MEXICO TRAVEL GUIDE
The highly misunderstood country of Mexico just so happens to be one of my favorites. The people here are the friendliest you’ll meet anywhere in the world. The food is amazing (obvs), there is so. much. color, and the history is so fascinating. As you’ll see in this Mexico travel guide, there’s so much more to Mexico than what you can see from your beach chair at the resorts.
I fell instantly in love with Mexico on my very first day and maybe you will too. Let’s learn more about this beautiful country in this Mexico Travel Guide.
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MEXICO TRAVEL GUIDE: THE BASICS
CURRENCY | Mexican Pesos (Check out xe.com for the most up-to-date currency conversion–they have a mobile app too!)
TIME ZONE | Mexico being as big as it is spans four time zones and they’re the same four we use in the U.S.: Pacific, Mountain, Central, and Eastern.
VISA / PASSPORT REQUIREMENTS | If you’re planning to spend less than 180 days in Mexico, no special documents are required and you can enter with your U.S. passport alone. Your passport must be valid at the time of your entry into Mexico.
LANGUAGE(S) SPOKEN | The primary language spoken in Mexico is Spanish (and of all the Spanish speaking countries I’ve been to, Mexican Spanish is the easiest to understand!).
WHAT DO YOU NEED TO LOOK OUT FOR? | This is a tricky question. Mexico is HUGE and what safety concerns you’ll need to worry about will depend on where in the country you are and what you’ll be getting up to. However, don’t let mainstream media dissuade you from traveling to Mexico!
During my visits to Mexico City and other parts of Central Mexico, I personally did not encounter even a hint of crime or of feeling unsafe. Just do your research into crime concerns based on where you’re headed, don’t get involved in the drug trade, and you should be fine.
Obviously, always take standard safety precautions (don’t walk alone in alleyways, stay on main roads, don’t travel at night, don’t flash your wads of cash you baller you). For more information on Mexico safety concerns, see this page and always pick up travel insurance before you go.
MOST POPULAR MEXICO DESTINATIONS
➤ MEXICO CITY | One of my favorite cities in the world, Mexico City is Mexico’s vibrant capital. Here you can visit ancient ruins and some of the world’s best museums, tour Frida Kahlo’s house, take in a gotta-see-it-to-believe-it lucha libre match, drink margaritas the size of your head, and so much more.
➤ YUCATÁN | Probably the most famous among tourists to Mexico is the Yucatán Peninsula–the home of such beach destinations as Cancún, Tulum, Playa del Carmen, and Merida.
➤ OAXACA | A small city in Central Mexico known for its architecture, delicious cuisine, beautiful mountains and coastline, and for being the home of mezcal.
➤ GUANAJUATO | Another popular area of Central Mexico, recognized for its color, Colonial architecture, and its adorable little cities like Guanajuato and San Miguel de Allende.
WHEN TO VISIT MEXICO
➤ WEATHER | Given Mexico’s size, it’s almost impossible to summarize the country’s weather. For instance, Mexico City (in the chart below), due to its high elevation, sees annual temperatures comparable to the central U.S. While the Yucatán and other beach-y parts of Mexico see much warmer temperatures year-round.
➤ SEASONS | Mexico has two main seasons–the wet one and the dry one. Mexico’s rainy season typically falls between May and September, with the dry season being everything else. As with much of the Caribbean, hurricane season lasts from June – November.
So when should you visit Mexico? I have personally visited in both the spring and fall and would recommend both. In the spring you have the jacaranda bloom and perfect weather. In the fall you have Day of the Dead and perfect weather. Actually, who cares what time of year it is–just get yourself to Mexico already!
WHERE TO STAY IN MEXICO
Every time I’ve visited Mexico City I have stayed in the Condesa neighborhood and it’s been a DREAM. Condesa is a beautiful, laid back, tree-lined, street café kinda ‘hood where almost literally everyone is walking a dog for you to squish your face into.
The Condesa neighborhood felt more than safe, is home to my favorite breakfast place in Mexico, is walkable to many key locations, and all around the perfect place to stay in Mexico City.
If there are a handful of you traveling together to Mexico, renting a large house through Airbnb is a great idea and the options here are unreal. (Like, are these for sale? When can I move in?) Otherwise, there are a number of great hostels and hotels nearby that would be perfect.
Exploring Mexico beyond just one destination is a great way to see the diversity of this huge country. And Oaxaca is a popular place to explore. I visited Oaxaca to experience this small town’s Día de los Muertos celebration and I am dying to spend more time here. The food is said to be the best in the world (I can vouch) and it’s the home of mezcal, tequila’s chain smoking cousin.
While in Oaxaca I stayed at the Hotel Anua and loved it. It’s clean and quiet and had everything we needed (hot water and Friends on the TV, for starters). The location is perfect–we could easily walk everywhere in town we needed to go (including the bus station) but it’s far enough from the main plaza (which isn’t far at all) that it’s quiet and calm.
I would stay here again, no questions asked.
Mexico City and Oaxaca aren’t the only amazing places to visit in Mexico though.
The country is huge and it’s packing tourism and adventure destinations out the wazoo. After you decide where in Mexico you want to visit,
And don’t forget, there’s always Airbnb and I can help you save $40 on your first Airbnb stay.
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MEXICO TRAVEL GUIDE: WHAT TO DO
Mexico is an enormous country with a diverse landscape so anything you want to do, chances are you can do it. So far, I’ve kept most of my time in Mexico in and around the cities but Mexico’s beaches are huge in the world of tourism.
➤ IN THE CITY | In Mexico City, the 7th largest city in the world, your entertainment options are endless. Personally, I’m a fan of the city’s world-class museums (Casa Azul, National Museum of Anthropology, etc.) but you can also catch a lucha libre match, head outside the city to the ruins of Teotihuacan, sail down the canals at Xochimilco, and so. much. more.
➤ AT THE BEACH | At Mexico’s beaches you can relax in the sun (something I’m terrible at), go snorkeling and scuba diving, windsurfing, kayaking, and just about anything else beach and water-related.
➤ EVERYWHERE ELSE | Other popular things to do in Mexico include checking out its many cenotes, horseback riding through the countryside, getting a firsthand look at how tequila is produced, exploring ancient Aztec ruins, eating all the tacos, and so much more!
RECOMMENDED MEXICO TOURS
➤ MEXICO UNPLUGGED, INTREPID TRAVEL | If planning an entire trip sounds overwhelming, popular tour company Intrepid offers this 15-day tour of Mexico that covers the Southern parts of Mexico and up to the beach. You’ll travel from Mexico City down through Oaxaca and up into the Yucatán, stopping at small towns and Maya villages along the way. This tour includes all accommodation, in-Mexico transportation, and your own personal, knowledgable Mexico travel guide.
➤ VIATOR TOURS | If you’re just looking for day tours to various attractions in Mexico, Viator is my go-to tour company. They’ve got tours for exploring Teotihuacan with a private archaeologist, Xochimilco boat rides, day trips, food tours, and every single thing in between. Their tours include pickup and dropoff and offer those from all different parts of Mexico depending on your location.
MEXICO TRAVEL GUIDE: PACKING ESSENTIALS
➤ MEXICO GUIDEBOOK | I’m a big believer in travel guidebooks – they’re great for historical and background information, practical information like phone numbers, addresses, and opening and closing times, as well as restaurant recommendations and pretty pictures ’cause Mexico is just a beaut’! Consider them your portable Mexico travel guide.
I personally have the Rough Guides version but I know each guidebook company has their own following so here are some other choices for you. Note that Fodor’s does not offer one general MEXICO guidebook, but they do offer a few for specific parts of Mexico like Los Cabos, the Riviera Maya, etc.
And if you’re interested in a different kind of guidebook, check out Culture Smart! Mexico. Culture Smart! guidebooks focus less on hotel recommendations and more on getting you acquainted with the local customs and culture of your destination. I LOVE these guidebooks and find them to be 100% accurate.
Each region of Mexico you visit will require its own specialized packing list.
However, here are a few things you can just about count on needing while you’re visiting Mexico.
I know it may seem obvious to bring a pair of sunglasses south of the border, but whatever. Sometimes they’re easy to forget when you’re heading out to the airport pre-dawn. Leave your expensive (and metal) pair behind and opt for something simple and comfortable (and polarized) for all your coastal and inland adventures.
I really tried to play it cool during my first trip to Mexico and just let my hair do its thang, but that got old real fast. Nowhere I stayed in Mexico had a hair dryer on hand so I bought this little travel one for next time. If your hair needs a dryer, in Mexico it’s BYOHD.
If you have any interest in visiting Mexico during Día de los Muertos season, you have to see the movie Coco first. Besides being visually phenomenal, this Disney/Pixar flick really breaks down what Day of the Dead is all about and there are Mexico “Easter eggs” hidden throughout the movie. It’s a must-watch before your visit.
Good news: Mexican Spanish is probably the easiest for a non-native speaker to understand. And if you don’t remember any of your high school Spanish, you’ll want to brush up un poco. These pocket-sized guides are my favorite and have all the essentials you need to know as well as a menu guide. So yes, I knew I was eating grasshoppers when I ate them.
What you’ll get up to in Mexico will be as diverse as the country is large–hiking up ancient ruins, exploring the cities and their cobblestone streets, riding a boat down a river, hanging out on the beach, etc. So just go ahead and bring one shoe to rule them all. I love my Chacos and they’re the perfect shoes for ALL of those activities.
If you don’t like all the plastic trash that comes with drinking water exclusively out of bottles (don’t drink the water in Mexico), you may want to pick up a SteriPen. These portable little devices use UV light to kill all the things that could potentially kill your bowels. It works in just seconds and is rechargable.
Whether or not you plan on visiting Casa Azul in Mexico City, you’ll need to be familiar with the life and work of Frida Kahlo. She is, without a doubt, Mexico’s most famous and most important artist and her art, and likeness, is everywhere you go in Mexico. This movie starring Salma Hayek does a great job of introducing Frida to even the most causal art fan.
DAY OF THE DEAD IN MEXICO
DÍA DE LOS MUERTOS
Visiting Mexico during Day of the Dead and the month leading up to it is one of the most interesting and eye-opening cultural experiences. Even as an outsider you’re more than welcome to participate, observe, ask questions, and join in the celebration. As long as you do so respectfully.
Because of the timing, many people confuse Día de los Muertos with Halloween even though the two are completely different. Day of the Dead is a joyful time of remembrance, not a scary, candy-centric holiday.
If you’re interested in visiting Mexico during this time (and I highly recommend it), make sure to do it the right way. Check out my article here on some important dos and don’ts for celebrating Día de los Muertos in Mexico (and at home) ⇣⇣⇣
And since dressing the part is half the fun of celebrating Day of the Dead in Mexico, don’t skip out on this part! Just make sure to do it respectfully, appropriately, and meaningfully. Check out my article here on how to dress for Day of the Dead, for both sexes ⇣⇣⇣