Getting there & away
US and Canadian tourists can enter Mexico without a passport if they have official photo identification, such as a driver’s license, plus some proof of their citizenship such as an original birth certificate. But to return to or transit the US by air, a passport or other secure travel document such as a Nexus card is required. To return to or transit the US by land or sea, Americans and Canadians must present either a passport, or other documents proving identity and citizenship (for example driver’s license and birth certificate), or the recently introduced US passport card, or a Nexus or other ‘trusted traveler’ card. Canadians flying back from Mexico to Canada are advised to carry a passport. Further information is available on the websites of the US State Department (www.travel.state.gov), US Customs & Border Protection (www.cbp.gov), the US Department of Homeland Security (www.dhs.gov) and Canada’s Foreign Affairs Ministry (www.voyage.gc.ca).
In any case it’s much better to travel to Mexico with a passport because officials of all countries are used to passports and may delay people who have other documents. In Mexico you will often need your passport if you change money and when you check into hotels.
All citizens of countries other than the US and Canada should have a passport that’s valid for at least six months after they arrive in Mexico.
Travelers under 18 who are not accompanied by both their parents may need special documentation.
For those who like to combine snatches of Mexico with a life of ease on the high seas, cruises from the US enable you to enjoy activities and attractions on and near Mexico’s coasts without having to worry about the logistics of accommodations, eating or transportation. Mexico is the world’s most popular cruise destination, with over six million cruise passengers a year arriving at Mexican ports. Caribbean Mexico is the most popular cruise destination, usually in combination with other Caribbean stops and/or Key West, Florida, and Isla Cozumel is the single busiest stop. Mexico’s other Caribbean cruise ports are Puerto Morelos and Calica, just south of Playa del Carmen. The Costa Maya terminal at Mahahual was destroyed by Hurricane Dean in 2007 but there are plans to rebuild it.
On the Pacific route (the Mexican Riviera in cruise parlance), the main ports of call are Ensenada, Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlán, Puerto Vallarta and Acapulco; cruises also call at Manzanillo, Zihuatanejo, Bahías de Huatulco and the new Puerto Chiapas, near Tapachula.
A Caribbean cruise from ports in the southeastern US, or a Mexican Riviera cruise from California, can cost well under US$1000 per person for 10 days.
Following are some of the cruise lines visiting Mexico, with US phone numbers:
Carnival Cruise Lines (888-227-6482; www.carnival.com)
Celebrity Cruises (800-647-2251; www.celebrity.com)
Crystal Cruises (888-722-0021; www.crystalcruises.com)
Holland America Line (877-724-5425; www.hollandamerica.com)
Norwegian Cruise Lines (800-327-7030; www.ncl.com)
P&O Cruises (415-382-8900; www.pocruises.com)
Princess Cruises (800-774-6237; www.princess.com)
Royal Caribbean International (800-398-9813; www.royalcaribbean.com)
There are over 40 official crossing points on the US–Mexico border. There are about 10 between Guatemala and Mexico, and two between Belize and Mexico. Most Mexican border towns are not places where many travelers have much reason to linger.
The rules for taking a vehicle into Mexico change from time to time. You can check with a Mexican consulate, Sanborn’s (800-222-01-58; www.sanbornsinsurance.com) or, in the US and Canada, the free Mexican tourist information number (800-401-3880).
You may not find gasoline or mechanics available at all Mexico’s road borders: before crossing the border, make sure you have enough fuel to get to the next sizable town inside Mexico.
You will need a permiso de importación temporal de vehículos (temporary vehicle import permit) if you want to take a vehicle beyond Baja California, beyond Guaymas in Sonora state, or beyond the border zone that extends 20km to 30km into Mexico along the rest of the US frontier and up to 70km from the Guatemalan and Belize frontiers. Officials at posts of the Instituto Nacional de Migración (INM; National Immigration Institute) in the border zones, and at the ferry terminal at La Paz, Baja California, if you are taking a vehicle across from there to mainland Mexico, will want to see your permit. Permits are not needed to take vehicles into Baja California itself, and the state of Sonora does not require them for travel as far south as Guaymas.
The permits are issued at offices at border crossings or (in some cases) at posts a few kilometers into Mexico, at Ensenada port and Pichilingue (La Paz) ferry terminal in Baja California, and by the Mexican consulates in Chicago, Houston, Dallas, Austin, Fort Worth, Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Bernardino, Phoenix, Albuquerque and Denver. Details of all these locations are given at www.banjercito.com.mx (click on ‘Red de Módulos IITV’). You can also apply for the permit online at the same website (‘Application for Temporary Import Permit for Vehicles’), in which case it will be delivered to you by courier.
The fee for the permit is the peso equivalent of US$29.70 if obtained at or after the border, US$39.60 from a Mexican consulate, or US$49.50 online. You can also pre-register online which speeds up the process of actually obtaining the permit at a consulate or the border.
The person importing the vehicle will need to carry the original and one or two photocopies of each of the following documents (people at the office may make photocopies for a small fee), which as a rule must all be in his/her own name (except that you can bring in your spouse’s, parent’s or child’s vehicle if you can show a marriage or birth certificate proving your relationship) :
- tourist card (FMT) : at the border go to migración before you process your vehicle permit.
- a Visa, MasterCard or American Express credit card, issued by a an institution outside of Mexico; if you don’t have one you must pay a returnable deposit of between US$200 and US$400 (depending on how old the car is) at the border. Your card details or deposit serve as a guarantee that you’ll take the car out of Mexico before your tourist card (FMT) expires. Note: for online and consulate applications, only Visa and MasterCard are accepted.
- proof of citizenship or residency, such as a passport, birth certificate or voter’s registration card.
- driver’s license.
- if the vehicle is not fully paid for, a credit contract from the financing institution or an invoice letter that is less than three months old.
- for a leased or rented vehicle (though few US rental firms allow their vehicles to be taken into Mexico), the contract, in the name of the person importing the vehicle, and a letter from the rental company authorizing you to take it out of the US.
- for a company car, proof of employment by the company and proof of the company’s ownership of the vehicle.
One person cannot bring in two vehicles. If you have a motorcycle attached to your car, you’ll need another adult traveling with you to obtain a permit for the motorcycle, and he/she will need to have all the right papers for it.
With the permit you will be given a sticker to be displayed on your windshield.
You have the option to take the vehicle in and out of Mexico for the period shown on your tourist card. Ask for a tarjetón de internación, a document which you will exchange for a comprobante de retorno each time you leave Mexico; when you return to Mexico, you swap the comprobante for another tarjetón. When you leave Mexico the last time, you must have the import permit canceled by the Mexican authorities. An official may do this as you enter the border zone, usually 20km to 30km before the border itself. If not, you’ll have to find the right official at the border crossing. If you leave Mexico without having the permit canceled, the authorities may assume you’ve left the vehicle in the country illegally and decide to keep your deposit, charge a fine to your credit card, or deny you permission to bring a vehicle into the country on your next trip.
Only the owner may take the vehicle out of Mexico. If the vehicle is wrecked completely, you must contact your consulate or a Mexican customs office to make arrangements to leave without it.
Around 18 daily buses run by Novelo’s (in Belize City 227-20-25) travel between Belize City and Chetumal, Mexico (US$10, four hours), calling at the Belizean towns of Orange Walk and Corozal en route.
The road borders at La Mesilla/Ciudad Cuauhtémoc, Ciudad Tecún Umán/Ciudad Hidalgo and El Carmen/Talismán are all linked to Guatemala City, and nearby cities within Guatemala and Mexico, by plentiful buses and/or combis. A few daily buses are run all the way between Guatemala City and Tapachula, Chiapas (six hours) via Escuintla and Mazatenango by Trans Galgos Inter (in Guatemala City 2232-3661; www.transgalgosinter.com.gt; US$25-35), Línea Dorada (in Guatemala City 2232-5506; www.tikalmayanworld.com; US$15) and Tica Bus (in Guatemala City 2366-4038; www.ticabus.com; US$16).
There are a few daily buses between Flores, Guatemala, and Chetumal (US$28, seven to eight hours), via Belize City, run by Línea Dorada/Mundo Maya (in Flores 7926-0070) and San Juan Travel (in Flores 7926-0041).
For the Río Usumacinta route between Flores and Palenque, Mexico, several daily 2nd-class buses run from Flores to Bethel (US$4, four hours), on the Guatemalan bank of the Usumacinta. The 40-minute boat trip from Bethel to Frontera Corozal, Mexico, costs US$7 to US$13 per person; an alternative is to take a bus from Flores that continues through Bethel to La Técnica (US$6, five to six hours), from which it’s only a US$1.50, five-minute river crossing to Frontera Corozal. Vans run from Frontera Corozal to Palenque (US$6, three hours, 13 daily). Travel agencies in Palenque and Flores offer bus-boat-bus packages between the two places from around US$40, but if you’re traveling this route it’s well worth detouring to the outstanding Maya ruins at Yaxchilán, near Frontera Corozal.
Cross-border bus services, mainly used by Mexicans working in the US, link many US cities with northern Mexican cities. They’re not very well publicized: Spanish-language newspapers in the US have the most ads. The major companies include Autobuses Americanos (www.autobusesamericanos.com.mx), operating to northeast Mexico, central north Mexico and central Mexico from Los Angeles, Phoenix, Denver, Albuquerque, Chicago and several Texan cities; Tufesa (www.tufesa.com.mx), linking Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Phoenix and Tucson with northwest Mexico; Crucero (800-531-5332; www.crucero-usa.com), operating from California, Nevada and Arizona to northwest Mexico; and Transportes Baldomero Corral (www.tbcconexionphoenix.com), operating between Arizona and northwest Mexico. Greyhound (800-231-2222; www.greyhound.com) has some cross-border routes: it uses Mexican associate companies to actually carry its passengers on many of them.
You can also, often in little or no extra time, make your way to the border on one bus (or train), cross it on foot or by local bus, and then catch an onward bus on the other side. Greyhound serves many US border cities; to reach others, transfer from Greyhound to a smaller bus line. Greyhound’s one-way fares to El Paso, for example, are US$64 from Los Angeles (16 hours), US$129 to US$141 from Chicago (34 hours) and US$128 from New York (52 hours).
Car & motorcycle
If you’re traveling from Mexico into the US at a busy time of year, have a look at the website of US Customs & Border Protection (www.cbp.gov), which posts waiting times at entry points (under ‘Travel’).
Though there are no regular passenger trains on the Mexican side of the US–Mexico border, it’s quite possible to reach the US side of the border by rail. Trains can be quicker and cheaper than buses, or slower and more expensive, depending on the route. Amtrak (800-872-7245; www.amtrak.com) serves four US cities from which access to Mexico is easy: San Diego, California (opposite Tijuana); El Paso, Texas (opposite Ciudad Juárez); Del Rio, Texas (opposite Ciudad Acuña) and San Antonio, Texas, which is linked by bus to Eagle Pass (opposite Piedras Negras) and Laredo (opposite Nuevo Laredo).
Immigration officers won’t generally keep you waiting any longer than it takes them to flick through your passport and enter your length of stay on your tourist card. All you have to do is remain patient and polite, even if procedures are slow. Anyone traveling to Mexico via the US should be sure to check current US visa and passport requirements.
The following Mexican airports receive direct international flights. All have flights from the US (some from several US cities, some from only one or two). Only Mexico City and Cancún receive direct scheduled flights from Europe, Canada, Central and South America and Havana, Cuba.
Acapulco (ACA; 744-466-94-34; www.oma.bz)
Aguascalientes (AGU; 449-915-28-06; aguascalientes.aeropuertosgap.com.mx)
Bajío (El Bajío, León; BJX; 477-713-64-06; guanajuato.aeropuertosgap.com.mx)
Cancún (CUN; 998-886-00-47; www.cancun-airport.com)
Chihuahua (CUU; 614-446-82-33; www.oma.bz)
Cozumel (CZM; 987-872-20-81; www.asur.com.mx)
Durango (DGO; 618-817-88-98; www.oma.bz)
Guadalajara (GDL; 33-3688-5504; guadalajara.aeropuertosgap.com.mx)
Guaymas (GYM; 622-221-05-11; guaymas.asa.gob.mx)
Hermosillo (HMO; 662-261-00-00; hermosillo.aeropuertosgap.com.mx)
Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo (ZIH; 755-554-20-70; www.oma.bz)
La Paz (LAP; 614-124-63-36; lapaz.aeropuertosgap.com.mx)
Loreto (LTO; 613-135-04-54; loreto.asa.gob.mx)
Los Cabos (SJD; 624-146-50-13; loscabos.aeropuertosgap.com.mx)
Manzanillo (Playa de Oro; ZLO; 314-333-11-19; manzanillo.aeropuertosgap.com.mx)
Mazatlán (MZT; 669-928-04-38; www.oma.bz)
Mérida (MID; 999-946-15-30; www.asur.com.mx)
Mexico City (MEX; 55-2482-2424; www.aicm.com.mx)
Monterrey (MTY; 81-8030-9090; www.adelnorte.com.mx)
Morelia (MLM; 443-317-14-11; morelia.aeropuertosgap.com.mx)
Oaxaca (OAX; 951-511-50-88; www.asur.com.mx)
Puebla (PBC; 222-232-00-32; www.aeropuertopuebla.com)
Puerto Vallarta (PVR; 322-221-12-98; vallarta.aeropuertosgap.com.mx)
Querétaro (QRO; 442-192-55-00; www.aiq.com.mx)
San Luis Potosí (SLP; 444-822-00-95; www.oma.bz)
Tampico (TAM; 833-224-48-00; www.oma.bz)
Tijuana (TIJ; 664-683-24-18; tijuana.aeropuertosgap.com.mx)
Toluca (TLC; 721-213-15-44; www.aeropuertointernacionaldetoluca.com)
Torreón (TRC; 871-712-82-39; www.oma.bz)
Veracruz (VER; 229-934-90-08; www.asur.com.mx)
Villahermosa (VSA; 993-356-01-57; www.asur.com.mx)
Zacatecas (ZCL; 492-985-02-23; www.oma.bz)
Mexico’s two flag airlines are Mexicana and Aeroméxico, both formerly state-controlled. Mexicana was bought by Grupo Posadas, Mexico’s biggest hotel company, in 2005, and Aeroméxico was sold to a consortium led by Banamex in 2007. Their safety records are comparable to major US and European airlines.
Aerolíneas Argentinas (code AR; 800-123-85-88; www.aerolineas.com.ar; hub Buenos Aires)
America West (code HP; 800-428-43-22; www.americawest.com; hub Phoenix)
British Airways (code BA; 55-5387-0321; www.britishairways.com; hub Heathrow Airport, London)
Lan Airlines (code LA; 800-700-67-00; plane.lan.com; hub Santiago)
LTU (code LT; 998-887-24-07; www.ltu.de; hub Dusseldorf)
Lufthansa (code LH; 55-5230-0000; www.lufthansa.com; hub Frankfurt)
The cost of flying to Mexico is usually higher around Christmas and New Year, and during July and August. Weekends can be more costly than weekdays. In addition to air-ticket websites and travel agencies, it’s often worth checking airlines’ own websites for special deals. Newspapers, magazines and websites serving Mexican communities in other countries are also good sources.
If Mexico is part of a bigger trip encompassing other countries in Latin America or elsewhere, the best ticket for you may be an open-jaw (where you fly into one place and out of another, covering the intervening distance by land), or a round-the-world ticket (these can cost as little as UK£900 or A$2100), or a Circle Pacific ticket which uses a combination of airlines to travel around the Pacific region. Airtreks (www.airtreks.com) is one good source for multistop tickets.
You normally have to make a connection in the US or Canada (often Los Angeles, San Francisco or Vancouver), and maybe one in Asia as well. From more westerly Asian points such as Bangkok, routes via Europe are also an option. For online bookings try www.zuji.com.
The cheapest routes are usually via the US (normally Los Angeles). You’re normally looking at A$2300 or NZ$2300 or more, round-trip (plus several hundred dollars extra at high season).
Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver all have direct flights to Mexico, though better deals are often available with a change of flight in the US. Round-trip fares from Toronto start at around C$900 to Mexico City, Cancún or Puerto Vallarta. For online bookings try www.kayak.com, www.expedia.ca and www.travelocity.ca.
You can fly direct to Mexico City from at least eight cities in South America, and from Panama City, San José (Costa Rica), San Salvador, Guatemala City, Havana (Cuba) and Santo Domingo (Dominican Republic). There are also direct flights to Cancún from São Paulo, Panama City, Havana, Guatemala City and Flores (Guatemala). Round-trip fares to Mexico City start at around US$500 from Guatemala City and US$800 to US$1000 from South America. Viajo.com (www.viajo.com) is an online source of air tickets from several countries.
There are direct flights from Europe to Mexico City, Cancún and Monterrey. Airlines include Aeroméxico, Air France, Air Madrid, British Airways, Iberia, KLM, LTU, Lufthansa and Air Europa. An alternative is to fly with a US or Canadian airline or alliance partner, changing planes in North America.
Round-trip fares to Mexico City or Cancún normally start at around UK£500 to UK£600 from London, or €600 to €700 from Frankfurt, Paris or Madrid. For online bookings throughout Europe, try www.opodo.com or www.ebookers.com.
You can fly to Mexico without changing planes from around 30 US cities. There are one-stop connecting flights from many others. Continental (from Houston), Aeroméxico and Mexicana all offer large numbers of Mexican destinations.
US budget airlines such as ATA, Spirit Air, America West, Frontier Airlines and Ted all offer flights to Mexico, and economical fares are also available on Mexico’s Aero California and Aviacsa. If you’re lucky you can get round-trip fares from the US to Mexico for US$250. If you’re not lucky, ‘budget’ operators can cost as much as other airlines. Low-season discounted round-trip fares are typically in the US$350 to US$500 range. In high season you may have to pay US$100 to US$200 more.
For current bargain offers, check Airfare Watchdog (www.airfarewatchdog.com). Online tickets are offered by www.cheaptickets.com, www.expedia.com, www.kayak.com, www.lowestfare.com, www.orbitz.com and www.travelocity.com.