Hi there! During our almost 2,5 months in Mexico we went through some various situations and we have learned many things we didn’t know (but we wish we did). Therefore we put together this little guide of some very useful tips to make things easier for you while on your amazing trip through Mexico. They are all general informations and are valid for the entire country no matter if you are going to Cancun, Mexico City or any other place.
1. SIM CARD
Buy a local SIM card. The best one to get is TELCEL. It has high coverage throughout all Mexico and it’s very cheap and convenient.
The SIM card itself cost around 2-3 EUR and the plan we had cost 8 EUR for 30 days and it includes unlimited social medias (Facebook, Messenger, Instagram, WhatsApp, Twitter and Snapchat…no TikTok yet…sorry TikTokers ahaha), 3GB internet and obviously some calls & messages.
They have cheaper and shorter plans but unlimited socials are available only for the ones starting from 100MXN (4 EUR) which is for 15 days.
You can buy this SIM card anywhere in their “Telcel” store or in “OXXO” store. They are literally on every corner. If you finish your data you can top it up online.
In most of the places around Riviera Maya you are allowed to use only BIODEGRADABLE sunscreen which is actually very good! They try to protect their ocean and reefs and I like it! If you don’t have the biodegradable sunscreen you are not allowed to use any.
If you are visiting cenotes, you are not allowed to use mosquito repellent and ANY sunscreen (not even the biodegradable). The reason is also to protect the ecosystems of the cenotes.
Here is an article I found about biodegradable sunscreens if you don't know which one to choose: https://www.travelandleisure.com/style/beauty/reef-safe-sunscreen
3. CASH ONLY
Many places are CASH ONLY! Even many hotels, restaurants, bars and stores. And sometimes, even when you can pay with card, they charge you around 5-10% more. Some of the places have very unreliable card readers, so many times our card did not go through. So ALWAYS HAVE CASH WITH YOU!
4. ATM MACHINES
We tried many ATMs and we found SANTANDER to work for us the best. It charged us the least for the withdrawal (35MXN – 1,40EUR). We can’t say for other currencies but for EUROS and us it worked the best.
Another good thing is that it ALWAYS worked. In many ATMs I had the problem that it couldn’t scan my chip and I thought it was my card’s fault but in Santander it always worked.
5. ALWAYS PAY IN PESOS
In Mexico (mainly in the touristic places like Riviera Maya) you can pay in US dollars. This was not our concern as we are not Americans, but we have noticed that they charge you SO MUCH EXTRA if you pay in US dollars. Obviously not everywhere but in most of the places. So for all the Americans out there…exchange your money for pesos otherwise you are gonna pay around 3USD more for each 10USD transaction!
6. CORIANDER EVERYWHERE
Mexicans put coriander (cilantro) EVERYWHERE. No kidding! It is on every single dish! We hate coriander so it was a bit of a struggle for us as many times it was not even written in the description of the dish. Just always ask your dish without coriander if you don’t like it 😀
7. TOILET PAPER IN THE BIN
One very weird thing for us was that in Mexico you don’t flush the toilet paper. You have to throw it in the bin. On our first day we didn’t realise that as it was nowhere written in our hotel room and Valerio blocked the toilet with the toilet paper. Don’t be like Valerio and throw the toilet paper in the bit if you don’t want to get in some serious trouble 😀 .
8. READ HOTEL REVIEWS
What we learned the hard way in Mexico is to READ HOTEL REVIEWS. During our 2,5 months stay we changed around 20 hotels and we learned this from our own mistakes. Until now, we were never reading the reviews. We found the hotel on booking or airbnb, checked the pictures and the score (usually we go for 8 minimum) and booked it.
Oh boy did we get into some NASTY places! Some we stayed at were ranked even 9 or 9,5 on booking but they were really disgusting!
Afterwards we started to read the reviews and all the truth came to light. We read about every bad experiences of people such as “the owner was watching the TV in our room on our bed while we were at the beach” or “we had cockroaches coming out of our blankets and pillows” or “they stole money from my credit card and cash from my room”. Try to avoid these places. We learned that there is no hotel in Mexico without a bad review which makes it really hard to choose a place, but if it’s just something like “they didn’t change my towels every day” or “the walls are thin and the place can be loud at night” you are good to go! 😀
9. COLD AND HOT WATER
Having hot water in your shower is still a “luxury” in some places in Mexico. Probably all the hotels in the very touristy places like Cancun and Tulum already have hot water but if you are planning on visiting some not so touristy places there is a big chance that your hotel doesn’t have hot water. Another thing you should read about in the description of your hotel after hotel reviews.
10. BRING SOME WARM CLOTHES
Yes we know it looks like in Mexico is always hot but it is not ALWAYS and not EVERYWHERE. Even if you go to Tulum or Cancun, bring at least one change of warm clothes. We had days when during the day was 30 degrees and at night it dropped down to 16 degrees and strong wind. Wish I knew this when I packed only bikinis and summer clothes 😀 (even though Valerio told me to bring a jumper…but who listens to men right? 😀 ).
11. WARM CLOTHES FOR THE BUS
If you are planning on moving around by bus, we highly recommend you to bring some jumper with you on the bus as it’s always FREEZING. Some people were bringing thick jackets and blankets even though outside it was 30 degrees. After the 5th bus we took and almost froze we started to bring our beach towels, jumpers, long trousers and socks (with flip flops 😀 ) and we suggest you to do the same.
We recommend to book a travel insurance for every trip as you never know what could happen. It’s not easy to deal with any kind of problems when you are abroad, so it’s definitely worth it to be covered and travel with peace in mind.
The hospitals in Mexico are not the best and now also with the covid pandemic we wanted to make sure we were “safe”. They also don’t have big choices of medicines in the pharmacies so if you need something specific rather bring it with you. From what we heard from locals, doctors always prescribe you the same painkillers for any kind of issue and a drink called “Electrolit” (something like “Powerade”). So I am not sure if I would like to get sick in Mexico and get an “energy drink” as a medicine 😀 . By the way you can buy it yourself in the pharmacy or even in the supermarket to try it out. Valerio really likes it…me not so much 😀 .
We use IATI travel insurance and you can book yours through our link and receive 5% discount.
Book here if you are from EU: https://www.iatitravelinsurance.com/en-eu/?r=96181493877707
Book here if you are from outside EU (rest of the world): https://www.iatitravelinsurance.com/en/?r=96181493877707
13. USE COLECTIVO BUSES
If you want to travel to some place where normally you would go with a taxi, go with a colectivo instead!
Colectivos are small mini vans for around 10-15 people that travel many routes and they stop on the way wherever you need. They don’t have the timetable but they leave once they are full. They are super super cheap! We haven’t had a car for the most of our time in Mexico and colectivos were our best friends. We visited many cenotes, waterfalls or close by attractions with them.
14. BARGAIN THE PRICE
Bargain, bargain, bargain! Many times you hear the phrase “It is 1000 pesos but for you my friend it’s 850”. Trust me, you can go down to 500. They know that you are gonna bargain so they always put the price way up.
But there is a limit. You can bargain in the stores, tour agencies etc… but please don’t try to bargain with people (many times even minors) that are walking on the beach all day long under 30 degrees, selling some fresh fruits for literally 1 EUR just to earn some money to buy food for the family. Don’t forget that Mexico is a pretty poor country so if something is already very cheap, don’t try to get it even cheaper. See the difference.
Tips in Mexico are NOT MANDATORY by law like in the US for example, but they sure as hell act like they are. They expect a tip from you literally for EVERYTHING and EVERYWHERE. Not only in the bars and restaurants, but we have seen it even in the supermarket. Couldn’t believe our own eyes. We are not “penny pinchers” and we absolutely don’t have a problem to give a tip but many times they asked for it for literally nothing and in the most ridiculous places (like the supermarket). Hope this didn’t offend anyone but I felt it needed to be said.
16. WIFI IS PRETTY BAD THROUGHOUT THE ENTIRE COUNTRY
If you are a person who likes to stay online and connected to the internet at all times you are gonna have some a very hard time in Mexico. Some places are better than the other but in general the wifi is not good anywhere. Some hotels don’t even bother to put wifi because they know it’s pointless and it’s not gonna work properly.
Holbox was probably the worst for wifi. We have changed several places from hotels, bars and restaurants and the WIFI didn’t work ANYWHERE.
17. MEXICO IS VERY DANGEROUS!…IS IT THOUGH?
To be honest we were going to Mexico pretty scared and we were not sure if travelling around the entire country for 2,5 months was the best idea. Well it was!
We always heard mostly bad things about Mexico. “Don’t go they might kidnap you or kill you” or “You are gonna get robbed” and other things like this.
We were taking precautions every day…like watching out for our belongings, locking our suitcases in the hotel with our documents and camera gear, not leaving our expensive stuff everywhere around (like in the car etc.) and other cautious things but we have NEVER EVER HAD A PROBLEM OR FELT IN DANGER. People in general were very very nice, polite and helpful and never gave us a feeling to be scared for our belongings or even worse for our life.
We know that it’s not all lies about what is happening in Mexico and that in fact it can be dangerous and we might have been lucky that nothing has happened to us, but we think that anyway we overthink it way too much!
We have travelled as a couple so some things may be different for other kind of travellers such as group of friends, families and probably the “worst” one being solo female travellers. But I guess that’s always the most vulnerable “group” no matter the destination.
Try to avoid some BAD/DANGEROUS areas especially at night (google them to know which they are), watch out for your belongings, don’t leave ANYTHING in your car (not even in the trunk where you can’t see it), we recommend to also always lock your documents and expensive things in the hotel (just in case, it doesn’t hurt you to do it) and you should be FINE AND SAFE!
Please let us know your opinion or experiences about this topic in the comments/via email or via instagram. We would love to hear about it! 🙂
18. WHAT ABOUT THE VISA
“Citizens from the following countries who wish to visit Mexico as tourists, in transit, for business, technical activities, as journalist or for studies, for a period not exceeding 180 days, and who will not receive any remuneration at all in Mexican territory, do not require a visa:
Andorra, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Barbados, Belgium, Belize, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Cook Islands, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Ecuador, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Latvia, Lichtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macau, Malaysia, Malta, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Niue, Norway, Palau, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Romania, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Trinidad and Tobago, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States of America, Uruguay, Venezuela.“
All the other nationalities require a VISA to enter Mexico.
19. TAP WATER
Tap water is not drinkable throughout the entire country. Be careful also with the ice cubes in your drinks. They should use packed ice cubes from the supermarket that are made from drinkable water but I don’t think they do it everywhere! Otherwise I don’t know where that one week-long diarrhoea came from 😀 .
20. CAMERA EQUIPMENT
Watch out for the “NO DRONE, NO TRIPOD, NO CAMERA” signs.
You can’t use drones and tripods in all the Maya ruins sights (drone makes sense, tripod not so much in our opinion). And in some cenotes (especially around Tulum) you can’t use not even the camera. Only your phone. Some cenotes you can’t use cameras at all, in some you can pay extra (around 20 EUR) to bring the camera and in some they were offering their own photographers so we all know what it means…they just wanted to make some extra cash.
CENOTES WITH CAMERA RESTRICTIONS:
Gran Cenote – no cameras at all, no option to pay extra, no private photographers
Cenote Calavera – cameras (including go pro) at extra charge (20USD)
Cenote Casa Tortuga – no cameras, no option to pay extra, private photographers available for extra charge
CENOTES THAT ALLOWED CAMERAS:
Cenote Oxman, Cenote Xkeken, Cenote Samula, Cenote Azul, Cenote Ik Kil , Cenote Zaci
+1. AN EXTRA COVID TIP
If you are wondering if you can visit Mexico right now (March 2021) the answer is YES! At the moment is one of the only countries (if not the only one) that you can enter without any restrictions. You don’t need any kind of negative covid test and you don’t need to quarantine yourself. You can move around the country with no restrictions. Of course this can change at any time so update yourself on this topic regularly.
Check out our “Isla Mujeres & Isla Contoy travel guide”:http://borntotraveldiaries.com/isla-mujeres-and-isla-contoy-travel-guide/
and the “7 best cenotes near Valladolid, Mexico”http://borntotraveldiaries.com/7-best-cenotes-near-valladolid-mexico/
We hope this little guide of tips was helpful to you and you are gonna have a great time while visiting Mexico. For all the pictures and videos from Mexico check out our Instagram and if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to comment bellow or contact us via email or even better via Instagram @borntotraveldiaries. Thank you for your time and stay tuned for our next diary page 🙂.