It's worth asking if a discount is available on room rates, especially if it's low season or you're staying more than two nights. In markets some haggling is expected. Unmetered taxis will often shave some pesos off the initial asking price.
Dangers & Annoyances
Mexico’s drug war is undeniably horrific and frightening, but the violence is almost exclusively an internal matter between the drug gangs; tourists have rarely been victims. Top safety precautions throughout Mexico include the following:
- Travel by day and on toll highways where possible, and don’t wander into neighborhoods unfrequented by tourists after dark.
- Beware of undertows and rips at ocean beaches, and don’t leave your belongings unattended while you swim.
- Watch out for tainted (badly produced) alcohol that has been linked to a couple of deaths in Quintana Roo resorts.
Theft & Robbery
Pickpocketing and bag snatching are risks on crowded buses and subway trains, at bus stops, bus terminals, airports, markets and in packed streets and plazas, especially in large cities. Pickpockets often work in teams, crowding their victims and trying to distract them.
Mugging is less common but more serious. These robbers may force you to remove your money belt, watch, rings etc. Do not resist, as resistance may be met with violence, and assailants may be armed. There are occasional victims of 'express kidnappings', with people forced to go to an ATM and withdraw money, but this rarely happens to foreign visitors.
The following precautions will minimize risks:
- Avoid semideserted places, such as empty streets and empty metro cars at night, little-used pedestrian underpasses and isolated beaches.
- Use taxis instead of walking in potentially dodgy areas. In Mexico City, make sure you take the right kind of cab.
- Be alert to the people around you.
- Leave valuables in a safe at your accommodations unless you have immediate need of them. If no safe is available, divide valuables into different stashes secreted in your room or a locker.
- Carry just enough cash for your immediate needs in a pocket. If you have to carry valuables, use a money belt, shoulder wallet or pouch underneath your clothing.
- Don’t keep cash, credit cards, purses, cameras and electronic gadgets in open view any longer than necessary. At ticket counters in bus terminals and airports, keep your bag between your feet.
If you are a victim of crime, report the incident to a tourist office, the police or your country’s nearest consulate.
Government Travel Advice
These government websites have information on potentially dangerous areas and general safety tips:
New Zealand (www.safetravel.govt.nz)
Emergency & Important Numbers
|International access code||00|
|National tourist assistance (including emergencies)||088|
Entry & Exit Formalities
US citizens traveling by land or sea can enter Mexico and return to the US with a passport card, but if traveling by air will need a passport. Citizens of other countries need their passport to enter Mexico. Some nationalities also need a visa.
You may bring the following into Mexico duty-free:
- two cameras
- two cell phones or other portable wireless network devices
- one laptop, notebook or similar
- three surfboards
- two musical instruments
- medicine for personal use, with prescription in the case of psychotropic drugs
See www.aduanas.gob.mx for further details.
All tourists must have a tourist permit, available on arrival. Some nationalities also need visas.
Every tourist must have a Mexican-government tourist permit, easily obtained on arrival. Citizens of the US, Canada, EU countries, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, Norway and Switzerland are among those who do not need visas to enter Mexico as tourists. Chinese, Indians, Russians and South Africans are among those who do need a visa. But Mexican visas are not required for people of any nationality who hold a valid US, Canadian or Schengen visa.
If the purpose of your visit is to work (even as a volunteer), report, study or participate in humanitarian aid or human-rights observation, you may well need a visa whatever your nationality. Visa procedures might take a few weeks and you may be required to apply in your country of residence or citizenship.
The websites of some Mexican consulates, including the London consulate (http://consulmex.sre.gob.mx/reinounido) and Washington consulate (http://consulmex.sre.gob.mx/washington), give useful information on visa regulations and similar matters. The rules are also summarized on the website of Mexico’s Instituto Nacional de Migración (www.inm.gob.mx).
Non-US citizens passing (even in transit) through the USA on the way to or from Mexico should check well in advance on the US’s complicated visa rules. Consult a US consulate or the US State Department (http://travel.state.gov) or Customs and Border Protection (www.cbp.gov) websites.
Tourist Permits & Fees
You must fill out the Mexican Forma migratoria múltiple (FMM; tourist permit) and get it stamped by Mexican immigration when you enter Mexico, and keep it till you leave. It’s available at official border crossings, international airports and ports. At land borders you have to ask for the tourist permit.
The length of your permitted stay in Mexico is written on the card by the immigration officer. The maximum is 180 days, but they may sometimes put a lower number unless you tell them specifically what you need.
The fee for the tourist permit is around M$500, but it’s free for people entering by land who stay less than seven days. If you enter Mexico by air, the fee is included in your airfare. If you enter Mexico by land, you must pay the fee once you arrive or at a bank in Mexico at any time before you re-enter the border zone to leave Mexico (or before you check-in at an airport to fly out of Mexico). The border zone is the territory between the border itself and the INM’s control points on highways leading into the Mexican interior (usually 20km to 30km from the border).
Most Mexican border posts have on-the-spot bank offices where you can pay the DNR fee immediately on arrival in Mexico. Your tourist permit will be stamped to prove that you have paid.
Look after your tourist permit because you need to hand it in when leaving the country. Tourist permits (and fees) are not necessary for visits shorter than 72 hours within the border zones.
Extensions & Lost Permits
If the number of days given on your tourist permit is fewer than 180, its validity may be extended up to this maximum. To get a permit extended, apply to the INM, which has offices in many towns and cities: they’re listed on the INM website (http://www.inm.gob.mx/gobmx/word/index.php/horarios-y-oficinas/). The procedure costs the same as the tourist permit and should only take half an hour or so. You’ll need your passport, tourist permit, photocopies of them and, at some offices, evidence of ‘sufficient funds’ (a major credit card is usually OK). Most INM offices will not extend a permit until a few days before it is due to expire.
If you lose your permit, contact your nearest tourist office, which should be able to give you an official note to take to your local INM office, which will issue a replacement for about M$500.
For reduced-price air tickets at student- and youth-oriented travel agencies, the following cards are widely recognized:
- ISIC student card
- IYTC (under 26 years) card
- ITIC card for teachers
Reduced prices for students and seniors on Mexican buses and at museums and archaeological sites are usually only for those with Mexican residence or education credentials, but the IYTC, ITIC and particularly the ISIC will sometimes get you a reduction.
Embassies & Consulates
The website of Mexico’s foreign ministry, the Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores (www.gob.mx/sre), has links to the websites of all Mexican diplomatic missions worldwide. If you will be travelling in Mexico for a long period of time, and particularly if you’re heading to remote locations, it’s wise to register with your embassy. This can be done over the phone or by email.
Mexicans are not huge sticklers for etiquette. Their natural warmth takes precedence.
- Greetings ‘Mucho gusto’ (roughly ‘A great pleasure’) is a polite thing to say when you’re introduced to someone, accompanied by a handshake. If it’s a woman and a man, the woman offers her hand first.
- Pleasing people Mexicans love to hear that you’re enjoying their country. They are slow to criticize or argue, expressing disagreement more by nuance than by blunt contradiction.
- Visiting homes An invitation to a Mexican home is an honor for an outsider; you will be treated very hospitably. Take a small gift, such as flowers or something for the children. Be at least 30 minutes late; being on time is considered rude.
Gay & Lesbian Travellers
Mexico is increasingly broad-minded about sexuality, although the conservative influence of the Catholic Church remains strong. The LGBT community don’t generally adopt a high profile, but rarely attract open discrimination or violence. The legalization of gay marriages in Mexico City has energized gay life in the capital, which has a hip, international bar and club scene. Puerto Vallarta is the gay beach capital of Mexico. There are also lively scenes in places such as Guadalajara, Veracruz, Cancún, Mérida and Acapulco. In June 2016, amidst erupting protests and demonstrations against same-sex marriage, the Supreme Court in Mexico legalised same-sex marriage in a landmark legal ruling that concluded it was unconstitutional for Mexican states to bar gay marriages.
The website www.gaymexico.com.mx has a clickable map linking to gay guides for many cities, while www.gaymexicomap.com also has listings of accommodations, bars and clubs in many cities, and www.gaycities.com is good for Mexico City, Guadalajara, Puerto Vallarta and Cancún. Also well worth checking out is the International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association website (www.iglta.org), with worldwide information on travel providers in the gay sector, and www.outtraveller.com.
The Cliníca Condesa is the first of its kind in the country. A flagship health center specializing in sexual health, especially (but not only) LGBT issues, with treatment at no charge, even for foreigners.
Free, confidential HIV rapid testing (prueba rápida de VIH) is available in Mexico City's Zona Rosa gay enclave by AHF Mexico (www.pruebadevih.com.mx).
A travel-insurance policy to cover theft, loss, adventure sports and medical problems is a very good idea. Some policies specifically exclude dangerous activities such as scuba diving, motorcycling and even trekking, so check carefully to make sure you're covered for all your activities of choice.
Worldwide travel insurance is available at https://www.lonelyplanet.com/travel-insurance. You can buy, extend and claim online anytime – even if you’re already on the road.
Checking insurance quotes…
Wi-fi is common in Mexican accommodations, is mostly free, and is also available in a growing number of restaurants, cafes, bars, airports and city plazas. Our wi-fi icon means that wi-fi is available on the premises. Internet cafes in Mexican cities are going the way of the dinosaurs, since it's easy and cheap to purchase a local SIM card with mobile data for your smartphone or device.
Mexican law is based on the Roman and Napoleonic codes, presuming an accused person guilty until proven innocent.
A law passed in 2009 determined that possession of small amounts of certain drugs for personal use – including cannabis (5g), cocaine (500mg), heroin (50mg) and methamphetamine (40mg) – would not incur legal proceedings against first-time offenders. But those found in possession of small amounts may still have to appear before a prosecutor to determine whether it is for personal use. The easiest way to avoid any drug-related problems is not to use them. As of June 2017, the medicinal use of marijuana is legal.
It’s against Mexican law to take any firearm or ammunition into the country (even unintentionally).
Police corruption is a big problem in Mexico. If confronted by police soliciting bribes for bogus driving offences, you can either pretend to speak no Spanish, or else hand over photocopies of your legal documents (not the documents themselves), ask for their names and badge numbers and call their bluff by offering to accompany them to the police station.
Useful warnings on Mexican law are found on the website of the US State Department (http://travel.state.gov).
Getting Legal Help
If a foreigner is arrested in Mexico, the Mexican authorities, according to international law, are supposed to promptly contact the person’s consulate or embassy if asked to do so. They may not. If they do, consular officials can tell you your rights, provide lists of lawyers, monitor your case, try to make sure you are treated humanely and notify your relatives or friends – but they can’t get you out of jail. By Mexican law, the longest a person can be detained without a specific accusation after arrest is 48 hours (though official arrest may not take place until after a period of initial questioning).
Tourist offices in Mexico, especially those run by state governments, can often help you with legal problems such as complaints and reporting crimes or lost articles. The national tourism ministry, Sectur, has a toll-free number offering 24-hour telephone advice.
If you are the victim of a crime, your embassy or consulate, or Sectur or state tourist offices, can give advice. In some cases, there may be little to gain by going to the police, unless you need a statement to present to your insurance company. If you go to the police, take your passport and tourist permit, if you still have them. If you just want to report a theft for insurance purposes, say you want to ‘poner una acta de un robo’ (make a record of a robbery). This should make it clear that you merely want a piece of paper, and you should get it without too much trouble.
Nelles, ITM and Michelin all produce good country maps of Mexico that are suitable for travel planning. ITM also publishes good larger-scale maps of many Mexican regions.
Tourist offices in Mexico provide free city, town and regional maps of varying quality. Bookstores and newsstands sell commercially published ones, including Guía Roji’s recommended all-Mexico road atlas, Por Las Carreteras de México.
Inegi (www.inegi.org.mx) sells large-scale 1:50,000 and 1:250,000 topographical maps at its Centros de Información in every Mexican state capital (detailed on the website), subject to availability.
Maps.me is a very useful iPhone/Android app that allows you to download different regional/city maps of Mexico. The GPS function works offline.
- Newspapers Mexico’s only English-language daily newspaper (actually, Monday to Friday) is the News (www.thenews.mx). Distribution is very patchy outside Mexico City. The best and most independent-minded Spanish-language national newspapers include Reforma (www.reforma.com) and the left-wing La Jornada (www.jornada.unam.mx).
Mexico’s currency is the peso (M$). Mexico is largely a cash economy. ATMs and exchange offices are widely available. Credit cards are accepted in many midrange and top end hotels, restaurants and stores.
ATMs (cajero automático) are plentiful. You can use major credit cards and Maestro, Cirrus and Plus bank cards to withdraw pesos. The exchange rate you’ll get is normally better than the ‘tourist rate’ for currency exchange at banks and casas de cambio (exchange offices), though that advantage may be negated by the M$30 to M$70 fee the ATM company charges and any foreign-transaction fees levied by your card company.
For maximum security, use ATMs during daylight hours and in secure indoor locations.
Banks & Casas de Cambio
US dollars are the best currency to bring with you; Canadian dollars and euros are also widely accepted. You can exchange cash at casas de cambio and some banks. Casas de cambio exist in just about every large town and many smaller ones. They are often open evenings or weekends and usually offer similar exchange rates to banks. Banks go through more time-consuming procedures, and usually have shorter exchange hours (typically 9am to 4pm Monday to Friday and 9am to 1pm Saturday).
It’s a good idea to carry cash. In tourist resorts and many Mexican cities along the US border, you can make some purchases in US dollars, though the exchange rate won't be great.
Visa, MasterCard and American Express are accepted by most airlines and car-rental companies, plus many upper midrange and top-end hotels, and some restaurants and stores. Occasionally there’s a surcharge for paying by card. Paying by credit card normally gives you a similar exchange rate to ATM withdrawals. In both cases you’ll normally have to pay your card issuer a foreign-exchange transaction fee of around 2.5%.
For current exchange rates, see www.xe.com.
Many service workers depend on tips to supplement miserable wages.
- Restaurants Tip 10% to 15% unless service is included in the check.
- Hotels It’s nice (though optional) to leave 5% to 10% of your room costs for those who keep it clean and tidy.
- Taxis Drivers don’t expect tips unless they provide some extra service.
- Porters Airport and hotel porters usually get M$50 to M$100.
- Attendants Car-parking and gas-station attendants expect M$5 to M$10.
Where there are significant seasonal variations in opening hours, we provide hours for high season. Some hours may be shorter in shoulder and low seasons. Hours vary widely but the following are fairly typical.
Banks 9am to 4pm Monday to Friday, 9am to 1pm Saturday
Restaurants 9am to 11pm
Cafes 8am to 10pm
Bars and clubs 1pm to midnight
Shops 9am to 8pm Monday to Saturday (supermarkets and department stores 9am to 10pm daily)
It’s polite to ask before taking photos of people. Some indigenous people can be especially sensitive about this.
Lonely Planet’s Travel Photography is a comprehensive, jargon-free guide to getting the best shots from your travels.
Special permits are required for any photography or filming with 'special or professional equipment' (which includes all tripods but not amateur video cameras) at any of the 187 archaeological sites or 129 museums administered by INAH, the National Archaeology and History Institute. Permits cost M$5113 per day for still photography and M$10,227 per day for movie or video filming, and must be applied for at least two weeks in advance. You can apply by email; details are given in Spanish at www.tramites.inah.gob.mx.
The Mexican postal service (www.correosdemexico.gob.mx) is slow, inexpensive and fairly reliable. Mail to the US or Canada typically takes a week to 10 days to arrive. Mail to Europe averages one to two weeks.
If you’re sending a package internationally from Mexico, be prepared to open it for customs inspection at the post office; it’s better to take packing materials with you, or not seal it until you get there. For assured and speedy delivery, you can use one of the more expensive international courier services, such as UPS (www.ups.com), FedEx (www.fedex.com) or Mexico’s Estafeta (www.estafeta.com). A 1kg package typically costs around US$37 to the US or Canada, or from US$56 to Europe.
On official national holidays, banks, post offices, government offices and many other offices and shops close throughout Mexico.
Año Nuevo (New Year’s Day) January 1
Día de la Constitución (Constitution Day) Observed on the first Monday of February.
Día de Nacimiento de Benito Juárez (anniversary of Benito Juárez’s birth) Observed on the third Monday of March.
Día del Trabajo (Labor Day) May 1
Día de la Independencia (Independence Day) September 16
Día de la Revolución (Revolution Day) Observed on the third Monday of November.
Día de Navidad (Christmas Day) December 25
National holidays that fall on Saturday or Sunday are often switched to the nearest Friday or Monday.
In addition, many offices and businesses close on the following optional holidays:
Día de los Santos Reyes (Three Kings’ Day, Epiphany) January 6
Día de la Bandera (Day of the National Flag) February 24
Viernes Santo (Good Friday) Two days before Easter Sunday; March or April
Cinco de Mayo (anniversary of Mexico’s victory over the French at Puebla) May 5
Día de la Madre (Mother's Day) May 10
Día de la Raza (commemoration of Columbus’ arrival in the New World) October 12
Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead) November 2
Día de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe (Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe) December 12
- Smoking Mexican law does not allow smoking in indoor public spaces, except in specially designated smoking areas. It also requires at least 75% of a hotel’s rooms to be nonsmoking. Enforcement, however, is very patchy.
Taxes & Refunds
Mexico’s impuesto al valor agregado (IVA; value-added tax) is 16%, included by law in the price of goods and services.
Hotel rooms are also subject to the impuesto sobre hospedaje (ISH; lodging tax) of 2% or 3%, depending on which Mexican state they’re in.
In 2017, the Mexican government introduced a tourism tax of M$20 per room, per night, applied to those who stay in resorts in Cancún and along the Riviera Maya.
Over 6000 stores in Mexico participate in the tax reimbursement program (look for the Moneyback logo) that allows visitors to claim back 8.9% of the purchase price, provided they spend at least M$1200 per total purchase and are leaving by air or by sea. Request a VAT itemised invoice at the time of purchase and take it to a Moneyback office or kiosk at the airport or cruiseship terminal to claim back tax.
Many US and Canadian cellular carriers offer Mexico roaming deals. Mexican SIM cards can be used in unlocked phones; all unlocked smartphones are compatible with Mexican data systems. WhatsApp and Viber are widely used, as are VoIP calls.
Mexico's main cell-phone (teléfono celular) companies are Telcel (www.telcel.com), Movistar (www.movistar.com.mx) and AT&T Mexico (www.att.com.mx). Telcel has the most widespread coverage, and both Telcel and AT&T Mexico offer both roaming and calling in both Canada and the United States without extra charges.
- Roaming in Mexico with your own phone from home is possible if you have a GSM, 3G or 4G phone, but can be expensive. Roaming Zone (www.roamingzone.com) is a useful source on roaming arrangements. A number of cell-phone service providers in the USA now offer packages that allow customers to roam in Mexico at no (or a small) extra charge.
- Much cheaper is to put a Mexican SIM card (‘chip’) into your phone, but your phone needs to be unlocked for international use. Many Mexican cell-phone stores can unlock it for around M$400.
- SIMs are available from countless phone stores, often for around M$50.
- For around M$350 you can buy a new, no-frills Mexican cell phone with a chip and some call credit included. New smartphones start around M$1700, plus M$300 to M$500 a month for calling and data credit. Take your passport for ID when you go to buy a chip or phone; you may also have to provide a local address and postcode.
- You can buy new credit at convenience stores, newsstands, pharmacies and department stores.
Like Mexican landlines, every Mexican SIM card has an area code. The area code and the phone’s number total 10 digits.
|Cell phone to cell phone||10-digit number|
|Cell phone to landline||Area code + number|
|Landline to cell phone||044 + 10-digit number (same area code); 045 + 10-digit number (different area code)|
|Abroad to Mexican cell phone||International access code + 52 + 1 + 10-digit number|
A llamada por cobrar (collect call) can cost the receiving party much more than if they call you, so you may prefer to arrange for the other party to call you. If you don't have access to a smartphone/wi-fi/Skype you can make collect calls from public card phones without a card. Call an operator on 020 for domestic calls, or 090 for international calls.
Mexican landlines (teléfonos fijos) have two- or three-digit area codes.
|Landline to landline (same town)||7- or 8-digit number|
|Landline to landline (different town)||01 + area code + local number|
|International call from Mexico||00 + country code + area code + local number|
|Mexican landline from abroad||International access code + 52 + area code + local number|
Operator & Toll-Free Numbers
|Mexican toll-free numbers||1 + 800 + 7-digit number|
Public Card Phones
You’ll usually find some at airports and bus terminals and around town. Most are run by Telmex (www.telmex.com). To use a Telmex card phone you need a tarjeta Ladatel (phone card), sold at kiosks and shops everywhere, usually in denominations of M$50, M$100 and M$200. Insert the card into the phone to make the call.
Most of Mexico is on Hora del Centro (GMT/UTC minus six hours). Six northern and western states are on GMT/UTC minus seven or eight hours, while one eastern state is on GMT/UTC minus five hours. Daylight savings applies in most of Mexico from April to October.
Hora del Centro The same as CST (US Central Time; GMT minus six hours in winter, and GMT minus five hours during daylight saving), this time zone applies to most of Mexico, including Campeche, Chiapas, Tabasco and Yucatán.
Hora de las Montañas The same as MST (US Mountain Time; GMT minus seven hours in winter, GMT minus six hours during daylight saving), this time zone applies to five northern and western states in Mexico – Chihuahua, Nayarit, Sinaloa, Sonora and Baja California Sur.
Hora del Pacífico The same as PST (US Pacific Time; GMT minus eight hours in winter, GMT minus seven hours during daylight saving), this time zone applies to Baja California Norte.
The state of Quintana Roo observes US Eastern Standard Time (GMT minus five hours year-round).
Daylight saving time (horario de verano; summer time) in nearly all of Mexico runs from the first Sunday in April to the last Sunday in October. Clocks go forward one hour in April and back one hour in October. Exceptions to the general rule:
- The northwestern state of Sonora ignores daylight saving (like its US neighbor Arizona), as does Quintana Roo, so they remain on MST all year.
- Ten cities on or near the US border – Ciudad Acuña, Ciudad Anahuac, Ciudad Juárez, Matamoros, Mexicali, Nuevo Laredo, Ojinaga, Piedras Negras, Reynosa and Tijuana – change their clocks on the second Sunday in March and the first Sunday in November to synchronize with US daylight-saving periods.
Public toilets in Mexican cities are quite common and generally clean; look for baños or servicios signs. Many have an attendant who'll hand you some toilet paper when you pay them the small fee of 10 pesos or so. Toilets often lack toilet seats, and it's always a good idea to bring your own toilet paper and hand sanitiser. If there's a trash can provided, place your toilet paper in there, rather than in the toilet bowl to avoid clogging up the antiquated plumbing.
Most towns of interest to tourists in Mexico have a state or municipal tourist office. These are generally helpful with maps and brochures, and some staff members usually speak English.
You can call the Mexico City office of the national tourism secretariat, Sectur, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for information or help in English or Spanish. You’ll find links to tourism websites of each Mexican state at www.sectur.gob.mx.
Travellers with Disabilities
A gradually growing number of hotels, restaurants, public buildings and archaeological sites provide wheelchair access, but sidewalks with wheelchair ramps are still uncommon. Mobility is easiest in major tourist resorts and more expensive hotels. Bus transportation can be difficult; flying or taking a taxi is easier. The absence of formal facilities is partly compensated by Mexicans’ helpful attitudes, and special arrangements are gladly improvised. Companies such as Mind's Eye Travel (www.mindseyetravel.com) organise cruises to Mexico for the visually impaired. However, in general, few provisions are made for travellers with hearing or sight loss. Mobility International USA (www.miusa.org) offers useful info. You can also download Lonely Planet's free Accessible Travel guides from http://lptravel.to/accessibletravel.
Travel with Children
The sights, sounds and colors of Mexico excite kids, and Mexicans love children, who are part and parcel of most aspects of life here. There are many child-friendly attractions and activities for kids of all ages, and with very few exceptions, children are welcomed at all accommodations and at almost any cafe or restaurant.
Best Regions for Kids
- Yucatán Peninsula
Cancún, the Riviera Maya and nearby islands are geared to giving vacationers fun. The area is full of great beaches offering every imaginable aquatic activity, hotels designed to make life easy and attractions from jungle zip-lines to swimming in cenotes (sinkholes). Other parts of the peninsula are great if your kids will enjoy exploring Maya ruins.
- Central Pacific Coast
The Pacific coast offers all conceivable types of fun in, on and under the ocean and lagoons. There's a vast range of places to base yourself, from sophisticated Puerto Vallarta to easygoing Zihuatanejo and countless smaller spots.
- Mexico City
The capital keeps kids happy with a world-class aquarium, a hands-on children’s museum, a first-rate zoo, dedicated kids entertainment and activities, and parks and plazas full of space and fun.
Mexico for Kids
Children may be less keen to experiment with exciting Mexican flavors than their parents are, but Mexico has plenty of places serving up familiar international fare. Italian restaurants are plentiful; foods such as eggs, steaks, bread, rice and cheese are available everywhere, and fresh fruit is abundant. Simpler Mexican snacks such as quesadillas, burritos and tacos, or steaming corn cobs straight from a street cart, are good options for introducing kids to local flavors. Restaurant staff are accustomed to children and can usually provide high chairs or an extra plate for dish-sharing, or prepare something that’s not on the menu, if requested.
Mexico has some excitingly different places to stay that will please most kids – anything beachside is a good start, and rustic cabañas (cabins) provide a sense of adventure (but choose one with good mosquito nets!). Many hotels have a rambling layout and open-air space – courtyards, pool areas, gardens. Beach hotels countrywide are geared to families.
Family rooms and accommodations with kitchens are widely available, and most hotels will put an extra bed or two in a room at little extra charge. Baby cots may not be available in budget accommodations. Most accommodations have wi-fi access, and in the midrange and top end there will often be child-friendly channels on the TV.
Try to do your traveling in smallish chunks of a few hours, maximum. Many Mexican buses show nonstop movies (in Spanish), most of which are family-friendly and can help distract kids from a dull trip. If you’re traveling with a baby or toddler, consider investing in deluxe buses for the extra space and comfort.
Car rental and, on some routes, flying are alternatives to buses. If you want a car with a child safety seat, the major international rental firms are the most reliable providers.
In northern Mexico most kids love riding the 'Chepe' railway (Ferrocarril Chihuahua Pacífico or Copper Canyon Railway).
Health & Safety
Children are more easily affected than adults by heat, disrupted sleep patterns, changes in altitude and foreign food. Take care that they don’t drink tap water, be careful to avoid sunburn, cover them up against insect bites and ensure you replace fluids if a child gets diarrhea.
Don’t hesitate to go to a doctor if you think it may be necessary. In general, privately run hospitals and clinics in Mexico offer better facilities and care than public ones. Adequate travel insurance will cover the cost of private medical care.
On & in the Water
- Learn to surf Kids as young as five can take classes at many spots with gentler waves along the Pacific coast, including Mazatlán, Sayulita, Ixtapa, Puerto Escondido and San Agustinillo.
- Spot turtles, dolphins and whales Boat trips head out from many places along the Pacific coast and in Baja.
- Snorkel tropical seas Many beaches on the Caribbean coast and islands, and some on the Pacific, provide calm waters and colorful marine life for beginners.
- Ride a gondola Cruise ancient Aztec canals at Xochimilco, Mexico City.
- Uyo Ochel Maya Float down centuries-old, Maya-built canals through mangrove swamps filled with flowers and tropical fish.
- Parque de Aventura Barrancas del Cobre Kids adore the Copper Canyon Adventure Park with its spine-tingling seven zip-lines carrying you halfway to the canyon floor from its lip at 2400m. There’s rappelling, climbing and a cable car, too.
- Selvática Award-winning zip-line circuit through the jungle near Puerto Morelos, with its own cenote for swimming.
- Boca del Puma Zip-lining, horseback riding and a cenote to dip into, near Puerto Morelos.
- Cobá This jungle-surrounded ancient Maya site near Tulum has pyramids, a zip-line and bicycles for pedaling around the network of trails.
- Cuajimoloyas Horseback riding, mountain biking, hiking and a spectacular 1km zip-line in the mountains near Oaxaca.
- Huana Coa Canopy Popular series of zip-lines in the forested hills near Mazatlán.
- Teleférico de Orizaba Ride Mexico's second-highest cable car to a mountain-top playground.
- Acuario Inbursa This world-class mega-aquarium in Mexico City wows kids with manta rays, piranhas and crocodiles, while the Soumaya and Jumex museums just across the road will entertain the parents.
- Baja whale-watching See massive gray whales and their calves off the coasts of Baja California – usually requires several hours in a boat, so best for older kids.
- Zoomat The zoo at Tuxtla Gutiérrez has 180 species, all from the state of Chiapas, including several types of big cat.
- Playa Escobilla See thousands of turtles crawl out of the ocean in a single night to lay eggs on this Oaxaca beach.
- Crococun Interactive zoo in Puerto Morelos with crocodiles and wild monkeys.
- Museo Nacional de Antropología The carvings, statues and skulls inside Mexico's best museum are a huge hit with kids.
- Papalote Museo del Niño There are two of these fun, hands-on, children’s museums – one in Mexico City, one in Cuernavaca. Good for kids up to about 11.
- Museo Interactivo de Xalapa Themed rooms on science, ecology and art, and an IMAX cinema.
- La Esquina: Museo del Juguete Popular Mexicano Stunning museum in San Miguel de Allende where kids can see what toys were like before the digital revolution!
- Museo de Historia Natural Small museum in Morelia directed at children has everything from fossils (including a mammoth's tusk) and dissected animals to a cactus garden.
- Voladores This indigenous Totonac rite involves men (fliers) climbing up a 30m-high pole then casting themselves off backward, attached only by ropes. Performed regularly at El Tajín and at Mexico City's Museo Nacional de Antropología.
- Pirate Show Campeche recalls its pirate-battered past with Disney-esque spectaculars in an old city gate.
- Folk dance Highly colorful, entertaining shows are given regularly by the Ballet Folklórico de México in Mexico City and Guelaguetza groups in Oaxaca, and at Mérida's Plaza Grande.
- Bear in mind that few kids like traveling all the time. They’re usually happier if they can settle into a place for a while, make friends and do some of the things they like doing back home.
- See a doctor about vaccinations at least one month – preferably two – before your trip.
- It’s a good idea to book accommodations for at least the first couple of nights.
- Diapers (nappies) and sunscreen are widely available, but you may not easily find wet wipes, other creams, baby foods or familiar medicines outside larger cities and tourist towns.
- For all-round information and advice, check out Lonely Planet’s Travel with Children.
Documents for Under-18 Travelers
Carrying notarized written permission from a parent or guardian is required by Mexican law for Mexican minors (under-18s, including those with dual nationality) or foreign minors residing in Mexico, if departing from Mexico without a parent or legal guardian. There have been cases of other minors being asked to show consent forms, especially when leaving Mexico by land borders, even though the law does not require them to do so. The US embassy in Mexico therefore advises all minors traveling without both parents to carry notarized consent letters. Check with a Mexican consulate well in advance of travel on what needs to be done.
Need to Know
- Babysitting Child-minding services are easily arranged by most resorts and numerous hotels.
- Transport Under-13s travel half-price on many long-distance buses, and if they’re small enough to sit on your lap, they usually go for free.
A good way to engage with and contribute to Mexican communities is to do some volunteer work. Many organizations can use your services for periods from a few hours to a year or more. Work ranges from protecting sea turtles to WWOOFing. Some organizations are looking for people with relevant experience and/or Spanish-language skills, while others can use almost any willing hand.
Many language schools offer part-time local volunteering opportunities to complement the classes you take.
Go Abroad (www.goabroad.com)
Go Overseas (www.gooverseas.com)
The Mexico Report (http://themexicoreport.com/non-profits-in-mexico)
Volunteer Oaxaca (http://volunteer-oaxaca.com)
Casa de los Amigos (www.casadelosamigos.org) Mexico City-based, with volunteer programs to assist refugees and migrants.
Centro de Esperanza Infantil (www.oaxacastreetchildrengrassroots.org) Center for street kids in Oaxaca.
Entre Amigos (www.entreamigos.org.mx) Nayarit-based project that arranges educational projects and workshops for the children of San Pancho.
Feed the Hungry (www.feedthehungrysma.org) Offers nutricious meals to several thousand disadvantaged children in San Miguel de Allende.
Fundación En Vía Oaxaca-based nonprofit organization providing micro-finance loans to help village women develop small businesses.
Junax (www.junax.org.mx) Offers information and lodging in San Cristóbal de las Casas for people wanting to volunteer with indigenous communities in Chiapas; Spanish-language skills needed.
Misión México (www.lovelifehope.com) A children's refuge and surf school in Tapachula.
Piña Palmera (www.pinapalmera.org) Work with physically and intellectually disabled people at Zipolite on the Oaxaca coast.
Campamento Majahuas Excellent turtle conservation project in Costalegre (with short-term volunteering options).
Centro Ecológico Akumal (www.ceakumal.org) Environmental work, including coastal management and turtle protection.
Flora, Fauna y Cultura de México Conservation volunteering with turtles on the Caribbean coast.
Grupo Ecologista Vida Milenaria (www.vidamilenaria.org.mx) Excellent turtle project at Tecolutla.
Nataté (www.natate.org.mx) Turtle conservation and other projects in Chiapas and elsewhere.
Nomad Republic (www.nomadrepublic.net) Assisting with local cooperatives throughout Mexico in agriculture, education, tourism, health, water, energy and other fields.
Pronatura (www.pronatura-ppy.org.mx) Marine conservation and other projects in the Yucatán.
Tortugueros Las Playitas (www.todostortugueros.org) Sea-turtle hatchery in Todos Santos, Baja.
WWOOF Mexico (www.wwoofmexico.org) Volunteering on organic farms around Mexico. Suitable for families.
Organizations Based Outside Mexico
Global Vision International (www.gviusa.com) Anything from marine conservation to teaching projects.
Los Médicos Voladores (www.flyingdocs.org) Lend your medical skills to communities throughout Mexico and Central America.
Projects Abroad (www.projects-abroad.org) Volunteer projects involving teaching, conservation, agriculture and more.
Gender equality has come a fair way, and Mexicans are generally a very polite people, but machismo is still a fact of life and solo women travelers may still be subject to wolf whistles, cat-calls and attempts to chat them up.
Avoiding drinking alone in cantinas and hitchhiking can help to minimise the risk of hassle, or worse. On the streets of cities and towns and on local transportation, following the lead of local women, who don’t typically display too much skin, may also help women travelers avoid unwanted attention.
Weights & Measures
- Weights & Measures Mexico uses the metric system.
Mexico's economy is the 15th largest in the world and there are work opportunities for foreigners, particularly in the service industry. A helpful website detailing how to get a work visa in Mexico is https://transferwise.com/gb/blog/mexico-work-visa, while www.mexperience.com/lifestyle/working-in-mexico/ and www.internations.org/mexico-expats/guide provide useful insights into working in Mexico.