Mexico is a great place to visit with delicious food, some amazing history as well as a lot of natural beauty to enjoy. Here are some tips to help your first time to Mexico go smoothly.
When you enter the country, you fill out a customs form with two parts. Both parts above and below the perforation need to be completed. The bottom part is stamped and returned to you. Keep this safe, as you will need it when you leave the country. If you don’t have it, you will have to pay a fee to replace it.
The tap water is Mexico is not potable. In order to reduce the amount of plastic waste, buy some big bottles to refill from. At restaurants, be sure to ask if they use filtered water for the ice in drinks.
If you need to pick up drinks, snacks or other small supplies, Oxxo is a popular supermarket chain. We found one pretty much everywhere we went, and they tended to be fairly well stocked.
The local currency is the Mexican Peso. While a lot of places accepted both Pesos as well as US dollars, the prices in USD tended to be a lot higher. Be sure to exchange your currency from your bank before you leave, or find an ATM upon arrival with a good exchange rate to withdraw money.
While most places were happy to accept cards, some restaurants and shops (especially in Tulum) were cash only, or added an extra charge for cards. Make sure to carry cash, including plenty of smaller denominations for tipping.
Check your bill after restaurants to see if tips are included. Most places do not include tip, but some of the more expensive places might. The recommended tip is 10%-15% depending on the service.
Bathrooms can be hit or miss, so it may be a good idea to carry a pack of tissues and hand sanitiser with you. I also noticed that bathroom stalls did not have a hook to hang up purses. Remember TP goes in the bin as it can clog up the plumbing.
Etiquette and Tourist Traps:
Most people we met, especially in the more touristy regions, spoke English. However, I highly recommend learning at least a few words of Spanish. By speaking (or at least attempting) the local language, or even ordering the local speciality, we found the servers were a lot more friendly and helpful.
If you see a souvenir you want to buy, look around a few shops to get a feel for the price. Then, practise your haggling skills to avoid being ripped off.
Taxis are easily available and generally reliable. However, make sure you agree on a price before you get in to avoid being over charged. To avoid any miscommunication, you can write down / use your phone to make sure you understand the number being quoted.
Pretty much every restaurant we went to had at least one vegetarian option, which made it very easy for me. Bean and cheese burritos, fajitas with grilled vegetables, sopes topped with pico de gallo and/or avocados and much more were readily available everywhere.
The pace of service tended to be fairly slower than we were used to, so don’t expect to be in and out in a hurry. Take your time and enjoy the chips and salsa.
Mexico is taking great care to protect its coral reef and sea life, so only biodegradable sunscreen is permitted when you enter the water. Make sure your sunscreen has zinc oxide as the active ingredient. On a similar note, you are also required to have a shower to wash off any sunscreen and cosmetics before entering any Cenotes. [I use the Badger sunscreen, which is reef safe. Also it kept my practically transparent husband from burning, so it clearly works!]
While Mexico tends to have a bad reputation for violent crime, most places that tourists tend to visit are safe for travel. While planning your trip, make sure you check any travel advisories specific to the areas you are visiting.
However, like most places, make sure you follow common safety tips. This includes not flashing your valuables, being aware of your surroundings, and avoiding waking alone at night. We spent a week in the Yucatan (Chichen Itza, Tulum and Akumal), and felt perfectly safe in all these places.
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