Visiting Mexico has been one of our favorite travel experiences in our five years of full-time travel. Home to 32 diverse states, Mexico has consistently blown us away with its natural beauty, kind and welcoming people, and rich cultural experiences.
Whether you’re planning a trip to Mexico in a plane, van, car, or RV, there’s a lot to know (and prepare for) as you travel to this magical country. This Mexico travel guide has everything you need to know about visiting Mexico from entry requirements, safety, money, transportation, water quality, and recommended travel destinations. Let’s dive in!
Is Mexico travel safe?
Like any country, state, or city, some parts of Mexico are safe, and some you should avoid. Lumping the entire country into one category may be tempting, but it’s incredibly inaccurate. In a typical year, there are just shy of 100 million tourists visiting Mexico. And generally speaking, the country is safe for visitors.
Do bad things happen to travelers? Absolutely.
However, the number of travelers facing serious safety concerns is few and far between in most parts of the country. If you take a few common sense safety precautions and avoid areas with increased criminal activity, traveling to Mexico can be very safe.
We recommend avoiding hanging out in border towns and of course, avoiding participating in criminal activity. Don’t make yourself available for petty theft opportunities and always lock your belongings in a truck when leaving a vehicle.
Do you need a passport to travel to Mexico?
As of January 8, 2007, anyone flying from the United States into Mexico requires a passport book, including minors.
If you’re driving or sailing across the border, you can use a passport card, and children under 16 years of age can use a birth certificate, naturalization certificate, or other citizenship certificates to reenter the United States.
Check your passport’s expiration date to confirm it is not expired or will not expire during your travels. If it expires or you do not have a valid passport, give yourself plenty of time to acquire one. We’ve heard wait times for getting passports re-issued are incredibly long.
Even in a normal season without high demand passports can take several weeks or months to receive. You don’t want to run into complications with your travels because you didn’t plan appropriately.
What is the best way to get Mexican pesos?
Mexico uses Mexican pesos as their form of cash (effectivo). Credit and debit cards are accepted in most popular tourist destinations across the country, but smaller food vendors, some tour guides, and smaller towns will mostly operate with cash only. For that reason, we highly recommend you bring $3,000 – $5,000 Mexican pesos with you before arriving.
If you need to get more pesos in Mexico, the easiest way is to use an ATM with your debit card. We only recommend using ATMs (cajero automaticos) from well-known banks, especially if you have an account with one. Some ATMs may charge incredibly high fees for non-members to get cash.
Some of the most popular banks for low fees are Inbursa, Banorte, Intercam, Santander, Scotiabank, BBVA, Bancomer, and Banco del Bajio.
Make sure you call your bank in advance to inform them that you’re planning to travel to Mexico. Your bank may lock your account if they unexpectedly start seeing transactions in Mexico popping up on your account. This is the last thing you want to deal with when traveling.
We also suggest having a good travel credit card with you. We love using credit cards to pay for our travel because we earn miles and points for our spending! Just make sure it doesn’t charge international fees. Our go-to travel card is Chase Sapphire Reserve. If you sign up with this link you can get 60,000 miles after spending $4,000 in the first four months. This equates to around $650 in travel credits which can be used to book flights, reserve hotel rooms, rental cars, or shop online. This travel credit card also gets you into amazing airport lounges across the world.
How do you get around in Mexico?
If you drove across the border, getting around won’t be much of an issue since you will have your own vehicle with you. Just make sure you have specialty Mexico auto insurance, which is typically not offered by any major American auto insurance provider.
If you’re not driving across the border, you’ll likely need some help to get around and experience the beautiful and exciting sights. You can always rent a car but renting cars can get expensive depending on the length of the trip.
One of the most effective and efficient ways to travel around the country is by bus. This allows you to see and experience Mexico. If you plan your route accordingly this can be a convenient and comfortable way to travel around the country.
If you want to explore the city where you’re staying, a taxi is a great option to consider. However, much like any touristy spot, there are some seedy taxi drivers. Make sure you agree on a price for the ride before getting in. Some taxi drivers will take advantage of tourists who do not know better. Reputable taxi services will often have a table on display that indicates the pricing and fees.
You can also take a collectivo which is a smaller city bus that runs regular routes through the city. It can be as cheap as $0.10 to ride.
Popular places to travel in Mexico
There are many fantastic places to travel to when visiting Mexico. However, we’ve selected a few of the most popular spots tourists like to visit in Mexico. Each location provides a unique experience and is home to incredible beauty.
If you’ve spent much time looking into traveling to Mexico, you’ve likely seen the Mayan ruins found in the Yucatan Peninsula city of Tulum.
This is a popular Mexican tourist destination that has some incredible wellness retreats and all-inclusive resorts. Whether you’re looking to spend your time enjoying outdoor adventures or relaxing by the beach, Tulum offers it.
Not only does Tulum offer white sandy beaches and turquoise waters to enjoy during the day, but once the sun goes down the nightlife scene comes to life. You can safely head out to the many local restaurants and bars to enjoy yourself.
Located in the Yucatan Peninsula, Cancun is one of Mexico’s premier tourist destinations. It’s a short drive to Tulum, and there’s practically an infinite amount of beaches to enjoy.
Like many other major tourist cities in Mexico, there are many luxury all-inclusive resorts lining the coasts. You can find some fantastic resorts and spas where you can enjoy breathtaking views from your room.
This is one of the most touristy destinations in all of Mexico, so it’s not the authentic Mexico experience many are seeking. But if you want to relax on the beach and experience a luxurious and fun getaway for you or the family then it’s a great spot to visit.
3. Puerto Vallarta
If the idea of soaking in the sun and walking on the beach to enjoy the sunset sounds appealing, a visit to the west coast city of Puerto Vallarta is for you. The area is home to lush jungles, five-star resorts, and gourmet restaurants that will please your taste buds.
Residents of Puerto Vallarta are very friendly and accustomed to having tourists in their city. Because English is one of the most common languages spoken here, communicating won’t be a problem.
When planning your travels, it’s important to remember that a beach town like Puerto Vallarta can get very crowded during the holidays. Many residents of major Mexican cities flock to cities like Puerto Vallarta during the holidays, especially Semana Santa.
Oaxaca is considered the heart and soul of Mexico. It’s the perfect representation of the melting pot of Mexico. Its indigenous history blends with Spanish influence which is evident in its cuisine, architecture, and people today.
There are massive markets filled with spices, handmade goods, and textiles. You can take cooking classes, taste rich moles, visit ancient ruins, or learn about the artisanal spirit of Mezcal at a palenqueria. If you love culture, history, and food. Then Oaxaca is a must-visit city in Mexico.
5. The Baja Peninsula
Directly south of San Diego, California is the incredibly beautiful area of Mexico known as the Baja Peninsula. The entire Baja Peninsula is packed full of amazing sites and things to do. From the fresh seafood to the year-round sunshine, you’ll have a hard time leaving Baja.
The weather and water here are perfect for anyone who wants to give surfing, kite surfing, or sport fishing a try. The waters off of the Baja Peninsula are unlike any others. In fact, Jacques Cousteau called them the world’s aquarium.
If you make it to the southern tip of the peninsula, you can visit Cabo Pulmo National Park, which offers an incredible opportunity to experience these waters in their purest form.
Whether you’re chasing waterfalls, waves, or the next off-roading adventure, the Baja Peninsula is the perfect spot to relax and play. You can find some fantastic places in small towns along the coast to grab a bite to eat before heading out for your next adventure. Many of these mom-and-pop shops use locally harvested foods to create their delicacies.
Despite its growing popularity, it still experiences fewer tourists than the rest of the touristy hotspots. Given its size, it’s easy for tourists to spread out throughout the peninsula and avoid congesting a specific area.
6. San Miguel de Allende
San Miguel de Allende is one of the most romantic historical pueblo magicos in all of Mexico. The beautiful city is filled with lined with colorful homes, dozens of churches, and plazas to gather in.
Located about three hours away from Mexico city, this city is popular among expats looking for temperate climate to call home. The iconic Parroquia de San Miguel Arcangel, or San Miguel’s pink church is one of the most famous churches in all of the country.
Make sure to explore the local wine and food of the region. The area surrounding San Miguel in the state of Querétaro is on the routa del vino.
7. Mexico City
Mexico City is the largest city in North America home to over 22 million people. Built on top of a lake thousands of years ago, this now thriving metropolis has everything you could hope for and want out of a city. It’s home to fabulous museums, ancient Aztec ruins, world-class restaurants, and unique cultural experiences.
Most people fly into the city for a few days, but given its size, we recommend staying as long as possible. A few of the must-see spots along the way are the Condesa and Roma neighborhoods, the Teotihuacan pyramids on the outskirts of the city, and a boat trip down the ancient rivers at Xochimilco.
Mexico travel tips
There are a few important things you need to know before you head off and start traveling to Mexico. Let’s look at some important Mexico travel tips that can help you make the most of your time south of the border.
Don’t drink tap water
If you haven’t traveled to Mexico before, one of the most important things you need to know is that you should not drink tap water.
Hotels, restaurants, and families get fresh, safe, drinking water from the local agua purificada (water purification plant). If you order water at a restaurant this is where it will come from. Ice is also purified, so don’t need to worry about getting sick. You can buy your own garrafon, or 5-gallon jug of water to have in your home or RV and can refill them as need be.
Have the proper insurance
Many travelers don’t realize most insurance policies only apply to their home country, whether it’s automobile or health insurance. Once you cross the border, your precious insurance policy will be useless.
Driving your own vehicle in Mexico requires special Mexican automobile insurance. This covers you and any other parties in the event of an accident something that is not covered by your insurance company in your home country. Make sure to purchase a reputable Mexican insurance provider ahead of time.
We haven’t had any major health issues while visiting Mexico, but it is nice to have travel health insurance to cover us if something major happens. We love Safety Wing’s affordable plans which offer low deductibles and loads of added perks.
Learn basic Spanish
While many people in Mexico speak English, that’s not always going to be the case. You may wish you had paid a bit more attention during those high school Spanish classes. Knowing and using a few basic phrases in Spanish can be extremely helpful.
It can help you do things like order in a restaurant, get directions, or quickly find a bathroom. While you’re not likely to master the language overnight or even in a few weeks or months, being able to communicate on the most basic level can be helpful.
We use italki to take one on one language classes before our international trips and help us learn and practice the language with native speakers. Get $5 off your FIRST lesson when you spend $10 or more with code ESRV.
Secure your FMM
Mexico’s FMM (Multiple Immigration Form) is their tourist permit that allows you to legally travel the country. When you travel to Mexico by plane, you will be asked to fill out your FMM before landing which will ask you things like where you are traveling to and for how long.
If you’re driving to Mexico you are expected to stop at the border to get your FMM issued and stamped before continuing your journey. The FMM is not optional and if you are traveling throughout the country it’s very likely you will find yourself at a checkpoint where officials will ask to see it. You don’t want to find yourself in a sticky situation if you cannot present it to them.
Prior to 2023, FMMs were issued on paper that was stamped at customs or Aduana at the border crossing. But as of spring 2023, Mexico has announced they plan to phase out paper FMMs and use a stamp in your passport book alternatively.
Pay with pesos when possible
If you are visiting large cities or popular tourist destinations most businesses will accept US dollars. However, you may be able to secure a better price when paying with pesos. Keep an eye on the exchange rate of the dollar to the rates they are charging and be flexible in how you are paying.
Most businesses will include a fee for using a credit or debit card. Cash is definitely preferred, especially for things like tipping. So always have pesos on hand.
Visiting Mexico is worth it
Mexico isn’t always the easiest place to visit. But it’s 100% worth visiting. Visiting some of Mexico’s most popular destinations is a great place to get your feet wet with traveling here, but we highly recommend getting off the beaten path and exploring some of the smaller, lesser-visited areas. There’s a good chance no matter where you go though, you won’t be disappointed.