MEXICO DESTINATIONS, YOUR ESSENTIAL MEXICO TRAVEL GUIDE
Planning a trip to Mexico can be overwhelming, especially if it’s the first time and all you know about Mexico is the taste of the Tex Mex in your town. (Trust me Mexican food has nothing to do with it) Not to mention Narco’s movies and the not so flattering news.
Forget all about it and read this guide. I will take you around Mexico I have been exploring for the past 10 years during my life as an expatriate in Cancun.
And yes, I am sure you have heard it before, Cancun is a world apart from authentic Mexico, nothing to do with Mexican history, food, and tradition.
It’s a playground for All-inclusive tourists.
Although I might agree with it, I cannot deny that living in Cancun has its perks, starting from its spectacular 16miles beach washed by a turquoise sea, and much more.
But in this thorough post, you will find the compact version of my 10 years of experience in Mexico, turned into practical guides to help you navigate through your planning and your fist time in Mexico.
Worry not, it’s also good for the advanced explorers, as I will take you to places that you might haven’t even heard of.
Stay with me.
MEXICO TRAVEL TIPS: LET’S GET PRACTICAL
CURRENCY: Mexican Pesos 1 USD = 19 MXN (approx)
WHERE TO EXCHANGE MONEY: Avoid exchanging your currency at the airport or in your hotel. The best place to do it is a bank or an exchange bureau. There are many commercial plazas.
ELECTRIC SOCKET: In Mexico, there are two associated plug types, types A and B. Plug type A is the plug that has two flat parallel pins and plug type B is the plug that has two flat parallel pins and a grounding pin. Mexico operates on a 127V supply voltage and 60Hz. Make sure to pack a universal travel adaptor so you can still use all your electronic devices.
MEXICO VISA: 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. If you want to stay longer than 6 months you will need to go out and then go back in. However if a few months ago it was very easy to do it now they are a little more strict on letting you back in in such a short time.
Working in Mexico is more complicated and you should put yourself in the hands of a good lawyer that can look after all the paperwork for you and spare you all the hustle and headaches.
If your intention is to move to and work in Mexico, you can check this interview with a lawyer for more detailed information.
Is it safe to travel to Mexico?
There is a lot to say about Mexico and safety. I cannot hide the dreadful episodes that have recently been in the news about Mexico.
They are certainly not encouraging people to travel here, and with a reason. However, I am still convinced that tourists and travelers are not targets for an organized crime unless you are personally involved in drugs and related matters.
I would always use lots of common sense and a vigilant eye but wouldn’t let the facts prevent me from traveling.
I put together a very detailed guide on how to stay safe while traveling in Mexico which will offer great guidelines on being smart when you travel to Cancun, besides some helpful Spanish vocabulary.
Also, I would always have travel insurance when I travel. I specifically recommend going with World Nomads as they have the best adventure travel coverage, covering activities like snorkeling, hiking, etc. And if you upgrade to explorer status, it’s a little more expensive but it has more extended coverage, including diving.
I have recently discovered also Safetywing as it’s been specifically recommended by different travel companies and professional travelers, especially for their userfriendly website and fast response. Safetywing has many advantages especially for nomads, one of which is being able to pay on a monthly basis and cancel at any time. You can check out their site as well and compare the two companies to chose what works best for you.
The official language is Spanish, or better said, “Castellano”. Most people, especially those who work in tour activities and hotels will speak good English. If you are like me and love to explore rural areas, there are chances that you will encounter people who don’t speak English at all. Worry not!
Mexican people are very hospitable and warm and with a smile and gestures you will be able to get along very well with locals and it’s the best way to get to know them.
Smiles and a fun game of charades is a great way to get to know the locals. In any case, it’s always good to know a few words.
In this post, you will find some words and phrases to help you out.
Knowing a few words and have a basic understanding of the language is always helpful especially in unwanted circumstances.
Also, read my 33+ Mexico Travel tips on my new Mexico site
Interested in one specific destination? I have written tons of guides. I have conveniently listed each state that I wrote about for your convenience. Click on the destination you want to read about.
THINGS TO DO IN MEXICO
There are so many amazing things to do in Mexico that the list would be endless. I suggest you should check the destination guides to see what is interesting in each an every destination.
However, after my 9 months of backpacking around Mexico, I decided to write my memories, so to speak, 🙂 a list of the most unique places I have seen in Mexico.
You should check it out as it may help you decide where you want to go for your trip to Mexico.
ORGANIZED TOURS AROUND MEXICO
If you prefer traveling with a group tour, I have recently joined a partnership with G Adventures. They are a super reputable company and have been running tours around the world for ages. The reason why we love G Adventures is that they have loads of different tours that cater to different age groups. And if you are traveling alone, because you love it but you wish to join a tour for certain parts of your journey for different reasons, there you will certainly find people of your age and with similar interests whenever you feel like mingling with likeminded people. They have tours that spam from Mexico city all the way to Guatemala or even farther south to central America if you wish to combine different countries or tours that focus on specific regions.
So if you don’t feel like traveling by yourself, it’s understandable. I love traveling on my own, with the freedom to do whatever I want and at the time I want, but there are certain situations in which I prefer to have a guide to take me around so I don’t have to think about anything, other than enjoying the place.
On the other end, you also have the possibility to book daily tours that will take you to wherever you want to go but you will be “free” again at the end of the day. This is the ideal solution if you really don’t feel like renting a car, or you have limited time and want to visit many places and/or you wish to have a professional guide that gives you information on the area.
WHAT AND WHERE TO EAT IN MEXICO
Here is a list of my favorite restaurants in the city I have explored.
- Best Restaurants in Cancun
- Best Restaurants in Tulum
- Best Vegan Restaurants in Puerto Vallarta
- Best Vegan Restaurants in Guanajuato
- Best Vegan Restaurants in Queretaro
- Vegan Restaurants in Xelapa
- Vegan Restaurants in Mexico
WHERE TO STAY IN MEXICO
Checking out Hotels is my favorite thing, and it comes from my previous job as a contracting manager for a tour operator. My job was to visit hotels and decide which one to include in our program. Most of the time I also got to stay in spectacular hotels. I miss that part of the job, honestly.
Anyway, now that I travel full time, and I write travel guides, I love to see the hotels of a city and check them out even if I don’t stay there, how I used to do it during my previous job. So here are my hotel reviews
- The top 5 luxury hotels in Cancun
- Where to stay in Cancun
- Where to stay in Tulum
- Where to stay in Coba
- The best hotels of the Riviera Maya
- Where to stay at El Cuyo
- Where to stay in Uxmal
- Where to stay in Calakmul
- Where to stay in Bacalar
- Where to stay in Valladolid
- The best Luxury Haciendas in Yucatan
- Where to stay in Isla Mujeres
- Where to stay in Puerto Vallarta
- The best hotels in La Paz
- The best hotels in Guanajuato
In my past 3 years as a digital nomad, I started the habit to stay in Airbnb instead of hotels. I find to have my own apartment much more convenient and cozier. After a couple of epic fail, I have become an expert in choosing the perfect place to stay and I wrote a few Airbnb guides, including a step by step guide to booking on Airbnb, as I realized many people are not familiar with the platform, so I thought I would make things easy.
- The best Airbnb in Tulum
- The best Airbnb in Playa del Carmen
- Cancun best Airbnb
- Puerto Vallarta Best Airbnb
- The best Airbnb in Sayulita
WHERE DO I FIND CHEAP FLIGHTS TO MEXICO?
I normally look into different websites and compare prices. Normally I start with aggregators such as the ones listed below but when I find the best rates I always compare it with the airline official site. Sometimes there is no difference and I always prefer to book directly with the airline.
THE MAIN MEXICAN AIRPORTS
Other major airports in Mexico are:
Obviously, all the other Capital cities in Mexico are fairly well connected to each other via Mexican airlines.
THE DOMESTIC AIRLINES
MEXICO ENTRY REQUIREMENT FOR TOURISTS
Those coming from the country listed on this official site are not required to apply for a formal visa to visit Mexico. They just need to fill out a visitor form (FMM) that will be handed over either on the plane or at the airport.
For countries that don’t need a visa, a Mexico Visitor’s Permit (FMM) will need to be filled out in place of a visa.
This is a simple form: airlines pass these out aboard flights and should be filled out on the airplane before you land, or you can acquire one at all airports, as well as land border crossings and seaports of entry.
Just remember to fill it out before lining up for passport control.
A tourist visa normally lasts 180 days. The immigration agent with print on your passport your exit date. If it’s less than 180 days you can ask for an extension to an immigration office.
For more detailed information you can check out this thorough website
In case you are planning to move to Mexico for an undetermined period of time, you can check out this interview with an immigration lawyer for specific information.
HOW TO GET AROUND MEXICO BY BUS
Traveling around by bus in Mexico is the easiest thing on earth.
There is an amazing Network of busses that travels all around Mexico and connects all the major and less known cities and towns.
I traveled all around Mexico by bus and had a blast. Some companies are real luxury with great elegant seats, personal screen, a power outlet, and wifi.
Depending on the region you can find different BUS companies, and almost everyone has their own website where most of the time you can prebook.
I am giving you a list of the major companies with the region where they operate.
ADO– They mainly operate in the South up to Mexico City – The busses seats are comfortable but not luxury. They are very strict on what you can bring with you on the bus. If you have a big back you need to check it in. Make sure you take all the valuables with you.
ETN is one of my favorites, the busses are so comfortable and spacious and equipped with the best technology, including WIFI and TV. They cover the central – eastern part of the country. (see picture below)
PRIMERA PLUS Also serves the north-eastern part of the country
OMNIBUS DE MEXICO For the north of Mexico
MEXICO AUTOBUSES This is an aggregator and show you all the busses available for your chosen itinerary. I have used it a lot.
CLICKBUS– is another aggregator that has special offers every now and then
In general, busses are very safe. However, its good practice to look after your personal belonging and never lose sight of them. You never know who’s on the bus.
You can read my full guide on how to travel safely in Mexico for more detailed info on commonsense safety travel rules.
HOW TO GET AROUND MEXICO BY CAR
Driving in Mexico is not difficult regardless of what many people think. You just need to know a little about local rules and, most of all, local habits. I have written a full guide on how to drive in Mexico which is based on my experience in the Yucatan Peninsula but it’s applicable everywhere in Mexico.
You can also join the group On the road in Mexico and ask all the questions you want, especially about road conditions.
CAR RENTAL IN MEXICO
Renting a car in Mexico can be tricky especially if you are using a car rental from the Cancun Airport.
Why? because they don’t have the best reputation. I have heard dreadful stories of attempts to overcharge or unjustified charges.
In any case, renting from the airport is always, or most of the time more expensive than in any other point of sales, mostly because the airport taxes or the location rentals are more expensive and also because rentals from the airport are usually the most demanded. So it all makes sense.
However, for example, when I rented my car in Baja California it was more expensive to rent from La Paz in town than from La Paz airport. So you just never know.
The best thing is to browse around and compare the different options.
Here I leave you with two car rental aggregators that I trust, but it’s always recommendable to compare prices, but most of all the terms and conditions.
One important thing that most of the time it is taken to lightly is the hidden price of the insurance.
You might see a very low-priced rental advertised, you book it, and when you get to pick up your car they will calculate your added taxes and insurance, which is compulsory, and most of the time it ends up being more than doubled the original price.
Also please mind that your credit card insurance might not be valid or accepted in Mexico.
Please make sure you double-check on it both with your card customer service and the car rental.