Bags of culture. Decent public transport. Good value. Chatty residents. All these make Mexico one of my favourite destinations. Here are 11 tips for independent travel in Mexico.
Getting around – 11 tips for travel in Mexico
Collectivos / combi vans are a steal for local transport (think camper van of the VW or Toyota Hiace variety). They ply set routes, and will stop at every lamppost along that route if needed!
They’ll pomp their horn when approaching you if they think you’re in need of a lift. Flag one with your arm parallel to the road and with a downward motion. A bit like you’re a one-winged flapping bird. It works.
Inter-city buses are often really plush with spacious seats and sometimes even have on-demand entertainment. ADO have now launch a rather fabulous app for ticket-booking.
There are old VWs everywhere, particularly in the south and the capital. Spy them in various states of repair from immaculate to wreck. You might also see them for hire as a mobile public address system!
Beetle taxis are common in Taxco (where they’re white) and Mexico City (green). Don’t hail one as your taxi in the latter though – calling a radio cab or taking the tube (subway) there is a better bet for safety. Hailing’s the norm everywhere else. In the south negotiate the price first. Further north (in places such as Zacatecas, San Luis Potosí, Aguascalientes), you’re more likely to find meters are used. Rear seat belts are a lot more common in 2020 than they were on my first trip in 2007, but don’t 100% count on them.
Time is a bit of an alien concept. I recently asked my accommodation to book me a taxi for 11.30am and they booked it for 11.20 because, and I quote, “Mexican time!” To be fair it arrived at 11.25, which isn’t bad. Turning up at a party on time is just … weird. Buses are pretty punctual though.
Food and drink – 11 tips for travel in Mexico
It used to be that all meals were accompanied by tortillas, including breakfast. Scrambled egg with tortilla, anyone? Even though there’s no longer a 100% tortilla rate, they’ll still be your new favourite carb.
5. Unusual food options
If you fancy a bit of off-piste food, then chillied grasshoppers are amongst the local specialities in Oaxaca. They’re actually not bad! Mole poblano (mole means sauce, poblano means it’s a specialty of the city of Puebla), is a less scary local food prospect. Apparently there are 17 ingredients it its sauce, including the famed Mexican chocolate. Yum.
6. Juice and smoothies
You can always find a freshly squeezed fruit juice or fresh fruit smoothie. The markets are a good bet. Straws are no longer the default and Mexico City implemented a plastic bag ban in January 2020 … the days of getting your takeaway market juice in a plastic bag with a straw are out their way out.
Wildlife – 11 tips for travel in Mexico
Hotel and hostel rooms all have a small resident lizard. They’re quite cute. Fortunately they’re a lot smaller than this iguana.
Cockerels. Godamn those cockerels (roosters) with no concept of when dawn is. Owning one is a macho thing, apparently. Take earplugs, particularly in more rural towns and villages.
Local people – 11 tips for travel in Mexico
On the Yucátan peninsula, you may well be a giant by local Mayan standards. At five foot ten I am practically Godzilla. Trying to blend in is futile (though you can help by not dressing as though you’re on the beach. Unless you’re on the beach).
10. Pack a phrase book or have Google Translate on hand
People are chatty, and often just want to practice their English. Or have a natter to you in Spanish (a few words go a long way). Mexico’s a country where you soon learn to get over yourself when it comes to talking to random strangers.
11. Family affair
Mexicans enjoy their family time and value family life. Go where the locals go on their Sunday family day out – there are a myriad of cultural outings and day-trip opportunities from every town – and get chatting!
Check out this suggested itinerary for how to spend a month in Mexico, taking you from the Yucátan to Mexico City.
In my opinion Mexico gets an undeserved bad press. Like most countries there are places (and parts of cities) to avoid, but the majority of Mexico – particularly areas frequented by tourists – is safe to explore. You can check out your government’s foreign office website (this is the UK’s) for the latest travel advice.