I loved my time in Mexico so much, I moved here! Well not permanently, but I keep a room in a house here and when I’m not traveling, Mexico is the place I call home.
To write a travel guide to Mexico is no easy task. Mostly because it’s so diverse. Where I live in Playa del Carmen, is a world away from San Christobal de Las Casas, which is another world away from Mexico City (CDMX). But I’m going to do my best to give you an overview of this incredible country which has well and truly stolen my heart.
In this guide to Mexico, I will go over all of the basics that you need to know to help you plan a trip to Mexico. I’ve included lots of links to further reading and places where you can get more in-depth information as well as some great travel tips for Mexico.
Please feel free to use the table below to skip ahead to the most relevant sections.
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Mexico Travel Information
Mexico, officially the United Mexican States, is a country in the southern portion of North America. It is bordered to the north by the United States; to the south and west by the Pacific Ocean; to the southeast by Guatemala, Belize, and the Caribbean Sea; and to the east by the Gulf of Mexico.
The capital of Mexico, the country, is the Federal District (Distrito Federal, D.F.) otherwise known as Mexico City, or even just Mexico.
The currency in Mexico is the Mexican Peso (MXN)
The dialing code of Mexico is +52
The water may not be safe to drink from the tap in Mexico, however, you will find filtered water everywhere so no need to buy bottled water.
Accommodation in Mexico is generally to a good standard. Although that really depends on where in Mexico you are. In the Riviera Maya where everything is set to cater to a North American clientele, you can expect very high standards (and prices to match) but budget accommodation is also plentiful and very reasonable.
Most hostels in Mexico have a communal kitchen, wifi is pretty standard unless you are visiting somewhere remote, like Holbox, Punta Allen, or Bacalar. So just check if it’s a deal-breaker for you.
In the more tourist-friendly areas you will almost always be able to pay by card, or with cash in either local currency or USD (must be clean and with no rips at all). If you are concerned do check before booking. Some smaller places may not accept cards.
For a bed in a dorm expect to pay around $100 MX per night($6 USD) if you want a private room in a dorm then you are looking at around $200 MX ($11 USD). Or if you prefer to stay in a hotel expect to pay around $300 ($15 USD) or more.
If you prefer to stay in an Airbnb then a room in a house will cost around $100 MX ($10 USD) and for a whole house or apartment expect to pay $200 ($20 USD).
As a note, you can expect to pay a lot more than this in many places in the Riviera Maya, especially if you want to go during peak season.
Food in Mexico
OMG food in Mexico is another level. Seriously. Tacos are life. And don’t even get me started on breakfast in Mexico, Mole, or Chilaquiles, or Chile Rellenos, or Tamales… of I’m going to stop now. My point is, you will not go hungry in Mexico! If you stick to eating good Mexican food, you can also save a lot of money, just stay away from the gringo restaurants and eat on the street as much as you can.
P.S. If you want to find the best food in Mexico then I strongly advise you spend some time eating your way around Oaxaca, you won’t regret it… although your waistband may!
Best Things To Do In Mexico
There are so many cool things to do in Mexico, where does one even begin? Let’s start with some history. If you are in the Yucatan Peninsular then you can’t miss Chichen Itza at night, or during the day. There are a lot of Mayan Ruins around and other than there I would recommend Tulum Ruins, Coba Ruins, and Ek Balam. Then there is also swimming in Cenotes, and of course scuba diving in Mexico.
But Mexico has many different coastal places to visit, Baja California has incredible diving, surfing, and it’s also one of the best wine destinations in Mexico. Veracruz has some of the most delicious food. If you want to shop till you drop buying hand made artisanal goods, then get yourself to San Cristobal de las Casas.
But if you want to party, shop, eat, and soak up culture then Mexico City has it all, and there are also lots of interesting places to visit outside of the city.
Visiting most Mayan or Aztec Ruins will cost under $5 USD, with the exception of Chichen Itza which will set you back around $20 USD! For a 2 tank scuba dive, you are looking at around $100 UDS plus equipment rental.
I would budget for at least $10 USD a day for activities. Somedays you will spend less of course, and some days more.
Mexico budget per day:
Backpackers Budget – $600 MX ($25 USD)
Accommodation: $150 MX
Food: $250 MX
Activities: $200 MX
Mid Budget – $900 MX ($40 USD)
Accommodation: $300 MX
Food: $350 MX
Activities: $250 MX
Luxury Budget – $2400 MX ($100 USD)
Accommodation: $1000 MX
Food: $700 MX
Activities: $700 MX
Recommended Mexican Tour Companies
These are companies I 100% recommend booking activities within Mexico.
Mexico Safety Advice
Ok, so here’s the thing. Mexico was never on my list of places to travel solo to. I wasn’t dumb, I’d seen the news and knew there was nothing in Mexico apart from cartels and kidnappings. True story.
But while I was living in Guatemala my mind started to change. Firstly everyone told me not to go to Guatemala because it was too dangerous. But I was there, and I was safe, so maybe people had it wrong… When I was doing a work exchange in a hostel there I’d ask everyone where their favorite place way. It went one of two ways, they would tell me Colombia, or Mexico.
Anyway, by the time I was getting ready to leave Guatemala, I’d decided to go via Mexico back to the USA so I could make a quick trip to Tulum to see what all of the fuss was about. I had quite the journey from Tikal to Tulum which ended up with me wandering the back streets of Tulum at midnight unable to find my hostel, you can read about that misdemeanor and 14 others here.
Anyway, all of that just to say. Don’t believe everything people tell you. I live in Playa del Carmen and I ride my bike home alone at 2 am. The thing with Mexico is that unless you are planning on buying drugs, or hooking up with a fully-fledged member of a cartel and have ambitions to become the next cartel wife you are very unlikely to be harmed in any way. Of course, crime happens everywhere, but I find Mexico no more unsafe than New York or London.
Be very careful with cash machines, I only use the machines in the banks, or in the supermarkets.
In general, don’t trust the police, and know if they stop you and start being difficult you can get them to go away for as little as $20 pesos! Although if they see you have more, they will want more.
Although there are some lovely, honest taxi drivers. I’ve met many of them. Oftern the ones that will target you as a tourist (especially in the Riviera Maya) are notoriously morally bankrupt… Seriously in Playa, they won’t even let me in their car as they know right away I live here because I’m Speaking Spanish and asking to go to a residential address. Your first hurdle will be getting from the airport. The taxi drivers will tell you anything they can think of to get you in their car. The bus isn’t running etc. All lies.
In the Riviera Maya, avoid taxis at night. If you can, call a taxi, or make sure you are with people, and NEVER sit in the front if you are alone. The taxis run on a fixed fee system. If you don’t know the prices, this can make life difficult. So always check the price before you get in. Or if you know the fee, don’t ask, just hand over the money at the end. If you are the price at the end, they can tell you anything they like and you have no choice but to pay.
One thing I know for sure is that you should never travel to Mexico without some kind of insurance. There is no free healthcare from foreign visitors there so if anything should happen to you you will end up with a very large bill without insurance. There are 2 travel insurance companies I recommend SafetyWing and World Nomads.
SafetyWing is insurance specifically for Digital Nomads which renews every month. Whereas World Nomads is more for Backpackers. You can read the full review I wrote about long term travel insurance here, and use the widget below to check the price of World Nomads.
Mexico Money Saving Tips
Take Some Spanish Classes
If you want to save money then one sure-fire way to do so is to take some Spanish classes. It’s amazing how things magically become cheaper when you speak to the person selling those things in their language. From getting the right fare from the taxi driver to haggling at the market, think of the money spent on learning Spanish as an investment. I take online classes with Toucan Experiences to keep progressing my Spanish.
Look Out For Hostels With Kitchens
Not all hotels and hostels in Mexico will have communal kitchens. So if you want to save money by cooking for yourself then I would strongly sugest checking before booking.
Save money on accommodation using Worldpackers
This is how I was able to stay in Guatemala for almost a year rent-free! There are so many amazing opportunities in Mexico on Worldpackers. It’s not expensive to join and if you join through my link and use the discount code in this blog post you get some money off… you’re welcome!
It’s pretty obvious really, but I’m going to say it anyway. Eat at the local places, or from the street food carts and you will save a lot of money.
Shop At The Market
The supermarkets can be expensive in Mexico so always shop at the market first, then if you can’t find what you are looking for head to the supermarket or tienda.
Don’t buy Bottled Water
Although the water isn’t safe to drink directly from the tap, almost all businesses including hostels have big water bottles that are perfectly safe to drink from and they will almost always provide it for free.
Some hostels may ask for a small fee if you want to fill up large water bottles. So be sure to bring a good water bottle with you.
Mexico Packing Advice
Wondering what to pack for Mexico? I got you. Just click on the link below and take a read of my packing guide for Mexico. I also made a handy printable packing checklist!
Or you can just skip ahead and download my free packing list using the form below.
Where to Stay in Mexico
It’s important to do some research before booking your accommodation in Mexico. Especially if you a solo female traveler as you do need to be careful in many areas at night. All of the places I recommend below are in the best areas and I have either personally stayed there, or I know someone that has and it comes highly recommended.
I wrote a lot of Accommodation guides which I’ve also linked below. These guides go into detail about all of the areas I recommend to stay in and why so you can make an informed choice when booking.
Where to Stay in Mexico City
Where to Stay in San Cristobal De Las Casas
Where to Stay in Merida
Where to Stay in Holbox
Where to Stay in Cancun
Where to stay in Playa del Carmen
Where to stay in Tulum
Where to stay in Cozumel
Traveling in Mexico
You will be pleased to know that traveling around Mexico is pretty easy. You have two main options, bus or plane. Flying internally in Mexico is pretty cheap, and so if you are covering a lot of ground then flying is often the best option.
That said there are often some journeys I will choose the bus over a flight. Personally I won’t do super long bus journeys in Mexico as the buses can sometimes be robbed, this isn’t very common thankfully. but it is something I’m cautious of. So I prefer to search for cheap flights instead. If you are planning some long bus journeys then take a read of this guide to surviving long bus journeys!
In general, the ‘public transport’ options available to you in Mexico are as follows:
Collectivo Bus – This is the local bus used by Mexican people to travel short distances. For example, I will oftern take a colectivo to the supermarket, and I can also catch one from Playa del Carmen to Cancun or Tulum. They are great for short distances and are very affordable. Prices are fixed and you normally pay when leaving.
ADO Bus – There are other bus companies, but ADO is the main one, and most of the other busses depart from the ADO bus stations. The buses are well maintained, clean, and comfortable. The AC is often to he max and they like to play very loud films so you have to listen to whether you want to or not. But they are safe and reliable and don’t cost a lot. If you can book a few days in advance you will often save money. But don’t even bother trying to do it online, the website has a mind of its own. Better to just drop into the bus station a few days in advance and buy your ticket.
Flying – Traveling within a state I would always do by bus, but if you want to travel longer distances that take you across state lines, then I’ll almost always fly. Personally I try and always fly with Volares, as they are the most reliable. But there are several other budget Mexican airlines you can use. Just keep a close eye on the baggage costs as this can inflate the cheap prices. Booking in advance will always make sure you get the best price.
Taxi – Taxis are generally safe and reliable. Be careful taking taxis at night, and always arrange the price before you get in unless they are using a meter.
Uber – This is much more common than taking a taxi outside of The Riviera Maya. if you are in Mexico City you will likely Uber everywhere as it’s so cheap. There is no Uber in the Riviera Maya and in many of the smaller pueblos.
The Best Time To Visit Mexico
The best time to visit Mexico is during the dry season between December and April, when there is virtually no rain. The coolest months are between December and February, although temperatures can still reach averages of 28℃ during the dry season. That said, if ou are on a budget this is probably the worst time to visit. Especially if you plan on coming to the Riviera Maya as prices skyrocket.
The wet season begins in the south in May and lasts until October. A heavy shower during this period usually clears the increased humidity before it builds up again. The Caribbean coast can be affected by the hurricane season, which runs from June to November.
Mexico is a huge country, and the weather varies by season and by region. It’s worth checking the local forecast for your chosen destination.
In my opinion, the best months to visit Mexico are February or March. At this time of year the places that get cold in the winter, like CDMX and Chapas, will be warming up, The Riviera Maya is still relatively cool, and it’s low season so prices will be cheaper.
The worst time to visit Mexico is over Christmas and during Samana Santa. Pries double and there are people EVERYWHERE!
What to Read in Mexico
Where would we be without the trusty Lonely Planet Mexico book?!? It really is the best all-around guide to Mexico. The only issue I ever have with these books is that often the information can be outdated, but if you want to really explore Mexico, not just the tourist trail version of Mexico then get this book on your Kindle. It’s oftern free if you have a kindle unlimited subscription.
It’s all about the food here in Mexico. Especially in Oaxaca, thought of as the culinary heart of Mexico. This Mexican cookbook is the first true introduction to Oaxacan cuisine by a native family, each dish articulates their story, from Oaxaca to the streets of Los Angeles and beyond.
The book showcases Mexican “soul food” serving up 140 authentic, yet accessible recipes using some of the purest pre-Hispanic and indigenous ingredients available.
As much as I don’t want to perpetuate Mexico’s reputation as a county full of cartels, drugs, and danger. It can’t really be ignored, and I know many people are interested in learning more. So I’ve included Midnight in Mexico on my list of books to read. It’s a true crime book written by a Mexican-American journalist and migration lawyer. It’s about as close to the truth as you can get. Being. journalist here in Mexico is one of the most dangerous arrears you can have. But Corchado is known for never shying away from the truth reporting on government corruption, murders, and the drug cartels of Mexico. In 2007, Corchado received a tip that he could be their next target, he had twenty-four hours to find out if the threat was true…
Oh my goodness, this book. I devoured it in 2 days. I cried many tears, I don’t think I truly grasped how horrendous their journey actually was.
I think what makes this book resonate with so many people is the characters, it follows a middle classed Mexican woman who is forced to flee her home with her young son to escape the local cartel. It will change the way you view migrants. In the words of Oprah “I was opened, I was shook up, it woke me up, and I feel that everybody who reads this book is actually going to be immersed in the experience of what it means to be a migrant on the run for freedom.”
All of that said, I only found out after that the author of the book although she has a grandparent from Puerto Rico she identifies as white and is not a member of the Latinx community, which is troubling as this isn’t her story to tell. There are some alternatives written by Latinx authors which I’ll be adding to my reading list: Enrique’s Journey by Sonia Nazario, and The Beast by Óscar Martínez.
Are you even alive if you don’t know who Frida Kahlo is? If you are a Friday fan then this is the perfect fictional accompaniment to your Mexican vacation. Especially if you will be visiting Mexico City.
Using several of Frida’s notebooks as inspiration acclaimed Mexican novelist F. G. Haghenbeck was inspired to write this touching fictional account of her life. Through the book, you are taken on a magical ride through this imagined life of Freida
An old, but a goodie! This one is for all of you lovers of romance novels! It’s described as:
“A novel of passion, food, and magic, Like Water For Chocolate is a romantic, poignant tale, touched with moments of magic, graphic earthiness, bittersweet wit – and recipes.”
Forbidden love, family obligations, and seduction by food… what more could you ask for in a novel!