Mexico has a special place in my heart and after spending half of least year living and travelling around this fantastic country. I am itching to return and it’s genuinely been one of my favourite countries. Mexico is nothing short of fantastic, however there are a few things that you need to keep in mind. There are a lot of culture shocks to experience, In order to truly enjoy enjoy Mexico, it’s important to understand what not to do. Although I guarantee Mexico is never a bad idea, it’s truly a country that has so much to offer, from beaches to incredible cities like Guanajuato.
1. Don’t Give the Wrong Day You Will Leave
What I mean by this is that the moment you arrive at immigration, you’ll be asked how many days you be in Mexico. It’s incredibly important that you give a precise answer as this will determine how long you will be allowed to stay in Mexico. In other words, if you tell the immigration officer that you’ll be in Mexico for 90 days, you will be legally required to leave within that time. If you overstay that time, you will have to pay a fine. The best way to not worry about this issue is to make sure that you have bought a return flight for when you want to leave the country.
2. Don’t Listen to the Fearmongering
Mexico gets an awful reputation in both the media and in TV shows like Breaking Bad where Mexicans are depicted as violent criminals. The reality is that every country has its own issues and Mexico only has trouble if you look for it. I can say that all the violence is exaggerated and I’d say it would be a rarity to get into that sort of trouble.
While it’s true that Mexico isn’t the safest country in the world, I would also say the depictions of Mexico we see in the news only focus on the negative. During my six months there, I wasn’t robbed once and neither did I feel at all like I’d end up a victim of violent crime.
3. Don’t just go to Cancún or Tulum
In my opinion, if I was giving tips for someone to travel to Mexico, I’d even suggest to not visit these places at all. That is because these places are only geared towards American tourists and they completely lack in any sort of authenticity. Not only do these places just feel like the US, they have the same prices as the US. Anything in Cancún or Tulum will be much more expensive and everywhere else is significantly cheaper. In terms of accommodation, food and tours, you should expect to be paying London prices while the rest of Mexico is much more affordable.
4. Don’t Eat Random Street Food or Drink Tap Water
Montezuma’s revenge is no joke and if you take unnecessary risks, you can get unbelievably ill. It is well known that getting a bad stomach is a possibility while in Mexico as a tourist, however if you stay careful, it can be avoided. First thing you should know is that the tap water is absolutely unsafe to drink. If you want to drink water, it’s easy enough to buy a litre bottle from Oxxo for less than a pound.
Moreover, I would suggest steering clear of any street food. If you are from Europe like myself, eating something random on the street is a sure way of destroying your stomach. That doesn’t mean you will be missing out on authentic Mexican food as there are a lot of places you can go where you don’t risk food poisoning.
5. Don’t Just Eat Tacos
The words “Mexico” and “taco” are almost synonymous with each other. However I can tell you that Mexican cuisine offers so much more than tacos. Mexico also has some incredible breakfast dishes like chilaquiles and molletes. As Mexico is a big country, there are a lot of different varieties in food depending in which state you visit.
6. Don’t Just Eat Mexican Food
If you’re backpacking in Mexico for a long time, there’s a chance that you will get tired of eating the same kind of food every single day. What you may not realise about Mexico is that there are a lot of different kinds of places to eat. Especially in the metropolis that is Mexico City. What surprised me is that in some places, there were a good number of Korean restaurants. Mexico City has a few places run by people who had emigrated from Korea to Mexico.
7. Don’t Slam the Car Door
This is an interesting cultural difference which I realised during my time in Mexico, in Scotland it’s seen as normal to slam the car door to make sure that it is shut properly. However in Mexico, it is seen as disrespectful and a lot of drivers worry about their car being damaged in this way. When leaving a car it is therefore important to close the door in a gentle manner.
8. Don’t Forget to Give a Tip
Just like in the United States, it is expected that you give a tip while paying the bill at a restaurant. If you don’t it would be seen as incredibly rude as restaurant staff live off of these tips. I would say tipping around 15% is seen as normal when going to a restaurant and it’s not going to break the bank.
9. Don’t Bother the Police or Military
I’ve heard stories about people being hassled by the police in Mexico City with them trying to get a bit of cash. However, that never happened to me, but I did see a high police presence. I would simply suggest staying out of the way of the police. It is likely they work long and mundane hours, so not giving them any bother is a good idea. The same goes with the military, who can be seen patrolling the streets in certain places.
10. Don’t Forget to Brush up on the Spanish
Despite the fact that Mexico shares a border with two countries that speak English. It isn’t entirely widespread in the most populated Spanish-speaking country. Of course in the touristy places like Cancún most people will interact with English speakers on a daily basis. In the more authentic parts of Mexico, it’s a guarantee that a lot of people won’t speak English. You don’t have to speak fluent Spanish to get around in Mexico, but it definitely improves your experience. Even knowing “hola” and “gracias” will make people warm up to you.
11. Don’t Expect Everyone to be Punctual
In Latin American countries, it tends to be a normal social rule to be late when meeting with friends. It’s important to not take it as disrespect, even though it may be annoying, it’s the norm here. It’s also important to consider that Mexican cities tend to have chaotic traffic so it can take some time to get around by car. That being said, if you agree to meet someone at 7PM, they really mean they’ll be there at 7:30PM.
12. Don’t Just Bring Beach Clothes
Although Mexico is regarded as a place that is being perpetually sunny and having warm weather. Mexican winter in some places mean that temperatures can drop meaning it would be unwise to wear shorts. I would suggest only wearing your trunks and flip flops at the beach. Wearing this kind of clothes in a city will make you look seriously out of place. When visiting places that are more inland such as Puebla, I recommend wearing comfortable shoes and jeans as it can help you blend in with everyone else.