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Safety is always a major concern anywhere, let alone when you travel to a country that is unfamiliar to you and if you are not an hardcore adventure traveller.
Besides, we tend to consider by default anywhere of the third world to be a dangerous place, especially if the media are not communicating the information correctly and in the right perspective.
I have lived in Cancun for 7 years and I consider it a safe place if we are talking about criminality levels.
It’s a touristic place, meaning that tourism is their main source of income and they look after it. Then things happen, as much as they happen in Milan, New York or your home town, or maybe even to a lower extent.
It’s true that there are less safe places in Mexico that I would rather avoid. Soon I am going to pursue a back packing trip around Mexico on my own and I will avoid some region where safety is at higher risk. This region of the peninsula of Yucatan is certainly not one of them.
Cancun and the Riviera Maya are basically built around and for tourism, they are money machine and for as much as it is such an ugly image, that’s what it is. Tourists are seen as walking dollars and operators are always trying to make an advantage over them. When you look for a trip to Mexico you will receive thousands of all inclusive packages suggestions, offering you an en suite vacation where you will stay eat and drink all day in your beautiful hotel (the golden cage, as I call it), you will be told that the only way to explore is only with guided tours “because outside it is very dangerous”.
Well, let me tell you, nothing like that is true.
I drive around and visit places on my own just like many other travellers and I feel totally secure and worries free. You don’t need to be an hard core adventurer in order to do it. For sure there are precaution that you will want to take and things that you will need to know to have a smooth and enjoyable journey but you can definitely build your own trip as you please without having necessary to follow the ready made packages. Drive around freely, checking out places and sometimes renting a local guide to show you around and explain about its own place is the best way to discover this amazing country. This is what I am actually doing as I am writing, from a remote town in the Campeche area, Las Candelarias, about which I will write very soon.
Now, having said that there are a few things that you do need to take into consideration, otherwise it might affect negatively your vacation: the main risks are the sun and mosquito bites… oh, and hot sauce. Other than that, just follow the basic precautions and you are good to go. Here below some more detailed suggestions:
Especially in the summer seasons, from June through October but also all year round temperatures can go up to 95 F and humidity is up to the stars. You need to make sure you stay hydrated (with water) and protected from the sun with a hat and sunscreen. By not observing these basic rules you can end up drained and dehydrated. Especially if you explore remote archaeological sites, they might not have water to sell, so make sure you go prepared and you always walk with your bottle of water. It doesn’t matter if it gets hot, it will keep you hydrated.
MOSQUITO BITE RELATED DISEASES
Zika, Cikungunya and Dengue fever are a fact in Mexico, diseases that are provoked by mosquito bites (Zika is also sexually transmitted). So the most important thing to do is prevention, use mosquito spray, although there is a huge awareness and prevention among hotels and local communities. Zika in particular is not harmful, unless you are pregnant (or planning to be soon), in which case it can put your baby’s health in danger. So it is very important to keep in mind when you are choosing where to travel. Especially in the wet season from May through October approximately, those are the months with more mosquitos due to the high levels of humidity. So please make sure you take your precautions.
It’s very common to find vendors on the beach or on the street selling already chopped fruits or naturally flavoured popsicles which are very inviting, especially under the hot sun. However I’d suggest you to be very careful with that as they have been prepared in private homes and you don’t know under what kind of hygienic conditions. It is very easy to contract salmonella or other similar bacterial diseases in these kind of climate as well.
There is no compulsory vaccine here in Mexico, wherever you go. Here is an interesting site where you can check for any country where it is necessary to have a vaccine otherwise they won’t let you in. In general I never take any vaccine for personal reasons as I think they do more harm than good, but it is just my very personal opinion and I believe you should do what makes you feel more comfortable for yourself and consult your local doctor or health institution for suggestions, in case you are concerned.
HEALTHCARE / INSURANCE
Health care in private hospitals is very expensive here in Mexico, especially for tourists. The majority of the high end hotels have their own nursery and doctors on call or you can get directly to the hospital in case of an emergency. In both case be prepared to spend a fortune, or make sure you have a good insurance that covers even the most basic issue. Or you can go to a Pharmacy. Bear in mind that the pharmacist are not doctor here, they are just regular attendant so they won’t be able to suggest you the correct treatment ( I am saying this because in Italy they are professionals and for basic issue you can rely on their suggestion) . However in some pharmacies they also have a doctor office where for 60 pesos (3 dollars) you can have a visit. Sometimes they are good and prepared.
It always depend on the person, just like anywhere else. I am not suggesting here what you should do in case of need, just offering all the options you have.
Tap water is not drinkable so make sure you have always a bottle of purified water or natural spring water (aqua de manantial) with you. In theory you can use tap water for brushing teeth, as I do, but it is advisable to still use the bottled water as well…just in case.
In almost every region it is requested not to flush toilet paper in the WC because the pipes are narrow and paper can get stuck causing damages to the system.
No worries, swim and dive in all tranquillity as there is no danger in the water. The only thing in Cancun, the majority of the cost present strong currents. This is why you will see many lifeguards. When there is a red flag on the beach NO SWIMM please! The yellow one warns you to be careful, the green to go ahead. Always be careful and when you see that you are not coming back to shore start swimming sidewise and the current will take you to the beach. I have learned the lesson on my skin!
Local currency is Mexican Pesos (MXN) which you can exchange in the casa de cambio or bank although the first ones usually have a better exchange rate. It’s always advisable to exchange your currency into the local one because even if in shop or supermarket they accept USD the exchange rates is most of the time unreasonable.
Almost everywhere credit and debit card are accepted, except in Tulum in many restaurants and hotel or in remote towns where there are still many places that only accept cash. So keep it in mind if you plan to visit the area ( which I heartily recommend).
If you want to withdraw from the cash machine please be aware that if you get dollars, you will be asked to pay a commission of 50 usd per each withdrawal, which to me is insane. I would rather get a small amount in Mexican pesos (check with your bank how much they charge for the withdrawal ) or bring some cash with you and exchange it here for local expenses on the road.
I see this question coming over and over and although it is really difficult to quantify, let me just give you some example. Local restaurants in the non touristic areas might charge as low as 6 usd for enough tacos and 3 for a glass of wine and an angus stake or a ceviche can go from 12 to 15 usd. In the hotel zone a full meal with wine can start from 40 usd onward. A bottle of purified water (1l) 75c. A bus ride from the hotel zone to town about 60c (12 pesos). A car rental from 30 usd per day (without insurance- see car rental on this list)
To connect from Cancun to the Riviera Maya you have different options.
The ADO coach size buses, connecting all the main cities in Mexico and of course along the Riviera Maya. Bring a blanket and socks because you are going to freeze. Other than that they are very comfortable
The minivans, “colectivos”, that literally fly on the “carretera federal” the main coastal road, they are more practical, leave continuously, so you don’t have to wait and they do different stops if you wish to visit different spots along the way.
There is this myth that driving in Mexico is dangerous. I am not sure about the other part of Mexico but I can surely tell you that in the Yucatan peninsula it is really doable and danger free. I have dedicate a separate article on this topic since I have seen it is a big concern among many travellers. So if you wish to know more about driving in Mexico you can click here.
WIFI AND COMMUNICATION – well, I am presently writing from a remote zone where wifi is crap and I feel bad to tell you that you can find wifi pretty much everywhere. Let’s say in the most touristic area there is no issue at all. If you go in more remote places you will certainly have a better connection with nature than your devices. Time for a detox. In the majory of the hotels and hostels they do have WIFI, so no worries.
SPICY FOOD – whether you love spicy food or not just be careful when you read the word HABANERO, because that is the king of all spice, or so they say. I don’t even dare try. If you are like me and hate any kind of spicy make sure you be careful when they say “It’s just a little spicy” (in Spanish: Pica poco) because they have their own sense of “little” and it means to us that it will set our mouth on fire.
These are the outlet in Mexico, if your plugs have a different shape you need to get an adaptor. You might find something here but in order not to waste time from your vacation I would suggest you to get one in your trusted store.
You need to apply for a visa if your passport is from the country listed on this page. If your country is not on the list you can enter Mexico with your valid passport and get a 3 to 6 months tourist permit. To work here is more complicated and I might be able to give you more detailed info soon.
THE END! 😉
Ok so I think I have covered it all. If not please let me know..happy travels
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