MEXICO TRAVEL GUIDE CONTENTS
At a Glance
Some of the best beaches in the world, delicious food, warm and friendly locals, and lots of history and culture, Mexico is a destination that has a lot to offer for any traveler. While most people associate it with sunshine and beaches, its deep history and culture are also worth exploring.
After spending almost a year in this amazing country (and loving it!), we’ve put together this guide to share with you the best of Mexico.
Mexico Quick Information
Electricity Socket: 127V AC electricity, with a standard frequency of 60Hz. Power outlets are usually two-prong flat sockets.
If the voltage in your country is 220 to 240V, you may need a voltage converter for your appliances and electronics to work well. Be sure to pack a universal travel adaptor so you can still use all your electronic gadgets.
Visa: Mexico offers visa-exempt entry to nationals of over 60 countries if you’re traveling for business or leisure for a period of 180 days or less. You may also be exempt from visa if you hold a permanent residency or a valid visa in/for certain countries. In my case (Anna), as I had a valid Schengen visa, I was able to get visa-free entry for 6 months.
If in doubt, we suggest checking with your nearest Mexican consulate to confirm if you need a visa to enter the country.
Intending to stay longer in Mexico? Whether it’s residency, work permit, or another visa, it’s a good idea to look into the requirements for the visa type that you need and prepare accordingly for your visa application.
Safety: Mexico does have a bit of a bad reputation due to drug-related crimes and violence. That said, these incidents typically occur in the north, particularly along the U.S. border. For the most part, Mexico is safe to travel to especially if you’re heading to tourist areas and as long as you stay away from anything related to drugs and illegal substances.
Petty crime and pickpocketing can be an issue so it’s best to stay vigilant of your belongings. Exercise caution and common sense: don’t drive alone at night, don’t flash large amounts of cash, don’t wear flashy jewelry or watches. If you can, avoid taking taxis alone.
Our travel insurance of choice is World Nomads so check them out! You may also want to consider Safety Wing as they offer renewable monthly insurance plans at an affordable price. SafetyWing also now offers cover for COVID-19.
However, with that being said, you will be able to get by with even the most basic knowledge of Spanish. Learning even just a few common phrases in Spanish can go a long way when you’re visiting Mexico! Mexicans are very accommodating with tourists and travelers who try to speak their language, even if you’re just using phrases or broken sentences.
If you take the time to engage with Mexicans in Spanish, they’ll definitely appreciate your effort and will try their best to help you with what you need!
Transportation in Mexico: Don’t underestimate the size of Mexico! To travel larger distances, flying is your best bet. Most flights, especially if you’re flying from the Yucatan Peninsula all the way to the Pacific side of the country, often stop in Mexico City for a layover.
If you prefer to travel slow or are going shorter distances, consider taking the bus in Mexico. A popular bus company that runs all throughout the country is ADO. If you would like to plan your route and book your bus tickets ahead of time, check out Bookaway.
Seeing Mexico by bus is not only affordable but it’s also an awesome way to see more of the Mexican countryside. If you want a more local experience, you can also hop on the local transport which is called collectivos. These minivans are super cheap and take you around most places. They do tend to get a bit crowded as this is what the locals use on a daily basis.
There are taxis available anywhere but as always, make sure you check the price before getting in. In larger cities like Mexico City, Puerto Vallarta, or Merida, ride-sharing apps like Uber are available.
Personally, our preferred mode of transportation is renting a car! Here in Playa del Carmen where we are based, the roads are in great condition and everything is clearly marked. Car rentals are super cheap and a great way to travel around without having to rely on group tours.
As a general safety precaution though, if you are driving through the country, it’s a good idea to travel in the daytime. Opt for the tolled highways as they are safer, cut down travel time, and are in better conditions.
Is It Safe to Travel to Mexico During Covid-19?
At the time of publishing (November 2020), Mexico has remained open to travelers. The exception is that only essential travel is allowed via its land border with the United States. While there are health screening procedures in place upon arrival, travelers do not need to have a negative Covid-19 test for entry and a quarantine is not required.
Within Mexico, Covid-19 preventative measures such as social distancing and frequent handwashing are observed. There may be other additional restrictions in place, depending on the city or region you’re traveling to and the situation.
Before planning your trip, we suggest checking the latest information via the nearest Mexican embassy or checking the Mexican Health Ministry for updates (in Spanish).
Mexico Trip Planning
Best Time to Go to Mexico
The best time to go to Mexico depends on which region you’re visiting and what your plans are. Remember, Mexico is a rather large country so the weather can vary a lot, depending on where you plan to go!
Generally speaking, December to April is the most popular time to go to Mexico as it’s the driest time of the year in most of the country. However, this means that you’ll be among lots of other travelers — accommodation prices will be higher and resorts will be more crowded.
Summer (June to October) is the rainy season in Mexico but it rarely rains in the north and the central part of the country typically only gets short afternoon showers. That said, we’d suggest avoiding September to mid-October as heavy rains and storms are the norm during this time.
The best time to go to Mexico is November, when the rains are over yet before the crowds of the peak seasons arrive.
It’s challenging to suggest a daily budget for travel to Mexico as it really depends on the way you travel. However, from our experience, we know that it is possible to travel in Mexico for as little as $35 a day, depending on what type of accommodation you prefer as that will take up the bulk of your budget.
Transport in Mexico is cheap as is the food, especially when you eat at local restaurants.
Here is a rough cost of basic commodities:
Budget: Dorm ~$10 / Private ~$20
Food (Typical Meal For One)
Street Food: $1-3
Local Restaurant: $5-10
Fine dining: $30+
City Metro / Bus: $0.50
Long-distance Bus: $5-6 per hour of travel
Trains (Cross-country): $50-60
What to Pack for Traveling Mexico
Wondering what to pack for your trip to Mexico? While it largely depends on the time of year and which region you’re visiting, generally speaking, light clothes suitable for warm to temperate weather will be sufficient. We’d also suggest bringing a layer or two for cool evenings, especially if you’re traveling inland.
If you’re headed to Mexico for some sun and sea, our beach packing list has you covered!
The winter in Mexico is relatively mild but you should still pack a sweater or two as the temperatures dip in the mornings and evenings. If you’re intending to travel within Mexico, it’s much easier to get from town to town and city to city with a backpack rather than a rolling luggage. Consider using a backpack like the Osprey Farpoint 40 or a carry-on duffle bag.
Don’t forget to bring a daypack as well! They’re handy for any excursions or adventures you go on while in Mexico.
Best Things to Do in Mexico
Whether you’re looking for some beach time, good eats, culture, or adventure, Mexico has something for every type of traveler.
Here are some of the best things to do in Mexico.
Discover Some of the Most Beautiful Beaches in the World
Simply say the word “Mexico” and beautiful clear blue waters and white sand will immediately come to mind. And for good reason! Mexico is home to some of the most gorgeous beaches in the world.
Party-lovers will be familiar with the name “Cancun” (Spring Break, anyone?) but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There are so many other lesser-known islands with incredible beaches like Isla Mujeres, Isla Holbox, and even Cozumel.
The Caribbean side of Mexico offers beautiful white-sand beaches and insanely blue waters as far as your eyes can see.
On the Pacific side of Mexico, although the beaches in places like Sayulita, San Pancho, and Puerto Vallarta are not as clear and picturesque, they have waves that surfers flock to all-year-round.
Check out our picks for the 10 best beaches in Mexico to learn more!
Visit the Famed Riviera Maya
If you’re planning a trip to Mexico, you definitely can’t miss the beautiful Riviera Maya. This gorgeous stretch of Caribbean coastline is a tourist hotspot – and for good reason!
Comprising of beach towns south of Cancun, this area is ideal for travelers looking for a relaxing beach getaway in Mexico. Other than just having a good time at the all-inclusive resorts that are famous here, there’s lots of water fun available whether it’s jetskiing, snorkeling, diving, or parasailing.
But the Riviera Maya is more than just beaches. There’s also lots of culture, nature, and history to discover. Read our picks of the best things to do in Riviera Maya to learn more!
Check Out Other Interesting Mexican Cities
The great thing about Mexico is that every city and town has its own character.
While the beach towns in Riviera Maya tend to be a hive of activity due to lots of tourists, other parts of Mexico will reveal a different side of the country. So, if you’ve got the time, it’s a great idea to venture to various Mexican cities and towns to get a more well-rounded experience.
One city to put on your Mexico must-visit list is Merida, the capital of the Yucatan. No beaches, no resorts, no hoards of tourists: instead, this colonial city is brimming with history and culture – about 500 years worth, in fact. Whether it’s good food, Mayan ruins, historical buildings, and more, you can find them in Merida.
Learn more about this underrated city and find out all the awesome things to do here!
Oaxaca is also worth visiting. Located in the south of Mexico, this state has lots to offer. The main city, Oaxaca City, is beautiful, full of colorful buildings and surrounded by mountains. For a city, it’s pretty laid-back and there’s lots of history and culture to discover.
Beyond the city limits, there’s more to discover. Check out the Monte Alban Mayan ruins, go beach-hopping, or have a nature-filled day in Huatulco. Click here to get more details on these amazing things to do in Oaxaca.
Enjoy Some Seclusion on Mexican Islands
For a taste of paradise, head out to one of Mexico’s many islands. Secluded and beautiful, these islands make for an awesome day trip or even an extended stay.
You’ve probably heard of Cozumel as it’s one of the most popular cruise destinations in the world. This hotspot is known for its white-sand beaches, beautiful blue waters, and colorful reefs. Cozumel actually has the second largest reef after the Great Barrier Reef, so it’s definitely worth exploring!
But beyond Cozumel, there are many other gorgeous Mexican islands that should make it to your list.
If you’re based in or around Cancun, you can’t miss Isla Mujeres. Just a short boat ride away, you’ll be whisked into an island paradise. While Isla Mujeres is still quite well-known, it still retains a charm and beauty that will draw thousands of visitors.
Another Mexican island in the Caribbean you should visit is Isla Holbox. Also accessible from Cancun, Holbox offers a mix of island life, bohemia, and beautiful nature. It’s a great spot for water activities like kayaking, birdwatching, and snorkeling. And it’s an island of fishermen, don’t miss having the catch of the day while you’re there!
Quintana Roo is not the only area with Mexican islands to visit. You may also want to check out the Islas Marietas (near Puerto Vallarta), Espiritu Santo (near the town of La Paz), Deer Island (off the shores of Mazatlan, on the Pacific Coast), and more!
Get a Taste of Mexico City
Dive into Mexico’s past and present with a visit to the capital, Mexico City. Once the capital of the Aztec empire and of New Spain, this bustling metropolis, that’s often called “CDMX” for short (Ciudad de Mexico), is the central hub of Mexico.
With a deep history of almost 700 years, it’s no surprise that this city bears the marks of its interesting past in its culture, architecture, and vibe. It may not be on the itinerary of most beach-lovers headed to Mexico but this city has lots to offer and is well-worth a visit.
The Historic Center is a must when you’re in Mexico City. Head to the largest square in Latin America, El Zocalo, with 2 important sites nearby. You can’t miss the magnificent Metropolitan Cathedral with its neoclassical towers as well as the Templo Mayor which was the main temple during Aztec times.
CDMX is also a museum mecca so be sure to carve out some hours to discover its museum scene, if you’re a museum lover. The Frida Kahlo Museum is a popular one, as is the Anthropology Museum. More offbeat choices include the museum for tequila mezcal.
Learn more about what to do in CDMX in our Mexico City guide.
Recommended Mexico City Tours
There’s so much you can see and experience in this city so here’s a list of recommended activities!
Day Trip to Teotihuacan (+ Liquor Tasting): Discover one of the most historically significant sites in Mexico on this day trip! Your local guide will take you on an early morning tour Teotihuacan, the former Aztec capital, and share facts, stories, and everything you need to know about this majestic site. End the day with some tastings of liquors made from cactus.
Lucha Libre Wrestling Tour: For something a little bit offbeat, check out this slice of Mexican popular culture. This evening of authentic Lucha Libre with locals is an experience you won’t forget!
Tour of Chapultepec Castle and Anthropology Museum: Visit one of the city’s landmarks, the Chapultepec Castle which was the residence of Mexican Emperor Maximilian I. Then learn more about Mexico’s pre-Hispanic history at the famous National Museum of Anthropology.
Hidden Neighborhoods Walking Tour: Discover the vibrant neighborhoods of Mexico City in this 4.5-hour walking tour. You’ll get a taste of the old and new in the city and learn more about its rich history and culture.
Marvel at Mexico’s Hidden Treasures: Cenotes
If you’re visiting the Yucatan Peninsula, you can’t miss this unique feature in its lush jungles: cenotes. These naturally-formed sinkholes are mysterious and wonderful and come in different types and sizes. Some are fully underground, some are semi-open, while others merely resemble water-filled shafts.
Regardless, these Mexican water holes are a special draw for travelers and adventurers. Depending on the cenote, you can swim, snorkel, and even dive in some of them! Or simply sit and bask in the special atmosphere of a cenote…. and snap a hundred photos for the ‘gram!
Visiting cenotes is a pretty popular activity and the cenotes generally have good amenities such as changing facilities and snorkeling equipment for hire. Entrance fees vary widely, ranging from $1.50 to $10 (and more!).
If you’re located in or near Tulum, don’t miss the Gran Cenote which is said to be one of the best cenotes to visit. The clear blue waters and lush backdrop is simply stunning! With two swimming areas (connected by a cave), you’ll have a grand ol’ time exploring this amazing cenote.
Cenote Dos Ojos is also located in Tulum and also has 2 swimming areas. But one of the swimming areas is dark and is a cool place for some light-free snorkeling. This cenote is also a great spot for diving and diving equipment is available for hire here.
One unmissable cenote is the Sac Actun cenote. It’s part of the largest cave system in the Yucatan and definitely leaves an impression. A visit here included a guided tour of the cave system and Mayan history as well as snorkeling equipment.
Recommended Tours of Cenotes
Scuba Diving in Cenotes: This half-day tour is great for newcomers to diving who want to experience cenotes in a different way. You’ll spend half of the session learning the basics of diving, safety protocols, and get some practice in. Then it’s time to dive in!
Four Cenote Adventure: Get ready for an all-cenote day out on this tour from Tulum! You’ll visit four cenotes where you’ll do some trekking, swimming, and zip lining. End off the excursion with a visit to a Mayan village and a delicious lunch.
Caves Visit and Bike Tour: Discover the lush Mexican jungles on a bike tour as you set out to visit three cenotes near Tulum.
Explore Mayan Ruins
For a more historical side of Mexico, take the time to discover and explore Mexico’s Mayan heritage. Thousands of years ago, the Mayan people lived in the Americas and modern-day Mexico is home to thousands of Mayan ruins.
These imposing, grand structures are a sight to behold and visiting one (or two… or five!) of the famed Mayan ruins in Mexico should definitely be on your to-do list while you’re in the country.
Recommended Mayan Ruins Tours in Mexico
Day Trip to Chichén Itzá, Ik Kil Cenote & Valladolid: Add a visit to Chichén Itzá on your list – it’s considered the best Mayan ruin in Mexico and is easily accessible via this day trip that begins in Cancun, Riviera Maya, Playa del Carmen, or Tulum. On top of exploring its pyramid temples and monuments, you’ll also get to experience a cenote and pop by the colonial city of Valladolid.
Mayan Ruins of Coba: Head deep into the jungle to visit the splendid site of the Coba Mayan ruins. The climb up the Grand Pyramid is truly an experience to remember; it’s one of the only ruins that can be climbed so this is a must-do! This tour also includes lunch and a visit to Mayan village.
Visit to Ek Balam Community & Cenote Tour: Starting from Merida, this full-tour day will give you the full Mayan experience. You’ll visit the small Mayan town of Ek Balam where you’ll get hands-on experience in activities like weaving and tortilla-making. Then you’ll get to visit the archaeological site of Ek Balam and explore the X-Canché Cenote.
Tulum Ruins and Jungle Adventure Park Combo Tour: Get stoked for a day of adventure! You’ll explore the Tulum ruins and learn about Mayan history and culture from your guide. Then rev up your heart rate at Parque Tankah adventure park where you’ll swim in cenotes, kayak, go on a zip-line, and basically just an amazingly fun time in nature.
Indulge in the Best of Mexican Food
Mexican food is an absolute delight! If you’re not sure what to eat or want to learn about the best spots for grub, then a food tour may be right up for your alley.
On a food tour, a local guide will introduce you to local delights and share more about the history and culture of Mexican cuisine. Believe me, you’ll find out that there’s so much more than just tacos and quesadillas!
This food tour in Mexico City will take you to 8 (yes, 8!) foodie gems that you would not have discovered otherwise. On top of the delicious food, you’ll also get the inside stories on Mexican food and do some sightseeing along the way.
Want to get even deeper into Mexican food? Sign up for a cooking class and learn how to make those tasty dishes you’ve eaten on your visit! Whether it’s a taco workshop in Tulum, learning to make burritos in Mexico City, or cooking Oaxaca dishes with locals, it’ll be an experience you won’t forget.
Get Your Adrenaline Pumping in Mexico
Up for some adventure? Mexico is host to loads of adventurous activities. For water-lovers, you can look forward to activities like diving, kayaking, and swimming in cenotes. But there are also other cool activities such as paragliding and zip lining!
Kayak and Snorkel in Los Cabos: Enjoy the bay of Cabo San Lucas on this kayaking adventure. Not only will you get to see the famous Arch, you’ll also get some snorkeling time to get closer to the marine life underwater!
ATV and Jet Ski in Cancun: Get your blood pumping at Maroma Beach, one of the best beaches in Mexico. You’ll ride the waves and soak in the sun before revving up on an ATV and driving through the Mexican jungle!
Parasailing in Cancun: Get a bird’s eye view of Cancun on a parasailing adventure!
Half-day Tour from Tulum – Snorkeling and Underground Cenotes: This adventure takes you on an exploration of cenotes near Tulum. Explore underground caves, snorkel, and learn more about the mysterious wonders of cenotes.
Whale shark snorkeling in Playa del Carmen: For an unforgettable experience in Mexico, book this whale shark snorkeling excursion and get closer to these magnificent creatures!
Go paragliding in Sierra de Santiago: Take in Mexico from a different perspective on this paragliding adventure in the Sierra Madre mountains.
ATV and zip lining in Puerta Vallarta: Get a dose of adventure by traversing off-road trails on an ATV and then soar above the jungle on a zip line!
Tours Around Mexico
G Adventures has a wide variety of tours in Mexico and you’re sure to find that fits your interest! We suggest using the filters in the sidebar to help you find a tour that fits your travel dates and travel style.
What to Eat in Mexico
Chances are, you’re familiar with popular Mexican foods like tacos, quesadillas, and fajitas. But believe me, it’s all extra tasty when you’re eating in Mexico.
Aside from those well-known foods, there are loads of other Mexican dishes that you may not know about but definitely should try while you’re visiting.
Here are our recommendations for what to eat in Mexico.
Seriously, don’t leave Mexico without at least having authentic tacos! Corn tortillas filled with meat, salsa, cilantro, onion, and lime, these tasty babies are great any time of the day. Variations to try include tacos al pastor which have marinated pork, tacos arabes which are wrapped with a pita-like tortilla, and gringas which use flour tortillas and cheese.
Don’t forget to sauce your tacos! Most taquerias have (at least) 2 sauces which are green and red. They can be quite spicy so be sure to taste-test before dousing your tacos in the sauces! We have a never-ending love affair with tacos al pastor and are always on the hunt for the best ones wherever we go!
Elote (Corn on the cob)
Give this a try when you spot street vendors selling them. This isn’t the usual corn on the cob that you may know. Aside from butter and salt, elotes are doused with sour cream, mayo, cheese, and chili powder. It’s a party in your mouth!
These Mexican-style sandwiches work well as a light lunch or snack in between bouts of sightseeing. Whether it’s a street vendor or a restaurant, you can fill the crusty bread roll with a meat of your choice, beans, cheese, avocado… and whatever else you want!
Go hot, cold, pressed, or toasted — no matter, it’ll be a filling treat.
Ready to go a bit exotic? This dish made of nopales, which is part of a cactus, is a dish you should definitely try. Have it for breakfast with eggs or have it as a salad with cilantro, tomatoes, and avocado.
Also known as taquitos, flautas are a Mexican dish that is basically tortillas rolled up and fried. They’re usually filled with meat and cheesy, and served with salsa, guacamole, sour cream, and lettuce.
Calling all nacho-lovers! You’ll love this dish. Made up of fried, crispy tortilla chips and swimming in sauces, and topped with cheese and onions (and sometimes meat), this is a great dish either as an appetizer or on its own. The lush green and red salsa, together with the crunchy tortilla and flavorsome toppings are just yummy!
There are many types of mole sauces in Mexico but we recommend trying mole poblano. This velvety smooth brown sauce, made of chili pepper and chocolate (among other things) works well with everything from meat to fried eggs to roasted veggies.
Places to Stay in Mexico
Hotels, resorts, apartments with beach views, villa-style accommodations… Mexico has it all! No matter your budget, you’ll be able to find a spot to stay that fits your needs.
Here are our guides to some of the best places to stay in Mexico.
Airbnbs in Mexico
We are huge fans of using Airbnb when we travel and we highly recommend going the Airbnb route if you’re headed to Mexico. Airbnbs in Mexico are especially great if you’re traveling as a couple, with friends, or as a family.
What’s more, you can get some great deals for Airbnbs in Mexico especially if you’re there during non-peak periods.
To help you in your search for the perfect Mexico Airbnb, check out our recommendations for the best Airbnbs in Mexico!
Books to Read when Traveling Mexico
Wanted to learn more about Mexico through books? Check out our book recommendations for some reading before or even during your trip to Mexico!
The Conquest of Mexico by Hugh Thomas: For a taste of Mexican history, read this book that chronicles the route that the Spanish conquistador Hernando Cortes took from Veracruz to Mexico City (or the Aztec capital Tenochtitlán, as it was known back then). Who knows, maybe this will inspire you to trace his route during your visit!
Several Ways to Die in Mexico City: An Autobiography of Death in Mexico City by Kurt Hollander: This collection of stories will give you a taste of the every day in Mexico City. Hollander lived in the city for over 20 years and this book is full of his observations of the city’s culture, food, architecture, and more.
Mexico: Democracy Interrupted by Jo Tuckman: Wanted to learn more about Mexico today? This book takes a deep dive into Mexico’s turbulent past and present, including political upheavals, the drug war, poverty, and environmental concerns. Yet despite all its challenges, Tuckman also highlights reasons to be optimistic about the country’s future.
To Find – The Search For Meaning in Life on the Gringo Trail by J.R. Klein: For a true story of adventure, travel, and the quest to find oneself, read this tale by J.R. Klein. You’ll be transported to remote mountain villages, beautiful islands, deserts, and more as Klein and his friend trek through Mexico and Central America.
Want More Travel Inspiration? Take a Look at This Video of Mexico
For an overview of Mexico and the top experiences in the country, watch this video by Lonely Planet!