Mexico: an exotic vacation close to home

Not only does Mexico feature some of the best white sand beaches with clear blue waters where you can see straight to the bottom, but a cornucopia of sights and experiences from the high mountains and deep canyons to Aztec and Mayan ruins and a spicy, delicious, and varied cuisine. It’s tourist and resort towns bring travelers from the world over, but fortunately for US vacationers, it’s in our back yard and exceedingly affordable. As one Mexican beer boasts, Mexico is miles from ordinary and a place to enjoy a thrilling adventure in Copper Canyon or relax and recharge over a pina colada or margarita.

 

Getting in, out, and about

 

Considering its proximity to the US, entry into Mexico can be complicated. A valid US passport is all that’s necessary for a trip across the border if you stay within 20 miles of the border and for no more than 72 hours. For longer stays or to venture outside of the border zone, you also need to purchase an entry permit called a Forma Migratoria Multiple (FMM). Minors traveling unaccompanied by a legal guardian need to have a notarized letter of parental consent from all legal guardians with them as well.

 

Once you have an FMM, you can stay in Mexico for up to six months. This makes an extended stay quite possible, but be advised that there are numerous parts of Mexico that are dangerous for travelers (See Below).

 

If you drive a vehicle into Mexico you need to get a temporary import permit. You can obtain one either at one of the Mexican consulates in the US or at a Banjercito branch at a Mexican Customs office. You will need to present proof of citizenship, the vehicle title and a registration certificate, and a valid driver’s license, as well as payment for the fee. This permit is then good for up to 180 days. Keep in mind that you won’t be able to get this permit in Mexico’s interior, so don’t venture past the 20 mile border zone if you don’t have it.

 

You can carry up to $10,000 cash into Mexico without having to declare it. However if you carry any goods with you, they are subject to Mexico’s numerous customs laws. This includes gifts, perishable food, and even such things as donations of used clothing (which is actually restricted). Consult the US State Department’s travel website for additional information: http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/english/country/mexico.html.

 

While there are no required vaccinations for entry into Mexico, the Center for Disease Control recommends vaccinations for Hepatitis A and Typhoid in addition to being up to date on your standard vaccinations. Depending on your travel plans and activities, you might also want to get vaccinated for malaria, rabies, and Hepatitis B. Well before you plan to leave, consult your local physician to determine which ones are right for you.

 

Staying safe in Mexico

 

For years now, the Mexican government has been at war with various drug cartels who are trying to protect their traditional drug distribution routes. Consequently, there has been a spike in violent crime, which makes some areas of Mexico dangerous to travel. The US State Department has issued travel advisories for many of the states of Mexico, mostly border areas and in Mexico’s interior. For more information, please see http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/english/alertswarnings/mexico-travel-warning.html.

 

While many places in Mexico are rife with violent crime, the Mexican army has made a point to make the tourist areas relatively safe. While you may not be in physical danger of being murdered, sexually assaulted, or kidnapped, even in the tourist areas you should be well aware of your surroundings and moderate your dress to not draw attention – avoid wearing expensive jewelry for example.

 

Even in tourist areas, police corruption can be an issue. Do not attempt to bribe a police officer if you are detained. This is explicitly against the law. If a police officer tries to elicit a bribe or detains you unlawfully, be sure and note their name, badge number, and patrol car number. If you have to report a problem to the Mexican police, also report the incident to the nearest US consulate or embassy. Also be aware that impersonation of police officers or customs officers is a common illegal activity. Be sure and ask to see an identification in any situation where a supposed official stops you.

 

When in a major city, if you need to take a taxi, it is much safer to call one in advance rather than hailing one on the street. Make sure you note the cab number and the name of your driver. Many unofficial taxis throng the streets, but instead of taking you directly to your destination, they can often make unforeseen stops where they force you to take out all of your money from an ATM, or do even worse. If you go directly through official taxi services and confirm that the taxi picking you up is the specific one you ordered, you will be safe.

 

Do not drink the tap water anywhere in Mexico. Although it is potable, it will make you sick – referred to as Montezuma’s Revenge after the Aztec ruler who was defeated by the first Spanish visitors to Mexico. You should also stay away from ice since it is usually made with tap water.

 

Money matters in Mexico

 

If you’re smart in avoiding tourist traps, a vacation in Mexico need not break the bank. While there are 5 star hotels that can run over $500 a night, the average price of more moderate three and four star hotels ranges from $75-$150 a night. The prices of meals can vary widely, with more expensive fare available throughout the more tourist oriented areas. If you are looking for a moderate to high end vacation, expect to spend around $200-$250 a day per person including meals, lodging, and sight-seeing.

 

If you are traveling on a budget, Mexico has many options to suit your needs as well. If you stay in hostels, eat two moderate meals a day, and use bus transportation, you can enjoy Mexico for around $60-$80 USD a day per person. Keep in mind that the interior of Mexico tends to be less expensive than the coastal areas, which cater more to tourists. However, consult the US State Department’s website to confirm you are traveling in a safe area.

 

The Mexican unit of currency is the peso. Those that have been issued prior to 1993 are currently next to worthless, so do not except them. The exchange rates at the airport tend to be much better than what you get at hotels. Furthermore, considering that credit card fraud and theft can be rampant even in tourist areas, it’s a good idea to make large conversions and secure what you don’t immediately need in a safe place along with your credit and debit cards, and copies of your travel documents.

 

What is there to do in Mexico?

 

The more appropriate question is “what isn’t there to do in Mexico?” Here are a few highlights:

 

  • Visit the ancient Mayan city of Chichen Itza. Here you’ll find Mayan pyramids and a highly entertaining night time presentation that recounts the history and customs of this ancient indigenous culture. Keep a lookout for the “plumed serpent” along the pyramid steps. While Chichen Itza is one of the world’s most popular archaeological sites in Mexico, it’s not the only one. You’ll find wonderful alternatives in Coba, Tulum, and numerous other places.
  • Go scuba diving. Mexico boasts some of the best places in the world to go scuba diving. However, you may want to get certified in the US and make certain that your equipment is in good working order. If scuba diving is not your bag, the clear water around most resort towns is also perfect for snorkeling.
  • Visit the land of the “Running People.” The Tarahumara natives of the Copper Canyon are known as the “Running People” because of their tendency to go for recreational runs that can span hundreds of miles. The Copper Canyon area where they live is riddled with numerous running trails. The canyon is also great for hiking and rock climbing. Keep in mind that travel in this area is rugged and adventurous.
  • Catch the adrenaline wave. If you like adventure sports, then Mexico has all you’ll ever need, ranging from caving, para-sailing, and surfing to white water rafting and mountain and rock climbing. Be sure you are up to date on vaccinations and have good health insurance coverage.
  • Visit Teotihuacan. The Mayans are not the only ancient civilization to have flourished in Mexico. This Aztec capital, situated just outside of Mexico City, features numerous large pyramids and stone ruins.
  • While you’re in Mexico City, you must make a stop at Chapultepec Park. In addition to numerous beautiful trails, it also houses an amusement park and the world renowned Museum of Anthropology.

 

These are just a few highlights of a vacation to Mexico. Once you get here, you will find even more fun things to see and do, making a vacation to Mexico one of the best decisions you could make.