Tasting authentic Mexican street food, exploring ancient Mayan ruins, relaxing by wild beaches and sampling tequila and mezcal where it’s made is something you must do once in your lifetime.
Mexico is a treasure trove of hidden (and not so hidden) gems that will have you wanting to stay longer than you might think.
If you’re planning your first trip to Mexico, then look no further than this guide to tell you what you need to know before you go.
1. There’s more to Mexico than Cancun
Don’t be lulled into thinking that Mexico is all about relaxing at a beachside resort with a cocktail in hand. The real Mexico can’t be found in Cancun or Tulum – so get outside of your comfort zone and go exploring.
You’ll uncover beautiful cenotes in Valladolid, fascinating Mayan ruins in Palenque, spectacular sunsets in San Jose Del Pacifico and Lake Bacalar, beaches all to yourself in Puerto Escondido, delicious mole, mezcal, hot chocolate and tacos in Oaxaca, and coffee, culture and history in Mexico City.
So get out of the resort – and go exploring.
2. It’s a cash economy
Mexico is predominantly a cash economy. Mexico is a cheap country, so you’ll need plenty of small denomination bills, and coins.
You’ll need cash for bus tickets and entry costs to cenotes and ruins.
3. Long distance buses are very good
Mexico offers clean, modern and safe buses servicing many popular destinations across the country.
For example, the Yucatan Peninsula between Cancun, Tulum, Lake Bacalar and Valladolid are serviced by the ADO buses, as well as Mexico City, Merida, Palenque, San Cristobal de los Casas, and Puerto Escondido.
The ADO website is very useful to look up timetables and trip duration, but you have to buy your ticket at the bus station. It’s best to buy tickets the day before.
For smaller or more regional locations, older buses service these routes. You may find mini-buses on these routes as well.
Most bus station staff don’t speak English – but if you don’t speak Spanish, usually saying the destination will do and the staff will show you the possible times on their computer screen – or you can use Google Translate.
4. Mexico is incredibly diverse
Mexico offers beaches, thousand-year-old ruins and incredible food. Each region is very diverse. The touristy Yucatan Peninsula feels nothing like the Oaxaca region – which showcases a far more authentic side of Mexico.
Try and sample a few regions of Mexico and you might be surprised.
5. Pack a hat and sunscreen
Don’t forget to bring a hat and sunscreen in Mexico. The sun can be brutal in lowland and coastal areas – but it can get cold at night in mountainous regions – so it’s also wise to have a warm jacket on hand.
6. You’ll want to stay longer than you think
You’re sure to fall in love with Mexico due to its cultural and historical richness, the food and the diversity.
If you’ve got a loose schedule, expect to stay in Mexico longer than you think.
7. US dollars will come in handy
ATMs are relatively easy to find in Mexico but some smaller towns like Lake Bacalar only have a couple of ATMs – that may not work all the time.
In case you get caught short and the ATM doesn’t work with your card, some US Dollars are handy to have on you. You can easily change US Dollars into Mexican pesos or even US Dollars may be accepted in some locations such as accommodation.
8. You can’t drink the water
You can’t drink the tap water in Mexico – and try to avoid brushing your teeth with it.
Bottled water is readily available from supermarkets.
9. You can eat the street food
Street food from market vendors is very common throughout Mexico and it’s super cheap and delicious – but cation is needed. You’re best off buying street food that’s cooked in front of you.
Avoid cut fruit, and unless you have a strong stomach, also avoid fresh juices as vendors will often use local water to mix it.
10. Prices increase frequently
Entry costs into the Mayan ruins and bus fares frequently increase.
Expect to pay more than what is quoted in travel blogs as prices are subject to change.
11. You’ll need to become a morning person
Ruins such as Tulum and Chichen Itza attract lots of tourists, so it’s best to head there as soon as the ruin complexes open to avoid the crowds.
12. Be alert, not alarmed
“Is it safe?” That’s the top question I get about Mexico. While yes, some parts of Mexico are unsafe, it’s not a label that should spread across the whole country.
Be alert, not alarmed. Take the normal precautions such as not flashing cash around, be discreet about valuables such as cameras and jewellery, and don’t go drinking alone.
13. You’ll need to know some Spanish
English is not widely spoken across Mexico. Knowing some basic Spanish phrases and numbers 1-10 and 20, 30, 40, 50 and 100 will come in very handy during your time in Mexico, especially once you get away from the Yucatan Peninsula.
Mexico’s diversity, culture and food are among its major drawcards – and you’re guaranteed to have a memorable time in this beautiful Central American country.