Have you been to Mexico? If not, don't worry. Mexico is an amazing destination that's easy, inexpensive and yes, safe to visit. There are sunny beaches, deep jungles, ancient ruins and of course, delicious food waiting for you. If this is your first time south of the border, here is what you need to know:
Let's get this out of the way first. There is a lot of misinformation floating around about the safety of visiting Mexico. Critics are quick to paint the entire country as dangerous. If you are planning a visit you are almost definitely going to get a few questions and negative reactions about your trip. Rest assured that while drug wars are an issue in the country, in reality most of Mexico is not only safe, but full of welcoming and friendly people.
That said, there are certain parts of the country that are not particularly safe for visitors (and these unsafe parts can change fairly frequently). You will need to read up and choose your destination carefully. You should also follow general safety precautions while you're there, including insuring all valuables, not walking alone late at night and only taking licensed cabs. Also be sure to research and take out the travel insurance policy that is right for you and your family. If you choose a RoamRight policy, you can get the latest safety information with the RoamRight app.
Many people's first encounter with Mexico is a beachfront resort. While this can make for a fun vacation, staying in or near a resort means that you'll barely even begin to scratch the surface of what Mexico is all about.
In reality, there are so many parts of this country worth visiting. You can experience highbrow culture and lowbrow street food in Mexico City (the largest city in North America), or learn to make mole in Oaxaca. You can climb a Mayan pyramid in the Yucatan or dive into a cenote in the Gulf of Mexico. Relax on a beach in Puerto Vallarta or head deep into the jungle in Quintana Roo. The possibilities are endless so don't limit yourself.
You do not need to know Spanish to travel to Mexico. Most tourism professionals will speak at least a little English and most people are willing to help you try to get by. That being said, most Mexicans do not speak English, so learning even a little Spanish (just the basics) will make your life much easier, especially if you're headed off the beaten track.
Mexican food is the country's greatest export, and you simply can't miss a chance to try it in its natural environment. Be aware that actual Mexican food isn't the Tex-Mex we most commonly eat in the US. The ground beef, hard shell tacos and shredded cheese that are staples of Tex-Mex are not generally found in most authentic Mexican food. While dishes like quesadillas, burritos and enchiladas exist, they aren't exactly as you may imagine.
Real Mexican food is so much more than burritos anyway: It varies by region, making use of local ingredients and traditions. You'll find hearty stews, superbly grilled meats and supremely fresh seafood among other things. So be adventurous, sample street tacos, juicy tortas (sandwiches) and anything else that looks tasty. Believe me, you and your stomach won't regret it.
Don't let your first amazing visit to Mexico be ruined with gastrointestinal distress. Food poisoning is a big problem in Mexico, but there is a lot you can do to minimize your chances of being stricken. Wash your hands before eating, choose reputable food vendors (look for popular places with high turnover) and avoid tap water like the plague.
Aside from food poisoning, you will also want to be sure to always wear sunscreen - the sun in Mexico can be HOT. Throw on some bug spray too to protect from dengue fever and other mosquito born illnesses. If you do become ill, pharmacies in Mexico are plentiful and can easily prescribe medication to ease your troubles.
Have you been to Mexico? What other tips would you add?
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Stephanie Yoder is a girl who can't sit still! Since graduating college in 2007 she has either been traveling or planning to travel. She's lived on four continents and visited everywhere from the Great Wall of China to the Great Barrier Reef. She now writes and travels full time, blogging about her adventures on Why Wait To See The World? (formerly Twenty-Something Travel). Follow Stephanie on Twitter or visit her on Facebook.
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