Mistakes Americans Make Visiting Mexico
Oh, Mexico! You fabulous vacation getaway, you.
Americans flock to Mexico year-round for the warm weather, picturesque beaches, all-inclusive resorts and affordable prices. But let's be real, some Americans don't exactly soak up the Mexican culture, which is a shame because Mexico is much more than drinking Tecate at a swim-up pool bar. There are Mayan ruins to explore, cooking classes to take and Pueblos Magicos to visit that ooze tradition.
We get that first-time visitors may have a difficult time experiencing this more authentic side of Mexico. A language barrier, oftentimes nonexistent public transportation and fear of drinking the water can lead to some uncomfortable situations for travelers. That's why we’re here to teach you what to do and, more importantly, what not to do.
These are the most common mistakes Americans make in Mexico and helpful tips on how to avoid them at all costs.
Thinking EVERYTHING Is Included
Many properties in Mexico are all-inclusive, which makes it easier to enjoy your vacation without worrying about overspending. But not everything is free.
Spa services, motorized boats and watersports, after-hours babysitting or children's programs are not included in the all-inclusive rate. Some resorts will also charge for high-end wines and alcoholic beverages, room service and sporting lessons.
Before booking an all-inclusive resort, be sure to read the fine print on exclusions in the price. You may find a resort that offers more inclusions than another.
When visiting the resort, don't assume something is free. Be sure to ask, although the resort staff should alert you when something you request is not included in the price.
Going Easy on Sunscreen
By now, you should be lathering up on sunscreen whenever you're out in the sun, but you're a dead giveaway as an inexperienced traveler when you get as red as a lobster.
Not only does it look funny to have snorkel lines around your eyes, but that sunburn is pretty darn painful and increases your risk of getting skin cancer.
The sun's rays increase in intensity the closer you get to the equator, meaning Mexico's sun is stronger than what you experience back home.
Combine that with spending time in the pool or ocean, and you need to reapply sunblock often. Even if you're trying to get a tan, spend some time under an umbrella, where the sun still penetrates but won't be as strong.
Assuming Everyone Speaks English
While the majority of people you will encounter at the airport, your resort and on tours will speak English, remember that they are speaking a second language for you.
Return the favor by learning a few key phrases, especially buenos dias (good morning), buenos noches (good evening), por favor (please) and gracias (thank you).
The further away from the hotel zone you visit, the less likely English will be commonly spoken.
Download an app on your phone that provides the most common words and phrases you need to know, provides help understanding a menu and ordering, and helps you translate English to Spanish on demand. (Google Translate tends to be the most helpful in these cases.)
Drinking Fake Tequila
Stop asking for that Jose Cuervo Especial and any other tequilas known as a "mixto."
And by all means, stop shooting your tequila.
Like Champagne, tequila comes from one region in Mexico. Authentic tequila must come from Jalisco and is 100 percent agave — anything else isn't true tequila.
The real stuff is meant to be sipped and savored slowly and has different tastes depending on the age and storing of the tequila.
Mexican food in the U.S. is considered Tex-Mex, an Americanized version of Mexican food.
You won't find your tried-and-true favorites on the menu south of the border.
Give authentic dishes a try: ceviche, tamales, enchiladas, pozole, tostadas and mole.
Good news: Guacamole is an authentic dish. But cheese dip, not so much.
Never Leaving the Resort
Hey, we hear ya! Sitting at the pool bar all day sounds like our own heaven, too — this is vacation after all.
But if you spend your entire vacation at the resort, you'll be missing out on the great sites and culture of Mexico. Who's to say your in-pool photos were even taken in Mexico? Looks like any old pool bar to us.
Visit ancient Mayan ruins, swim in secluded cenotes, explore the jungles and waterfalls, sample tacos from a food truck and shop at small boutiques.
It's outside of the resort where you will get a sense of what Mexico is truly like.
Drinking All Day Long
Speaking of the pool bar, just because it opens at 8 a.m. doesn't mean you need to start drinking at 8 a.m.
Alcohol poisoning is real and begins when your Blood Alcohol Concentration is at .25 percent, which is about five drinks for a 130-pound woman and seven for a 200-pound man.
Not only is alcohol dehydrating — which means a bigger hangover in the morning — so is the sun. Replenish the water lost by drinking lots of water throughout the day.
For every drink you have, it is recommended you have two glasses of water (16 ounces) to counteract the effects. (And it will allow you to drink longer throughout the day because you won't get too drunk too fast.)
Drinking the Water
But when it comes to water, do not drink it from the tap!
Known as Montezumas Revenge, the water in Mexico has bacteria that we do not have in the U.S. and will cause you to spend much of your vacation in el baño.
Drink the bottled water provided to you at your resort, and don't fear the ice in your drink. The resort is using filtered water for its ice, and your chances of getting sick at the resort are slim to none unless you drink water from the tap.
If off the resort, stick to bottled water and skip the ice.
Since most of the resorts are all-inclusive, you may think you don't need to tip for service. Some resorts even tell you it is frowned upon.
Before you know it, you have spent a week south of the border without giving an extra penny.
This isn't Europe! Ask any service provider, and they'll tell you a tip is always appreciated.
U.S. dollars are welcome in Mexico, and with the exchange rate at $1 USD equal to 21.42 pesos, slipping a good server $5 for bringing you your drinks on the beach means a lot.
(And you'll find you'll get better and faster service for being one of the rare Americans who tips.)
Only Visiting Cancun
In 2019, Cancun received more than 6 million international visitors and is Mexico's top tourist destination, featuring all-night dance clubs, lively bars and jam-packed beaches.
But when everyone and their neighbor is going to Cancun, are you really experiencing Mexico?
Guadalajara, on the Pacific side of the country, only received 650,000 visitors and offers a more intimate and authentic Mexican immersion.
The high-end beach area referred to as Riveria Nayarit, about an hour from Puerto Vallarta, only received 780,000 visitors and still offers beautiful beaches and all-inclusive resorts but with a laidback, crowd-free vibe.
Thinking You Can Get an Uber
Many first-timers to Mexico are surprised at the world of chaos that greets them just outside of the airport. You will get accosted by numerous taxi and shuttle drivers aiming to take you where you want to go for far more than you would have paid if prepared.
And there will be hordes of resort transportation guides holding signs for their resorts, hustling various visitors to buses and shuttles where you could end up waiting more than an hour as they wait for more flights to arrive to fill the bus before departure. One thing that is even more difficult to find: Uber, Lyft or other ride-sharing services.
Avoid the chaos by hiring private transportation to escort you to your hotel, which could be up to 45 minutes away in areas like Riviera Maya and Riveria Nayarit. With private transportation, you will have a sign with your name on it and will be able to leave as soon as you get into the car.
If your resort offers transportation included with your stay, ask about upgrading to private transportation so you won't have to wait for additional passengers from different flights.
Only Carrying Credit Cards
America has made it easy to go cashless, and if you're used to swiping a credit or debit card for purchases, you may be shocked to find this isn't always easy to do in Mexico.
Local shops, particularly those in international markets and found near attractions, will be cash only.
Don't exchange your cash for pesos at the airport, where you will be charged a fee and a higher rate. Instead, use the ATM located at the airport or hotel lobby to withdraw cash at the daily best exchange rate.
And while they may accept American dollars, be sure to pay with pesos to make sure both you and they are getting the accurate price.
Expecting Things to Run Smoothly
If you think things will run like they do in the States, you're going to be disappointed.
Just like there is "island time" in the Caribbean, Mexico is notorious for running on "Mexican time."
Go with the flow and enjoy the trip!
Several of the airports, where you're going to wait if you didn't pre-book transportation, offer a curbside bar to make the wait more enjoyable.
Horseback Riding in Shorts
Ever tried riding a horse in short shorts? We don't recommend it. It may look romantic to take a ride into the ocean in your swimwear, but the chafing is real.
Flip flops won't work for riding either. Nor are they meant for ziplining, jungle adventures, strolling through cosmopolitan Mexico City or for wearing in all Mexican states during winter, where temps can dip into the 40s.
It's a common mistake to think you'll be going to a beach destination and not consider the appropriate attire for any excursions you'd like to try.
Be sure to review not only the weather to ensure you pack properly, but also check out the websites of tour operators or attractions to review their recommendations and warnings.
Believing Mexico Is Unsafe
The U.S. State Department has listed a travel warning for Mexico due to violent crimes and kidnapping by armed criminals.
Rumors of drug cartels are not rumors, but Mexico's a very big country.
Despite the warnings of drug cartels, kidnappings, shootings and more, tourist areas are not in the areas where these activities are taking place, as also listed on the warning.
In fact, tourism is so important in certain states and cities that they are extremely safe due to efforts of local officials and police.