What we’re 100% certain about? Salt & Wind Travelers do not tick any boxes on the “Signs You’re Being An Ugly American When You Travel To Mexico.” Even so, you may be in search of some Mexico travel tips to make your trip a success.
Traveling can be hard, especially when you’re traveling somewhere for the first time. No matter where you go, our top travel advice remains the same: learn a little of the language and familiarize yourself with local customs and practices. In other words, aim to fit in more than you stand out.
15 Essential Mexico Travel Tips
Before you embark on your next trip to Mexico, here are a few key Mexico travel tips. Then, along with a review of the FAQs asked by our concierge clients and one of our travel guides, you’ll be ready to travel in style!
Learn Some Local Slang
As with any travel experience, knowing some languages will make for a better trip. But even if you have studied some Spanish, you’ll likely come across words you don’t know when you travel to Mexico because there is quite a bit of Mexican slang that is unique to the country.
While you aren’t expected to use slang when you talk (in fact, it can be kinda jarring unless you’re fluent), it’s super useful to know to better track conversations.
Get Great At Greetings
Mexicans are social people, so proper greetings are the norm: make an effort to greet everyone you encounter, from servers to hotel staff and shop owners.
Depending on the time of day, greetings range from “Buenos Días” (good day) or “Buenas tardes” (good afternoon) to “Buenas Noches” (good night) or even a simple “hola” (Hello). Also, when you leave a place (restaurant, bar, hotel, or shop), it is common to say “gracias” (thank you) or “Adios, Que Tengas Buen Día” (bye, have a great day).
Interrupting Is OK
Just a quick FYI: interrupting a conversation to greet someone is common and generally not considered rude, so don’t be put off if it happens.
And Know Many Greetings Are Physical
Most greetings in Mexico involve physical contact; rather than just saying “Hello,” people offer a handshake or, for friends and family, a hug and/or a kiss. As a traveler to Mexico, a handshake will suffice and is usually repeated when saying goodbye.
Hospitality Is A Major Focal Point
One of our top Mexico travel tips: the Mexican culture prides itself on its hospitality and kindness. As such, people in the service industry focus on providing high-quality service to guests at all times. Add to it that Mexico has seriously high unemployment, so those with jobs appreciate it deeply.
Tipping Is Not Optional
This leads to tipping. In Mexico, tipping is highly expected in almost all the same situations you’d tip when in the United States. Also, just like in the States, your tip reflects the quality of the service you received, with the average tip being between 15% to 18%.
Tip Before You Sign
Oh, and one last Mexico travel tip on tipping. Unlike in the United States, there is no line to leave a tip on your bill in Mexico. Instead, tell your server how much of a tip you want them to add to the bill before they charge your credit card.
Of course, this only applies if you want to leave a tip on the credit card– if it’s cash, go ahead and leave it on the table as you’d do stateside.
Your Credit Card Should Never Leave Your Sight
If you’re paying with a card, your server will always bring the credit card terminal to your table to run it. They’ll confirm the total amount they will be charging and insert your card in front of you or even have you insert it yourself.
Your Meal Is An Event
Meals are a big thing in Mexico, and not just because of the food — quality time is a major priority for Mexicans, as is evident by how much time they spend at the table.
The “post-dinner” or “post-lunch” hang is so common in Mexico that there is even a term for it: Sobre mesa. The term translates to “over the table,” but it represents a time to be in the moment, engage and converse and enjoy company; frankly, it’s one of our favorite times of the day.
Most People Eat Four “Meals” A Day
A key Mexico travel tip is to understand meal time. In Mexico, there are four major meal times; Desayuno (breakfast), comida (lunch), merienda (tea time/ snack), and cena (dinner). Not everyone eats all four meals daily, but they are often referenced when making plans with friends.
Side note: you’re correct that “comida” literally means food. However, in Mexico, “comida” has two meanings: the traditional meaning, which it refers to the food itself as well as a way to refer to lunchtime.
Expect To Eat Later
Almost everything in Mexico happens a bit later than in the States, including meals. It’s not unusual for people to have breakfast at 9 or 10 am. In turn, lunch is between 2:00 pm to 3:30 (people who have lunch before 2 pm are “early birds”).
And even dinner happens later — it is common for Mexicans to make dinner anytime from 8 pm to 10 pm or even later on weekends or special occasions.
Know Service Can Move Slower
We like to think that when you have a culture with a history as old as Mexico, things move a little slower because it’s all relative. That’s to say that most services, from restaurants to hotels or rental cars, will likely take longer in Mexico than stateside.
Open-minded travelers who are sympathetic to the changing environment of foreign countries will always find a way to enjoy the moment.
Keep Tabs On The Water
One of the most requested Mexico travel tips is regarding water. The quality of tap water varies throughout the country of Mexico. Some cities and towns in Mexico have excellent public water systems, and local people drink water from their taps, but that’s not always the case.
To play it safe, we recommend you do not drink tap water while in Mexico (though we do wash our face and brush our teeth with it, and have no problems).
Most hotels offer guests at least one bottle of purified water at no extra charge, and you could always call and ask for more or stop by a convenience store and buy your own bottled water at a better price.
Also note that almost universally, the ice is brought in from vendors who use purified water to make ice, so it should not be of concern unless you’re dining at someone’s home in a remote location.
Ask Before Taking Photos
If you don’t heed any of our other Mexico travel tips, please follow this one!
Tourists sometimes interact with locals through photography, asking locals to take a photo of them or take a photo of the locals. Alike in any other country, taking photos of a person without asking them for permission might be interpreted as a sign of disrespect.
Be sure to ask before you take a picture of a person or a person’s belongings; anything from their restaurant, products, pets, or family is considered personal.
One of the most incredible things about Mexico is how much diversity there is from region to region in everything from the geography to the food and even the artisan goods. So many of these artisan goods are made by skilled locals and we highly recommend that you shop from them as a way to put more money into the local economy, help preserve their craft, and generally travel more sustainably.
There you have it: the 15 top Mexico travel tips. Any other tips you’ve learned during your travels? Share them with us in the comments below!
8 Pre-hispanic Drinks To Try In Mexico
From atole and champurrado to sotol and tepache, there are loads of pre-hispanic drinks you’ll find when you travel to Mexico.
Have Us Plan Your Mexico Trip
Did you know we’re also a boutique travel agency that specializes in Mexico travel planning? If you’re looking to plan one of the best trips to Mexico, our Mexico trip planner services are here to help you plan your perfect itinerary.
Photo Credit: Luna Vandoorne