Student's Guide to Mexico Travel - Beginner's Guide to Mexico Travel

Photo Las Gatas Beach in Zihuatanejo, Mexico
(c) Kathleen Crislip

Before you go to Mexico:

Do I need a passport for Mexico travel? Do I need a visa in Mexico, and what's a tourist card? What do I need to drive in Mexico? How much money should I budget for Mexico travel? Do I need shots before I travel to Mexico? Get those answers first with a Mexico travel planning FAQ, or keep scrolling for the rest of the beginner's guide to Mexico travel.

Getting to Mexico:

Believe it: you may find the best Mexico airfare deal from a local travel agent with access to charters which aren't advertised. Try these for cheap Mexico air:

More Mexico travel options:

Lodging in Mexico:

Hostels aren't always the best way to go for budget Mexico lodging -- funky little hotels can be charming and cheap. Ask to see a room before you pay.

Expect to pay less than $20 for a hotel -- less than $10 is totally possible. You can get cabanas on the beach for a few bucks -- a thatched roof and a hammock. Camp for free or $3.

Getting around in Mexico:

Learn about cheap airlines in Mexico.

Taxis are plentiful. Pay about one peso per mile -- negotiate before you get in.

Take the local bus (often called "chicken buses") -- crowded, cheap and safe enough.

Driving in Mexico

Driving in Mexico is a snap -- in fact, it's easier than driving in the US provided you pay attention.


Mexico money and budget:

Mexico uses the peso as currency; the exchange rate usually hovers around ten to one.

Don't assume that Mexico will be a super budget destination -- it can be; Mexico resorts like Cancun are as spendy as any, though. You can get by on $25-30/day if you're adventurous.

Health, safety and crime in Mexico:

Food is perfectly safe. Health care is remarkably cheap and advanced -- feel safe going to the ER or clinic (I've done it). Carry insect repellent, though malaria's not common.

Mexico is generally safer than some US cities.

Where to go in Mexico:

Mexico beaches are fantastic, but there's more to Mexico than sun splashed sand and gin clear water -- the mountains of Mexico offer a whole different world to Mexico visitors: wowser architecture, master craftwork and fab food. Do both with these routes:

  • Zihuatenejo/Ixtapa - Patzcuaro
  • Hualtulco or Puerto Escondido - Oaxaca
  • Acapulco - Taxco

Mexico's Pacific side is about hills and surf; the Gulf offers Veracruz seafood and colonial Merida. Try Tulum on the Caribbean.

Internet and email in Mexico:

Internet cafes are springing up everywhere in Mexico -- I saw quite a few in remote and rural Taxco, for instance. If you bring your own laptop, you can find free wifi -- I found it within my first hour of my last Mexico visit.

Feel okay about carrying your laptop --just keep an eye on it, of course.

Learn about phone calls in Mexico below.

Mexico photo galleries:

Whet your appetite for Mexico travel with a few Mexico photo galleries.

  • Mexico "Color" - Photos Featuring Gorgeous Color in Mexico
  • Mexico Streets - a Photo Tour
  • Photo Tour: College Students in Mexico
  • Acapulco Hostel Photo Tour

Final beginner's Mexico travel tips:

More Tips on Getting Around in Mexico

  • If you return to your parked car to find the front license plate missing, you've been given a parking ticket -- get the plate after paying the fine at the police station.Waggle your forefinger (think "no-no") if a cab or bus pulls up and you don't need a ride.
  • Take cabs from taxi stands -- "gypsy" cab drivers may charge outrageously. The cab-kidnapping stories have some merit...

Quick Tips on Social Life in Mexico

Clubs and booze

You gotta try margaritas, but they're spendy. Booze on a budget: tequila and lime. Don't drink? Say, "No bebo."

  • About nightclubs in Mexico
    • Prep for a late night -- things jump off around 10-11:00 p.m.
    • Expect to spend up to $40 for entrance in resort area clubs; cover usually includes all-you-can-drink.
    • Grunge don't usually get it -- dress up and wear shoes to avoid being turned away.

About drugs in Mexico

  • Forget about drugs -- don't buy 'em, don't travel with 'em, don't hang with natives who offer to sell 'em: they're clueless.
  • Forget what you've heard about prescription drugs -- you need a prescription to buy most drugs in Mexico that are precription drugs in the US.

Quick Metrics Tips

  • Celsius: Twenty is nice, zero is ice.
  • One mile equals 1.6 kilometers.
  • One litre is just over two pints, or a fifth plus 1/2 pint.

Mail and Phone Calls in Mexico

You can buy phone cards good for making calls in Mexico for about $3-5-10 USD in Mexico shops and airports.

"Certainly, travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living."
--Miriam Beard
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