollars. You might also consider packing some in your toiletries kit. It’s worth a try for some relief.
- If the sickness is particularly severe, take antibiotics- Any pharmacy will have the proper antibiotics to treat severe diarrhea, but they may require a prescription to sell them to you. If that is the case, you can visit a small clinic for about 60 pesos to get a diagnosis and prescription for the proper antibiotics. Many large pharmacies have clinics attached that accept walk-ins. For more info, check out my step-by-step guide to visiting a clinic in Mexico. If you want to be prepared, you could also ask your regular doctor at home to prescribe you some antibiotics that you can take with you just in case.
For more info on traveler’s diarrea, check out this guide from the Mayo Clinic.
Try to take every precaution you can to avoid getting sick. Even though traveler’s diarrhea isn’t all that serious for most people, a bad case can put a major dent in your trip. The last thing you want is to spend half of your vacation sitting on the toilet rather than the beach.
At the same time, there’s no need to be paranoid about getting sick from drinking water in Mexico. As long take the precautions listed above, you’ll stay healthy. If you do end up getting a case of traveler’s diarrhea, it’s not the end of the world. The condition is very treatable.
Final Thoughts About Drinking Water in Mexico
As a general rule, you should not drink the tap water in Mexico. Even though the wate was most likey potable when it left the city’s treatment facility, it may or may not be potable when it arrives at your tap. Even if it’s potable, it probably doens’t taste that great. Luckily, purified and bottled water are cheap and easy to come by.
After spending over a year living in Mexico, I have never gotten sick from drinking water. Admittedly, I have drunk straight from the tap in Tijuana on a few occasions. Usually, after a night out when I couldn’t be bothered to go out and buy a bottle of water. Maybe I just got lucky or maybe my immune system is strong.
Do you drink the tap water in Mexico? Share your tips and experience in the comments below!
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