Travel Guide to Mexico

Everything you need to know before you go to Mexico

Mexico is a great country with a wide variety of culture, history, nature, music, food and much more. I already get jealous thinking of people planing their stay (no matter long or short) in Mexico.

First time in Mexico?

Highlights

Mayan Ruins

The Mayan Cities were one of the major reasons why I wanted to visit Mexico. Unfortunately I could visit only 3 of the Mayan cities. The entry fees vary from 60-150M$ and parking costs about 20-40M$.

  • Tulum – Near to Akumal and Puerto Morelos but too crowded.
  • Chichen Itza – Impressing site. Get there early and visit it before the shuttle buses arrive.
  • Uxmal – Off the beaten track and not as crowded as the first two.

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Cenotes

Swimming and snorkelling (or cave diving) in the turquoise cool waters of the cenotes (natural pits/sinkholes) in the Yucatan Peninsula are the best treat you can give to your overheated body after exploring Mayan ruins or colonial cites. The simple entry costs about 100-150M$ (5-6US$).

  • Gran Cenote – Only 3km away from Tulum
  • Dos Ojos – Also super near to Tulum
  • Cenote Dzitnup – Only 7km away from Valladolid

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Snorkelling

For the first time in my life I snorkelled with sea turtles in Akumal, which means “place of sea turtles” in Mayan language. Best places to snorkel:

  • Akumal for sea turtles
  • Isla de Mujeres for the underwater museum
  • Puerto Morelos – not so crowded like other places in Riviera Maya
  • Isla Holbox for snorkelling with whale sharks

Mexican cities

Mexico City

This city is unique and absolutely a must see if you’re in Mexico. In Mexico City don’t miss:

  • National Museum of Anthropology to learn about the Mayan and Aztec cultures and even more
  • Coyoacán to visit Frida Kahlo Museum, which is actually the house she lived in. Casa Azul (blue house) is a magical place.
  • Palacio Nacional for Diego Rivera’s murals
  • Centro Historico for the Catedral Metropolitana and Palacio de Bellas Artes

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Very unfortunately I missed these two (because my flight had a 24h delay):

  • Teotihuacan for Aztec ruins
  • Xochimilco for a colourful boat ride in the canals

Don’t! Avoid the hop on/off touristic buses because a) they don’t drive regularly and b) you spend your time more in traffic jams than on the ground. Besides, the metro system and bus network is actually very good in Mexico City.

Also Merida and Valladolid are absolutely worth visiting. These small colonial cities are one of the best places to observe the real local Mexican lifestyle. I loved it.

Nature

Reserva de la Biosfera Ría Celestún is only 1 hour away from Merida. You can have glimpse into the local life in this laid back town and enjoy a boat ride through the mangroves,

Not to forget the pink flamingos. Observing (and hearing – gosh they’re loud) these beautiful elegant birds is really relaxing.

Accommodation

In Mexico you can find all sorts of accommodation. I mostly prefer local run small hotels and Bed&Breakfast type of accommodations where I have my own room with private bathroom and have the possibility to meet locals. Besides, the hosts of such hotels and B&Bs are proven to be the best guides.

For a middle class Hotel/B&B room expect to pay something between 20$-50$.

I mostly book at Booking.com after comparing reviews (e.g. TripAdvisor). Also Agoda.com has great deals. Also don’t forget to check Airbnb.

I can not recommend every place i stayed in Mexico (sometimes I make bad choices too obviously) but without hesitation I can recommend these places:

  • ValladolidLa Aurora Hotel Colonial – spacious and nice interior
  • MeridaCasa Alvarez Guesthouse – lovely hosts
  • UxmalUxmal Maya Resort – Super near to the Uxmal Maya Ruins
  • Chichen ItzaVilla Arqueológicas – a bit more expensive than other hotels in other parts of Mexico, but only 10 minutes away from the famous Mayan ruins. So stay here and wake up early to be the first in the ruins before the shuttle buses arrive.

Eating & Drinking

I love love love Mexican food. But be careful! After your Mexico visit you won’t like any Mexican restaurant in your home town anymore.

My favorite “snack” was Guacamole served with tacos, a mixed salad of tomatoes & onions and a nice hot Mexican sauce. My whole life I thought I knew how Guacamole tastes, till the moment I had my first bit in the Beach Bar in Puerto Morelos, near to Wet Set where we booked our snorkelling tour! After that bit I got addicted and now suffer under so called “missing the real Mexican guacamole” syndrome.

Also the Enchiladas were awesome. As I had my first original Mexican enchiladas in the Mexican restaurant Tacuba in Mexico City I knew I’d never enjoy an enchilada back home anymore. Fajitas! I had my “Fajitas moment” (yeah that’s a thing) in Isla de Mujeres. Last but not least the Sopa de Lima I had in Meson del Marques in Valladolid was just legendary.

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When it comes to traditional drinks, Tequila and Mezcal are the ones you can’t miss. But be careful. Both drinks are really really dangerous if you don’t know how to deal with it.

Corona and Sol are the major beer brands and taste best whit couple of drops of a squeezed piece of lime.

Not to forget the cocktails and long drinks with either rum or tequilaI had one of the best  Mojitos I’ve ever had in the family run super nice restaurant El Merkadito directly at the beach in Puerto Morelos.  

Getting around

Driving

Renting a car might be expensive but if you book early enough you can get very good rates. Even the guy at the counter was shocked as he saw the price we paid and this around eastern holidays, which is absolutely high season for Mexico. Check websites such as Car del Mar or Car Rentals to find the best rates.

Having your own car allows you to be more flexible but it brings also some concerns. The roads in Yucatan Peninsula (we only drove in that region) are not at best condition and the topes (speed bump) are really pain in the ass!

driving in mexico volkswagen vw beetle in mexico

Here are some tips:

  1. Watch out for speed bumps (tope). These are almost everywhere and sometimes pretty unexpected. If you don’t see them early enough you risk a car damage and I’m sure this is the last thing you want on your road trip.
  2. Don’t drive at night! There are holes everywhere and at night it is even more difficult to see them.
  3. Get a pick up if you budget allows. We had a tiny economy car and I felt every loose stone on the road.
  4. Use the toll roads where you can. These toll roads (not expensive) connect the major cities in Yucatan and this is all you need. Follow the entry and exit sighs carefully because sometimes they’re not as good as you expect them to be.

Bus

I can’t say much about it as we had our own car but the fellow travellers I met on the road told us about their quite positive experiences and the network between major cities is also apparently very good.

Domestic flights

Aeromexico seems to be the biggest Mexican airline. We bought our tickets from Volaris as it was a bit cheaper. The flight from Mexico City to Cancun was pretty easy and uncomplicated.

mexico mexican police

Taxi

Be careful! I don’t want to panic but everyone warned me so I warn you too. Not that anything happened to me but probably because I avoided driving with taxi. If you have to, then call an officially registered one.

At the airport (at least in Mexico City) there are counters where you pay a fixed price depending on the zone where you want to go to and hand this bill to your taxi driver. This way they manage to avoid overrated taxi rides which is probably worldwide the most common trick the tourist fall into.

Visa

Check in the official website of the Mexican government if you need a visa. Citizens of USA, Canada, EU, etc. don’t need a visa, but of course you need your passport which is at least 6 months valid.

Money

The local currency is Mexican Peso. You can exchange US$ or € easily in exchange offices (cambio). Check the exchange rate at oando.com or via XE currency app (which also works offline).

Don’t be silly and don’t carry too much cash with you. Just use one of the many ATMs. If you have an American Express you should maybe consider getting a Visa credit card just in case. Most of the ATMs did not accept American Express.

Internet

In Mexico City there are many wi-fi zones, especially in parks which is very convenient if you feel a bit overwhelmed from the cray Mexico City. Apart of this, as usual hotels, bars, restaurants have wi-fi. So don’t worry you can stay connected.

Weather

The best time to go to Mexico is probably any time but from October to May it is supposed to be the best time indeed. From June to November it is hurricane season. After all I’d recommend to avoid high season (easter, christmas, US spring break) if you can.

mexican stone of sun
Stone of Sun

Health

  • Check all the recommended vaccinations and get the ones you need.
  • Don’t get a sunburn! Seriously, it’s not cool.
  • Prevent mosquito bites. Apart of the DEET containing repellents one other effective way is a Mosquito Net which you can hang around your bed if the hotel room does not offer it.
  • Don’t drink tab water! Not even for brushing your teeth.
  • Get a travel insurance before you leave.

Is it safe?

I’ve been only to Mexico City and Yucatan Peninsula and actually felt safe all the time. Although, I read about regions at the border to neighbour country Guatemala and Acapulco can be dangerous, so consider this while shaping your route.

My route in Mexico, Yucatan Peninsula
My route in Mexico, Yucatan Peninsula

Pickpocketing happens everywhere (not only in Mexico), so just be aware of your belongings in general all the time. I use the  handbag of Pac-safe which has some pretty cool safety features, like “imbedded steel web” and “slashguard strap” which is cut-through resistant. I can only recommend this bag. And it is big enough for a 13″ macbook, camera, lens, headset and all that.

Check my Pack List for more useful travel items.

Generally I’d say be cautious, trust your instinctive and common sense. For example pay attention when you pay with bigger banknotes. Say loud what banknote you hand over and count what you get back. A guy in a tank station claimed that we gave him 50M$ instead of 500M$. Luckily he had honest colleagues who backed us and we got our money back.

Enjoy it!

No matter what you decide to do in Mexico, just make sure you enjoy it.

Parasailing in Mexico
Parasailing in Mexico
Tips
For more insights I recommend Lonely Planet's Travel Guide for Mexico or the for Cancun, Cozumel & The Yucatan.
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For price worthy accommodation check Booking.com or Agoda.com.
traveler packing listDon't forget to check my Pack List for useful travel items.



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Travel Guide to Mexico

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Other blog posts about Mexico

Travel Itinerary - 2 weeks in Mexico Yucatan top things to do in mexico city how to avoid crowds in chichen itza

Things to do in Valladolid Mexico Yucatan cenotes of yucatan mexico 10 reasons why you should not go to mexico

Things to do in 2 days in Merida - Yucatan Peninsula - Mexico Things to do in Riviera Maya - Mexico Best Ancient Mayan Cities in Yucatan Peninsula Mexico

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