Mexico is a beautiful, diverse, fascinating country filled with incredible food, stunning landscapes, vibrant cities, glorious beaches, and thriving nightlife. It’s one of the most popular holiday destinations for US tourists and delights millions of international visitors every year.
However, despite its beauty and popularity, Mexico is not without its hazards, and there are a few things you should avoid if you want to enjoy your holiday to the utmost. Some of those issues are as simple as staying out of the mid-day sun, while some are a little more complex – but still entirely avoidable!
We’ve gathered together a list of the problems that can ruin a holiday, from crimes and scams to health issues to common mistakes that tourists make. Avoid these 11 things and you’re sure to have a happy, healthy, safe, and enjoyable vacation in Mexico!
Table of Contents
Drinking The Water
The tap water in Mexico is not safe to drink. Opt for bottled water instead, and always ensure that the seal on the bottle is unbroken before you drink it. Avoid ice in drinks since in Mexico, it’s unlikely that it was made from bottled water. Also, check whether salads and fruit were washed using tap or clean water, especially in smaller, less tourist-focused areas and restaurants.
Obviously, purchasing multiple plastic bottles of water is not ideal, so consider carrying a refillable water bottle with a safe water filter system. Alternatively, large hotels often have water filtration systems in place, so check first, and if it’s safe, fill up a bottle to take out for the day. If you’re in Mexico for a while, buy your water from convenience stores that run exchange and refill services to cut down on cost and plastic waste.
There are a couple of other health issues to watch out for. One of the most common afflictions for visitors to Mexico is a dodgy stomach. This traveler’s diarrhea – colorfully named ‘Montezuma’s Revenge’ in Mexico – is caused by ingesting unfamiliar bacteria, however, there are some simple ways to avoid it. One, as we’ve already mentioned, is to avoid tap water, and another is to always wash your hands before eating anything, including street food. Consider carrying hand sanitizer as an added precaution.
The food in Mexico can be another cause of an upset stomach, not because it’s dirty or unhygienic, but because it’s filled with spices and chilies that your stomach isn’t used to. Stick to milder food for the first few days to let your stomach settle. Then, if you want to add hot sauces to your meals, do so sparingly. Chances are they’re hotter than you think!
Next, watch out for those mosquitos. The mozzies in Mexico can carry diseases such as Zika, Dengue Fever, Malaria, and Chikungunya. Ensure you get the correct vaccinations before you travel, and don’t forget the insect repellant.
And lastly, the sun can be fierce in Mexico, and many a vacation has been ruined by sunburn and heatstroke. Protect yourself by wearing a hat, covering up, sitting in the shade, hydrating, and using sunblock.
Mexico’s crime rates might make sensationalist media headlines, but in reality, the most common crimes affecting tourists are mugging and pickpocketing. There has also in recent years been an increase in ‘express kidnapping’ where victims are taken to ATMs and forced to make large withdrawals.
One of the easiest ways to avoid these crimes is to be wary of what you carry with you. Wearing flashy jewelry or watches, carrying expensive accessories or electronics, and whipping out wads of cash, is a fast way to attract unwanted attention and make yourself a target. Be wary of your surroundings and only use ATM’s inside shops or malls. Keep hold of wallets and handbags in restaurants and bars, and leave your valuables and travel documents in the safe at your hotel.
Also, be sure to avoid the fake taxis that are common in Mexico. Getting in an unregulated taxi might just lead to an extortionately high fare, but it can be more dangerous as drivers sometimes rob or kidnap their passengers. To avoid the risk, don’t flag down taxis on the street in Mexico, but go to an official taxi rank (sitio) or ask your accommodation to order you a ride.
Drinking On The Street
Although Mexico is a popular party destination, you should be aware that drinking alcohol on the streets is actually illegal all over the country. Ok, so in the main tourist zones, they do tend to turn a blind eye. But if you try to take your spring-break energy into the cities, you’re going to attract unwanted attention from the law. Maybe you’ll just get a telling off and have your beers confiscated, but you might also get slapped with a fine. And really, is it worth the risk when you could just step inside a bar or your accommodation?
Assuming Everyone Speaks English
This one is just rude. Don’t be that arrogant traveler who just assumes everyone speaks your language. You’ve traveled to another country! Show some respect, do a little research before you go, learn some key phrases and then take every opportunity to practice them. We’re not saying you have to be fluent, but with phrasebooks, language apps, and Google translate readily available, there really is no excuse not to try. Start with simple phrases that you probably already know, like:
Hello – Hola
Good morning – Buenos días
Please – Por favor
Thank You – Gracias
Using them shows good manners and respect for the people you meet.
Only Ordering What You Know
Traditional Mexican food is so good that UNESCO has recognized its cultural significance. And trust us, the food you get at your local Mexican restaurant back home doesn’t come close to the real thing. It’s not all tacos and fajitas, and if you only order what you recognize or keep going for the same thing over and over, you’re going to miss out.
Each region of this diverse country has its own ingredients, culinary techniques, and signature dishes. So look out for regional specialties as you travel around. For really authentic menus, head away from the main tourist strips, and it’s always a good idea to get your street food from the stalls you see the locals eating at!
The same goes for beer. Yes, everyone loves Corona, and yes, it is a Mexican beer, but it’s not the only Mexican beer, and it’s not even the best one. So get out of your comfort zone and try new things. That is why we go traveling, right?
Drugs And Alcohol
We don’t expect you to avoid alcohol altogether on your vacation, but we do urge you not to drink to excess. This is not your hometown, it is a foreign country, and one where crimes do unfortunately occur against tourists. If you’re out partying with friends, keep your wits about you, stay in tourist-friendly areas and keep your eye on your drinks at all times because drink spiking does occur. Take safe taxis to and from the bars, and don’t wander around drunk at night.
When it comes to drugs, just don’t get involved. There’s a high chance someone will offer to sell them to you, especially in the party central area of Cancun to Tulum or in border towns like Tijuana. But drugs are a massive cause of crime and social problems in this country, and tourists looking to party really don’t help the issue.
Don’t be part of the problem, and don’t risk getting caught up in any trouble. Even if you usually enjoy them at home, stay safe and avoid drugs in Mexico.
Running Out Of Cash
Many of us are fast getting out of the habit of carrying cash with us. We’ve gotten so used to Apple Pay that we barely need to carry bank cards with us anymore, let alone actual notes and coins. But this is not the case in Mexico.
You’ll find plenty of places that don’t have card machines, or if they do, they have a minimum spend limit. And even if you stick to the tourist hotspots and the big cities, you’ll still find places where it’s useful to carry change.
Tipping staff, riding buses, shopping at markets and street stalls, using public toilets, these are all places where you’ll be expected to have cash and, if possible correct change. So fight the instinct to ditch those coins. You’re going to need them.
Sticking To The Resorts
We love a white sand beach with cocktail service as much as anyone. But people who visit Mexico and never leave their resort miss out on so many wonderful things.
Mexico has stunning inland landscapes full of canyons, snow-capped mountains, volcanos, waterfalls, and butterfly-filled nature reserves. It’s got quiet fishing villages, remote mountain towns, and thriving cities filled with fascinating history and cultural wonders. There are ancient ruins to explore, mystical cenotes to swim in, islands to visit, and waves to surf.
And you don’t even have to forgo your resort vacation to visit these other places! Many of these wonders can be seen on day trips from Cancun, Tulum, or Playa del Carmen. So to avoid missing out, consider taking a day or two away from the beach to see a little more of what Mexico has to offer.
Traveling Without Insurance
Hopefully, we don’t need to tell you this, but just in case we do, purchase travel insurance! Traveling anywhere without it is just silly, but especially in Mexico, where a fair few things can go wrong.
Travel insurance will cover you if your flights get delayed or canceled, it’ll help if your documents or valuables go missing, and, crucially, it’ll protect you if you get ill or injured. Medical treatment abroad can get very expensive very quickly!
Plus as well as ensuring you don’t end up out of pocket, your insurance provider can often be the best source of information and advice when something does go wrong. Protect yourself!
Assuming Mexico Is A Land Of Crime And Chaos
And lastly – after we’ve scared you with tales of diarrhea and kidnappers and drug crime – we just want to remind you that Mexico is, on the whole, a wonderful place for a vacation!
Yes, Mexico has a reputation for high crime rates, and yes, Hollywood portrays it as a land of drug runners and cartels. But the media has been known to sensationalize crime stories from Mexico when it’s actually a safer place to live than some cities in the US. And Mexico has a lower murder rate than Jamaica, a place most would love to visit.
So, don’t be scared off by the headlines. Instead, do your own research on where to visit, because like everywhere, Mexico does have some places that are more dangerous than others. Then just exert your common sense while traveling, keep your valuables safe, keep your wits about you, say no to drugs, and don’t drink the water!
If you follow our tips on things to avoid, then there’s no reason why you won’t have a safe, healthy, and wonderful vacation in Mexico!