The Ultimate Mexico Travel Guide
Where is Mexico, really? Mexico is a HUGE country with 32 very diverse states. While it does identify as being Latin American, many people think Mexico is located in Central or South America. It’s not! Mexico is located in North America, just south of the U.S. border.
Languages: Spanish is the national language but there are over 68 recognized indigenous languages like Mayan or Nahuatl. These indigenous languages also can have hundreds of dialects. English is spoken in major urban areas and popular tourist towns.
Indigenous Groups: Mexico is an extremely diverse country with dozens of ethnic groups. In fact, in Mexico’s Constitution, it describes Mexico as pluricultural because of the original peoples that existed before European settlers arrived in prehispanic Mexico.
Currency: Mexican pesos – $1 USD is about $20 pesos (give or take depending on the current rate).
Religion: Most Mexicans today are Catholic (~82%). As such, you’re likely to see numerous religious ceremonies and active churches and cathedrals throughout the country.
Culture: Mexicans are especially hospitable, friendly, and hard-working. They highly value community and family and are proud of their regional traditions and culture! Many of the Mexicans I have met (from all over the country) have shown having a deep connection to nature, family, and their historical and indigenous heritage.
Best Time to Visit Mexico
Thanks to Mexico’s diverse landscapes, you can visit Mexico practically year-round.
- Dry season: November – May. In the wintertime, Mexico’s coastlines are perfect for a tropical getaway.
- Wet season: June – October. Summer is the hot and wet season, making it the perfect time to escape the cities and head to the mountains.
Here are some of the best times to visit places in Mexico depending on your destination:
Yucatan and Quintana Roo (Riviera Maya): Visit during November – April during the dry season when temps are nice and hot and humidity is low. If you can, go before or after the holidays to beat intense crowds.
Mexico City and central Mexico: Visit March-May in the springtime (or in the fall). Mexico City becomes very cold during winter as it sits in the high plateaus in central Mexico. Likewise, the city is unbearably hot during the summer with lots of humidity and rain.
Puerto Vallarta and Riviera Nayarit: December – May is ideal for vacations on the coast of the lovely Riviera Nayarit. I recommend skipping holidays though as it does get crowded, especially in the smaller magic towns by the beaches. From January-April, lots of festivals and events are happening and the weather is 99% sunny skies with hot days and cooler nights.
Popular Things to Do in Mexico
Mexico has ENDLESS things to do. The country is so vast, diverse, and beautiful. It’s got lush jungles, peaky mountains, pristine beaches, vast deserts, two oceans, and everything in between! With that said, don’t miss out on these top things to do on a trip to Mexico!
1. Wander at lost cities and ancient Mayan ruins
Mexico has incredible archaeological sites that once upon a mysterious time were thriving Aztec and Mayan cities. A trip to Mexico isn’t complete without seeing some of these impressive sites!
2. Explore Mexico’s tropical islands
With two oceans, countless bays, and beaches, you know Mexico has islands worth exploring. In fact, Mexico has close to 100 beaches!
With that said it won’t be possible to island-hop them all. I have been to a few and definitely can recommend visiting Isla Holbox, Cozumel, and Isla Mujeres for trips to the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico.
3. Jump in fresh underground cenotes
Cenotes in Mexico are so much fun to discover! Cenotes can be found throughout the Yucatan Peninsula (there are over 6,000 cenotes!). These mostly underground freshwater caverns make the adventure in me come to life. Here are my favorite cenotes and why.
4. Visit Mexico’s charming Magic Towns (Pueblos Magicos)
There are currently 111 magic towns in Mexico. Magic Towns began as a tourist initiative by Mexico’s Secretariat of Tourism to bring tourism to small Mexican towns that are rich in cultural and historical heritage, who aim to preserve local traditions, culture, food, and celebrate local and regional indigenous peoples. Basically, they want to bring awareness to the fact that Mexico offers SO MUCH more than just beaches and beer.
Best Mexican Food & Drinks to Try
Speaking of tacos… Here are must-try foods and drinks in Mexico when you visit! (I may be biased since I’ve lived here for a while, but Mexican food is my absolute favorite!)
Here are some of the must-try foods when you travel to Mexico:
Pozole – a traditional Mexican brothy soup of hominy (big corn), meat (usually pork, beef, or chicken) often comes with shredded lettuce, lime, tostadas, and sour cream. It can be served vegetarian too!
Chilaquiles – chilaquiles are usually a breakfast-brunch dish with fried tortillas smothered in a green or red sauce and served with refried beans, hot corn tortillas, and topped with cheese, sour cream, scrambled eggs, or meat.
Chile Relleno – chile relleno is simply a stuffed poblano pepper that’s filled with meat or cheese and is then deep-fried and covered in sauce. It originated in the city of Puebla but you’ll notice various regions have their own style of chile relleno.
Tostadas – tostadas are basically tortilla chips that are shaped like round saucers. They are served smothered in toppings – ceviche, tuna, shrimp, meat, cream, salsa, avocado, etc.
Tortas – tortas are buttery Mexican sandwiches stuffed with grilled meat and sandwich toppings like pickled jalapeno, tomato, shredded lettuce, and served with sauces like sriracha ranch. You can make them vegetarian with grilled panela cheese (panela asada).
Tacos al pastor – if you eat pork, you have to try local Mexican tacos al pastor which are marinated in a juicy blend of spices and served on corn tortillas (most come with a pinch of fresh pineapple).
Mole sauce (pronounced mole-ay) – mole is a chocolaty sauce that originates from the state of Oaxaca. It’s all at once spicy, sweet, savory, chocolaty, and sour! It’s super delicious served over enchiladas.
Chelada – a chelada = your beer of choice mixed with 1/3 lemon/lime juice and served with a salted rim.
Michelada – beer of choice mixed with tomato juices and spices (clamato juice), served with a salted rim.
Mezcal – often considered the “smoky brother of tequila” however, while mezcal can be made from any agave plant, tequila is only made from the blue agave plant. The mezcals I’ve had in bars were always served with orange slices and 3-4 different types of salts (volcanic salt, spicy salt, etc). I don’t like alcohol but I enjoy mezcal oddly!
Pulque – is another alcoholic drink made from the agave plant (the maguey) except for this time it’s fermented from the agave plant’s sap. It has a sour taste but is refreshing! Everywhere I’ve tried it has been commonly served in little coconut husks.
Margarita – everyone knows a margarita but have you ever had one served with Mexican tequila (or mezcal) in Mexico? Hmm? Plus, you can get every type of margarita imaginable. The fresh passion fruit ones are good!
Traveling Responsibly in Mexico
Traveling responsibly, sustainably, and ethically is the best way to travel! Here are some ways to be a more mindful traveler in Mexico:
Shop local — Seek out the local vendors when you travel. Support responsible businesses and restaurants who aim to reduce their environmental impact!
Avoid activities/tours that exploit animals — Not all tours featuring animals actually respect the environment or the animals’ well-being. Please do a bit of research before booking your tour. Reviews can be deceitful. In general, don’t pay to see animals in captivity.
Say no to plastic — Mexico’s new law prohibits the use of plastic bags in markets and stores. Bring your own reusable shopping bags (and on that note – also bring a reusable drinking water bottle). Please help Mexico reduce its plastic use!
Support indigenous populations — There are many indigenous vendors and businesses whom you should support. Their art and culture need preserving and your financial support enables them to keep their traditions alive.
Staying Safe in Mexico
We have lived in Mexico for two years now and have traveled often throughout the country. We have, for the better part, felt completely safe as tourists in Mexico.
Mexico gets its bad reputation because there are undeniably several instances of gang activity from criminal groups who aim to control the local populations in the states they inhabit. These groups are in competition with one another to take control and power over the transport of goods and so on.
As a traveler in Mexico, you are just as safe as in the United States, Canada, Europe, etc. Of course, please be aware that scams and petty theft do occur, even in smaller towns. You are not likely to encounter these groups as you travel to tourist destinations.
- Avoid walking or driving alone at night in places you’re unfamiliar with
- Don’t buy drugs
- Keep your wits about you at all times – never stay out intoxicated or be obnoxious
- Secure your wallet and valuables
- Practice good judgment and trust your gut when something doesn’t feel right
Packing List for Mexico
I always travel with only a carry-on. Traveling lighter saves so much hassle, plus it’s better for the environment!
What to pack for Mexico will depend on your ultimate destination (city vs. beach). Nonetheless, there are some general Mexico-specific items you should pack:
- light linens (breathable shirts and skirts)
- reef-friendly sunscreen!
- bathing suits
- biodegradable mosquito repellent (here’s a travel-handy bug balm)
- kindle (for waterproof reading by the pool or beach)
- plug adapter if needed (plugs here are US-style)
- reusable water bottle, reusable straws, reusable bags
- plus all my camera gear!
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