Mexico Travel Tips
Mexico is a great vacation destination. It has a rich history and one of the oldest civilisations in the world. Parts of Mexico have been inhabited since prehistoric times, and the Aztecs ruled for thousands of years until the early 16th century until the Spaniards arrived. Ruins of Aztec history are all over Mexico and are some of the country's most popular attractions. Visit sites such as the ancient pyramids at Teotihuacan, which used to be topped with golden temples.
Mexico is a popular destination to visit because it offers lots of options for your vacation, from tours of ancient sites, to beach holidays, to city breaks. It also has a wide range of holiday accommodation, from luxury hotels to campsites. The main language of Mexico is Spanish, and the peso is national currency. The friendly Mexican people go out of their way to help tourists and keep them happy. Like everywhere in the world, it's the people, really, who make the place and leave you with lingering impressions.
Banks: Banks in Mexico are beginning to get their act together from a commercial view-point. Branches are now open from 9am to 4pm in many cities and big towns, and some even open Saturday mornings. HSBC now opens from 8am to 8pm six days a week. For more information about managing your money in Mexico, connect to the Money Section on Mexperience.
Office Hours: Commercial Office hours tend to run in line with those of the US and the UK - 8am - 6pm. Lunch breaks usually last an hour, but business lunches can go on much longer. Connect to the Business Center on Mexperience for full details about business practices in Mexico.
Churches: Some churches are permanently open; others are locked up if there is no service going on, especially those hosting valuable art or artefacts. If you visit a church, be mindful of those inside who may be taking part in a church service.
Museums: Museums tend to have specific opening hours, sometimes close for a day in the week (often Mondays, not always) - so check beforehand!
Archaeological Sites: Most are open 8am to 5pm, and some close for a day in the week (see museums, above). Check before you go.
|Ano Nuevo - New Year's Day
|Dia de la Constitucion - Constitution Day
|Dia de la Bandera - Mexico's National Flag Day
|Dia del Trabajo - Labour Day
|Cinco de Mayo - Victory over France in Puebla
|Dia de la Independencia - Celebrating Independence (from Spain) Day
|Dia de La Raza - Columbus discovers the new world
|Dia de la Revolucion - Anniversary of the 1910 Mexican Revolution
|Dia de Navidad - Christmas Day (Christmas dinner / presents traditionally happen on the evening of the 24th - Christmas Eve)
Tipping in Mexico - Part 1 of 2
Tipping is common in the United States: it is almost second-nature and practiced frequently at most service establishments. In Britain and some other European countries, it is not so common or customary to tip people for services.
In Mexico, not only is it customary, it is expected in return for a good service rendered. Most people working in the tourism / service sectors in Mexico rely on your tips to supplement their basic pay and they give good service to prove that it makes a significant difference to them! Always keep some loose change in your pocket - you never know when you're going to need some for a tip. If you did not get poor service, then you should always tip.
Restaurants - 10 to 15% is normal, depending on establishment and level of service you received.
Bellboys - around US$1 per bag;
Concierge - around US$1 equivalent if they do something for you (book a table at a local restaurant, etc).
Maids - about US$0.50 - US$1 equivalent, depending on the type of establishment, per night's stay. Leave the tip just before you leave the room for the last time.
Gasoline/Petrol Service Stations - If you rent a car and buy fuel, 3-5% of the cost of the fuel is normal, with 5-10% of the cost of the fuel if the attendant provides additional services (water, oil, tire pressure, etc). Read related article about Traveling by Road in Mexico. You'll need to ask for the additional services if you want them.
Car Valets - If you drive to a bar or restaurant and have your car parked by the establishment's valet service, you should tip the attendant around US$1 equivalent in Pesos when you leave, unless the valet a pre-advertised rate (probably higher than this) in which case, pay that and no more.
Bars and Cantinas - Tables at these are often attended (you don't need to go to the bar to order food or drink) - and a tip of 10% of the value of your spending that evening is normal.
Tipping in Mexico - Part 2 of 2
Car Park Attendants - Often, car parks will have an "attendant", a man or woman dressed up in a "security type" uniform, who may direct you to a free spot, and see you reverse out. These attendants are often older men who also keep an eye on things while you're away. 2-3 Pesos is sufficient.
Health Spas: For personal services at Resort Spas, 10-15% of the value of the service (e.g. a Massage) is normal. If you're staying at a Destination Spa, you can tip good service personally, 5-10% of the service's 'stand alone' value is fine; or you can add a tip to your final bill, to cover everyone - even the 'behind the scenes' people - 10-15% of the bill is sufficient.
Toilets - Public Toilets (restrooms) are a rare sight, and if you find one, it may not be very pretty! Some public toilets now make a small charge for entry, and you'll find these are usually clean and tidy. If one of these is not available, go to a restaurant or bar (even if you're not eating / drinking at it) and answer 'nature's call' there. You may well find an attendant looking after the place, making sure it's clean tidy and that toilet paper is available on the rolls! When you wash your hands, you will see a small, flat box, sometimes with a piece of cloth inside (and usually a coin or three on it), placed beside one of the hand wash basins. US$0.20-0.50 cents equivalent tip, depending on the class of establishment, is sufficient.
Angeles Verdes - Meaning "Green Angels", these are trucks that are painted green and travel along Mexico's interstate highways helping people who have broken down. Their help is free, but they will charge you for parts, and fuel if your car needs it. Be sure to tip the attendant; the amount is discretionary, and should relate to how much help they were in a particular circumstance (e.g. more at night) and on how much work they have done for you.
Bargaining and Barter in Mexico
Bargaining and barter are common activities in Mexico, especially at markets and artifact stores and workshops. If you speak Spanish (even broken Spanish) you stand a much better chance of getting a better a deal on your purchases! Another good reason to Learn Spanish.
Never accept the first price you're offered, but be realistic with your offers. Remember that the people selling arts, crafts and artifacts are generally poor artisans making a simple living and often supporting a family.
Department stores and large (chain) hotels will not barter with you - you'll have more luck bartering with the check-out assistant of your local supermarket! Independent hotels may negotiate with you - especially if it is off-season locally.
Some taxis are not metered (especially in small provincial towns) - so agree your price before you get in and bargain down the first quote! Complete information about Traveling by Taxi in Mexico including a link to latest taxi prices.
Mexican traders will enjoy bartering with you - but will get upset and feel insulted if you are obviously trying to devalue them or their work into oblivion. Remember that they may be the creators of the wares they are offering for sale!
Time Zones / Clock Changes
Mexico City is always 6 hours behind GMT.
One Hour Domestic Time Difference - Mexico's has one time-zone change which starts just north of Puerto Vallarta (Puerto Vallarta itself is not affected) and affects all areas on the coast north of there (including the popular beach destination of Mazatlan) and ALL of Baja California including the popular areas of Los Cabos, La Paz, Loreto and Todos Santos. Chihuahua City (inland, northeast of Puerto Vallarta) is NOT affected by the time zone change as it is too far east.
In 1996, Mexico decided to change its clocks in line with US "Daylight Savings Time", on the same dates that the US change its clocks. Mexico City therefore remained 6 hours behind the UK (7 hours behind Central European Time) and in-line with US's DST.
However, Europe's clocks go forward one week earlier than Mexico's/US, so, for one week each year, Mexico is 7 hours behind British Summer Time (8 hours behind Central European Time).
Note: The only exception to the clock change is Mexico's northern State of Sonora, which borders the US State of Arizona, which is one of the States in the USA that does not move its clocks at any time of year to allow for DST; because of this, Sonora does not moves its clocks, either.
In the autumn (fall), Mexico's clocks change (1 hour back) in line with the Europe. So the extra hour is only relevant during the springtime (forward) clock change for a period of 1 week.
Jet Lag - Travelers arriving in Mexico from the east (e.g. from Europe) do not generally experience severe jet lag as they have gained time traveling west. Returning from Mexico and traveling east (e.g. to Europe) can be tiring, as time is lost traveling east.
Drinking Water in Mexico
When you're traveling in Mexico, you must take extra care when it comes to drinking water, or fresh beverages that may have tap water added to them. Also check the ice - ask if it was made with tap water - it is unlikely that your ice will have been made with tap water; but it's worth asking in more rustic establishments and rural areas. Salads can also be dangerous if they have been rinsed with tap water - once again, the rule is... if in doubt, ask first!
All main hotels and good restaurants use purified water throughout.
Why is Mexico's tap water not drinkable? The answer is a complex one, but it boils down to an issue of low capital investment in water systems and treatment partly caused by old legislation.
Most hotels provide bottled water in all rooms, which you can use to drink and wash your teeth with, and many hotels now have potable water delivered through their taps using an on-site purification system; there will be a note in your room to advise you if this is the case. If you carry a water bottle / canteen, your hotel will usually fill this for you from a large bottle of purified water before you set out on your daytrip.
All street vendors selling refreshments will sell you purified bottled water. Make sure that the cap is sealed All commercially produced beverages, including bottled and tinned water, fizzy drinks, wine, beer, spirits, et al will be perfectly safe for you to drink.
To make tap water safe, boil it for at least a few minutes; perhaps longer in locations situated at higher altitudes as the water boils at lower temperatures there. Water purification tablets and drops are available, but these generally have an adverse effect on the water's taste.
Alcohol in Mexico
The legal minimum drinking age in Mexico is 18, 3 years before most places in the USA, which is why a lot of older American teenagers fly south to Mexico for a weekend or longer!
Although it has been rare in the past, requests for proof of age or identification when asking for an Alcoholic beverage in Mexico are on the rise. However, it is still nowhere near as strict as the USA, where anyone who looks under 21 is "carded" - which in practice can mean those up to 30 years of age!
Altitude - Remember that many places inland Mexico are situated at altitude (for example, Mexico City, Guadalajara and most colonial cities) and at high altitudes, alcohol will have more effect on you than if you were drinking at or close to, sea level.
Measures - For people who are used to drinking in the UK - 'measures' in Mexico can be between 3 and 5 times larger than those served in one "measure" (25ml) in a Public House in Britain.
Licensing Laws - Mexican stores, restaurants and bars are allowed to sell alcohol 24 hours a day. A dry law is enacted once every 6 years - just before, during and just after the General Election Day - for roughly 72 hours. This is an old law, and there is a debate happening now as to its effectiveness and necessity.
Open Containers - Technically, it is illegal to drink on the street, but people do, especially in tourist aeas. If you want to drink a cold beer while walking down a street in the blazing heat - go ahead. But don't be stupid and get too drunk - it will call attention to yourself, and you may end up having to deal with the police. Do as the Mexicans do - bend the rules sensibly.
Drinking and Driving - Drinking and Driving is a serious crime in Mexico. If you drink, take a cab, they're not expensive. If you're driving at night, (or if you're a pedestrian) near a tourist area with lots of bars, be extra vigilant! Mexico's police are stepping up their campaign against drunk-drivers, which will reduce accidents and deaths, but it will take time, as these things always do. Don't drink and drive in Mexico, you will not get any leniency as a foreigner for driving drunk. If you hurt or kill someone in the process, you will end up in serious trouble.
Electricity in Mexico
Mexico's electricity system is the same as that of the USA: 120 V; 60 Hz. Any electrical equipment you carry with you that operates at the higher (240v) rate will need to be dual-voltage (e.g. hair driers). A lot of electrical equipment (like video cameras, digital cameras, laptops) that operate on 12 volts via a product-specific adaptor will happily cope with dual voltage - check the adaptor and the device instructions to be sure.
You may need a socket adaptor. Most plugs in Mexico are the same as in the US; two flat prongs. Some have a third, circular prong for earth, and adapters can be sought for these too if the plug you want to connect to doesn't have the third (earth) prong socket.
Photography & Video in Mexico
Buying Tape / Film in Mexico - Video tape is readily available for purchase in Mexico. Film is also widely available. The most widely sold brands are Kodak and Fuji film. You can buy film in 35mm as well as all other main (current) formats, including the newer "Advanced Photo System" (APS) film cartridges.
Rules and Etiquette - Some museums and all major archaeological sites will make a small charge if want to take a handheld video recorder into the museum or site with you; some make a charge for cameras, although this is rare. Some will not allow flash photography; especially on ancient stonework and murals as it affects the longevity of the work. You'll see notices written in Spanish and English that will advise you at each location.
Tripods - The use of tripods at all archaeological sites and some museums requires a permit. If you want to use a tripod you will need to apply for special permission from INBA (the government department that manages archaeological sites and some museums) and there will be a significant fee and plenty of paperwork involved. If you are outside Mexico, contact your local Mexican Consulate for information and details. These sites offer a "package hold" facility for people carrying tripods, where they can be left until you leave the site or museum.
Customs - Be mindful of people you photograph, and if possible, ask their permission first - especially in small provincial communities and in the State of Chiapas, especially around San Cristobal de las Casas. Some places have restrictions on photography, and signs will be posted to advise you in such cases.
Military - It's probably best not to photograph the army or any military installations to avoid any misunderstandings.
Churches - Taking pictures inside a church when there is a service going on is considered disrespectful, so you should refrain from doing it. Taking pictures inside a church at other times is acceptable in Mexico.
Filming Professionally / Research - If you are planning to travel to Mexico to film or take photographs professionally (including research, cultural, artistic and educational programmes), you will need to apply for a temporary filming permit. Contact your local Mexican Consulate for details.
Newspapers and Magazines
English Language Media - There are currentlyl no English Language Dailies published in Mexico. You may find a day-old copy of the FT (US Edition) for sale at Mexico City's Airport.
British tabloid newspapers can be bought in some tourists areas in Cancun, usually a day or two old.
English-language global news magazines such as Time, Newsweek, People, etc are available in their US editions in cities and large towns in Mexico; The British based magazine 'Economist' is now available at larger news stands.
Newspapers and Magazines can be bought on street corners (you'll see newspapers and magazines hanging all over street cabins). Many supermarkets are now beginning to stock newspapers and magazines too; but not all of them.
Newspapers & Magazines in Mexico (Spanish) - Mexico has a wide selection of Spanish language newspapers from all side of the political spectrum. Click on the links below to view the online versions; all are currently subscription-free except Reforma.
Traveling with Children
Take your family to Mexico with confidence! Mexico loves children, and you'll find that your children will be made to feel very welcome in Mexico's hotels, restaurants and attractions.
Mexico is full of bright shapes and colours, and the new sounds and sights they'll encounter will provide great stimulation and experience for your children on a trip to Mexico.
Besides the sea and sand of the coastal areas, archaeological sites provide pyramids to climb, tunnels to explore and wide open spaces to roam about in.
Visit Traveling to Mexico with your Children on the MExperience website for more details and suitable tourist locations for children.
As of January 1st 2005, it is no longer necessary for single parents, unaccompanied minors, widows/widowers or parents with estranged partners to produce notarised letters or other supporting documentation. Instead each child MUST have his/her own passport As with adults, the passport must be valid for at least 6 months from the date of departure.
International Airports in Mexico
|Benito Juarez International aka Mexico City International Airport (MEX)
|Abelardo L. Rodr’guez Intl. aka Tijuana Intl. Airport
|Manual Marquez de Leon Intl. aka La Paz Intl.
|La Paz International Airport
|San Jose del Cabo
|San Jose del Cabo International Airport
|Playa de Oro Intl aka Manzanillo International Airport
|City of Colima
|Juan Alvarez International Airport (ACA) in Acapulco
|Ixtapa International Airport
|Zihuatanejo International Airport
|Don Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla Intl. aka Guadalajara International Airport
|Gustavo Diaz Ordaz Intl. aka Puerto Vallarta International Airport
|Bahias de Huatulco Airport
|Xoxocotlan Intl aka Oaxaca Intl. (OAX),
|Puerto Escondido International Airport
|Culiacan International Airport
|Valle del Fuerte Intl. aka Los Mochis International Airport
|General Rafael Buelna Intl. aka Mazatlan International Airport
|General Ignacio P. Garcia Intl. aka Hermosillo International Airport (HMO)
Foreign Embassies in Mexico
What can your consulate in Mexico do for you?
Foreign consulates in Mexico can usually help with administrative tasks like replacing a lost or stolen passport, provide you with a list of lawyers if you get into legal trouble, (and let your family back home know you're in a spot of bother), liaise with Mexico's foreign office to make sure that you are being properly treated if you've been arrested, and in exceptional circumstances, provide you with a loan to pay for repatriation home if you become completely stuck (you will need to pay the loan back).
Foreign consulates and embassies cannot get you out of trouble. When you are in Mexico you are bound by its laws and customs, and subject to its legal penalties if you fall shy of the law, intentionally or otherwise.
Mexican Embassies in Other Countries
What can the Mexican Embassy in your country do for you?
The Mexican embassy and consulates in foreign contries can answer inquiries and questions regarding visa regulations, passport requirements, and travel requirements for travel to Mexico.
Passport holders from countries on Mexico's no visa required list do not need to apply for a formal visa to visit Mexico. They may, instead, use a visitor's permit, known as a FMM (Forma Migratoria Multiple).
If your country does not appear on the 'no visa required list', you should check with your nearest local Mexican Consulate for details of visa requirements before you travel to Mexico.
For countries that don't need a visa, a Mexico Visitor's Permit will need to be filled out in place of a visa. This is a simple form: pick one up from the check-in counter at the airport and fill it out on the airplane before you land or you can acquire one at all land border crossings. If the airline you are traveling with does not have any forms at the check-in desk or on-board the plane, don't worry, you can get one when you land in Mexico and fill it out before you line up to have your documents checked and stamped by the officials at the airport.