Until I found myself planning a trip to Mexico, the country never really featured high up there on my travel bucket list. I mean, sure, I love Mexican food, but there’s got to be more to wanting to go to a new country than just the food, right?
The idea for a Mexican holiday popped up when the husband and I were trying to figure out what we wanted to do for our 5th wedding anniversary. We realized that we were going to be in the US, albeit in different cities, right before our anniversary, and we wanted to celebrate by traveling to someplace both of us hadn’t been before. After much discussion and back and forth on options, we ended up choosing a short holiday to Mexico.
Little did I know then how much I would fall in love with Mexico. It’s probably one of my top 5 places that I’ve ever been to. It holds a special place in my heart, and if it wasn’t so damn far from India, I would definitely be planning more trips to that gorgeous country.
Now, Mexico is MASSIVE! And we had just about 6 days. We needed to narrow down our exact plan, because trust me, there is so much to see around the whole country. Since our return flight was from New York, we decided to travel around the Yucatan peninsula – Cancun, Merida, and Tulum (Cancun to New York is about a 3.5-4 hours flight). Cancun was meant to be just an entry/exit point, while Merida and Tulum were the actual intended showstoppers. Needless to say, each place was perfect in its own way.
MEXICO TRAVEL TIPS FOR YOUR VISIT TRIP TO MEXICO
If you find yourself making a trek to Mexico (and you really should!), especially the Yucatan Peninsula, here are my top 14 Mexico travel tips:
1| Visa requirements
Speaking for Indians here, you do not need a visa for Mexico if you hold a valid visa for the US, or have permanent resident status in Canada, Japan, United Kingdom, or Schengen countries. Otherwise, you will need to apply for a visa for Mexico. This was obviously true for the time that I visited Mexico. Please make sure to look up the current visa requirements.
English is widely spoken, especially at the resorts and most of the major restaurants. Obviously, if you speak Spanish, that can only be an added advantage.
3| Cash vs Cards
Almost all hotels, stores and restaurants that we went to accepted credit cards, the exception being a few places in Tulum. While credit cards are widely accepted in most places, I would always recommend to keep some Pesos handy.
4| Car rentals
Renting a car in Mexico is both easy and hard. Easy, because rentals are not hard to get by. Hard, because they have a million and one little things attached to finally getting the keys to your car, so do factor in some extra time. We booked our car only once we got to Cancun, but there are plenty of places online where you can book ahead as well.
5| Driving in Mexico
It’s not hard to drive around in Mexico. I know I say this like I drove around a whole lot but the truth is, I don’t drive (a more accurate statement would be that I DO NOT KNOW how to drive!!!). So all driving responsibilities lay with the husband, like always.
Anyway, even coming from a country where we have right-hand drive, it didn’t take my husband much time to get used to a left-hand drive. Also, the highways are really well-maintained and well-marked with signages, so driving is actually a breeze. Oh, one thing I do remember was that gas stations were few and far in between, so you better keep an eye on that fuel gauge.
6| There is more to Mexican food than chips & guac & salsa
Remember that Mexican food is more than just nachos and salsa and guacamole and tacos. Don’t be afraid to experiment and try out different things. Also, Mexican food really varies a lot between regions, so there is a lot of variety too.
If you’re looking for vegetarian food, I don’t think you will have much of a problem. Mexican cuisine does traditionally lean towards more meat-based dishes but in most parts of the Yucatan Peninsula, especially the larger towns/cities, you will find enough vegetarian options in restaurants.
Mexico has a bad rep for violence and shady business, especially drug-related violence. We obviously kept our eyes and ears open but thankfully never faced any untoward incidents.
Tourism is a massive sector in Mexico, so the government is heavily invested in making sure that tourists don’t face any issues when traveling. In Merida, we saw tourist police patrol cars out and about the city till quite late at night.
Obviously, please follow general safety rules as you would do anywhere else.
8| Bug spray
Mosquito/insect repellent sprays or roll-ons are always a good idea in Mexico. Especially, if you’re visiting any of the jungle-y areas, like Tulum (more on Tulum later).
9| Internet connectivity
This wasn’t an issue in most places, especially within hotel premises. The only place where we didn’t really have much connectivity was Tulum, and trust me, I wasn’t the least bit sad about that. Disconnecting every once in a while can be a good thing (something that the current Coronavirus situation is forcing us to understand and appreciate).
10| If you have the time, visit one of the “interior” Mexican towns/cities
If there’s any of these Mexico travel tips that you follow, please make it this one! For the love of God, do not just visit Cancun and call it visiting Mexico.
Cancun is such a small, tiny, tourist-oriented slice of Mexico, that it really should not count as a trip to Mexico. The 1.5 days that we spent there, well, it could have passed off for pretty much any touristy beach town/city around the world. I am not complaining about that because our agenda in Cancun was to just laze it out at the hotel pool / beach, and damn right, that’s exactly what we did.
Mexico is a fascinating country with a rich cultural history, and you’ll really be missing something if you don’t experience the more regular parts of the country. Merida was our pick for a real slice of Mexico and we were not the least bit disappointed. There are plenty more towns and cities that are just waiting to be explored.
11| Speaking of Merida…
If you are driving into Merida, do not be disheartened when you see the big-box American retail outlets and massive auto showrooms. I’ll be honest, my heart was literally on the floor when I saw the crazy big Walmart store. When we were planning the itinerary, I sold Merida as this culturally rich Mexican city to my husband and here we were, driving into what seemed like just another American town.
The contrast between the outskirts and the interiors of the city has to be seen to be believed. So all I am saying is, don’t judge the city its outskirts. :)
12| If you have Tulum on the agenda, be a conscious traveler
And if you’re really going to take the argument to its logical conclusion, maybe don’t travel to Tulum? Don’t get me wrong – it’s a gorgeous, gorgeous place. The beaches are white and lush, the water is an eye-popping blue, and yet, the Tulum that probably lives in your mind does not really exist anymore.
Even when we visited in 2018, the “playa” area was overrun with tourists like us. Since then, it’s been sad to read news reports over the last year or so which have drawn attention to how the unprecedented levels of tourism has pretty much killed the town. It was never really built to support the mass influx of people that have descended on the town over the last few years.
Of course, people still visit Tulum. I am not sure what I would do if I was planning a trip to Mexico today. However, the least we can do is be more conscious about our choices, so I would implore you to read these articles (The Cut, Mexico News Daily) before you plan to visit this beautiful beach town.
13| Hire a guide if you visit the Mayan ruins
Now, this is not something we did, but if you do find yourself visiting Mayan ruins beyond Chichén Itzá and Tulum, it might be a good idea to hire a guide to tell you the details and the significance of various things. The Chichén Itzá and Tulum ruins are anyway highly frequented by tourists, so there are enough signages around in different languages.
As far as the ruins themselves go, we only had time to visit Chichén Itzá and Tulum, but if you find yourself with some extra time, I’ve heard the best things about Coba and Ek Balam.
14| Do not over-pack
While this is good advice for pretty much any place, I think it is definitely true in Mexico, especially if you find yourself living in non-five star hotels and all-exclusive resorts. Many of the boutique hotels and charming AirBnBs are set in old buildings, and they may not be equipped with elevators.
So there you have it. A few Mexico travel tips for your first trip to the country. Have you been to Mexico? Any Mexico travel tipsthat you would add? Is Mexico on your must-visit list? I’d love to know in the comments below.
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