Mexico is, rightly, one of the world’s most beloved holiday destinations. Home to sprawling megacities like Mexico City, ancient Aztec ruins, sparkling seaside towns and some of the best dishes on the planet, it’s very hard to hate Mexico. But just because it’s hospitable, doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of potential blunders for tourists to make every year. To save you some awkward conversations and sticky situations, here are a few tips on what not to do in Mexico.
Top tips on what not to do when visiting Mexico
1. Forget to tip
It’s common courtesy in Mexico to leave at least a 10% tip. Base incomes in Mexico are typically modest and most employees in the service sector rely on tips to supplement their earnings. For the most part, service isn’t included on bills in restaurants, so it’s customary to tip around 10–20% of the total. Some upscale hotels will add a service charge to your room rate, but it’s still good practice to tip an additional 5–10% if the service has been good. Taxi drivers won’t usually expect a tip, but it’s standard to add an extra ten pesos or so if they help with your luggage. You should also give a small tip to bartenders – around 10-20 pesos per drink. If you’re visiting a grocery store, don’t forget to tip either. Grocery store baggers will usually work solely for tips, so make sure you give them around 12 pesos per bag and 10–20 pesos for helping you to your car.
2. Spend your whole trip at the beach
Mexico is home to some of the best beaches in the world, from Cabo San Lucas in Baja California to Puerto Vallarta on the Pacific to idyllic islands like Holbox. But that’s not all Mexico has to offer. It’s an incredibly diverse country, home to pulsing cities, snow-capped mountains, dense jungle and deserts.
Set aside some time to explore bigger cities, like Mexico City, Guadalajara and Merida. There are also 111 Pueblos Magicos or ‘Magic Towns’ scattered across the country, each awarded for its cultural, architectural, artistic and historic significance. They come in all shapes and sizes, from bulging mountaintop towns to sleepy fishing harbours.[Check out our feature on seven of Mexico’s most beautiful ‘magic towns’]
3. Drink the tap water
The water in most places in Mexico isn’t safe to drink, so assume that you can’t drink it anywhere. According to this study, only 7% of people in Guadalajara, Mexico’s third-largest metro area, drink tap water. You’re unlikely to find it served in any restaurants and if you’re tucking into a tasty meal in a more remote location it’s worth checking that the salads aren’t washed under the tap either. Ergo, the ice cubes.
But buying bottled water on a two-week break isn’t good for your environmental conscience. The best thing to do is to bring a refillable water bottle and buy a pitcher of fresh water at a local convenience store to fill it up each day. When it’s empty, you can bring it back to the store and exchange it for a new one.
4. Forget to bring cash to the toilet
There are few experiences more uncomfortable than having to wait in line while you desperately attempt not to wet yourself. Now imagine getting to the front of that line and not being allowed in because you don’t have any pesos on you. Most toilets in Mexico operate with an attendant and a turnstile. You’re technically paying to get some toilet paper and a paper towel for drying your hands, but you’re unlikely to be allowed in without paying up even if you’re happy to forgo the tissues.
5. Assume all of Mexico is hot and sunny all the time
Most pictures of Mexico look blisteringly hot, but that’s not always the case. Weather patterns vary from region to region and at different times of the year. Mexico has a tropical climate, with a distinctively dry and rainy season too. For the most part, Mexico’s dry season runs from November to May and the rainy season runs from June to October.
The coastal areas are hot and dry from November to April with average temperatures around 28°C. During the rainy season, it’s still hot but there are huge rainstorms, which makes everything green and lush. The brother part of the country is the driest region, but it also gets very cold in the winter months. The coldest part of Mexico is the Nevado de Toluca’s high altitude areas and Madera, which reports yearly temperatures of below 0 F°.
6. Drink all the Corona beer
Corona beer is great and it’s little wonder why it’s become one of the top-selling beers in the world. It’s a pale lager, usually served with a wedge of lime or lemon in the neck of the bottle. But Mexico produces some even better beers. Victoria is one of Mexico’s best-loved beverages. The pilsener-Vienna type of beer is the most traditional beer out of Modelo´s brand portfolio. Mexicans – and tourists – have been swigging the stuff for well over a century too. Other well-known beers are Pacífico, Tecate, Modelo, Dos Equis, and Sol. Don’t just opt for the big brands either, Mexico’s craft beer scene is booming thanks to the end of legislative restrictions on beer distribution in 2013.
Speaking of drinking, don’t do it out on the street. While public drinking does happen, it’s technically illegal. Avoid drinking on the street in the big cities in particular.
7. Seek out Nachos
Most people think they’ve tried Mexican food, but they’ve actually eaten Tex-Mex. Chimichangas does not a Mexican meal make. Burritos, Chili con carne and Nachos are all Tex-Mex inventions. Delicious, yes, but not really Mexican. Tex-Mex usually uses more beef, while Mexican meals are more likely to involve pork. Tex-Mex also usually features yellow cheeses like cheddar, wheat flour, black beans and canned veggies, while in Mexico you’re more likely to find corn-based tortillas, chillis and white cheese.
There also isn’t one singular Mexican cuisine. It’s a huge country bursting with diverse landscapes, and its food is equally diverse. In Oaxaca, widely revered as the country’s culinary centre, it’s all about the mole, empanadas, tamales and super-sized tortillas. Over in the Yucatan, dishes have taken on more of the African, Caribbean and Middle Eastern influences.