Before our most recent trip to Mexico – a multi-week trek through Puerto Vallarta and three amazing central Mexican cities – we found ourselves in an unfamiliar situation. We forgot how to travel!
All those tips and tricks that we had picked up from our previous trips were suddenly replaced with questions and doubt because of our long pandemic hiatus. In effect, we had to re-learn how to travel.
But good news! It didn’t take us long to figure things out again, and so for those of you who may be heading back to Mexico for the first time in a while, we’ve compiled some helpful tips and reminders.
What to wear/pack
Mexico is a big country with a lot of different climates. Suffice to say that what you should pack depends entirely on where and when you’re going. Just don’t make the mistake of thinking all of Mexico is like Cancun!
In the central highlands north of Mexico City, where we were in January, the temperature in the morning and evening could be as low as 5 degrees celsius, climbing to 20 in the afternoon. Unless you’re sticking to the coasts, we recommend packing layers – pants, a wind breaker, light sweater and long sleeve tees could all come in handy during the cooler months of winter and they will help you feel prepared and comfortable no matter the situation.
In the spring and summer however, temperatures get much higher (think closer to 30 celsius), so if you’re travelling then you’ll want breathable fabrics, and airy outfits like dresses, shorts and light tops.
In many parts of Mexico there is a rainy season to think of as well, so do some research and bring a light rain jacket if needed.
We also recommend good walking shoes, especially if you’re heading to cities like San Miguel de Allende or Guanajuato where cobblestone streets and hilly landscapes can make walking a lot more challenging. Think comfy sneakers and flat sandals.
Where to stay
Deciding between a hotel or a private rental can be challenging. So many options! During our time in Mexico we stayed in a combination of small hotels and Airbnbs and loved both. They each offer totally different experiences and it’s fun to switch things up!
As a general rule, we’ve found that Airbnbs or other apartment rentals in Mexico offer the best value. They can be more spacious and private and often you get really cool amenities like rooftop terraces, gardens and balconies. We also find it easier to sink into the local lifestyle when we have our own apartment. That being said, the level of service, attention to detail and charming vibe of many boutique Mexican hotels is really something special.
In fact, we had the best sleeps of our lives in San Miguel de Allende where we stayed in the lovely Casa Quetzal. We found ourselves drawn to our room in the middle of the afternoon for naps and downtime - the stuff vacations are made of. And in Guanajuato, where we stayed at Hotelito Casa Dionisio, a small hotel up in the hills, we spent as many moments as possible enjoying the view from our gorgeous terrace. In the end, it really comes down to what suits your style of travel and budget.
We also stayed in two really great Airbnbs we would definitely stay at again. Check them out below:
Making the most of Wifi
Accessible wifi has become a travel necessity. Whether you’re working on the road, checking into flights, or just looking for places to eat, access to solid wifi can make or break an experience. In Mexico we found that reliable wifi is hit or miss, and sometimes you just have to go with it.
To increase your probability of finding good wifi, we recommend doing a deep dive on hotel and Airbnb reviews, that’s often where you’ll find the best reportage on the quality of the hotel/Airbnb wifi.
Either way, it’s best to be prepared to make the most of what you’ve got. We stayed in several places where the wifi was less than ideal. If this happens, don’t let it get you down! You’ll find plenty of restaurants or coffee shops with access - use wifi wherever you can and, if possible, download, screenshot or save important information so you can access it offline.
Getting around - in town and city to city
We’re big fans of walking as much as possible when we travel. You’re bound to have unexpected discoveries, and it really is the best way to get the authentic feeling of a new town. It’s also one of the greatest ways to see the sights, and not just the big ones. For those times when you have to travel a greater distance in town, we recommend Uber whenever possible. It’s quick and easy and allows you to determine costs before you leave for your destination. (And no in-person transaction required!)
When it comes to travelling between cities in Mexico we highly suggest taking the bus. We found the whole journey to be a first class experience with comfortable seats, good amenities and reliable service. As a bonus, it’s a great way to see the landscape between cities. Watching the countryside slide by between San Miguel and Guanajuato, we were a little bit sad that our time on the bus had come to an end. It was the most relaxing and comfortable travel we had in Mexico. It might even be better than train travel in Europe, which is truly one of our favourite things.
We also found it easy to navigate the bus terminals, and generally prices were really good. If you’re interested in giving bus travel a try, we recommend using either ETN or Primera Plus. Both offer a high level of service and you can book your tickets in advance if you’d like.
It’s also relatively simple to get flights within Mexico. If you want to travel faster, this is the way to go. We had the chance to fly with a few different Mexican airlines – Volaris, Viva Aerobus and Aeromexico – and they were all great, with reasonable pricing and no surprises.
Brushing up on Spanish
We always recommending knowing at least a few words of Spanish when you’re in Mexico. While some towns have plenty of English speakers thanks to large tourist or expat communities, in other places English will be less common. Brushing up on basic Spanish introductions, asking for directions or ordering food will definitely go a long way. And don’t be shy about trying! We find many locals appreciate the attempt at Spanish and it’s fun to figure it out and hear yourself get better.
Don’t try to do too much
This is one of our top travel tips for any destination. Wherever you’re travelling, you’ll likely be tempted by a number of different activities. One of our big rules when we’re on the road is not to do too much. You don’t have to hit every bucket list item in each town.
In fact, we find the experience is richer when we pick a few things of particular interest to us, and really focus on having the best time doing those. This leaves room for discovery and return visits to some favourite spots. Plus, the point of travel isn’t to burn yourself out. It’s about slowing down and experiencing what’s around you. You can’t do this if you’re constantly worrying about your itinerary and hopping from place to place.
Should you carry money
We like to carry pesos whenever we’re in Mexico. Not a lot, but some. It is without a doubt the easiest and sometimes the only way to settle small transactions, such as buying street food. We often make our first withdrawal from an ATM when we land at the airport and then grab more pesos as we go from bank machines around town. This holds true for any location, whether it’s Mexico City or Puerto Vallarta. We’ve exchanged currency before leaving home as well, but generally speaking it’s not necessary. We also always carry credit cards and generally find it’s easy to pay for higher ticket things like upscale meals, tours and other activities, etc.
Where/what to eat
Okay, so food is basically our favourite thing in Mexico and there are a very wide variety of food experiences to have. From tasty street food that costs a few pesos to higher-end intimate meals, you can do it all in Mexico. And we’ve done a lot!
We’ve included many of our favourite Mexico food experiences in our YouTube videos so you can head over to our Mexico playlist to check them out.
When it comes to finding great places to try we’ll often do a quick Google search and see what comes up, but some of our favourite sources are Eater, The Culture Trip, and Eternal Expat. And when it comes to looking for great street food, we suggest learning a little about what the different types of street foods are and then keeping an eye open for crowds. Generally if lots of people are enjoying a stall, it’s a good one to try!
Bonus tip: always save room for a little snack! On our last night in Querétaro we wandered onto a bustling little plaza with multiple food vendors. They all had lines with very happy looking locals. Sadly, we’d eaten too much earlier so neither of us could imagine fitting anything more in our bellies. Honestly, some of our only regrets when travelling come down to food experiences not had. Our new rule is always try to save a little room.
“Find My” app, backup glasses and more
If you’re travelling with an iPhone, turn on the “Find My” feature. If you drop or lose your phone, your traveling companion should be able to find it. After accidentally leaving one of our phones in an Oxxo in Guanajuato we relied on this, and the kindness of the staff, to help us track down and retrieve it. Without this feature we would have undoubtedly been down a phone!
Bring back ups of important items - like sunglasses! This way, if you lose a pair you’ll have another ready to go. We also recommend not swimming in the ocean wearing your very favourite sunglasses because this is a recipe for heartbreak. We know this to be true and you can watch the whole story here.
Make sure you have access to Google translate and Google maps offline. This is great in case you need a little extra information but you’re not in a wifi zone.
Check airline and government websites for requirements and restrictions related to Covid-19 that you might need to be aware of before, during and at the end of your trip. We flew most recently from Canada with WestJet and found their tool very helpful.
Mexico is truly one of our favourite countries to visit. It’s welcoming and beautiful with a charm all its own, and its filled with culture and one-of-a-kind experiences. We’re always inspired by our time there and leave making plans to return. We hope these tips and experiences can help you feel a little bit more prepared and ready to travel to Mexico again too.
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