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?
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$.
- Tulum – Near to Akumal and Puerto Morelos but too crowded.
- Chichen Itza – Impressing site. Get there early and visit it before the shuttle buses arrive.
- Uxmal – Off the beaten track and not as crowded as the first two.
Swimming and snorkelling (or cave diving) in the turquoise cool waters of the cenotes (natural pits/sinkholes) in the Yucatan Peninsula are the best treat you can give to your overheated body after exploring Mayan ruins or colonial cites. The simple entry costs about 100-150M$ (5-6US$).
- Gran Cenote – Only 3km away from Tulum
- Dos Ojos – Also super near to Tulum
- Cenote Dzitnup – Only 7km away from Valladolid
For the first time in my life I snorkelled with sea turtles in Akumal, which means “place of sea turtles” in Mayan language. Best places to snorkel:
- Akumal for sea turtles
- Isla de Mujeres for the underwater museum
- Puerto Morelos – not so crowded like other places in Riviera Maya
- Isla Holbox for snorkelling with whale sharks
This city is unique and absolutely a must see if you’re in Mexico. In Mexico City don’t miss:
- National Museum of Anthropology to learn about the Mayan and Aztec cultures and even more
- Coyoacán to visit Frida Kahlo Museum, which is actually the house she lived in. Casa Azul (blue house) is a magical place.
- Palacio Nacional for Diego Rivera’s murals
- Centro Historico for the Catedral Metropolitana and Palacio de Bellas Artes
Very unfortunately I missed these two (because my flight had a 24h delay):
- Teotihuacan for Aztec ruins
Xochimilco for a colourful boat ride in the canals
Don’t! Avoid the hop on/off touristic buses because a) they don’t drive regularly and b) you spend your time more in traffic jams than on the ground. Besides, the metro system and bus network is actually very good in Mexico City.
Reserva de la Biosfera Ría Celestún is only 1 hour away from Merida. You can have glimpse into the local life in this laid back town and enjoy a boat ride through the mangroves,
Not to forget the pink flamingos. Observing (and hearing – gosh they’re loud) these beautiful elegant birds is really relaxing.
In Mexico you can find all sorts of accommodation. I mostly prefer local run small hotels and Bed&Breakfast type of accommodations where I have my own room with private bathroom and have the possibility to meet locals. Besides, the hosts of such hotels and B&Bs are proven to be the best guides.
For a middle class Hotel/B&B room expect to pay something between 20$-50$.
I can not recommend every place i stayed in Mexico (sometimes I make bad choices too obviously) but without hesitation I can recommend these places:
- Valladolid – La Aurora Hotel Colonial – spacious and nice interior
- Merida – Casa Alvarez Guesthouse – lovely hosts
- Uxmal – Uxmal Maya Resort – Super near to the Uxmal Maya Ruins
- Chichen Itza – Villa 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.
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 tequila. I 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.
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!
Here are some tips:
- 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.
- Don’t drive at night! There are holes everywhere and at night it is even more difficult to see them.
- Get a pick up if you budget allows. We had a tiny economy car and I felt every loose stone on the road.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
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.
No matter what you decide to do in Mexico, just make sure you enjoy it.
For more insights I recommend Lonely Planet's Travel Guide for Mexico or the for Cancun, Cozumel & The Yucatan.
For price worthy accommodation check Booking.com or Agoda.com.
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