Mexico Travel Guide
Your Comprehensive Guide To Mexico
Planning your own Mexico trip? We’ve got you covered in this comprehensive Mexico travel guide!
We’ve spent 15 months traveling all throughout Mexico and have visited 29 of the 32 states in Mexico with our DIY campervan. While it’s impossible to see everything, we think we’ve seen enough to give you authentic advice and inspiration for your own Mexican vacation.
Mexican is famed for its beaches, but there is SO MUCH more that we love about this country! This Mexico travel guide will help you get out of the tourist areas and explore the real & authentic Mexico.
We’re sure you’ll fall in love with Mexico, just as we have.
Table Of Contents
Choose Your Destination
Mexico - Base Map
Top 5 Things To See & Do In Mexico
1. Tour The Waterfalls in Huasteca Potosina
2. Gorge On Carnitas Tacos In Quiroga
3. Hike Up Parícutin Volcano
4. Soak In The Famed Hotpools In Tolantongo
5. Arts & Handicrafts Shopping In Oaxaca
When To Visit Mexico
Mexico is a great country to visit year-round, no matter the month. The geography is so diverse that when it’s the hot & rainy season in one region, there will be cool, temperate climates in another region.
November – April: Climates are cool and dry virtually everywhere throughout Mexico and this is the best time to visit any region in Mexico. Little chance of rain means beautiful days almost every day. The central highlands can get quite chilly at night, however. Most ideal time for:
- Baja California & Coastal Areas
- Northern Mexico & Copper Canyon
- Southern Mexico: Chiapas and Yucatan Peninsula
- Huasteca Potosina: Waterfalls & Pools
May- October: Rainy season gets under way in much of Mexico and the coastal areas get hot and humid. But other areas in Mexico begin to cool down. Still a good time for:
Travel Tips In Mexico
Traveling in Mexico with a few handy bits of knowledge can help for a much richer and fuller experience here in this country. We complied a list of some of our best advice the get the most out of Mexico.
1. Hungry? Look for "Comida Corrida" signs during lunch hours.
Eating at a shop that serves “Comida Corria” or “Menu of the Day” ensures you’re eating as the locals do. Food choices can be limited, but the prices are unbeatable (~$3) and you are served a modest, but filling, three course meal and includes a drink of your choice.
2. Just arrived at a new place? Find the "Zocalo"
The “zócalo” refers to the town center, or central plaza area, or each major city and town. The zócalo is often one of the most beautiful and green areas of town, and most of the town life and activity takes place here. Lining the perimeter of these plazas are cafes and restaurants with great central views. Grab a chair and a coffee and enjoy the day!
3. Is Your Spanish Rusty? Learn The Numbers From 1-500
Throughout your journey in Mexico, you’ll be shopping at local markets, gorging on street food, and using public transportation all across the country. Learning the basic numbering system along with “cuanto cuesta?” (“how much?) will go a long ways to helping you get the most out of your travel experience here in Mexico.
4. On A Time Crunch? Zip Around Town With Uber
Uber has a strong presence in large Mexican cities. And while they may be more expensive than other public transportation options, Uber prices are considerably cheaper than in the USA. Cars are usually clean and drivers very professional. We’ve gotten around Mexico City with each ride costing between $5-$8.
5. Mexico's Tipping Culture
Tipping isn’t required in the same way that it is in the USA, but in higher-end restaurants and cafes, tipping 10% is customary. Tipping %15+ for great service can be really appreciated.
In local restaurants, street food, and in the markets, there is no expectation for tip. Though tip can always be given.
Typical Food In Mexico
With color, flavor, and presentation, food in Mexico truly is a feast for the stomach AND eyes! Below, we describe some of our favorite Mexican dishes.
Mexico is the king of tacos! Coming in all different shapes, sizes, fillings, and spice levels; you could travel all across Mexico and not eat the same type of taco twice! The best taco stands often have a large pan where different cuts of meat sit frying/stewing in fat oil. Mmm!
Chilaquiles is a traditional Mexican breakfast consisting of deep fried tortillas pieces. The tortilla chips are then slathered in salsa, cheese, and a hodgepodge of other ingredients to create a delicious breakfast.
An enchilada is a corn tortilla that is rolled around any number of fillings and then lathered with a sauce on top. Chicken and pork enchiladas are most common and are usually lathered in either green or red salsa.
Menudo & Pancita
Not for the faint of heart, Menudo/Pancita is a stew featuring the stomach lining of a cow, or “tripe”. If you’re lucky, there might be other, more regular, cuts of meat included. But tripe is usually the main event.
Barbacoa (en Consomé)
“Barbacoa” means to slow cook a piece of meat over an open fire. And no where is barbacoa taken more seriously than in Oaxaca. And instead of just being served just meat, the barbacoa is often served with soup and a side of tortillas and cilantro.
In it’s essential form, a quesadilla is a grilled cheese taco. Similar fillings, similar tortillas, but in a quesadilla, a healthy serving of cheese is included and the entire thing is grilled on the stove top. The perfect stomach-filling street food!
Elotes are the ultimate local street food and are found all throughout Mexico. Grilled corn on the cob and slathered with mayonnaise, hot sauce, and your choice of additional toppings. Look for “esquites” if eating corn off the cob is a bit too messy for you.
Mole is a general term for a thick brown sauce usually generously slathered over chicken or enchiladas. Mole recipes differ depending on the region but usually consist of ground chili peppers, nuts, and spices. Our favorite mole can be found in Xico, Veracruz!
Typical Drinks in Mexico
No good Mexican dish deserves to go unpaired with an excellent Mexican drink. Mexico is not only about Tequilas and Cervezas, here is a list of some of the most common drinks in Mexico.
Popular local beverages prepared with a mix of water, fruits, sugar and ice cubes. Ask your server for the drink of the day (“agua del dia”).
Lemonade. You can ask for Limonada Mineral or Natural (with or without sparkling water). Limonada can be quite sweet so you can ask for “menos azucar”(less sugar) or “sin azucar”(no sugar).
Same as lemonade, but with oranges instead. Eric’s favorite!
Means soft drink. Usually it implies Coke, Pepsi or Sprite. This is the most common drink that most stalls carry.
Horchata is a deliciuos drink made with blended water and rice and mixed with cinnamon.
Smoothies. You can pick one or multiple fruits to mix into your drink. Lots of sugar are usually added, so you have to tell them to include less, or none at all, if you want your drink less sweet.
An alcoholic beverage made from the fermented sap of the maguey (agave) plant. Not too strong and easy to drink. Color is milky white, and taste like yogurts with hint of alcohol.
Mexico Shopping Guide
There is so many beautiful handcrafted souvenirs to buy in Mexico, your wallet may have a hard time keeping up with your eyes!
Hand Woven Wool Rugs: Our favorite purchase in Mexico. All-natural dyes, traditional designs, and authentic weaving techniques. Teotitlán del Valle in Oaxaca state is the wool rug epicenter of Mexico and a visit there is a must for any interested rug shopper.
Leather Shoes: Multi-colored, handmade, 100% leather shoes. No matter your style, these shoes will satisfy any girl’s dream 🙂 These shoes can be found in markets all over Mexico, but a certain market in Guadalajara was the best, in our experience.
Copper-ware: Take a trip to Santa Clara del Cobre, Michoacán state, where generations-old studios still churn out beautifully, hand-made copper products. Everything from large cooking pots and sinks to smaller items such as coffee cups, bracelets, and earrings.
Alebrijes: Mythical creatures hand carved out of wood and delicately painted with tiny details. Visit a studio in Oaxaca and get a free tour!
There is so much to love about souvenir shopping in Mexico. Read our Mexico Shopping Guide to get our best info on where to go and what to buy!
Transportation In Mexico
The diversity of public transportation in Mexico is mind-boggleing. Prices are affordable and destinations are endless.
If you are in Mexico City and Guadalajara, taking the metro around town is the authentic urban experience. Pack yourself into a train car during rush hour and watch the flow of people going to work, heading back home, or getting ready for a night on the town.
Riding on large tour buses is the most popular and efficient way to get from one major destination to another. Bus stations are efficiently run and prices are affordable.
Talk about cheap! Collecivos are the most common way to get from one village/town to another. Collectivo vehicles are diverse and can they can be minibuses, modified pick-up trucks, or old, re-purposed taxis. Ride in a collectivo and you might very well be crammed in with many other locals heading in the same direction.
Abundant and convenient. If you’re in a time crunch, taxi’s get you to where you need to go quickly. Make sure to ask the price for where you want to go BEFORE you get in and ride with the driver.
City Bicycle Rentals
In many of the large cities, there are bike-share programs for both locals and tourists to take advantage of. You can usually purchase a 1-day or 3-day pass and ride as much as you like around town. We used these programs in both Mexico City and Guadalajara and loved it!
Looks like a taxi, but this is collectivo which only drive certain route. Since the car is small, let them know by raising your fingers how many people are with you.
Mini bus type of collectivo is also common
Cash is king in Mexico. Though many hotels and higher-end restaurants accept credit cards, many local restaurants, businesses, and camping sites only accept cash.
How and where do you exchange money? Are the exchange commissions fair? How are the exchange rates?
Use ATMs When In Mexico - DO NOT Exchange Money Anywhere
We only get our Mexican Pesos at ATM machines from major banks brands. Not only do ATMs give us the best exchange rate, but there are no commission fees, no minimum amount requirements, and hassle-free. You will need a debit card tied to your bank account to be able to use ATMs in Mexico.
Important Tip: When withdrawing money from a Mexican ATM, the last screen on the ATM machine will show you the amount you want to withdraw and will show you the proposed exchange rate.
You will be given a choice whether to ‘accept’ or ‘decline’. DO NOT accept. The ATM is asking you whether you accept the Mexican bank’s proposed exchange rate. By declining, you will use the exchange rate offered by your own bank, which will be substantially better.
Banks and ATMs are in abundant supply in Mexico. You will almost never have trouble finding an ATM, even in many of the remote towns throughout the country.
You can find ATMs in most major grocery stores, some Oxxo convenient stores, and the many bank branches that are in the central park areas in every city and town.
Stay Connected: Get A Mexican SIM Card
If your current cell phone provider allows you to roam for free in Mexico (T-Mobile, for example), then you’re already good to go!
If not, you can easily obtain a Mexican SIM card at any Oxxo convenience store.
- Go to the counter in Oxxo and ask for a SIM Card. Cost = 50 pesos
- The SIM card includes a small amount of data (~200 mb) which you must use up before adding more.
- Once your 200mb data is used, you can return to any Oxxo to add more data.
- Data packages cost between 20-500 pesos. We usually purchase 200 pesos worth of data, this is good for about 4GB of data.
- In order to add a data package, you need to keep your Mexican number handy. You’ll need to tell the Oxxo employee your number in order to top up your account.
Staying Safe In Mexico
Despite what you might hear in the media, Mexico is predominantly a safe and peaceful country to travel. The people are friendly, the tourist industry is booming, and transportation is widely available.
Having said that, a little common sense goes a long way.
- Know the current situation in the regions your travel in.
- Keep you valuables secure and out of sight.
- Be kind and respectful to those you meet.
- Stay away from drugs and other vices.
- Learn to asses your surroundings and walk away if things don’t feel right.
There are pockets of gang & cartel activity throughout Mexico, but tourists are rarely targeted. Even such, we stay away from the coastal states of Colima, Guerrero, and southern Michoacán.
Corruption In Mexico
Depending on where in Mexico you are and if you are driving your own foreign vehicle, your chances of encountering corruption face-to-face can vary.
Most instance of corruption occur by getting pulled over by police with driving your own foreign vehicle and/or attempting to cross an international land border.
In order to try and get out of a bribe attempt, we recommend the following strategies.
– Be respectful: Don’t escalate the situation
– Purposefully waste the officer’s time: Do this by not trying to speak Spanish, spend time “looking” for your “lost” license/passport, feign ignorance, etc…
– Never Give Official ID: Even if the police asks for it, only give them black and white copies of your ID.
– Request an official ticket: If all else fails, ask for the official ticket to pay at the police station. Chances are, you won’t be given one.
Road Trip In Mexico! Get All The Info Here
Mexico is an amazing country to travel with your own vehicle. Go where you want, when you want, and explore large cities and isolated villages.
We took our own vehicle from the USA into Mexico and have documented all the paperwork and procedures you need to know in order to do the same. For more detailed information, check out our Van Life Mexico page.
- Required Documents: Passport, driver’s license, Mexican insurance, vehicle title & registration
- Documents to obtain at/near the border: Tourist Visa (FMM) & Vehicle Temporary Import Permit (TIP)
- Avoid Corruption: Get your FMM and TIP online, instead of at the border.
- Auto Insurance: Vehicle liability insurance is mandatory to drive your vehicle around Mexico. Luckily, Mexican insurance is affordable and easy to obtain. We use Baja Bound insurance.
For more detailed information regarding border crossings, safety, and travel tips with your own vehicle, check our our Van Life Mexico page.
Baja California - Your Guide To The Peninsula
No Mexico beach tour is finished without visiting the Mexico’s Baja Peninsula! Beaches for resort lovers, surfers, and those that just want to truly get “off-the-grid”.
Some of our favorite beaches in the Baja include:
- Playa Escondido, Bay of Conception (best water!)
- Punta La Tinaja (most isolated!)
- Playa Los Barrilles (best wind for kite surfing!)
Head over to our Baja California Guide for much more information.
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