Mexico is one of our absolute favorite countries to travel in–and after spending months exploring Mexico over the course of several trips, we’ve accumulated a long list of useful travel tips for Mexico to pass on.
Whether you’re headed out for a weekend getaway in Mexico City, to Oaxaca to eat your way through the region, or to the Yucatan to enjoy the plethora of phenomenal beaches and cenotes, these Mexico travel tips will help you enjoy your trip even more!
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Mexico Travel Tips for Where to Go
If possible, try to visit more than one region in Mexico.
While it can be tempting to head directly to Mexico’s legendary beaches and not tear yourself away, the country has so much more to offer than that.
One of our absolute top travel tips for Mexico is to explore more than one region of the country if you can.
If you have a couple of weeks and would like to see a wide variety of places in Mexico, this itinerary is a fantastic place to start.
Want to stick to the Yucatan but still get off the well-trodden, all-inclusive-laden path a bit? We swear by this road trip itinerary as well.
Chichen Itza is not the best place to see Mayan ruins.
Are the ruins at Chichen Itza very cool? Yes.
Are there equally interesting (or even more interesting) ruins scattered across Mexico that have a fraction of the crowds and souvenir hawkers? Absolutely.
If you’re near Chichen Itza but want to visit a less-crowded spot instead of (or in addition to) the 7th New Wonder of the World, one of our tips for traveling to Mexico is to consider heading to Ek Balam or Coba.
While Mexico’s beaches are amazing, don’t discount other natural highlights.
Mexico has an incredibly varied landscape and climate, translating to an enormous number of beautiful places to experience nature in the country.
… like waterfalls, for example…
We personally love the ones in Chiapas, but there are plenty around the country!
… and cenotes.
The Yucatan Peninsula is famous for their thousands of cenotes–freshwater sinkholes, essentially–and they are just as amazing to admire and swim in as their reputation suggests.
Many of Mexico’s cities are absolutely worth visiting.
Mexico has some truly fantastic cities, including sprawling Mexico City, as well as colorful and interesting colonial cities like Guanajuato, Oaxaca, Puebla, Merida, and San Miguel de Allende (a favorite among expats looking for amazing places to live in Mexico).
If you’re looking for beautiful towns and cities in Mexico that fit into your itinerary, look for nearby “Pueblos Mágicos”–aka “Magic Towns”–which are towns designated by Mexico as particularly beautiful and/or culturally significant.
Be sure to check out the Zocalo in each town you visit.
The Zocalo, or main square, of each town in Mexico is the heartbeat of the city, and often home to the cathedral and other impressive architecture, as well as often a small park of sorts and plenty of chances to observe a sliver of daily life.
Street food hawkers, shoe shiners, and balloon salesmen entertaining children are just a few of the people you’ll likely stumble across in a Mexican Zocalo.
Foodie Travel Tips for Mexico
Food in Mexico is extremely regional.
From what kind of tortillas are served to what a typical breakfast looks like to exactly how delicious the mole is (hint: it’s best in Oaxaca), Mexican food varies dramatically depending on where you go in the country.
…so, do some foodie research before your trip to Mexico.
While tourist-friendly options will be on the menus everywhere, you’ll enjoy Mexico’s absolutely sublime food culture much more if you know what’s best in the region you’re visiting.
Always order the guacamole.
You’ll never have more delicious–or affordable–guacamole than what you’ll find in Mexico.
If a restaurant is crowded and locals are eating there, it’s a good bet it’s delicious.
This is a good rule around the world, but in a country with a cuisine as absolutely delicious as Mexico’s, it bears repeating: even one mediocre meal is a travesty when surrounded by so much bounty.
… the same goes for street food stalls.
Mexico’s street food scene is legendary, from tacos al pastor to elote (grilled corn on the cob, slathered in mayo and spices) and beyond, and one of our favorite Mexico travel tips is to make sure you absolutely try some during your trip to Mexico!
By opting for a busy stall where the food is turning over fast, you’re bound to find food that is both delicious and fresh.
Global fast food brands abound in Mexico.
We’re not necessarily recommending you eat there, but if, say, you have a picky eater amongst your group or a long trip ahead, you’ll find plenty of familiar brands in Mexico, from McDonalds to Subway to Krispy Kreme.
In most of the country, flour tortillas don’t exist.
That’s not to say they don’t exist in Mexico at all–but they’re primarily used in the far north of the country, which generally speaking, isn’t as popular with tourists.
Overall, corn tortillas are far more popular in Mexico and generally what you’ll receive if you ask for tortillas.
Strongly consider taking a food tour in Mexico.
Mexico’s food culture is absolutely phenomenal, and it deserves to be explored with a guide! We love taking food tours all over the world, and Mexico offers some incredible opportunities for one.
Be careful buying sliced fruit from roadside stands.
While sliced fruit, often served with chili powder on top (seriously) is a common and tasty roadside snack in Mexico, it can be a risky one: depending on how long the fruit has been out, it can cause some highly unpleasant stomach problems.
If you don’t have a gut of steel, consider sticking to buying only naturally wrapped fruit (bananas, oranges) or fruit that you watch being freshly sliced in front of you.
Jeremy has an iron stomach and has happily eaten fruit from roadside stalls many times, but me, not so much.
The water is not safe to drink in Mexico.
Of all these travel tips for Mexico, this is probably among the best known (when a travel tip has literally been included in a country song, you know it’s broadly known), but it’s also extremely important.
Tips for Getting Around Mexico
Mexico’s ADO bus system is incredible. Take advantage of it.
Mexico’s ADO bus system is a fantastic, affordable, and incredibly comfortable way to get between close and moderately-distanced destinations in Mexico–truly more comfortable than flying!
With huge, comfortable seats, great service, and plenty of air-conditioning (sometimes too much, quite honestly), they’re definitely worth trying out as you travel through Mexico.
Just make sure to bring a jacket with you!
After riding on one ADO bus you’ll likely understand why this makes our list of the best Mexico travel tips: when they turn the air-conditioning on in Mexico, they tend to really go for it.
… and maybe some noise-canceling headphones.
The other downside of traveling Mexico by ADO bus? Movies will virtually always be playing (in Spanish, of course) during the ride, often incredibly loudly.
Mexico often has surprisingly inexpensive domestic flights.
Mexico has flights from all the major international carriers, of course, but they also have plenty of budget flights available that are offered by domestic airlines like Volaris, Azteca, and VivaAerobus (though that last one has a bad reputation for nickel-and-diming customers).
… and then, of course, there are collectivos.
Collectivos are generally 15-passenger vans and make up an informal public transportation system in Mexico that is primarily used by the locals, though tourists are welcome to hop in.
Payment is generally small–a handful of pesos–and paid in cash, and the collectivos leave only when they are full, and therefore don’t have a set schedule.
When visitors use them, it’s primarily for short distances, for example, traveling between two towns that are fairly close together or to a set of ruins or cenote set just outside of a city.
Driving in Mexico can be quite simple–depending on where you go.
Would we recommend driving through the entirety of Mexico, from the United States to Guatemala, for most travelers? No, definitely not.
Do we also think that the Yucatan peninsula is one of the best road trip destinations in the world? Absolutely.
Essentially, if you’re considering a Mexico road trip, our best advice is to research your exact route in advance. For example, renting a car in Cozumel or Cancun is different than renting one in Mexico City!
… but definitely get extra rental car insurance.
We recommend this for most travel destinations, and definitely for Mexico!
And ideally, know how to drive a manual.
While automatic transmissions aren’t as rare in Mexico as they are in Europe, you’ll still get your hands on a rental car more easily–and less expensively–if you know how to drive a manual.
Paying for Things in Mexico
Mexico is extremely cash-based.
While credit and debit cards from major carriers are accepted for many large purchases, including at restaurants and in souvenir shops, cash is virtually always the preferred method of payment, and the only option for many tourist destinations–including many archaeological sites and cenotes.
ATMs are plentiful in most cities.
We tend to withdraw money every few days while we are traveling in Mexico.
Never use USD or Euros if you can avoid it.
In tourist centers like Tulum and Cancun, plenty of tour companies will accept USD and/or Euros–but the exchange rate will undoubtedly be horrendous.
Save yourself money and hassle, and just plan to pay for everything in Mexican pesos.
Don’t negotiate for food.
It’s both rude and impossible.
In souvenir markets, however, you absolutely can haggle.
In fact, it’s absolutely expected: we recommend starting negotiations at about 50% of the listed price and going from there.
… and taxi rates are definitely negotiable.
Be prepared to haggle at the taxi stand!
Logistical and Safety Tips for Traveling to Mexico
Safety in Mexico varies wildly based on where you go.
While we have always felt extremely safe in Mexico, there’s no denying that the country does struggle with a reputation for safety–especially in the US media.
While the cartel violence that often dominates headlines is certainly real, those struggles very, very rarely touch tourists, and in fact it is quite normal for European and Canadian travelers to backpack through the country!
If you’re planning a trip to Mexico and are concerned about safety, one of our best travel tips for Mexico is to zero in on the government safety warnings for the particular state or region you’re visiting, rather than the country overall–you’ll find that the most dangerous parts of the country are generally places tourists rarely go anyway.
But even on the country level, the official US travel.state.gov website ranks Mexico as a Level 2 risk for travel, a designation it shares with France and Spain.
Getting your laundry done in Mexico is very simple.
There are a plethora of laundry services throughout Mexico, and they’re generally very easy to find with a little Googling or asking around!
They’re also very affordable, usually the equivalent of a few USD for a load of laundry.
… but usually requires a little advance notice.
Typically, you can expect a 1-3 day turnaround time.
Restrooms are generally marked as “M” or “D” for women and “H” or “C” for men.
This stands for Mujeres/Damas (Women/Ladies) and Hombres/Caballeros (Men/Gentlemen), but many an English-speaking man has mistakenly wandered through a door marked “M” when traveling in Mexico!
… and don’t flush the toilet paper.
Instead, protect the fragile plumbing systems by throwing it into the trashcan next to the toilet.
Paying to use the toilets is common.
It’s generally not more than a handful of pesos, but it is expected.
Typically, you’ll pay the bathroom attendant stationed at the door, and in many cases, toilet paper will also be supplied by the attendant after you’ve paid rather than being provided in the restroom itself.
The more Spanish you speak, the easier life gets.
Is it required to speak Spanish in order to enjoy a trip to Mexico? Absolutely not.
Will everything about your trip, from learning about the culture to speaking with locals to haggling in markets, be easier and more rewarding if you speak some Spanish? Absolutely.
If you don’t speak any Spanish, we recommend learning at least some basic phrases before you go.
Definitely buy travel insurance for your trip to Mexico.
We don’t ever suggest traveling without travel insurance–anything can happen on the road, and traveling to Mexico is definitely a case of better safe than sorry. We use and recommend World Nomads for trips to Mexico.
Get beyond the resorts–even if you’re staying in one.
There is so, so much more to Mexico than its legendary beach resorts–and while a relaxing vacation spent lying on the beach is sometimes just what the doctor ordered, even if you’re staying in a resort, try to head somewhere else at least once for a day trip. You’ll be glad you did.
Don’t lose your Mexico Exit Form.
This is one of the most important travel tips for Mexico included here: the immigration paperwork you fill out when arriving in Mexico has two parts: an entrance form, which will be taken as you’re stamped into the country, and an exit form, which you’ll keep until you leave.
Don’t lose this form! Personally, we tend to keep ours tucked into the back of our passports during our time in Mexico.
Keep the season in mind when booking your Mexico vacation.
Most importantly, of course, is keeping hurricane season in mind, which runs from June to November every year, but is generally most severe August through October.
Prices, especially in Mexico’s beach towns, are generally highest from mid-December through mid-April, with additional spikes around Christmas, New Years, Spring Break, and Easter.
Grab a Mexican SIM card when you arrive.
Having access to the internet while traveling in Mexico will make your trip much, much easier–especially on a road trip (though keep in mind you’ll likely lose signal on some rural roads).
Data is incredibly affordable in Mexico, and we recommend picking up a SIM card before you even leave the airport after landing in the country.
Mexico Travel Tips for Packing Your Bags
Make sure your sunscreen is allowed.
Reef-safe sunscreen is increasingly expected in much of the country in order to keep the fragile coral reefs and marine life safe. Some tour companies even require its use now!
Check the weather before you pack.
While it’s easy to imagine that Mexico is hot and sunny all the time, that’s certainly not the case everywhere in the country–Mexico City, for example, has a very temperate climate.
Make sure to bring a church-appropriate outfit.
If you’d like to explore the interiors of Mexico’s churches during your trip–and you definitely should, they are amazing–be sure to bring at least once outfit that covers your knees and shoulders.
Consider bringing a waterproof phone case.
Want to snap photos of videos on your phone while in the water or on a boat? Bring a waterproof phone case along to do so!
… and if you’re driving, a portable phone mount.
This is one of the most important tips for traveling to Mexico if you’re driving, and especially important if you don’t have a reliable co-pilot: the last thing you want to do is be fumbling with the GPS on your phone during your road trip. Pack a cell phone mount to attach to the car and you’ll be able to drive much more safely!
If you get motion sick, SeaBands and Non-Drowsy Dramamine are great to have on hand.
If you’re prone to motion sickness like me, I strongly recommend adding SeaBands to your Mexico packing list.
I use them on all boats and the occasional bus, and if things get really bad, take some Non-Drowsy Dramamine as well.
… and for boat tours and beaches, dry bags are great.
Want to safely bring your camera to the beach with you, or perhaps even jump in the water and swim ashore from a boat with it? A dry bag will make that possible!
We love ours and have used it for years.