I recently got back from my first solo trip: travelling across South Mexico for seven weeks. It was a wonderful experience and I can’t wait to share more of it in various articles I’ll be writing soon. Not only was this my first time travelling alone, it was my first time in Central America. There are definitely some things I would have loved to have known before landing in this beautiful, creative and diverse country. I’ve put together a list of things I think are worth knowing before you embark on your trip so you are fully prepared and ready to enjoy what Mexico has to offer.
Learn some basic Spanish
I think this is the single biggest piece of advice I can give anyone thinking of going to Mexico. Having travelled extensively in South-East Asia where almost everyone speaks some English, Mexico came as a real shock to the system. This is not to say I expect people to know English. But I was shocked that I really couldn't manage to do much at all when I first arrived in Mexico City. Not only would it have made my trip considerably easier to know Spanish, it would have also enhanced my experience. Many tours and museums only provide information in Spanish and I was unable to have a friendly chat to the locals. Once you head up to Yucatan and Quintana Roo it does become easier as these areas are much more geared up to tourists. I really recommend learning the basics: the numbers and essential phrases are a good start.
Mexico is a huge country with diverse climates: from the scorching pacific coast of Oaxaca to the chilly mountain air of San Cristobal. Did you know Mexico City is elevated at 2000m above sea level? Oaxaca city is 1500m and San Cristobal is 2200m. That’s right, so it gets very cold at night! Depending on what time of year you’re visiting you’re going to want to pack some warm clothes. This could be an extra jumper and a light jacket. I would recommend a hat as this is something small that can make all the difference on those chilly evenings. I have to say though, if you’re only heading to Yucatan and Quintana Roo (please don’t do this) then you will only need summer clothes as it’s warm all year round and there are no mountains in sight.
Get to grips with the bus systems
Learning about the Mexican bus system before you arrive will stand you in good stead. The infrastructure in Mexico is fantastic and the buses are comfortable, safe and run on time. The main bus provider that the majority of tourists use is called ADO. I would provide an overview of how it works but this post has done a great job already so I won’t bother. One tip I do have is to use Click Bus to book your buses in advance - they accept any credit card (the ADO website only accepts Mexican credit cards) and the website is easy to use, showing you all your options for getting to A to B. It also means you can show the bus driver your ticket on your phone rather than getting a printed out one from the cashier (so you’ll save some waste!).
Be careful venturing off the beaten track
Although I generally advise to avoid tourist traps and encourage venturing off the beaten track, Mexico is one place I’d be wary of doing this in certain states. Do your research, talk to locals and gauge whether it’s a good idea to venture off on your own into the wilderness, as tempting as it may seem. Many locals I met advised against it in places like Chiapas and even said they wouldn’t do it themselves. Unfortunately Mexico does suffer from pretty serious issues with corruption and it’s worth keeping that in mind when planning your trip.
Don’t believe the hype
Having said that, for the most part it’s really worth ignoring many of the horror stories you hear about Mexico. In reality I felt very safe as a solo female and there was never any need for me to be anxious about being in potential danger. Most Mexicans are happy you chose to visit their home and genuinely want to help you if they can. I met so many wonderful locals who warmed my heart with their kindness. Bad things happen everywhere and privileged tourists will always be somewhat of a target for petty theft, no matter where you are. Use your common sense and experience and you’ll be fine.
Be a conscious tourist
Remember to be aware of the wider impact you are having on Mexico’s local communities and ecosystems. Many of the hotspots on the east coast (Tulum, Cancun & Holbox) are really struggling with the volume of tourists and the negative side of tourism is clearly evident in these areas. Choose your tour providers, hotels and restaurants wisely and with sustainability in mind. There is a growing trend towards ecotourism and sustainability in Mexico so it’s more than possible to lessen your impact as you travel. Note: Mexico’s drinking water is not safe for consumption but take a reusable water bottle with you and be ready to refill your bottle in the hotel or hostel you are staying at - it is widely and freely available.
These are just some of the main tips that come to mind when I reflect on my time in Mexico. I cannot recommend travelling here highly enough, there really is something for everyone and has one of the richest cultures of anywhere I’ve ever visited.