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Things to know before traveling to Mexico

Things to know before traveling to Mexico

A few people have been asking questions about Mexico in our travel forums. This is when I realised there were a few things to know before traveling to Mexico. So I decided to ask a few well-travelled women about their trip to Mexico and find out what are the things to know before traveling to Mexico. If you have other questions, you can always use our forum by joining the travel community for women for FREE.

This isn’t just your standard Mexico travel chat, we talk about more than just tap water and exchange rates. There is some great talk on avoiding tourist areas and seeing the great diverse country.

The main question asked was “Is it a good idea to visit Mexico?”

You can very clearly see in these answers that it is a GREAT idea to visit Mexico. Have you been? I would love your opinion on these questions. Get in touch

Here is our panel of Mexico experts to answer your questions: Cathy from The Girl Who Goes and Marie from Big Travel Nut. You can find out more details about these travellers at the bottom of the post. There is also links to join our Female Travel Community and Forum.

Don't forget to check out our article on books to read before travelling to Mexico

What areas would you say are NOT safe to be in Mexico or where should you pay particular attention to. 

Cathy: I was really only in Mexico City, and I never felt unsafe at any point there. (Other than taking the subway – everyone I was with said to make sure you keep your phones hidden and your bags in front of you.)

Marie: Generally, the most dangerous areas are believed to be along the US/Mexico border. Consequently it’s safer to fly in than drive across the border. Always consult your government’s travel advisories on Mexico before picking a destination. Many areas are completely safe and I’ve never had any bad experiences during my five trips to Mexico or even seen anything scary.

The touristy areas of Mexico City have become safer in recent years, but at night it’s better to take a taxi. Get an official taxi from a taxi rank, or have your hotel/restaurant call one for you.

Please give us some of your MUST eats and drink suggestions. Favourite street food, restaurants etc...

Cathy:  The best restaurant I went to was in Mexico City. It was called Los Chilotes; it was a small, family-owned restaurant not too far from El Centro. I stumbled in by accident, and I was treated to a delicious, affordable meal from the head chef/restaurant owner. He sat down next to me and we chatted for quite a while. Each week, the restaurant menu changes as they feature a different cuisine from a different part of Mexico. I highly recommend!

Marie: My favourite dish in Mexico is chile en nogada, which consists of a poblano chili filled with minced meat, fruits, and spices, and covered in a walnut cream sauce sprinkled with pomegranate seeds. It’s from Puebla but you can find it in several restaurants all around the country. You must also try a mole sauce at least once. There are several varieties and they originate from Oaxaca. As for drinks, margaritas in their home country are unbeatable and affordable!

What is your CAN NOT miss place to visit, see, do or hang around?

Cathy: Definitely go visit the pyramids of Teotihuacan. It takes some time to get there from Mexico City, but the pyramids are unbelievable.

Do you have any “getting off the beaten track” tips/experiences?

Cathy: Other than taking the bus to Teotihuacan on my own – rather than doing a tour with my hostel – I don’t think I was too far off the beaten path.

Marie: Most people go to Mexico for the beaches and congregate in the same touristy spots: Cancun, Puerto Vallarta, Acapulco, Ixtapa. Instead, go to a Pacific beach mostly visited by Mexicans such as Puerto Escondido, Manzanillo, Zihuatanejo, etc. Or head inland to a colonial town like Guanajuato or Oaxaca. There are dozens to choose from.

Playa La Ropa near Zihuatanejo

What did you love about Mexico?

Cathy: I loved the food, the prices, the people, the liveliness. I loved it so much more than I was expecting. I was super excited to experience the culture; as a Spanish major during university, I had learned so much about important people/events in Mexico’s history but never had the chance yet to see it for myself. Also, being there in mid-April, the weather was just BEAUTIFUL.

Marie: I love pretty much everything about Mexico: the winter weather (dry, hot, and sunny), the friendly people, the food, the variety of things to see and do (including beaches, cities, and archeological sites), the affordability, the colours!

What did you not like about Mexico?

Cathy: The only time I felt frustrated was when I couldn’t find sunscreen for the life of me. It took an hour of wandering around and looking for a “farmacía” where I had to get a pharmacist to help me purchase it.

What do you wish you had of known or been prepared for? (biggest culture shock, unknown logistics and difficulties etc etc)

Cathy: Having traveled in Southeast Asia recently, I didn’t experience too much culture shock or any difficulties. However, I couldn’t believe how many Starbucks I saw in Mexico City… there were times when I could see four just from where I was standing. Also, I couldn’t believe how inexpensive everything was. This was the first place I traveled where I actually had lots of money left over at the end of my trip.

Recommended accommodation that you stayed at?

Cathy: I stayed at Hostel D.F. which was close to subway/bus stop Hidalgo. It was a very social environment and I made a lot of friends. It was very affordable and included a home-cooked breakfast every morning!

What is the thing(s) to would recommend pack in your bag!

Cathy: Sunscreen (see question #6) and sunglasses!

Marie: A sun hat and a canvas bag. The canvas bag can be used when shopping at the grocery store and double up as a beach bag when you don’t want to take any valuables to the beach. You can also use it as a spare bag to bring back all the colourful handicrafts you’re likely to buy during your trip!

Is there somewhere you wish you had a chance to visit or would return to

Cathy: I would love to spend more time in Mexico, somewhere other than Mexico City. Lots of the people I met were on longer trips, and seeing their photos later, I want to visit those places. A couple that come to mind are Puebla and Oaxaca.

Marie: I’ve been to Oaxaca twice, and could definitely visit again and stay for weeks! Places I would like to see on my next trip include San Cristobal de las Casas and the ruins of Palenque.

Main pedestrian street in Oaxaca, Mexico

How did you find the interaction with men, from a woman’s point of view?

Cathy: I never felt uncomfortable around men in Mexico. It probably does help that I speak Spanish, though.

Marie: Men in Mexico are pretty respectful of foreign women. They’re friendly, smiling, and helpful. When I was younger, a local man stopped me on the street once, started chatting, then asked if I wanted to have coffee with him. I declined and he went away quietly. If you’re wearing short skirts or tiny tops, you may get stared at. These guys are Latinos after all!

I realise that the media plays a bad picture of Mexico. Did you find this to be something that scared you, were you warned away? How accurate did you find the media scenes?

Cathy: Although I am a woman who travels alone, I never felt afraid of Mexico. I’ve traveled enough by now to feel comfortable in my judgment and abilities when it comes to traveling, and I’ve learned that the pictures painted by the media are never the same as reality. I actually wrote a post for my blog immediately after returning from Mexico about this very topic: Is Mexico Safe for Solo Female Travelers?

Marie: My first trip to Mexico was in 2001, then 2006, 2007, 2008. The scary media stories didn’t start until around 2009. When I went back for my longest trip (9 weeks) in 2015, I didn’t find things to be any different. But many of my friends seem worried when I mention going to Mexico, because of the bad publicity.

Just check out your government’s travel advisories and choose your destinations based on that. Most of Mexico is safe and fun for tourists if you follow common sense precautions and avoid getting involved with drugs (which is where most of the violence occurs).

Tell us about your experience with locals?

Cathy: Not only did I have a great experience meeting the chef at Los Chilotes, I met a very kind abuelo on my flight from Houston to Mexico City. Señor Diego was a Mexican diplomat who sat next to me on the plane. “Is it your first time in Mexico?” he asked me. When I told him it was, he spent the entire flight telling me places I needed to go and see. He wrote his recommendations on a piece of scrap paper and gave it to me. Finally, he gave me his phone number. “Let me know if you need anything at all – I’m only a phone call or text away.” I was blown away by his kindness, and I promptly shared this information with my parents to give them some extra peace of mind.

Marie: I love the Mexicans! 99% of the time they’re friendly, happy, and helpful. It helps if you can speak a little Spanish outside of the tourist resorts though.

Thoughts on Mexico in General?

Cathy: Mexico is a beautiful country with amazing culture and friendly people. I wish it hadn’t taken me 25 years to visit for the first time, but I know I’ll be back! It’s my number one place I’m recommending to other Americans as a travel destination – it’s so close to home, affordable, and I know they will fall in love with it just as I did.

Marie: As a Canadian resident, Mexico is my most accessible, affordable and all around best option for a winter vacation!

Monte Alban

If you are planning to visit Mexico, here are some recommendations:

Travel insurance: I always recommend World Nomads from personal experience and they cover Mexico.

Rental car: To make things easy, try RentalCars.com they are trusted and used widely. It is a great way to check the best prices.

Where to stay: Personally I always use booking.com to find properties. They have a fantastic search feature.

If you wish to make your own choices, check out our ultimate travel resources page for a variety of websites.

Best time to visit: The optimum time to visit is generally between December and April. Hurricane season officially lasts from the beginning of June through the end of November, but you're at most risk of encountering a hurricane between August and October. The coolest months are between December and February,

Books to read before travelling to Mexico

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