Every travel blogger who has visited Mexico is likely to have a post with a list of the top things to do in Mexico.
But how about the things not to do?
As a Mexican, it is frustrating to hear foreigners talk about Mexican customs or traditions when they have no clue whether they are right or wrong in their affirmations. So, in this post I am going to share 12 things you should not do when you visit Mexico.
1. Don’t drink the water.
That’s the first thing people tell you when you tell them you are going to Mexico. But do Mexicans buy bottled water every single day, wasting money and polluting by the hundreds of plastic bottles each year? Of course not!
Water is safe to drink at restaurants and bars. At home, we get purified drinking water delivered in big 20 liter plastic jugs that you can turn in for a full one once yours is empty. You can also buy a new one at some grocery stores after paying a deposit (usually around 40-50 pesos or $2-2.50 USD) for the jug. This is a good option for slow travelers who plan on staying in the same place for a week or more. Just don’t forget to take your jug back to the store before you leave your destination to get your deposit back.
Some Airbnbs will provide you with one of those big plastic bottles (we call them garrafones) for you to trade for a full one once that one runs out. Most will simply leave a couple of small water bottles for you to have a bit of water while you get more. Unfortunately, in-home water filters are not very common in Mexico, so you’ll have to get your drinking water from stores
So remember, the tap water is not normally purified (unless there’s a filter put in). That means you’ll want to boil tap water to ensure it’s safe.
You can also bring your own personal water filter. We like this one by Lifestraw that fits on our Klean Kanteen bottles.
2. Don’t be late.
Many people have the idea that it’s ok to always be late in Mexico. We’ve all heard about things being “on Mexico time”. But no matter where you are in the world, being late is disrespectful.
From my experience living in the U.S. I’ve noticed that people expect you to be on time for any type of arrangement. Perhaps being 5 minutes late is acceptable in certain situations. In Mexico, culturally we’re quite similar, however, some people may have gotten the idea that it’s okay to be late in Mexico because certain casual situations allow for a lot more flexibility.
In some situations being late is not too bad, like at a big party where there’s going to be lots of people, then yes, being 20-30 minutes late is not a big deal, but you never want to make people wait for you. And even at big parties, when you arrive on time you get to interact more with the hosts, you get to meet the whole family before those who show up late, you get to experience the real costumes as you may be asked to help a little by serving the food, or setting the table. Even better, you get to eat more of the awesome Mexican snacks before those who are late!
3. Don’t haggle with artisans.
I repeat, DO NOT HAGGLE! The Spanish word for haggle is regatear. Inside of this word is gatear, which means to crawl. Get the picture? This is the one that pisses me off the most. No matter what your job is, how would you feel if someone told you that what you are charging for your job is too much, or that they are not willing to pay whatever amount you charge for your work without haggling first? Would you haggle at your local Walmart? I don’t think so! So why do people think it is ok, and even expect to do it at Mexican markets, when people selling their products there work as hard as anyone else?
Do some people in Mexico do it? Yes. Is it viewed favorably or even expected? Not really.
4. Don’t go out without cash.
No matter where you go, always have at least 50 pesos with you. You never know when you are going to need cash. Some restaurants in smaller cities don’t take cards (or don’t accept tips on cards, you may need to take the bus or a taxi, or you may be stuck with Moctezuma’s revenge and need to use a public restroom where they charge 3 – 10 pesos per use. You never know when you are going to need cash, so make sure you always have some with you.
5. But don’t have too much cash on you.
Yes, you do need to have cash at all times while in Mexico, but don’t over do it. Flashing a wallet full of money will only make you a target for robbery. Exercise caution when going to ATMs and be aware of your surroundings. Be vigilant just as you would at any other new place you are visiting. Take the cash you need with you when you go out and leave the rest secure in your accommodation.
6. Don’t overindulge.
It may be difficult to resist all the amazing food and the very low price of alcohol, but don’t overdo it. Avoid spending precious vacation time in bed with a horrible hangover or on the toilet from eating too much. Your body may not be used to Mexican food, so give it some time to adjust and take it easy.
Also, being drunk makes you less alert and less in control of any situations that might arise. Drink all you want when you are with friends at home. In Mexico, be vigilant when drinking out at bars or when you know you have to get back to your hotel at the end of the party.
Another thing not to overdo is sun exposure. It is possible to get a nice sun-kissed tan even when you wear sunscreen. Most sunscreens protect you from painful sunburns and will give you a more natural tan. Make sure you protect your skin even on cloudy days. The sun is really strong in Mexico and you can easily get sunburned.
7. Don’t be afraid to explore.
Mexico is a lot more than the war on drugs and crime you see on the news. It is true that bad things happen in this country, just like in most other places. But that doesn’t mean that you have to stay at your all-inclusive and miss on the opportunities to see the real Mexico.
Take tours with local guides, support local and smaller agencies where you can pay less and do a lot more compared to the bigger travel agencies, which take as many tourists as they can put in a van and take them to all the tourist traps where sometimes you can’t even take a picture without a bunch of people getting in your way.
Many cities in Mexico are actually safer than cities in the USA, so don’t let fear ruin your trip. Get out and see the sights! Find someone willing to show you an authentic experience in Mexico. We’d be happy to show you around and teach you Spanish on one of our Spanish Immersion Retreats. 😉
8. Don’t go out without toilet paper.
This may sound weird to you but I can’t stress this enough. The state of public restrooms varies a lot depending on the area you’re at in the country. Some are clean but there’s no toilet paper, some are disgusting and have paper… you never know what you are going to get, so be prepared — especially if you are going on a road trip!
9. Don’t eat at the places you would eat at home
Sometimes you just want to eat a hamburger or pizza…but you are in Mexico, home to some of the most amazing food in the world. You can have your Dairy Queen and Hard Rock Cafe any other day when you go back home. Try things you’ve never had before — you won’t be disappointed (plus, the local cuisine is much cheaper!).
You can’t leave Mexico without trying real authentic Enchiladas, Mole, Sopes, Tacos, Tortas, Pozole, Flautas, and Tamales. Learning to order food in Spanish is easy, and your stomach will thank you for it.
9. Don’t Eat At The Places You Would Eat At Home
It is important that you do not get in a taxi in Mexico without first asking the price. This is because certain taxi drivers may take advantage of tourists and charge them an extremely high rate. In order to prevent being taken advantage of, it is advisable to ask the driver how much they will charge before getting into the car.
Taxis here don’t have a meter, so every trip needs to be verified in advance. When in doubt, ask your hotel/hostel staff how much a ride should be so you know you aren’t getting ripped off.
In Spanish you can ask a taxi driver “¿Cuanto sería a/al…” followed by where you want to go.
For example, you can say ¿Cuanto sería… (How much will it be…)
- Al centro? (to downtown?)
- Al hotel Buena Vista? (to Hotel Buena Vista)
- Al aeropuerto? (to the airport?)
- A la playa? (to the beach)
You can also use other methods to ensure you are not overcharged. For example, you can use a rideshare app such as Uber or inDrive, as these services typically offer more reasonable rates than regular taxis.
Additionally, some airports may have predetermined rates for trips to certain destinations which provide an added sense of security that your fare won’t be overpriced.
Related: Check out our article about How to Ask for Directions in Spanish to master the phrases you’ll need the most on your trip.
11. Don’t spend big bills at small shops.
You don’t have to be in Mexico for long to know that most small shops and street vendors don’t carry much change. You can bet that attempting to use a bill that’s 4x or more the cost of your item will lead you to a dead-end in your purchase. Save yourself a headache and limit your use of 200 and 500 pesos bills for small purchases.
If you need change, the most common convenience store in Mexico, Oxxo, is a great place to get it. Just be sure to buy something from them first. They won’t open their register for non-customers.
12. Don’t Tell People to Speak English in Mexico
While some parts of Mexico, such as Cancun, have atypical large English speaking populations, the vast majority of Mexicans speak Spanish as their native language. Telling someone to switch from their native language in their own country is considered very rude and disrespectful. Expecting someone to switch from their native language to another one can be seen as an attempt to deny them their identity and heritage, which is why it should be avoided at all costs.
Instead, visitors should try to learn some basic Spanish phrases so they can communicate with the locals more easily. This can help create better understanding between people of different backgrounds and cultures, and help bridge any potential language barriers that may exist. In fact, Speaking Spanish with the locals will help you not only earn their respect, but will help you better understand aspects of the culture that aren’t apparent through an English lens, such as humor and the warmth people express to their loved ones in their native language.
Do Get Insurance
Ready for your next trip to Mexico? Whether you plan to visit Mexico City or Morelia, make sure you get travel and medical insurance. You never know when you might need it but it sure is nice to have it when you do. Having health insurance will give you peace of mind while traveling, allowing you to just enjoy your time abroad. We recommend choosing SafetyWing because their Nomad Insurance is a global travel medical insurance which can cover people from all over the world who are traveling outside their home country. And something cool is that you can get coverage even if you’re already abroad. Learn more about SafetyWing here.
Mexico has a bad rap for being dangerous and unsafe. However, it’s a perfectly safe country to travel to — as long as you avoid the pitfalls above and use some common sense. By following the advice here, you’ll be able to have fun, stay safe, and make the most of your time in this underrated destination!
What other things would you add to the list? Let us know in the comments!
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What should I avoid when it comes to Mexican food while visiting Mexico?
A: To avoid any health issues, don’t consume food from low-traffic street vendors or establishments with poor hygiene. Don’t worry about the ice – any self-respecting restaurant will not serve their customers unfiltered ice from tap water. Doing so could cause stomach issues for tourists and Mexicans alike, and said business wouldn’t be around for long.
Q: Is it safe to drink tap water while traveling in Mexico?
A: No, it’s not recommended to drink tap water in Mexico. Buy bottled water instead or water from a garrafón (water jug). Brushing your teeth with tap water is fine for most, but use bottled water if you have a particularly sensitive stomach.
Q: Are there any specific travel tips for a first-time visitor to Mexico?
A: Yes, tourists are advised to avoid wearing flashy jewelry, stay at reputable accommodations, use insured taxi services, avoid using or carrying illegal drugs, and show respect towards Mexican culture and traditions. Practice common travel safety measures like keeping your belongings secure and not wandering alone at night in unfamiliar areas.
Q: Is it okay to drink alcohol on the streets in Mexico?
A: Drinking on the street in Mexico is not acceptable and is against the law. Avoid public drinking to prevent getting into trouble with local authorities, which could lead to fines or even jail time.
Q: Can I eat tacos from street vendors in Mexico without concerns?
A: While street tacos are an essential part of the Mexican food experience, choose your street vendors wisely. Observe the vendor’s cleanliness, whether they wear gloves, and if the cooking area looks well-maintained. Don’t be afraid to ask locals for suggestions on the best places to enjoy tacos.
Q: What should I avoid doing to not make myself look like a typical tourist in Mexico?
A: To avoid standing out as a tourist, dress modestly and avoid flashy outfits and jewelry. Make an effort to learn some basic Spanish phrases, respect local customs, and immerse yourself in Mexican culture. Additionally, avoid typical tourist mistakes like constantly taking selfies or speaking too loudly.
Q: Are there unique customs or etiquette that are especially important in Mexico?
A: Yes, Mexico has some unique customs tourists should be aware of, such as greeting people with a light handshake, cheek-kissing among acquaintances, showing respect to elder individuals, and leaving tips at restaurants. Demonstrating knowledge and respect for these customs will help you blend in and be more accepted by locals.
Q: Can I make a trip to Mexico without trying traditional Mexican dishes?
A: You can, but it’s highly recommended to try traditional Mexican dishes to enhance your travel experience. Mexican cuisine is rich, diverse, and full of flavor, so don’t miss out on the opportunity to taste dishes like sopes, pozole, tamales, and chiles en nogada.
Q: Are there particular places or activities to avoid when traveling to Mexico?
A: To ensure a safe and enjoyable trip, tourists should avoid visiting high-crime areas, traveling at night, using unauthorized taxi services, and participating in illegal activities. Research your destination beforehand, and seek advice from locals, hotel staff, or tour guides for the safest activities and locations.
Q: What common tourist mistakes should I avoid while in Mexico?
A: Common tourist mistakes in Mexico include drinking tap water, disrespecting local customs, engaging in illegal activities, wearing flashy outfits, haggling while shopping, and not exploring beyond popular tourist spots. Avoiding these pitfalls can help you have a more authentic and enjoyable experience in Mexico.