Mexico: A Tourist’s Guide to Staying Safe and Having Fun

Photo via Eneas De Troya/Flickr

Photo via Eneas De Troya/Flickr

Many travellers shy away from Mexico due to high crime rates, though the country actually has fewer crimes per year than the United States. In a country with warm, hospitable residents; fantastic handmade goods; beautiful scenery and a rich and turbulent history, there’s no reason to not to visit Mexico, as long as you’re careful and well researched. Here are some tips we’ve put together to help you get the most out of your trip south of the border:

Cultural differences

Time

Time is not kept and counted the same way that you might be used to back at home. Things don’t necessarily move as quickly as you’d like them to, and sometimes running simple errands can take ages. At first this may be incredibly frustrating, and you may get irrationally angry at the broken trucks, the incorrect paperwork, the siestas and the ailing grandmothers that stand in the way of completing your tasks. This is a lesson in learning to relax, take things in stride and to hope for the best. Everything will get done, even if it is mañana.

Meeting and Greeting

You’re going to have to kiss stranger in Mexico, so brace yourself for it now. Close friends do it, even acquaintances do it upon meeting, so don’t freak out. It’s one kiss on the right check, nothing more than that, and it’s usually between women and women, women and men, but not men and men. You don’t actually have to touch their cheek if you don’t know them that well, instead you can give more of an air kiss. If you’re not sure what to do, just lean in and freeze and wait for your Mexican counterpart to take the lead.

Prepare for Politeness

No matter what the situation, keep in mind the concept of staying polite and friendly is important in Mexico. The couple in the restaurant at the table next to you may say ‘Provecho’ (meaning enjoy your meal), to which you should say ‘thank you’, or gracias. Complete strangers may offer to help you when your car breaks down. Even still it might be found when someone says “Yes!” when they really mean “No”, but simply don’t want to upset you with a negative answer. Be a little wary of yeses that seem to come too fast, or prices for work that seem far too low. Remember that this is just Mexico’s way of being polite and try to roll with it.

Danger Zones

Medical

On the whole, you probably won’t have too many medical issues in Mexico. If you do run into trouble, it will usually be due to contaminated water or spa tools, so make sure your Hepatitis A and B vaccines as well as your Typhoid vaccines are up to date. More commonly, you may have tummy problems related to adjusting to the food and water where you are staying. Here are some phrases that might help you, if you find yourself feeling ill.

I've got a stomach ache –  Me duele el estómago

I need an ambulanceNecesito una ambulancia.

Is there a pharmacy near here? –  ¿Hay una botica cerca?

Thank you, I feel betterMuchas gracias, me siento mejor.

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Crime

You’ve probably heard some pretty scary stories about travelling in Mexico. While we’re not going to tell you that they’re all false, we’re also not going to tell you to be terrified of every city in a country filled with some beautiful history and amazing places to visit. The areas located closest to the border between Mexico and the United States are the most dangerous (statistically) in terms of crime involving drug cartels, kidnappings and similar issues. There are issues in these provinces with carjackings, and generally it’s good to keep a low profile and not seem too flash with cash in any of the more northern areas of Mexico.

This can be as simple as not wearing expensive name-brand clothing, and keeping your jewelry and watch wearing to an absolutely minimum. Keep in mind, should you find yourself in a compromising situation, very little of what you own is worth risking your life over.  Perhaps invest in handy travel insurance, for those rare emergencies.

Here are some key phrases that may help if you find yourself in a sticky situation.

My passport has been stolenMe han robado mi pasaporte.

My car has been stolenMe han robado el carro.

Where is the police station?¿Dónde está la estación de policía?

Please call the policePor favor, llame a la policía.

Generally in Mexico, it’s best to keep a low profile, stay away from the drug scene, and don’t go anywhere alone where you don’t feel safe. If you keep your wits about you in the more run down areas, you should be fine. With that in mind, check out our ‘Just in Case’ section for numbers you may need or websites you should keep handy.

Just in Case

Here are links to the AustralianAmericanCanadian, and UK embassies located in Mexico.

For the fire department, call 068.

For an ambulance or emergency medical attention, call 065.

For the police, call 066.

These numbers may not work all over Mexico, so if you’re unsure,  call 060 which will redirect you to general emergency services.

The Bottom Line?

Language Barriers

They exist and they are often in full force in Mexico, especially in more rural areas with the locals who live there. Some people will be able to speak English in major cities, but chances are that you’ll find yourself in situations where speaking Spanish will come in handy, if not necessary. Even a little language here and there can go a long way in terms of making yourself understood and getting what you need.

Knowing that a little Spanish knowledge will get you far in Mexico – let alone the doors it can open for you elsewhere in the world – consider contacting us today to find courses in your area. Have you already been to Mexico and have any tips of your own? Let us know in the comments below!