What we’ve learnt from travelling Mexico so far

Home to everything from beaches and five star resorts to urban cities and quirky hostels, Mexico is a diverse destination that should be on every travellers bucket list.

Public Beach, Tulum

It certainly isn’t for the faint hearted though. People warned us of language barriers, money scams and risky bowl movements… yet in true backpacker style, we were pretty blasé about it all!

After being in Mexico for around 2 weeks, we admitted to ourselves that we probably should have prepared ourselves a lot more though. That is why we have put together this list of tips for visiting Mexico so you can avoid the same mistakes…

1. Life is difficult not knowing at least the basics of Spanish

This might be an obvious one to most people but you will find travelling Latin America hard if, like us, you don’t learn Spanish before your trip.

Few people speak English and basic communication in each area (even the tourist destinations) has required a lot of effort.

We are now both trying our best to learn as we go. Paul listens to audiobooks via Pimsleur and Selini always has the Lonely Planet Spanish Phrasebook to hand (this was very kindly given to us by a lovely lady at a tequila tasting hosted by Air BnB in Merida, once she realized just how awful our Spanish was!)

Some travellers we have met along the way are also attending Spanish lessons, either in the hostels or at a school.

Additional tip: Get a SIM card with internet to use google translate and learn the pronunciations.

2. Credo is pork, Chapulines is grasshoppers - learn to tell the difference!

A painful subject for Selini to talk about is accidentally eating grasshoppers with guacamole in Cancun after trying to order pork. It turns out the Spanish terms for both are somewhat similar (or they are after a few margaritas anyway!)

3. Eating tacos gets boring surprisingly quickly

Fantisizing about all the Mexican food that we would soon be devouring was something that pulled us through those last grueling days whilst waiting for our trip. Those of you that are planning this same route will know where we’re coming from!

Vegan tacos at Socio Naiz, Cancun

So it will probably surprise you that after a seriously short amount of time (we’re talking 3 days max; breakfast, lunch and dinner) we couldn’t stand the sight of taco’s anymore. We started to call this “taco’d out,” and almost everyone in our hostels since has felt it too…

But don’t panic! Uber Eats works in most major cities in Mexico and will be there to rescue you from those taco slumps. Our favorite restaurants in Merida were Yu Lin (Chinese) and Sushi Mix Centenario (Japanese,) both of which we ordered in the same day! (Desperate times call for desperate measures.)

4. Tickets are always cheaper at the entrance

This might be another obvious one to some people, but it can be hard to remember when you’re getting bombarded by ticket sales reps on the way to whichever tourist spot you’ve decided to visit. Respect to all of them though, they’re very slick in the way they start a conversation and before you know it, you’ve agreed to paying more than double the price of what you should.

As hard as it can be not to get distracted by the guy who calls himself “Mr Cheeky,” hang in there and wait until you reach the entrance to purchase any tickets or guided tours.

For example: When we visited Akumal Beach to swim with turtles in Tulum, quotes went from 900 pesos to 400 pesos in the space of a quarter mile.

5. You’re expected to tip EVERYWHERE

Let’s be real, tipping has long dominated social debates. But the simplest interpretation (for us Brits at least) is that if someone gives you good service, you leave them a tip. Right?

Well you’d be wrong in Mexico.

People can be seriously demanding (especially in Tulum,) even for the smallest of things like handing a drink over the bar with no other interaction. It can be quite a shock, especially when you’re trying to conserve your savings for as long as possible.

For example: Backpackers in our hostels have had servers cancel card transactions until a tip they’re happy with is added on.

To be honest, we were over generous with our cash in the beginning. Now we tip 10%-20% if we receive good service and on other occasions we just leave the exact amount. There has to be a line somewhere but you can still be fair about it.

6. At some point you WILL get the sh*ts

It’s a fate that us backpackers have to accept. We can’t give you any tips on how to avoid it, just try and not steer too far away from a bathroom in the first few days of your visit…

7. Uber isn’t available in Cancun but it is in other main cities like Merida and Mexico City

And they are SUPER cheap too!

8. Declining conversion rates at ATM’s will save you money

When withdrawing cash from ATMs abroad, you will often notice two screens. One is a charge for withdrawal (which may mention VAT too.) The rate can vary between different ATMs.

For example: We have seen rates go from 48 pesos all the way up to 176 pesos. Be sure to check a few different ATMs before withdrawing your money to find the lowest charge.

The second thing you will notice is a screen with a conversation rate. You will have the option to accept or decline the conversion. ALWAYS decline. This is NOT cancelling your withdrawal, it is simply refusing the exchange rate that the ATM is offering. You want to decline this conversion as it will always offer you a worse rate to make the operator more money.

For example: Most ATMs in Mexico, to withdraw 9,000 pesos (approx. USD 440) would lose anywhere between USD 20 - 40 by accepting the conversion. That is a lot of money to lose at the click of a button.

Tip: Take a photo of what conversion it offers you, decline it, then see the difference for yourself.

9. Staying in hostels with breakfast included is friendlier on the wallet

A decent breakfast in most places will cost you around 90-120 pesos per person. You can easily save money by booking in hostels that provide breakfast in the room rate, or at an additional affordable price (usually around 30-40 pesos.)

Cheaper morning eats can also be found at food trucks and local stalls, but they can be more taco or meaty orientated which might not be that appealing in the early hours of the day (unless you’ve partied all the way through and breakfast is technically your late night munchies, this could be the way forward for you!)

The best hostel breakfast we have had so far is at Mama’s Home in Tulum.

10. Right now is the perfect time to travel!

We are so grateful to be able to see the world in an entirely different way.

Travelling after Covid-19 enables you to visit new places and famous tourist landmarks with hardly anyone around. The quiet locations are even quieter, but the busy places are starting to liven up again.

No queue’s to take photos at wonder of the world, Chichén Itzá

The backside to all of this is that local communities have been damaged. You can help by booking that plane ticket, paying local guides to take you around, and spreading the word that these places are OPEN!

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