Mexico travel guide
As spicy as salsa, intoxicating as tequila and surreal as a Frida Kahlo canvas, Mexico fills the senses, energizes the intellect and nourishes the soul. This huge country encompasses epic landscapes; from northern deserts and snowy peaks of the central sierra, to the jungle highlands of southern Chiapas and the beaches of the Yucatán Peninsula.
Pre-Colombian civilisations made their mark with the vast pyramids of Teotihuacán, stunning temples of Chichén Itzá and countless other archaeological wonders. The Spanish heritage has also been well preserved, with charming towns built around shady plazas and whitewashed churches; San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato and Dolores Hidalgo are treasures of the central Colonial Heartland.
Mexico today is a booming modern economy, led by its gargantuan capital, Mexico City. Once you adjust to the relentless pace of life in this metropolis, you can indulge in world-class museums, dine in exquisite restaurants, cut shapes in clubs and barter at sprawling markets. Beyond the modern cities, lie sleepy villages where age-old customs and ancient beliefs endure. San Cristobal de las Casas is a major hub, ringed by indigenous villages, with churches combining pagan beliefs with Roman Catholicism. Across the country, lively festivals reflect this blending of faiths, most famously at the Day of the Dead ceremony.
For visitors seeking outdoor adventure, Mexico delivers. Nature lovers can go whale watching in Baja California, reef diving off the Yucatán Peninsula and trekking through the jungle to glowing blue lagoons bordering Guatemala. Adrenaline activities are in amply supply too, from canyoning in Veracruz and hang-gliding in Hidalgo to volcano climbing, caving and river rafting.
One of the great joys of a visit to Mexico is its cuisine. Emulated around the world, its crispy tacos, mole sauces and burritos are amongst the mouth-watering specialities on offer. They are best washed down with one of Mexico’s many beers or a shot of mescal if you’re in the party mood, which everyone else here seems to be.
1,964,375 sq km (758,449 sq miles).
128,632,004 (UN estimate 2016).
62 per sq km.
President Enrique Peña Nieto since 2012.
President Enrique Peña Nieto since 2012.
110 volts AC, 60Hz. North American-style two-pin (flat) plugs are usual, but most sockets cannot accept a North American-style three-pin plug.
Last updated: 13 March 2017
The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. ‘We’ refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
Crime and violence are serious problems in Mexico and the security situation can pose a risk for foreigners. Many Mexican and foreign businesses choose to hire private security. You should research your destination thoroughly and only travel during daylight hours. Monitor local media and inform trusted contacts of your travel plans.
The Mexican government makes efforts to protect major tourist destinations like Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Cozumel, Los Cabos and Puerto Vallarta and these areas have not seen the levels of drug-related violence and crime experienced elsewhere. There have been several instances of armed crime both within and outside tourist areas in Acapulco. Six people, including foreign nationals, were killed in a shooting at the Blue Parrot nightclub during a music festival in Playa del Carmen on 16 January 2017.
When driving, avoid isolated roads and use toll roads (‘cuotas’) whenever possible. Keep car doors locked and windows closed, especially at traffic lights. There have been a number of violent car-jackings and robberies along the Pacific Highway and you should be careful when travelling on this route. Those travelling in large camper vans or sports utility vehicles (SUVs) have been targeted in the past. If you suspect you’re being followed or watched, drive to a police station or other safe place.
Be particularly alert on public transport, at airports and in bus stations. Theft on buses is common so keep an eye on your belongings at all times. Buses have also been hijacked. Where possible, travel on first-class buses using toll roads, which have a lower rate of incidents than second and third class buses travelling on the less secure free (‘libre’) roads. Most first-class bus companies perform security checks when passengers board the bus.
Passengers have been robbed and assaulted by unlicensed taxi drivers including in Mexico City. In Mexico City, use the better regulated ‘sitio’ taxis from authorised cab ranks. At airports, use only authorised pre-paid airport taxi services.
Women travelling on their own should be particularly alert when travelling on public transport. There have been incidents of rape on urban buses (‘micros’) on routes in the south of Mexico City. Most attacks have occurred early in the morning or late at night. Several serious sexual offences have also occurred in tourist areas outside of Mexico City. Take care even in areas close to hotels, and especially after dark.
Don’t leave food and drinks unattended in bars and restaurants. Travellers have been robbed or assaulted after being drugged.
Street crime is a serious problem in major cities and tourist resort areas. Pick-pocketing is common on the Mexico City Metro. Dress down and avoid wearing expensive jewellery or watches. Limit the amount of cash or credit/debit cards you carry with you. Keep a close watch on briefcases and luggage, even in apparently secure places like the lobby of your hotel.
Take care when withdrawing money from ATMs or exchanging money at Bureau de Change. It’s generally safer to use ATMs during daylight hours and inside shops or malls.
Be wary of people presenting themselves as police officers trying to fine or arrest you for no apparent reason. If in doubt, ask for identification and if possible note the officer’s name, badge number, and patrol car number.
Foreign visitors and residents may be targeted by scam artists. Be wary of strangers approaching you or contacting you by phone asking for personal information or financial help. If you or your relatives or friends are asked to transfer money to Mexico make absolutely sure that it is not part of a scam and that you have properly checked with the person receiving the money that they are requesting it.
Short-term opportunistic kidnapping – called ‘express kidnapping’ – can occur, particularly in urban areas. Victims are forced to withdraw funds from credit or debit cards at a cash point to secure their release. Where victims have friends or relatives living locally, a ransom may be demanded from them. You should comply with requests and not attempt to resist such attacks.
Longer-term kidnapping for financial gain also occurs, and there have been allegations of police officers being involved. Be discreet about discussing your financial or business affairs in places where you may be overheard by others.
Drug-related violence in Mexico has increased over recent years. The violence is concentrated in specific areas, and some regions are almost completely spared. Make sure you research your destination thoroughly.
Many fatalities are suspected gang members killed in turf wars between the different organisations that compete for control of trafficking routes into the US. Drug-related violence is a particular problem in the northern states of Sonora, Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo Leon, Tamaulipas, Sinaloa and Durango, and also in Guerrero, Jalisco, Michoacán and Nayarit. Armed clashes between security forces and drug groups can occur at any time without warning. You should exercise extreme caution outside of tourist areas in all of these states.
The FCO no longer advise against all but essential travel to Ciudad Juarez. You should, however, take care, travel during daylight, inform relatives or friends of your travel plans and use reputable hotels only.
Outbursts of politically-motivated violence can occur across the country, with a recent increase in the states of Guerrero and Mexico City.
You can drive in Mexico using a UK licence or an International Driving Permit. Driving standards are very different from the UK. Roads can be pot-holed. Be prepared to stop unexpectedly and beware of vehicles moving slowly, changing lane without indicating and going through red lights. Many local drivers don’t have any form of car insurance.
To reduce air pollution, Mexico City and some other parts of the country have introduced restrictions on driving. Cars may be forbidden from entering certain areas on particular days, based on their number plates. These regulations are strictly enforced and offenders face heavy fines and temporary confiscation of their vehicle. This only applies to older vehicles and not to newer models which are often used for car hire. Please double check with your car hire company directly.
There is an additional driving restriction in Mexico City, where vehicles without registration plates from the State of Mexico (Estado de Mexico) or the Federal District (DF) are not allowed to enter Mexico City from Monday to Friday between 5:00am and 11:00am.
You may come across unofficial roadblocks, including on main roads, manned by local groups seeking money for an unofficial local toll.
If you take part in adventurous sports (including paragliding, skydiving, scuba diving and jet-skiing), make sure adequate safety precautions are in place. Equipment may not meet UK safety and insurance standards. Only use reputable operators, and satisfy yourself that the company is using the most up-to-date equipment and safety features, and that they are fully licensed and insured. Check that you’re covered by your travel insurance for all the activities you want to undertake. British nationals have been injured and in some cases killed participating in extreme sports.
Swimming and water sports
Shark attacks are relatively rare in Mexico, but you should take care particularly when surfing, research the local area and follow the advice of the local authorities.
Around many lagoons in tourist areas (eg Cancun) you’ll see signs warning about crocodiles. Respect these warnings and don’t walk too close to the water. Tourists have been seriously injured in crocodile attacks.
In some hotels, balcony balustrades may not be as high as you expect and there could be a risk of falling.
Foreign nationals have been caught up in property scams. Before making financial commitments and buying property in Mexico, you should seek independent qualified legal advice.
Mexico has an established multiparty democracy. Political demonstrations are common in Mexico City and can occur across the country. These can be tense and confrontational and could potentially turn violent. Onlookers can be quickly drawn in. You should monitor local media and avoid all demonstrations.
The Mexican constitution prohibits political activities by foreigners. Participation in demonstrations may result in detention and deportation.
The Mexico City Command and Control Centre (Centro de Atención a Emergencias y Proteción Ciudadana de la Ciudad de México) has information and advice on safety in Mexico City. Monitor their twitter page ‘Safe City’ for up-to-date information and advice on accidents, road blocks, demonstrations, etc in Mexico City.