Mexico – survival guide

people

Mexicans are a friendly and happy nation. Whatever you need just ask without hesitation. They are very happy to help! W felt very welcomed there! They are loud and cheerful and very easygoing.

Apart from smaller towns and villages mostly in mountainous areas they are very americanized. In the mountains there is a huge mix of indigenous people and they cultivate their dress, traditions and religious ceremonies. Moving from state to state you will see different faces and dress types

Only very touristic zones may feel that money not kindness rules there. 

Taxi drivers are a huge exception from all. They are a nasty bunch thinking only about money. They will frequently lie to you that their shared ride is the same price as colectivo or local bus – never believe them! And they are veeery annoying!

language

Spanish is what you need here as the entire nation uses it including indigenous people (apart from their own ones but not heard frequently)

English is widely spoken in touristic place. You will have no problems in communicating in hotels, restaurants, bus stations etc. Although if you want to do some deeper researching town and use second class buses and local eateries learn some Spanish.

Most attractions and tours will have guides who speak English, French, German, Italian but these charge more for the service
money

Money is relatively easy to obtain from ATMs and plentiful money exchange booths. Best exchange rates we found at Mexico City airport, worst in seaside areas. You can use dollars to pay at restaurants, some attractions, tours, ADO stations but your exchange rate will be even lower. ATMs will usually charge you commision around 40-90mex. If you can open an account in your home country with Santander or HSBC and bring their debit card so their ATMs wont charge you the commision. Santander is nearly at every ADO station, and both of them in every big supermarket

Don’t be afraid to haggle with stall sellers, on the markets and especially with taxi drivers and colectivos that ask more than 20mex. Some accommodation prices can be bargained too if you stay 2 nights

See more about budgeting your stay in Mexico here.

budget accommodation

Be prepared for some untidiness, bare walls, broken toilet towel and paper holders, mismatched frayed towels and DIY solutions in the room. Linens are usually clean and fresh – if not leave! Hot water and Wifi is a standard (sometimes only around reception so inquire).

Doubles in hotels are usually cheaper than 2 bunk beds in hostels.

Hostels don’t always have kitchen so inquire.

It doesn’t pay to book your accommodation. On the spot you get better rates than through booking sites (there is no commision involved). Book only if you are traveling around Christmas, Easter, public holidays or for a peace of mind if you wish.

transport

Mexico has reasonable long distance transport but there is ADO’s monopoly. ADO is a main transport provider and it is not cheap! They provide services of primera clase, gold and platinum. Comfort is good but no frills. The aircon makes you freeze and the loud TV makes you want to leave. They advertize that you can get discounts with advanced booking but it doesn’t always work. Some offices accept credit cards

Very few routes has alternatives with other transport provider from ADO terminal (which is the main terminal in all destinations)

If you want to go in second class bus (segunda clase) only few services will be available from ADO station. There is also another option but you will have to dig it up. Talk to the locals and search for terminal camionera de segunda clase or terminal de suburbanos. It is quite frequent that each provider will have it’s own terminal, or a shared one with another few.

It is a hard work, but savings are significant. And they usually don’t have that damn loud TV!

Public transport in towns is efficient and frequent. It is also cheap! The only trouble with it is finding a bus stop and the bus you want to take. You have to talk to the locals or your hostel/ hotel receptionist. Bus stops are unmarked. Buses usually stop near the intersections (esquinas). Pay the driver as you enter.

Colectivos and camionetas are minivans and open back pick-up trucks services that will provide transport on short distances from towns or between villages. Prices vary depending on the distance and popularity of the route from 7 to 35mex. Some of them will leave when full some has timetables. Ask for the ‘precio de pasaje’ before you board and bargain the ones above 20 pesos. Pay the driver as you leave.

Taxi collectivo takes up to 5 passengers. You can rent the entire car or share your ride with fellow travellers. They charge for a whole car either way. Bargain the price. It is not a cheap option but will drop you off wherever you want.
 

traffic/roads/pavements

There is a really good network of roads in Mexico meeting the European standards in most cases. Expect heavy traffic in cities around rush hour. Crossing the street though is not a problem. 

Historic towns will usually have cobbled streets.

Pavements have a lot to wish for. Full of steps and holes and obstacles. You are frequently forced to leave it and walk on the street as you circle a taco stand or something similar

photography

There are usual no photography signs on the airports and public buildings. Do not photograph armed policeman or security workers. There is some but not a big objection from the stalls sellers. Museums and churches are no flash places

mercado municipal or simply mercado

Each city or town will have one or more of them. Smaller places will have just one that sells fresh groceries, some clothing and electronics, some artwork (in touristic places) and cheap local meals (in comedores). This is the place for you if you are on a budget! See more here

Bigger or more touristic towns will have more markets that specialise in different things. Each place vary. Some markets can be specialized in souvenirs and artesanias and will lack the other things.

There is no rule where the markets are held in Mexico. They can be either near the station, main road or in the downtown ask around or study the map.

early spring in Mexico

Be prepared for the heat! It is cooler on the Pacific Coast than on the Caribbean Coast. All the mountainous area will be even cooler. Also the more south – the hotter. Use sunblock at least during your first days.

As it is a dry season expect some trees to be bare and rivers dried.

By the end of March a rainy season will begin resulting in some clouds cover and heavy rains from time to time.

dress code

There is no particular dress code here. What you will find surprising though, Mexican wear jeans and leggings in the scorching heat!

Churches as always require covered legs and arms.

eco-mexico

Rubbish scattered literally everywhere is a witness to their lack of education. Water is badly polluted and each town have bottled water distributed to the houses/hotels. You can smell the river before you even see it. The main streets are usually swept daily, but there are rubbish piles sitting in less frequented corners and by the roads outside of towns. Rubbish tins are not always a standard in towns.

eating and drinking

Mexican diet consists of tacos and tacos and more tacos, oh and loads of chillies! Frijoles (red beans – sometimes minced into paste) are another main ingredient.

Tacos/tortillas are served with everything, and there are several tortillerias/taquerias with squeaking machines around the town.

Apart from Oaxaca expect little varied cuisine with everything being heavy and fried. Do not expect veggies in cheap eateries. For a bigger choice of food head to Chinese restaurants (cheap and yummy!) or pay loads in touristic places.

Veggies and fruit are plentiful and cheap. There are some exotic ones you will really want to try. Do not miss red, square or tiny bananas, mamey, chirimoya and guayava.

Paletas nieves and liquados are refreshing frozen fruit – first as icecream on the stick, another pretending to be a tasty snow and the last diluted and chilled juice with ice. Our favourites!

Beer is cheap, chilled and tasty. Try Modelo.

Water can be bought everywhere. Usually icy chilled and in reasonable prices.

As a general rule eating  out is way cheaper at mercados, in poor districts and always away from main touristic attractions

annoyances

Taxi drivers and ADO monopoly are the most annoying thing that happened to us in Mexico

Souvenirs sellers are everywhere you go and try to sell their wares no matter whether or not you are interested.

things you want to take with you:

  • sunblock and sunglasses – white sand of Caribbean Coast just burns your eyes

  • hand disinfectant

  • purifying tablets for water – if using tap water

  • swimming suit – you will use it nearly every day

  • swimming goggles or snorkel mask – sea life is amazing here

  • camera  – Mexico is veeeery picturesque and photogenic

  • action camera to capture the atmosphere on the streets and mercados

  • euro, dollars, British pound, Canadian dollars are accepted in all touristic places (not in the villages though!)

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