With its intoxicating mix of gorgeous beaches, fascinating historical sites, vibrant nightlife, and stunning food, it’s easy to see why Mexico is a super popular tourist destination. If you’re planning a trip, though, it’s worth doing your research first. For starters, why not read this handy list of 40 facts you need to be aware of before setting foot on Mexican soil? We’ve got you covered.
While it’s unlikely that anyone would travel to Mexico on holiday with the intention of trying to see the entire country, that would be an impossibility anyway. Why?
Because Mexico is enormous — the 14th biggest country in the world, in terms of landmass. To give some context, that’s 10 times bigger than the U.K., which in itself is made up of four countries!
In the warmest areas of Mexico — such as the Yucatán and the Gulf Coast — most shops will still close in the middle of the day for a few hours. Sometimes it’s two hours, but it could even stretch to four.
It’s just too hot to work at these times, so most employees will go for a nap. These stores then stay open later, usually until 8 or 9 p.m. at night.
If you need to get from A to B in Mexico, you could do worse than checking out the available domestic flights. Even if you book late — a day or two in advance — they’ll likely still be super affordable and can often be preferable to going on a 10- or 12-hour bus journey.
Check out VivaAerobus and Interjet if you’re thinking of catching a plane during your stay.
Before you travel to Mexico, print your flight confirmation and any ticket fee information. This is because you likely paid a $25 tourist tax as part of your fee.
If you don’t have proof this has already been paid, an immigration officer could force you to pay again when you’re trying to fly out of the country. It pays to be organized!
When you enter Mexico, the immigration officer will rip off the bottom part of the Multiple Immigration Form you filled out and put it inside your passport. Whatever you do, don’t absent-mindedly throw this slip of paper away, because you’ll need it when you come back to the airport to leave the country.
If you don’t have it, you’ll be slapped with a fine.
No one likes a tourist who refuses to move outside their food comfort zone. After all, why travel somewhere you’ve never been, only to eat exactly what you would at home?
Mexico is rich with delicious culinary options, many of which can be bought at the abundance of street vendors in the country. Tacos, enchiladas, tamales, mole — why not try it all?!
If you have a delicate constitution, you may want to be careful when eating local delicacies. A Mexican chili or taco is likely to be spicier than you’d be used to at home, for example.
So it might be a good idea to ask for any spicy ingredients to be presented separately — “en el lado” — so you can decide how much to use on your meal.
When visiting Mexico City, make sure to go to a traditional cantina. In essence, these are Mexican bars where, in order to keep people ordering more drinks, they offer free “botanas.”
These snacks — which some may compare to Spanish tapas — could include stuffed chilis, nachos, steak tartare, beef broth and pork shank. Sounds better than some stale peanuts, right?
In Mexico, tipping isn’t as widely expected as in the U.S., and you’re unlikely to get into trouble if you don’t do it. Having said that, it’s still welcomed in certain situations.
As a rule, you should tip between 10 and 20 percent in restaurants, and 20 pesos for every drink at a bar. But you don’t need to tip cabbies, unless they help you get your luggage in and out of the car.
Amazingly, less than a third of Mexican people have credit, and much of this is store cards. In terms of credit cards, Statista found in 2017 that only slightly over 9 percent of Mexicans had one.
This might make you think credit card acceptance in the country would be low, but that’s not the case in tourist areas and most major big cities. They’ll gladly take your card as a means of payment.
Most places in tourist areas will accept dollars as payment, so you may think you don’t need to exchange your money into pesos. But this is what the merchants want you to think — in reality, if you pay in dollars, they’ll give you a truly terrible exchange rate.
You’ll wind up paying more for every purchase, so it’s always best to pay in the local currency.
Spanish is the national language of Mexico, with more than 99 percent of the population speaking it. However, Mexican Spanish is not the same as Castellano, the form generally spoken in Spain.
Mexican pronunciation is quite different, for example, as is some of the actual vocabulary used. For instance, “coger” means “to grab” in Castellano, but in Mexican Spanish it has a much more adult connotation!
Most Mexicans buy purified water in “garrafones” — five-gallon jugs — and avoid drinking tap water entirely. You should follow their lead and only drink bottled water — “agua pura” — during your stay, because the tap water will make you sick if you ingest it.
It’s also a good idea to avoid ice cubes and make sure you don’t swallow any water when in the shower or brushing your teeth.
For an experience you can only get in Mexico, you could go swimming in a “cenote.” What’s that, we hear you ask?
Well, in certain parts of the country, you’ll find natural limestone bedrock caverns filled with underground water, ideal for splashing around or snorkeling in. Swimming inside a cave with gorgeous, crystal clear water — what could be more idyllic?
Taking the bus in Mexico may actually be more appealing than you’d think. There are many different levels of service, priced accordingly, but the best are first class, known as “primero” and platinum class, dubbed “platino.”
Primero buses are probably a higher standard than the equivalent in the U.S., and platino is definitely worth shelling out for — it’s like flying business class!
If you don’t fancy paying full price for a cab or Uber, you could try getting in one of Mexico’s shared taxis, known as “Colectivos.” Basically, to get from town to town, people pay a small fee to get in a minivan with other travelers.
It won’t leave until the vehicle is full, but it fills up quickly. And even though there are no frills, it’s a very cost-effective way to get around.
Mexico’s statutory holidays, when workers are entitled to a day off and schools are closed, are important occasions. There’s Constitution Day on February 5, Benito Juarez’ Birthday on March 21, Independence Day on September 16, and Revolution Day on November 20.
Contrary to what you may believe, Cinco de Mayo is not one of these holidays, although it’s still celebrated.
In many provincial Mexican cities, taxicabs don’t have meters. While this might throw someone who’s used to carefully keeping an eye on the meter as they travel, it’s not a big deal.
Simply agree a price with the cabbie before getting in, and that will be the amount you’ll pay for the journey — even if there are unexpected stops along the way.
In many countries — for example, those in Asia and the Middle East — haggling over prices at the market is very much the norm. This isn’t the case in Mexico, though, and trying to haggle if the shopkeeper hasn’t instigated the process first is likely to be badly received.
In most cases, it’s best to treat the price displayed as the price you’ll pay.
If you’re going to Mexico City expecting it to be sweltering, you may be disappointed. While the weather is generally pleasant, the city may be a lot colder than you’d think.
For example, the rainy season lasts from May to September — which we would consider summer months — and daytime temperatures in summertime have been compared to those in winter!
Mexico City is very susceptible to earthquakes — so much so, in fact, that an alarm sounds all across the city when one is about to strike. Residents know to gather at one of the “puntos de reunion” placed around the city.
These are small squares or circles of sidewalk painted green and with arrows pointing to a circle in the middle. Theoretically, these areas are safe from falling debris!
If you feel more tired than usual when you first get to Mexico City, it might be because of the altitude. The city is around 7,350 feet above sea level, so the air is thinner than most will be used to.
You should be fine, though — you just need some time to adapt and get used to it.
In Mexico, you’ll likely see a wastebasket next to the toilet in your hotel. You’re expected to put your used toilet paper in there, instead of flushing it.
It’s generally believed that poor plumbing in the country is the issue, but some would push back against this. These people believe it’s simply a social convention left over from an older time when plumbing really was bad.
Picture a Mexican beach in your head and the image is glorious — beautiful white sand and gleaming blue water. But these days, many are facing a Sargassum problem that’s having a negative effect on the tourism industry.
This is a dark brown seaweed that gathers on beaches in areas like Cancun and Playa del Carmen, and sometimes it can form a large barrier between the beach and the sea.
Men in the U.S. are programmed to go into restrooms marked with an ‘M.’ But doing that in Mexico could get you into trouble, because the ‘M’ there stands for “mujeres,” which means “women.”
The male toilets tend to be marked with a ‘C’ for “caballeros” or an ‘H’ for “hombres.” Gentlemen, you have been warned!
If you’re out and about in Mexico and you feel the call of nature, you better have some change on you. That’s because many public bathrooms aren’t free to use — they’ll likely charge around five or ten pesos.
The bathrooms in restaurants, malls, and museums will generally be free, though.
If you want to broadcast that you’re a tourist, there’s one foolproof method in Mexico — wearing shorts! Despite it being hotter than many countries, the locals still dress fairly conservatively and don’t tend to wear shorts — jeans and shirts are still the norm.
Shorts are usually only worn in beach towns, and even then lots of Mexicans won’t go shirtless in the water.
In 2010 Mexico was named the biggest beer exporter in the world. In the U.S., the most popular Mexican brand is Corona, so you may think it’s also the biggest beer in its home country, right?
Wrong. Corona is often dismissed as a beer for “gringos” — tourists — in Mexico, with brands like Modelo and Sol being seen as more authentic.
If you quickly throw back a shot of tequila with a lick of salt and some lime in Mexico, the locals in the bar will likely be aghast. That’s definitely not how they drink it.
In its home country, tequila is twice as strong as what we get in the U.S., and is made to be savored slowly and classily. Basically, like how we drink a scotch.
If you’re not used to it, driving through a military checkpoint can be quite frightening. But if you’re road tripping through Mexico, you may well encounter them.
You’ll just have to show your passport and maybe agree for your vehicle to be inspected. All in all, it should be relatively painless.
If you secure a $1 per day car rental deal before traveling to Mexico and think, “This sounds too good to be true,” you’re right. Many rental outlets advertise these scandalously low-priced deals as a way to lure unsuspecting customers in.
When you get to the counter to pick up your super cheap vehicle, they’ll hit you with ludicrously overpriced insurance costs.
Around the mid ’00s in Mexico City, taxi drivers kidnapping and/or robbing customers became a huge problem. Even though the government stepped in and stamped much of it out, it’s still left citizens wary of hailing cabs on the street.
These days, most locals use apps to order taxis or only get in cabs from official taxi ranks, known as “sitios.” You should do the same.
Like any country, Mexico has some areas that are safer than others. For example, Puerto Vallarte, Mexico City, Tulum, Puebla City, and Cancun are all generally seen as very safe for tourists.
But it might be worth researching some other cities before you go, and even in places like Acapulco it’s not advisable for tourists to leave their glitzy resorts.
If you plan to use the internet during your trip, it might be wise to invest in a VPN — Virtual Private Network. This will protect all your important data.
Many holiday destinations have had trouble in recent years with customers signing into what they think is hotel WiFi, but is actually a similarly-named hotspot created by scammers to steal credit card information, et cetera.
In Mexico, HSBC ATMs will charge you an arm and a leg per transaction — usually 70 pesos — while Banko Azteca and Santander ones will only take 30 pesos. You should also try and avoid going to the ATM on the 15th or 30th of the month.
Why? Because most Mexicans get their wages twice a month, and on those paydays, lines for the ATMs can be enormous.
“Snakes. Why did it have to be snakes?!” If this quote from intrepid adventurer Indiana Jones rings true to you, then you may want to be wary in Mexico.
A fifth of its snakes are categorized as venomous! In the — admittedly unlikely — event you are bitten, take a mental note of what the snake looked like and get your butt to a hospital so they can give you the correct antivenin.
Here’s a fun fact: if you’re going anywhere in Mexico where you’ll be more than a day away from a hospital, you will be advised to get a rabies vaccination. The disease is still prevalent in the country, so it’s a good idea to steer clear of stray dogs.
The vaccination is no cakewalk, either — it takes four weeks and involves three different shots!
“Hora pico” means “rush hour,” so you can probably already guess where this entry is headed! When visiting Mexico City, it’s advisable to avoid driving or using public transport between the hours of 6 a.m.
and 9 a.m., as well as 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. in the evening. Unless you want to be driven insane by crowds and delays, that is!
This is a great fact because being unaware of the custom could trip up many Americans. In Mexico, people don’t pump their own gas.
Their gas stations have attendants who will pump the gas for you — simply tell them how much you want and settle on the price. These employees often earn minimum wage, so it’s a good idea to give them a small tip before you drive away, too.
People local to Mexico City are known as “chilangos,” which roughly translates as “belonging to Mexico City.” Some people may even know the capital city as “Chilangolandia,” and there has long been a rivalry between residents of the capital and those who live in more rural areas.
To these people, “chilango” is used in a negative sense, but to those who live there, it’s a positive.