Navigating Mexico: 11 Essential Tips for a Memorable Journey

Traveling can be fun, even when crossing the border from your own country. Having taken several trips to Mexico before, I can attest that there are some tried and true tips for traveling safely and maximizing your fun simultaneously.

We’ve come up with the top ten ways to make a trip to Mexico as memorable as possible without breaking the bank or jeopardizing safe travel.

1. Don’t Look Fancy

When you’re packing for Mexico, you might want to rethink slipping in those fancy labels and shiny accessories. The key here is to blend in, not stand out. Dressing too extravagantly in Mexico can draw unwanted attention, making you a magnet for petty thieves or scammers who assume you’re carrying valuables or a lot of cash.

It’s not about sacrificing style but choosing comfort and modesty over opulence. Opt for casual, practical clothing that lets you explore the cobblestone streets, colorful markets, and beachfront promenades without a second thought.

Embracing a more low-key attire is a nod to the rich cultural and laid-back way of life in Mexico. It’s a country where the beauty of the people, their traditional clothing, and the land outshines the need for material display.

2. Watch Your Speed

When you’re behind the wheel in Mexico, it’s crucial to keep a close eye on your speedometer. Speeding might seem like a way to shave off a few minutes from your drive, but it can quickly become a costly error.

The Mexican traffic authorities are vigilant, and the system here is well-equipped with speed guns and other technologies to ensure that traffic laws are upheld. If you’re caught speeding, the ticket you receive is not just a small fine—it can be a significant, non-negotiable expense that you won’t be able to talk your way out of.

We advise everyone not to argue with the cops as they all use handheld speed guns and always show you “first thing.” However, they may offer a discounted rate “if you acknowledge your fault and promptly pay.”

You may want to read: Is it Safe to Road Trip in Mexico? Driving Guide and Routes

3. Pay the Toll

Venturing through Mexico by car, you’ll often encounter “cuotas” or toll roads, and it’s in your best interest to use them. Toll roads in Mexico are generally well-maintained and offer a safer driving experience, with less traffic and better road conditions.

This is crucial, especially for long-haul drivers or those navigating the scenic yet complex landscapes of Mexico. The cost of the tolls goes towards the road’s upkeeping, ensuring a more pleasant and, most importantly, safer driving journey.

One individual who’s traveled to Mexico suggested that paying the toll on community highways not owned by the State is an excellent way to keep the peace with locals in the area. “In Ejidos, it’s safer to pay the tolls as it’s their right to ask for compensation to let you through.”

Beyond the physical safety, there’s a strong social thread that ties into the concept of toll-paying. In some cases, the tolls are a form of local economic contribution, especially in regions where the tolls are collected by the local communities, or “ejidos.” By paying these tolls, you’re not just covering the cost of a more efficient and well-maintained route, but you’re also supporting the local people and their community’s well-being.

4. INAH

Instituto Nacional de Arqueologia
Image Credit: Shutterstock.

Exploring Mexico’s ancient ruins and archeological wonders offers a unique window into the country’s rich and complex pre-Columbian civilizations. However, to ensure that your time-traveling adventure is as enlightening and fulfilling as it should be, a visit to the “Instituto Nacional de Arqueología” (INAH) website is a must before you set out.

The INAH is the custodian of Mexico’s inestimable archeological and historical heritage, and its official website is the go-to resource for the most up-to-date and complete information on the various sites scattered across the country.

Traveling to a park or other national site is no fun when you find out they’re closed. By checking the INAH website before visiting a site, you’re not arriving only to find it closed for the day or longer. 

5. Cash Is King

In many Mexican towns, cash is still King. The Mexican economy, with its colorful markets, bustling street food stalls, and quaint, tucked-away shops, often thrives on the ebb and flow of physical currency.

This is especially true in smaller towns, markets, and local vendors, where the use of credit or debit cards might not be an option. The main reason is that many businesses, particularly those in less urbanized areas, don’t have the means to process card payments. This is a part of the local business fabric, where the cost and practicality of digital business infrastructure don’t always match the reality of day-to-day trade.

One traveler suggested keeping around two thousand pesos on hand for emergencies and said, “The cheapest fee-based ATMs are Banbajio, Santander, and Banrejio,” in that order. They also suggested avoiding BBVA and HSBC bank ATMs and continuously declining conversion to save yourself the considerable markup. 

Plus, you’ll find that you can negotiate better in markets or with street vendors when you’re using cash. It’s a good idea to keep a mix of larger and smaller denominations to cover a variety of costs, from a quick snack to a ride in a taxi.

6. Good Cheap Food

Good Cheap Food
Image Credit: Shutterstock.

In Mexico, the combination of fresh, local ingredients and traditional cooking methods is why the food is both delicious and affordable. Street vendors, small eateries, and market stalls keep their prices low by using ingredients grown nearby, which also means the food is packed with flavor. The real secret, though, is the age-old family recipes that have been perfected over generations.

Authentic Mexican food is some of the most delicious cuisines you can get, especially compared to what passes for Mexican food in most American restaurants. Each state has a unique variety of food, so there are no suggestions on what to eat, but the food is usually cheap, and the selection is plentiful, so enjoy.

7. Hotel Wi-Fi

If you plan to stay in several hotels in different Mexican states, we suggest checking for a Wi-Fi connection before staying in that hotel. You can then quickly check for 4G coverage using NPerf to see where coverage exists along the cities and roads you plan to use for travel. 

8. Roach Motels

It is common to run into a hotel or other lodging in Mexico that has a problem with roaches. One experienced traveler says if you see a sign that says, “No Food in Rooms,” or won’t let you see the room before purchase, choose a different place to stay. We also recommend checking your Wi-Fi connection in the room before choosing a hotel to use. 

9. Polite Conversation

The Mexican people love conversation; if you know any Spanish, it is easy to engage in polite conversation. A smile goes a long way, and a nod goes further. You don’t have to be fluent in Spanish to get by; their generosity will likely surprise you.

10. Real Mexico

Real Mexico
Image Credit: Shutterstock.

To experience ‘real Mexico,’ you must visit the town markets and get to know the people by interacting with them.

Mexico’s real charm is in its small towns, bustling markets, and the community’s way of life. Here, you’ll find the air filled with the scents of traditional food, the vibrancy of the people, and the deep culture that has been around for centuries. It’s a way to see the real life of the country, not just the one curated for tourists.

Truly experiencing Mexico means trying the food made by those who have been doing it for generations, walking through the places that aren’t in the guidebooks, and talking to the people who live there. It’s about the art, the food, and the real, raw heart of the country. It’s a unique way to learn, understand, and be a part of a different culture.

Visiting a place like Cancun won’t do it. Dig deep into the local atmosphere to find the ‘real Mexico,’ and you won’t be disappointed. 

11. Coke Bottles

When I visited Mexico as a teenager, I played soccer with a young girl and enjoyed polite conversation with her grandfather. He paid for me to have a Coke, which came in a glass bottle, and then they let me keep it. I’ve had it for twenty-five years and counting.

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