Hopping aboard a plane to Mexico on a cold winter day can be one of the best feelings in the world. But hopping aboard that plane unprepared can lead to some less-than-wonderful feelings upon arrival. Now that your ticket has been purchased, and you’re starting to feel that pre-vacation excitement, follow these nine steps to ensure your trip to Mexico goes off without a glitch.
It has become widely known that much of the tap water in Mexico is not suitable for drinking, but avoiding it can be harder than you might imagine. Call your hotel ahead of time to check if their drinking water is suitable for visitors. If not, grab a couple of large bottles from the airport to help you through the day of your arrival. And if you plan on visiting more rural areas or down-home restaurants, be cautious when ordering drinks that may be made with unfiltered ice or when eating foods (like salad) that may have been rinsed with contaminated water.
Rental car companies in Mexico have been pulling the same “fast one” on tourists for years. They advertise an incredibly affordable rental car rate online (usually less than $10 per day), then double or triple your rate with the country’s mandatory liability insurance when you arrive. Call your rental car company to find out the total cost of your rental car for the duration of your trip (including the liability insurance), so you’re not one of the many customers caught off-guard upon arrival.
The electricity standard in Mexico, 110 volts, is the same as in Canada and the United States, but three-pronged outlets aren’t quite as common. Be sure to pack an adapter in your suitcase or carry-on, so you’re able to fire up your electronics if your hotel doesn’t have the three-pronged outlets.
Business operating hours in Mexico are slightly different from those in Canada and the U.S. Most retail stores open their doors in late morning and stay open until late evening, and most restaurants accept nighttime diners until roughly 11 p.m. Night clubs don’t open their doors until well into the night (11 p.m. at the earliest), and they tend to stay open as late as 5 a.m. Banks have adapted operating hours similar to those in the United States and Canada (with some operating on Saturdays), but you can expect them to be closed on Sundays and holidays.
Tipping has become customary in Mexico, and it’s always appreciated and expected in return for quality service (or quality entertainment). In fact, service industry personnel in Mexico rely on your tips as a source of income. A tip of at least 10-percent, or 15-percent in higher-end establishments, is expected at any restaurant. Hotel maids, gas station attendants, porters, taxi drivers, entertainers, spa personnel, bellboys and any other service personnel who help you with your stay typically expect a small tip (roughly $1-$5) for the service they provided.
A general rule of thumb when shopping in Mexico: never accept the first price you’re offered. Bartering is common in Mexico, and it’s practiced by just about everyone (aside from department stores and chain establishments). The best advice for bartering in Mexico is to respect the craft or service the seller is offering while trying to reach a price that you’re comfortable paying. Many crafts sold on the streets, in marketplaces or on the beach are handmade, and you don’t want to devalue the seller’s item with an overly aggressive bartering strategy (although they may use one on you). Taxi drivers, if they’re not driving a metered taxi, are typically willing to barter too, so always establish the price to your destination before getting in the cab.
Although Mexico’s winter temperatures may be far different than the temperatures you’re leaving, you’ll need to pack more than bathing suits and beach towels. Mexicans don’t generally wear their bathing suits away from the pool or beach, and a long skirt or pants is far more appropriate at an upscale restaurant than shorts. While the dress codes in tourist areas tend to be far more lax than the country’s less-touristy areas, they are often enforced at high-end night clubs, where long pants and closed-toed shoes are required of men.
Did you know you’re expected to pay to use the restroom in Mexico? While it may not be the norm at touristy hotels and high-rise resorts, most restrooms away from the hotel zones require a small payment for use. Always have several pesos on hand when you’re out and about in case you should have to use the restroom (it costs roughly 2 pesos). Keep a small amount of toilet paper and a bottle of hand sanitizer within reach too, because many restrooms don’t offer such luxuries.
There’s no point in being in a hurry in Mexico, and that’s one of the many characteristics that make the country so great. Shops may not open on time, visitors may not be punctual and your waiter may not be overly attentive (he’ll never bring you your bill before you ask for “la cuenta”). Instead of getting upset about timeliness, it’s best to sit back, relax and smile about the country’s slow-paced, less stressful way of life.