With vast sandy deserts, stunning beaches, ancient history and festive culture, Mexico invites exploration. This incredible destination shares a border with the United States of America in the North and with Guatemala and Belize in the South. Mexico City is both the capital and the largest city. Tourists will be intrigued by the many Mayan and Aztec ruins, which are located throughout all regions of the country. Mexico has a population of 122 million people, and people typically associate it with the prickly cactus, over-sized sombreros, and the Spanish flamenco guitar.
Local Atmosphere and Customs
The overall atmosphere of Mexico is casual and laid-back. There are many long-standing customs that hint to a complex heritage, most of which originate in religious, societal and family practices. For example, while scant or tight clothing is fully acceptable in Cancun or on the beachfront, this dress is not tolerated in more conservative or Indigenous areas.
Lively celebrations and festivals are an important part of Mexican culture. If you want to make friends with the locals, mention the dates of a few annual festivals! Another worthwhile tip to know when making plans during your visit: Mexicans regard being fifteen minutes late (or even thirty!) as perfectly on time.
When is the Best Climate for Visiting?
Mexico is located at sea-level and blessed with warm weather all year-round. A popular time to visit is between December to February, before the rainy season and when it is usually 5° - 25°. In general, wet weather takes over from May to September (12° - 25°), with hurricanes storming through October and November. Depending upon which city you are in, the temperature may fluctuate widely. Areas in higher elevations can experience chilly days during December.
Moving Around in Mexico
The bus system offers a highly efficient way to travel within and between cities. Buses are the most comprehensive method of public transport. However, there are also ferries, trains and rental cars. To navigate the big cities, taxis are affordable, yet be forewarned that you may need to negotiate your fare in place of a working meter.
To help you get around more easily during your vacation, here are a few expressions to master:
Hola (Hello), Adios (Goodbye), Por favor (Please), Gracias (Thank you), and No hablo espanol (I don’t speak Spanish).
- The most massive taco was assembled in Mexicali and weighed 750kg
- Baluarte Bridge, in Pueblo Nuevo, Durango, is the highest cable-stayed bridge in the entire world
Top Ten Experiences
Mexico holds rank as one of the most visited countries around the globe – and for many good reasons! Whether you are an adventurous thrill-seeker, a vacationer looking to relax on the beach, or a history buff who loves culture, you’ll find it all in Mexico. There are attractions and resort hotels to please both individual travelers and families with young children.
1. Hot Locations
- Playa Del Carmen: put on your mask and snorkel to see the underwater marvels in this city. Caverns beneath the sea and ancient ruins await exploration. After the striking sunset, you can enjoy the happening nightlife scene.
- Cabo San Lucas: American teens crowd this city and line the sandy shores whenever school is on break. Yet there’s always room for more people to spread out on the magnificent beaches.
- Cancun: this legendary city features calm family resorts, impressive Mayan ruins and lively festivals all year round. It is a grand display of the best that Mexico has to offer!
- Puerto Vallarta: outdoor fun is the theme in this city, with zipline courses, parasailing, swimming alongside dolphins, and a scenic boardwalk. Don’t miss out on the exceptional shopping and nightlife venues too.
2. Underwater Wonderland
The Marieta Islands National Park is a dream come true for anyone who loves nature and the thrill of discovery. With hidden beaches, sparkling waters and intimate coves tucked away unseen, visitors can see dolphins, humpback whales, octopi and rays glide by. Located a few kilometres off the Nayarit coast, swimmers and snorkelers should come prepared to view diverse marine life in a rainbow of colours.
3. Ancient Civilization
It’s impossible to travel far in Mexico without bumping into ancient ruins from the rich Native American heritage. However, if you think that ancient ruins in Mexico consist of low, crumbling walls, think again! With towering structures and exquisite engineering, many of these sites inspire awe, such as El Tajin (Papantla), Teotihuacan and the Temple of Quetzalcoatl (Valley of Mexico), and Chacchoben. Another noteworthy destination is Chichen Itza (Yucatan Peninsula), which joined the Wonders of the World list in 2001.
4. Swim, Don’t Sink
Over 6,000 sinkholes dot the Mexican landscape. Turquoise water, crystalline rock formations, waterfalls and creeping vines typically fill these underground fantasy lands. Join a sinkhole day tour to experience as many as possible in one journey. The most glorious sinkholes can be found on the Yucatan Peninsula, where the land is limestone and the rivers flow underground. One sinkhole that truly stands out is the Ik Kil, often referred to as “the most beautiful sinkhole in the world”.
5. Natural Amusement Park
Xcaret Park, located 6km south of Playa Del Carmen, is a water theme park with activities to suit all members of the family. There are underground rivers to swim in, with sting rays, sharks and dolphins to welcome you! For a soothing experience, you can rest on a raft and float with the waves. Check the calendar to take advantage of a cultural performance, such as the Voldores De Papantla, which is a ritual form of pole dancing in the sky.
6. Sail Away to an Island
The small island of Isla Mujeres, which is located off the azure coast of Cancun, will transport you to an idyllic world. Stay in one of the eco-resort hotels and spend your day scuba diving on the splendid coral reefs. Journey to the southern tip of the island to reach a sea turtle sanctuary, the remains of a Mayan temple, and a picturesque lighthouse. Anyone who appreciates creative art will be amazed by the Museo Subacuatico de Arte on Manchones Reef, situated 8m under the sea!
7. Hot & Spicy Dining
Mexican food will tantalize your palate with a piquant mix of seasonings and spices. For an authentic local food experience, we suggest that you taste the following:
- Molletes: this hearty, grilled dish consists of thick slices of bread that are covered with a heap of refried beans and melted cheese.
- Chilaquiles: tortillas are cut, fried and mixed together with eggs, salsa and chicken. A mound of cream or cheese tops this meal, served with refried beans on the side.
- Elotes: when you are in the mood for a convenient and satisfying snack, pick up some piping hot corn that is seasoned well with mayo, salt, spices and lime.
- Tacos: hands-down, the best place to buy a taco is from the local street vendors. Try tacos al pastor, which are filled with super-thin pork slices and topped with lettuce, onions, avocado, lime wedges or cheese.
8. Visit a Friendly, Vibrant Village
With live mariachi bands that play in charming alleyways, Guanajuato reflects authentic Mexican life. This historic town is set in Central Mexico and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are a number of lovely boutique guesthouses, and the local community looks forward to sharing the historic tales of Mexico.
9. Soak Up the Sun
Mexico’s beaches are world famous. No matter which one you choose, you’ll be treated to sparkling water and splendid stretches of sand. Cancun is a favorite family destination, while Puerto Vallarta is preferred by a younger, partying crowd. Relaxed vacationers tend to recline on Tulum’s quiet shoreline, and surfers ride the waves of Mazatlan. More daring tourists can find nude resorts and beaches sprinkled around the country; one example is the Hidden Beach Au Naturel Club, close to Cancun.
10. Falling Waters
Everybody is struck by the magnificence of waterfalls. Mexico offers many exceptional waterfalls, such as Agua Azul. The river crashes into the waterfall and cascades down in striking shades of blue. Cascadas de Misol-Ha, a jungle waterfall where scenes from the movie Predator were filmed, drops from 35m high. Many more waterfalls are located in the Chiapas region, such as El Chiflon. It’s well worth the trip to see this site, where the water falls fiercely from multiple platforms. We also recommend journeying to San Lorenzo Albarradas to view Hierve el Agua, a unique “frozen” waterfall made by the build-up of mineral deposits from the rushing water.
Mexico presents itself with a fun-loving, easy-going face. Enticed by the opportunity to relax with an affordable vacation, visitors crowd Mexico annually. Yet, tourists should not be fooled into thinking that all is safe and secure. This country is also fraught with some genuine safety concerns. It is best to research and plan your itinerary carefully in advance.
Watch out for Crime
Personal safety should be foremost in your mind. Gang violence, largely due to drugs, is most active near the US-Mexico border. Shootouts sometimes occur in the middle of the day, and innocent bystanders can be hurt by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. While violent crime exists, it isn’t spread across the entire country. A good way to protect yourself is to check advance travel warnings on www.smartraveller.gov.au. Once you are in Mexico, listen to local media reports about the cities on your vacation plan.
Keep a Low Profile Against Petty Crime
If you don’t want to attract attention as a foreigner, do not dress in ironed shorts with a camera slung over your shoulder and a water bottle in your pocket. Extravagant jewelry and watches will also attract unwanted interest. Use your iPad or iPhone discretely. Criminals who engage in petty theft often have regular “work routes” on public transportation, so keep your bags in front of your body when on a train or bus. Store any flashy items inside pockets that are worn close, and not in an exterior jacket pocket.
Kidnapping for Ransom
Unfortunately, wealthy visitors to Mexico are often the target of kidnapping and extortion schemes. Ransom is demanded and paid, and then the tourist is generally released.
Two types of kidnapping are known to occur: virtual and express. A virtual kidnapping refers to stealing private information about the victim and then making a fake phone call to declare that a family member is being held until money is paid. In truth, this family member may simply be out shopping. Express kidnapping describes a scenario in which the victim is taken by force and made to withdraw money from ATMs.
If you experience crime first-hand, whether it is pick-pocketing or a more violent act, notify the police and file a report immediately. This report will be necessary to make a travel insurance claim.
Fake taxis are rampant in Mexico, and the drivers will charge exorbitant rates. To ensure that you’re riding in a licensed taxi, ask hotel staff to call the taxi company or arrange transport for you for a full day trip. Official taxis are usually coloured maroon and gold. For your own personal safety, do not flag down a taxi on your own, and never hitchhike! Also, as friendly as some of the locals may be, don’t offer anyone a ride if you rent your own car. This puts you at a real risk of robbery, assault or kidnapping.
Driving a Rental Car
Main thoroughfares and private (toll) roads are generally in good condition, yet smaller outlying roads can have sunken areas, potholes and massive bumps. Free roads (libre) are typically less safe for foreigners. Avoid nighttime driving, keep the doors locked and the windows closed, and maintain a sizable distance between you and adjacent cars – so that you can’t be boxed in. These are all common sense actions that you can take against highway robbery and carjacking.
In Mexico, rental cars are popular items to steal. In addition, if your belongings are stolen from inside your hired car, they may not be covered by travel insurance. So don’t leave any personal items in the trunk or on the seat of your car.
Tap water in Mexico is associated with the infamous Montezuma’s revenge, which causes extreme diarrhea and other ailments. Invest in bottled water wherever you go, and avoid any dishes prepared with simple tap water. Dairy products are another hazard, as many are not pasteurised. If you are hungry and want to taste some of the tantalizing fare from street vendors, choose only the foods that are steaming hot.
Check your travel insurance to verify coverage for health-related emergencies in Mexico. Without a proper insurance policy, you usually need to pay upfront for medical care. High-standard hospitals exist in urban centers, yet the staff will not always speak English. Once you travel into outlying areas, the quality of the medical care is usually much lower. Some travel insurance policies cover emergency evacuation to bring you to a major city; read the fine print of your policy thoroughly.
Disruptive Natural Disasters
Hurricanes and earthquakes both occur throughout the year in Mexico. They can ground international airplanes, shut down local infrastructure, and possibly injure travelers who are caught unaware. Earthquakes can happen in most of the country, particularly in Guerrero and Oaxaca. To protect yourself, keep an eye on weather warnings and listen to the instructions provided by Mexican authorities. It is advisable to check your travel insurance plan regarding coverage for natural disasters.