Mexico offers travellers a tantalising smorgasbord of nature, history, cuisine and culture. Aztec and Mayan archaeological treasures, tequila, charming colonial cities, Mexican food and beach culture, all these features and more make up this tourist and historical hub. Culture vultures will be bowled over by the impressive sites of ancient civilisations that moulded Mexico’s great Pre-Columbian history, while nature lovers will be in their element on the pristine beaches along its 10 000-kilometre coastline, or exploring the country’s rainforests, mountain peaks and mangrove lagoons. Gourmands flock here for the distinctive and flavourful cuisine that has become famous the world over.
Banking and Currency
The currency of Mexico is the Mexican Peso (MXN; symbol M$) = 100 centavos. Notes are in denominations of M$1,000, 500, 200, 100, 50 and 20. Coins are in denominations of M$10, 5, 2 and 1, and 50 and 20 centavos.
Note: The M$1,000 and M$500 notes can be difficult to change and are sometimes not accepted.
Banking hours: Monday-Friday 09h00-16h00; some banks are open longer hours and others are open on Saturday mornings.
Mastercard, Visa and American Express cards are generally accepted by businesses catering to tourists, such as car rental agencies, airlines, some bus lines and higher-end hotels, shops and restaurants. (Credit companies add a surcharge of around 5% for foreign transactions.) At humbler establishments you'll need pesos to make purchases.
ATMs on the Cirrus and Plus networks are easily found in cities and towns throughout Mexico, dispensing pesos for holders of both debit and credit cards. ATMs and credit cards mean traveller's cheques are less necessary as a means of carrying money than they used to be and not necessarily recommended. However, traveller's cheques issued by well-known brands can be cashed in exchange houses. Traveller's cheques in Pounds Sterling and Euros are now as readily accepted as those in US Dollars.
Travel, Transport and Getting Around
Navigating Mexico City's vast urban sprawl can be a daunting prospect even with a comprehensive and cheap public transport system. However, the metro makes light work of crisscrossing the metropolis and is at its most efficient when you buy tickets in advance. La Tarjeta del Distrito Federal is the city's reloadable public transport smartcard. There are special women- and children-only carriages which run from 1800 and 2100. The Xochimilco Light Rail is an above-ground system that connects to offer a fast, efficient alternative to bus and taxi travel.
State-run Ruta-100 buses display their destinations on the windscreen. There are also minibuses in Mexico City. Schedules are loose with no fixed stops or departures, so allow plenty of time. Simply hop aboard, pay the driver (correct fare) and shout out 'bajan' when you'd like to get off.
Radio taxis are reliable and safer and are ordered by telephone from hotels and restaurants. Companies include Servitaxis (tel: +52 55 5516 6020) and Radio Taxi Sitio 153 (tel: +52 52 5674 6120). From the airport and main bus terminals, opt for a fixed-price Transportación Terrestre or an authorised taxi. Tickets are prepaid from booths (prices vary according to city zones) and it is not customary to tip the driver.
Car hire in Mexico possible. Drivers must be a minimum of 23 years old (21 in special cases). A valid driving licence from your home country is required, as is a valid passport and a major credit card. Insurance, tax and fuel are an additional cost to the basic daily or weekly hire rate.
There is a growing network of state-funded cycle paths throughout Mexico City. There is also a bike share scheme called ECOBICI, with over 6,000 bikes parked at over 400 stations. One-, three- and seven-day passes are available, after which the first 45 minutes of any journey are free.
Food, Drink and Cuisine Advice
Mexican cuisine is a gloriously rich mix, reflecting the many cultural influences the country has absorbed throughout its history. Nevertheless, the main ingredient in Mexican meals is the humble but versatile corn, prepared in every conceivable way. A basket of hot tortillas – savoury cornmeal pancakes – is always on the table. Tacos, available everywhere, consist of crispy tortillas topped with beef, pork or fish. And there's a huge range of corn-based antojitos (snacks), including those listed below, which are staples at street stalls across the country.
Fresh fish and shellfish are the main attraction along both coasts. For vegetarians, nopales the succulent leaves of the prickly pear cactus are a good option, as are squash blossoms and all kinds of wild mushrooms. Don’t miss the opportunity to try exotic fruits like zapote (sapodilla) and tuna (cactus fruit).
Water in bottles or marked 'drinking/sterilised water' can be drunk without precautions. All other water should be boiled or sterilised before consuming. Milk in major cities, hotels and resorts is pasteurised, otherwise it will probably be unpasteurised. Travellers concerned about drinking unpasteurised milk will find powdered or tinned milk readily available. Only eat well-cooked meat and fish, cooked vegetables and peeled fruit.
Service charges are rarely added to hotel, restaurant or bar bills and many of the staff depend on tips for their livelihood. 15% is expected and 20% if the service has been very good.
Climate and Weather
Mexico is a great destination to visit throughout the year. Altitude is a determining factor with regards to the weather, with cooler temperatures at higher elevations (Mexico City, Puebla, San Cristóbal de las Casas) and warmer, tropical weather as you descend to sea level (Guadalajara, Cuernavaca, Cancun).
Along the Pacific and Caribbean coasts, the winter months (November-February) are warm and sunny. Many Europeans visit during this time to escape winter in their homelands. The summer months (June-August), meanwhile, are very hot and humid with heavy rain showers and the occasional hurricane. October and November are perhaps the best months to visit the interior, after the rains have ended and everything is still green.
Clothing and Dress Recommendations
This varies from area to area. Natural fibres are best in the heat, but have a sweater on hand as the nights are generally cooler. A sun hat will help to avoid dehydration. In the mountains, heavier clothing will be required.
Internet is available in all regions. Most hotels in the mid-range and above categories provide Wi-Fi or access to connected computer terminals. There are also many inexpensive cyber-cafés in cities and towns throughout Mexico.
Electricity and Plug Standards
Electrical sockets in Mexico are one of two electrical socket types: Type B (NEMA 5-15) and Type A (NEMA 1-15). If your appliance's plug doesn't match the shape of these sockets, you will need a travel plug adapter in order to plug in. Travel plug adapters simply change the shape of your appliance's plug to match whatever type of socket you need to plug into. If it's crucial to be able to plug in no matter what, bring an adapter for all types.
Electrical sockets in Mexico usually supply electricity at a voltage of between 110-120 volts AC @ 60 Hz. If you're plugging in an appliance that was built for 220-240 volt electrical input, or an appliance that is compatible with multiple voltages, then an adapter is all you need. If your appliance isn’t compatible with 110-120 volts, a voltage converter will be necessary.