- Instead of a visa, you need an FMM form to enter Mexico; an immigration officer provides one.
- The movies paint a bad picture of Mexico; most parts of Mexico are totally safe, with the exception of a few neighborhoods.
- You should learn some basic Spanish phrases to find your way around Mexico.
- Don’t take pictures without asking for permission first.
Going to Mexico? Great! Need travel tips for Mexico for a first-timer? This one’s for you, then. Before setting foot in one of the world’s most colorful and culture-rich countries, it wouldn’t hurt to have a few heads-ups. Mexico is often one of the most frequently visited countries by tourists from all over the world, but especially from the U.S.
Mexico is an incredible mosaic of scents, flavors, colors, and unique customs guaranteed to leave any visitor breathless. However, if it so happens that you’re looking for more to satisfy your adventurous spirit, Mexican cuisine will definitely sweep you off your feet.
With so many one-of-a-kind locations to visit and sceneries to take in, Mexico is also home to one of the world’s most diverse ecosystems. If your next trip includes Mexico, these tips for Mexico travel will come in super handy.
Understanding Mexico’s Culture and Customs
Art, music, dance, and cuisine are integral components of Mexican identity. Traditional customs such as the Day of the Dead, which honors deceased loved ones, showcase the Mexican outlook on death with vibrant festivities.
When in Mexico, the first thing to keep in mind is to be respectful of the culture and not fight the local customs. Mexican people are very respectful (and protective!) of their culture, so make sure you don’t do (or say) something that might come across as offensive or impolite.
Knowing two precious words in Mexican can save you from a lot of side-eyes: Por favor (please) and Gracias (thank you) work like a charm, along with greeting people with a handshake or even a hug.
Also, when it comes to exquisite Mexican cuisine, it’s considered highly disrespectful to turn down local food. Taste tacos, mole, tamales, and other Mexican staple foods as a way to honor ancient culinary traditions.
Finally, when in Mexico, get ready for some noise! The colorful country hosts several flamboyant celebrations and festivals each year. There’s the carnival season, fiesta-packed celebrations of music, parades, and a whole lot of dancing.
Visa and Travel Documents
The first thing you need when going to Mexico is a valid passport. Visiting Mexico as a tourist usually grants visitors a tourist permit that remains valid for 3 to 6 months. Some countries do not need a visa to enter Mexico (inquire more about visa requirements here).
If you’re planning a longer stay in Mexico, make sure you print copies of your accommodation reservations and return flight tickets. When at the airport, an immigration officer will ask for your passport to stamp it. When you get it back, look inside – there will be a Multiple Immigration Form (FMM). Have the document securely put away and never lose track of it since it’s a very important piece of documentation.
If you drive to Mexico, you’ll need to present your driver’s license and automobile information even if you decide to leave your vehicle at the border. Another important detail is that Mexico charges a fee of approximately US$25 to tourists and businesspeople entering the country.
Health and Safety Precautions
Before traveling to Mexico, staying on top of the latest vaccination requirements regarding mumps, diphtheria, measles, varicella, tetanus, rubella, etc., is super important. Namely, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have issued a health notice document including relevant information on the specific vaccines required prior to traveling to Mexico (most commonly, these include hepatitis B, hepatitis A, rabies, and typhoid, depending on the region in question).
Our Mexico travel tips include avoiding tap water in Mexico (this is also part of the travel tips for Mexico City). Always have bottled water with you and eat at clean and reputable places to avoid stomach bugs and foodborne illnesses.
Best Time to Visit and Weather Considerations
Since these are travel tips for Mexico all-inclusive, let’s talk weather. In general, it’s best to avoid the rainy season (May to October). The dry season, from November to April, is a good time to visit Mexico, especially the Caribbean Coast and the Yucatan Peninsula.
Tips for travel to Mexico include attending the following happenings:
- Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos): Celebrated on November 1st and 2nd, this colorful and meaningful festival honors deceased loved ones with elaborate altars, parades, and offerings.
- Guelaguetza: Held in July in Oaxaca, this cultural event showcases traditional dances, music, and regional customs of indigenous communities.
- Cinco de Mayo: Celebrated on May 5th, this holiday commemorates the Mexican victory over French forces and is observed with parades and festivities, particularly in Puebla.
- Semana Santa (Holy Week): Leading up to Easter, Semana Santa involves various religious processions, reenactments, and vibrant celebrations throughout Mexico.
Currency and Money Matters
Mexico’s local currency is Mexican Pesos (MXN). You can exchange your local currency for pesos at banks or Casa de Cambio, an exchange office. However, the best money advice you can get is to avoid paying in USD in Mexico because the exchange rates at shops or supermarkets are off the charts.
Businesses in Mexico accept credit and debit cards almost everywhere, but if you want to withdraw money from an ATM, make sure you don’t do it on the 1st and 15th of the month (that’s día de nomina, aka payday) and the ATMs are crawling with people withdrawing money.
Cost-wise, supermarkets and restaurants in less-known tourist places can charge up to $6 for a lot of tacos and as little as $3 for a steak and a glass of wine. However, a ceviche can cost up to $15. For the common amenities, you’ll pay 75c for a liter of bottled water.
Transportation and Getting Around
Public transportation in Mexico is reliable and safe. A well-managed network of buses covers most of Mexico’s major cities. Check this website to find the most suitable bus line to move around Mexico.
As for private transport, taxis and rent-a-cars are the most popular choices, while Ubers aren’t available at all places. If you use a taxi, make sure to decide on the fare upfront and always pay in pesos. For car rentals, Discover Cars holds a positive track record, so you can check it out.
Language and Communication
When in Mexico (or in any other country abroad) knowing a few lines in the local language goes a long way. Even though the majority of Mexicans speak English very well, some more secluded, rural areas do not.
Learn to say the following phrases in Spanish – they will be of great help:
- Where is the bathroom? –¿Dónde está el baño?
- How much is it? – ¿Cuánto es?
- Hello – Hola
- Thank You – Gracias
- I’m sorry – Lo lamento
- I don’t speak Spanish – No hablo español
Since Spanish is a highly expressive language, you’ll have to get used to a lot of noise. Our best tip is to engage with locals in Spanish as much as possible and even learn to make basic small talk.
Must-Try Mexican Cuisine and Dining Etiquette
The cuisine is one of Mexico’s most prized staples and includes a lot of well-known street foods – nachos, tacos, tamales, and quesadillas. There are also a lot of traditional Mexican dishes you won’t find anywhere else:
- In Yucatan, try cochinita pibil, sopa de lima, poc chuc, marquesitas.
- In Oaxaca, don’t miss the 7 moles, tlayudas, chapulines, quesillo, tasajo, mescal.
- In Veracruz, taste the pescado a la veracruzana.
- In Northern Mexico, don’t forget to try the machaca and carne asada.
- In Baja, go for the fish tacos and Caesar salad.
- In Jalisco, try the tortas ahogadas, birria, tequila, and carne en su jugo.
- In Puebla, make sure you don’t leave without tasting the chiles en nogada, mole poblano, tacos arabes, and cemitas.
In regard to tipping, it is customary to leave a 10%-15% tip in restaurants – one of our best travel tips for Cabo San Lucas Mexico when visiting a tourist location.
Safety Precautions and Emergency Contacts
Whichever part of Mexico you’re traveling in, safety always comes first, especially when beaches are involved. The following general safety and beach precautions will come in handy:
- Keep your belongings secure and be cautious in crowded places to prevent theft;
- Use reputable transportation services and avoid hailing taxis off the street;
- Swim only in designated swimming areas with lifeguards present;
- Be cautious of strong currents and undertows, especially during the rainy season;
- Choose reputable tour operators for activities like hiking, snorkeling, or diving;
- Stay on marked trails during hikes and avoid wandering into unfamiliar areas;
Mexican emergency contacts:
- General Emergency: 911;
- Tourist Assistance and Emergencies: 078 (within Mexico);
- U.S. Embassy in Mexico:
Location: Paseo de la Reforma 305, Colonia Cuauhtémoc, 06500 Mexico City
Phone: +52 55 5080 2000
For more information on safety precautions and emergency situations in Mexico, consult the U.S. Bureau of Consular Affairs.
Respectful Travel Photography and Cultural Sensitivity
If you’re about to take a snap and there are people in the shot, by all means, ask for permission first. Do not photograph people when vulnerable or having a private moment. However, you’re all free to take photos of your surroundings and the architecture.
Some places are no-photography zones, so make sure to follow through. Also, learn about any neighborhoods, such as Tepito, where pickpocketing is a regular practice, and the risk of losing your camera is high.
Sustainable and Responsible Tourism in Mexico
Minimizing negative impacts as tourists is what separates a good tourist from a bad one. Having respect for the culture, the local laws, and the environment is highly appreciated. While exploring the wondrous Mexico, make sure you make conscious decisions and ethical choices that will preserve the beauties you get to see for future generations.
If you want to make a positive impact, try reserving a tour with EcoColors Tours Mexico.
Mexico boasts a rich and diverse cultural heritage that spans thousands of years. It is a country with a blend of indigenous traditions and Spanish colonial influences. Mexican culture places great value on family, community, and religious beliefs.
Before embarking on your trip, remember our travel tips for Mexico. Get all your documents in order and create an itinerary of go-to food places as well as safe locations to explore.
In a nutshell, Mexico’s cultural heritage is highly appreciated by tourists, some even deliberately visiting the country on specific dates to experience Mexico’s flashy way of celebrating the country’s ancient culture.