What to Do in Mexico: Your Essential Mexico Travel Guide
From beautiful beaches and lush rainforests to bustling cities and ancient ruins, Mexico’s diverse landscape is intriguing for American travelers. But before you set foot in the waters of a cenote, venture to Puerto Vallarta, or roam ancient ruins, why not explore our Mexico travel guide? It’s a helpful resource to have while you plan your trip south of the border, with advice on the best time to visit Mexico, where to stay, and more—so you can spend less time researching and more time dreaming about how much you’ll enjoy Mexico.
“Mexico is a well-liked vacation destination for U.S. citizens—and not just because of its geographical proximity. With plenty of experiences to offer, adequate planning becomes essential. Even if you have a clear idea of what activities you want to try and the best time to visit Mexico, it's wise to thoroughly research the areas you're planning to visit before finalizing your plans. By doing so, you're more likely to check off all the items on your Mexican adventure list, while ensuring a safer and smoother vacation.”
Frank Harrison, Regional Security Director Americas at Travelex Insurance’s assistance partner, World Travel Protection.
- Essential destination information
- Best time to visit Mexico
- What to do and see in Mexico
- What to eat and drink in Mexico
- How to get to Mexico from the U.S.
- How to get around Mexico
- Where to stay in Mexico
- What to pack for a Mexico trip
- Words to know in Spanish
- Mexican public holidays to know about
Essential information about Mexico
Getting ready for your Mexico trip? It's a good idea to keep some important details in mind while planning your trip. Let's check out some key things you'll want to know before you venture south of the border.
Language: Spanish is the main language spoken in Mexico. But don’t worry if you’re not fluent— English is also widely spoken in many tourist areas.
Currency: The official currency of Mexico is the Mexican Peso (MXN). Credit cards are widely accepted in larger cities and tourist areas, but it's always a good idea to carry some cash. You should familiarize yourself with the current exchange rate between the dollar and peso to ensure fair transactions by checking a credible currency exchange website.
Visa requirements: If you're a U.S. citizen and your stay in Mexico will be 180 days or less, there's no need for you to get a visa. For the most accurate and updated visa requirements for traveling to Mexico, please refer to the U.S. Department of State's Mexico Travel Advisory.
Driving side: Just like in the United States, vehicles drive on the right side of the road in Mexico. Keep in mind that local driving conditions and rules might differ from those you are used to, so take precautions when needed, including wearing your seatbelt and following speed limits.
Electric plug: Here’s a fact that’ll make travel planning easier: Mexico uses Type A and B electrical outlets, just like in the U.S. Type A outlets accommodate plugs with two flat parallel pins, while Type B outlets accommodate plugs with two flat parallel pins and a grounding pin.
Electric voltage: The standard voltage in Mexico is 127 V, which is slightly higher than in the U.S., where the standard voltage is 120 V. Before you leave on your trip, you should be aware that this difference may affect some electronic devices. So, you should check the voltage capacity of your devices or consider getting a voltage converter before your trip.
Dialing code: The international dialing code for Mexico is +52. If you need to call someone while you're in Mexico, remember to dial this code first, then the area code and phone number. It's a smart idea to keep a note of key phone numbers like emergency services or your country's embassy, just in case something unexpected comes up.
Time zones: Mexico spans four different time zones, from Pacific Standard Time (PST) to Eastern Standard Time (EST). Adjust your watches accordingly upon arrival and stay updated on the correct time zone for your location to ensure you stay on schedule. Depending on where you’re departing from and traveling to in Mexico, keep in mind that you might feel symptoms of jet lag upon arrival.
Best time to visit Mexico
Want to head south of the border but don’t know when to go? The best time to visit Mexico really depends on what you want to do in Mexico and the regions you want to explore.
In general, the dry season from December to April is considered the best time to visit Mexico, offering warm weather, less rain, and a bunch of cultural events like the Day of the Dead celebrations, vibrant Christmas festivities, and the Guelaguetza Festival in Oaxaca.
Here are some details on the high, low, and shoulder seasons in Mexico.
Seasons in Mexico
High season: The high season in Mexico typically runs from December to April. During this period, the weather is the mildest, providing tourists with a pleasant climate to explore the country's rich cultural heritage, vibrant markets, and stunning beach resorts. However, this is also the busiest time, so expect larger crowds at popular tourist destinations.
Low season: The low season in Mexico, which is generally from May to November, sees fewer tourists due to the rainy season. Despite occasional showers, travel can still be enjoyable with less crowded attractions and lower prices on hotels and tours. Plus, the lush green landscapes post-rain are a sight to behold.
Shoulder seasons: The spring shoulder season in Mexico typically falls in May and early June. The weather during this period straddles between the dry high season and the onset of the rainy low season. Similarly, the autumn shoulder season in Mexico occurs from September to November, marking the transition from the rainy low season to the more temperate high season.
What to do in Mexico: 10 best annual events to attend
Mexico offers a variety of events throughout the year that are sure to appeal to many travelers visiting from the U.S.
Here, we've handpicked 10 of the most exciting events that you may not want to miss out on!
1. Candlemas (Día de la Candelaria)
Celebrated on February 2, this religious festival marks the end of the Christmas season with candlelit processions, delightful puppet shows, and the traditional "Rosca de Reyes" cake.
2. Cinco de Mayo
Contrary to popular belief, this isn't Mexico's Independence Day. Still, it’s a significant event celebrated on May 5, commemorating the Battle of Puebla with parades, music, and dancing.
3. Guelaguetza Festival
Held in July in Oaxaca, this is a mesmerizing showcase of indigenous culture with traditional dances, colorful costumes, and local delicacies.
4. Wine Harvest Festival (Fiesta de la Vendimia)
In August, the vineyards of Baja California celebrate the grape harvest with wine tastings, concerts, and horseback rides.
5. Independence Day (Día de la Independencia)
Celebrated on September 16 with fireworks, feasts, and folk dancing, this is the day when Mexicans everywhere commemorate their independence.
6. International Cervantino Festival
Named after "Don Quixote" author Cervantes, this October event in Guanajuato is one of the world's largest international arts festivals.
7. Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos)
Held from October 31 to November 2, this colorful event is an opportunity to remember and honor deceased loved ones with grand processions, lively music, and beautifully adorned altars. For more information on the festivities and our tips for staying safe in Mexico during the holiday, read our article on Day of the Dead Safety Tips.
8. Monarch Butterfly Migration
From November to March, the monarch butterflies descend upon Michoacán and the State of Mexico, turning the sky into a fluttering canvas of orange and black.
9. Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe (Día de la Virgen de Guadalupe)
This holiday commemorates the appearance of the Virgin Mary in front of a Mexican patron saint. On December 12, you can expect to see festivals, musical performances, and a variety of delicious foods in Mexico.
10. Radish Festival (La Noche de Rábanos)
Yes, you read it right! Every December 23, Oaxaca City turns into a spectacle of intricate sculptures made entirely from radishes.
What to do and see in Mexico
Planning a vacation and looking into what there is to do in Mexico? Mexico is brimming with activities that offer a slice of its rich culture, history, and natural beauty. The opportunities for adventure and discovery are endless, so check out our list of the best sights to see and activities to try in Mexico.
What to do in Mexico: 10 sights to see on a trip
1. Chichen Itza
These majestic Mayan ruins, crowned by the famous El Castillo pyramid, are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
This tourist hotspot offers pristine beaches, turquoise waters, and a vibrant nightlife scene.
Famous for its well-preserved Mayan ruins perched atop cliffs overlooking the Caribbean Sea.
4. Mexico City
The bustling capital boasts numerous attractions including the Zócalo square and Palacio Nacional.
5. Copper Canyon
Larger and deeper than the Grand Canyon in the U.S., it offers stunning views.
Known for its mariachi music and tequila, it's also home to numerous cultural attractions.
This city's historic center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, brimming with colonial architecture and vibrant markets.
Admire the stunning architecture of the city's cathedral and the Biblioteca Palafoxiana, the oldest library in the Americas.
The "White City" is celebrated for its vibrant music scene, culinary delights, and colonial architecture.
This island is a paradise for snorkelers and divers, boasting the world's second-largest coral reef system.
What to do in Mexico: 10 cultural highlights
1. Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos)
This vibrant festival honoring deceased loved ones is a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage.
2. Mexican cuisine
From tacos to tamales, Mexican cuisine, a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage, has something for everyone.
3. Mariachi music
Experience this traditional style of music, often performed in plazas and at special occasions.
4. Wrestling (Lucha Libre)
A thrilling spectacle of acrobatics and theatrics, traditional Mexican wrestling is a must-see.
5. Fiesta de la Candelaria
Held in February, this religious festival is marked by colorful processions and dances.
6. Frida Kahlo Museum
Located in Mexico City, the "Blue House" offers insights into the life of this iconic Mexican artist.
7. Tequila and mezcal tasting
Delve into the world of Mexico's beloved spirits, ideally in the towns of Tequila or Oaxaca.
8. Hot Air Balloon Festival
Every November, the skies of Leon fill with hundreds of colorful hot air balloons during this festival.
Visit local potters in towns like Mata Ortiz and Ocumicho to see traditional pottery techniques in action.
10. Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve
Although not strictly cultural, the annual migration of millions of monarch butterflies to Mexico is a sight to behold.
What to eat and drink in Mexico: 5 delicacies to sample
Mexico's culinary scene is a vibrant fusion of Mesoamerican and Spanish influences, offering an array of flavors for the adventurous palate.
Here are the top five must-try items when visiting Mexico.
1. Tacos al pastor
This popular street food is made of thin strips of marinated pork cooked on a vertical spit, similar to shawarma or gyro. The spiced pork is then served on small tortillas with a selection of toppings such as onions, cilantro, pineapple, and various salsas.
2. Chiles en nogada
This is a patriotic dish made during Mexico's independence celebrations. It consists of poblano chilies filled with a mixture of shredded meat, fruits, and spices, topped with a creamy walnut sauce (nogada) and pomegranate seeds, representing the colors of the Mexican flag.
A traditional soup made from hominy (dried corn kernels) and meat (usually pork) and garnished with shredded lettuce, chili peppers, radish, onion, lime, and oregano.
While Tequila is well-known, Mezcal is its smoky cousin. It's a distilled alcoholic beverage made from any type of agave plant native to Mexico. Enjoy it neat or in a cocktail.
5. Aguas frescas
These refreshing, non-alcoholic beverages are made from fruits, cereals, flowers, or seeds blended with sugar and water. Popular flavors include tamarind, hibiscus, and horchata (sweetened rice milk with a hint of cinnamon).
Most popular Mexican airports to fly into from the U.S.
When planning a trip from the U.S. to Mexico, the first step is choosing the right airport to fly into.
Here, we list the top five Mexican airports that are most accessible from the U.S., all offering a variety of conveniences and connections to major tourist destinations.
Benito Juarez International Airport (MEX): Located in the heart of Mexico City, this is the busiest airport in Mexico. With numerous flights from U.S. cities daily, it serves as a major gateway to this bustling metropolis and beyond.
Cancun International Airport (CUN): This is the second busiest airport in Mexico, and the ideal entry point if your destination is the Yucatan Peninsula. Direct flights from multiple U.S. cities make it a convenient choice for those heading to the beaches of Cancun, Playa del Carmen, or the ruins of Tulum.
Guadalajara International Airport (GDL): As the main airport of Mexico's second largest city, it offers direct flights from several U.S. cities. In addition to exploring Guadalajara’s rich cultural offerings, travelers can use this airport as a stepping stone to the tequila distilleries of Tequila town or the beaches of Puerto Vallarta.
Licenciado Gustavo Díaz Ordaz International Airport (PVR): Located in Puerto Vallarta, this airport is an excellent choice for those seeking a beach getaway. Many U.S. airlines offer direct flights, making it easier to reach this Pacific paradise.
Los Cabos International Airport (SJD): For travelers intending to visit the beach resorts of Cabo San Lucas or the historic sights of San Jose del Cabo, flying into this airport is most convenient. With numerous flights from the U.S, particularly the west coast, Los Cabos International Airport is highly accessible.
How to get around in Mexico: Best modes of transportation
Mexico, with its vast landscapes and bustling cities, offers a bunch of ways to navigate your way around. Whether you're exploring the cobblestone streets of a colonial town or moving between Mayan ruins, the country boasts a variety of transportation methods to suit every traveler’s needs.
Enjoy the ride with these tips for the best ways to get around in Mexico.
Bicycling: Both an economical and eco-friendly mode of transport, biking is ideal for navigating through Mexico's picturesque towns. Many cities, including Mexico City and Guadalajara, provide bike-sharing programs like Ecobici and MiBici, respectively. Cycling routes are also well-marked in most cities, ensuring safety while promoting a healthier mode of transportation.
Public transportation: Mexico's public transportation system is extensive and affordable. It includes buses, trams, and metro systems which connect to major tourist attractions, residential areas, and business districts.
Taxis and ride apps: Taxis are plentiful and can be hailed directly from the street or pre-booked via telephone. They're metered, but it's a good idea to agree on the fare beforehand. Alternatively, ride-hailing apps like Uber and Didi are widely available, particularly in larger cities such as Mexico City, Guadalajara, and Cancun.
Where to stay in Mexico: Top neighborhoods for travelers to Mexico
Choosing the right neighborhood to stay in can have a big impact on your experience when visiting Mexico.
Whether you're looking for vibrant nightlife, tranquil beaches, or cultural treasures, here are the top 10 neighborhoods that offer something for every traveler.
1. Polanco (Mexico City)
Known for its upscale shopping and dining scene, Polanco is one of Mexico City's most affluent neighborhoods. It's home to numerous embassies, luxury hotels, and the city's most famous avenue, Avenida Presidente Masaryk.
2. Coyoacán (Mexico City)
Rich in history and culture, Coyoacán is famous for being the home of Frida Kahlo. The neighborhood's colonial architecture, picturesque plazas, and vibrant markets make it a must-visit.
3. Zona Romántica (Puerto Vallarta)
As the heart of Puerto Vallarta's vibrant LGBTQ+ scene, Zona Romántica is a neighborhood full of color and life. You'll find a plethora of beachfront bars, art galleries, and delicious taco stands lining the cobblestone streets.
4. Centro Histórico (Mexico City)
The beating heart of Mexico City, Centro Histórico is teeming with historic landmarks, including the Zócalo, one of the world's largest city squares.
5. Hotel Zone (Cancun)
This popular neighborhood is home to Cancun's most famous beaches and luxury resorts. It's perfect for those seeking a beach retreat with all the comforts and amenities you might expect.
6. Playa Norte (Isla Mujeres)
Known for its stunning white-sand beach and crystal-clear waters, Playa Norte is an ideal place for a relaxing island getaway.
7. Jardín del Arte (San Miguel de Allende)
This charming neighborhood is known for its art scene, featuring numerous galleries and weekly art walks where you can meet local artists and buy their work.
8. Colonia Guadalupe (San Miguel de Allende)
Also known as the Art District, Colonia Guadalupe is filled with colorful murals, trendy boutiques, and superb restaurants.
9. La Condesa (Mexico City)
This fashionable neighborhood is popular for its leafy streets, Art Deco architecture, and a selection of cafes and international cuisine restaurants.
10. Zona Dorada (Mazatlán)
As the main tourist area in Mazatlán, Zona Dorada is packed with hotels, restaurants, and shops. It also has a lively nightlife with plenty of bars and clubs.
Essential packing list for a trip to Mexico from the U.S.
You’ve learned what to do in and the best time to visit Mexico, and now we’re going to help you figure out what to pack before you depart.
Venturing south of the border to the vibrant landscapes of Mexico is an exciting journey. But you’ll want to make sure you have everything you need before your trip to help you have a smoother vacation. Remember, the key to packing for Mexico is to pack light while ensuring you have all the essentials.
To help you be more prepared for the adventure, let’s check out our list of must-pack items for your trip to Mexico.
Passport and travel documents
One of the most crucial items is your valid passport. Additionally, keep a copy of your travel insurance details, emergency contact numbers, and accommodation confirmations for easy access.
While most urban regions accept credit cards, it's helpful to bring some Mexican pesos for local vendors in rural areas or small establishments.
Given Mexico's tropical climate, pack sunblock (SPF 30 or higher), sunglasses, and a wide-brimmed hat to protect you from the sun's intensity.
If you're traveling from the U.S., your devices should be compatible with Mexico's Type A and B power sockets. However, packing a universal adapter is always a good backup plan.
Spanish phrasebook or language app
A basic understanding of Spanish phrases can be quite advantageous, especially in more remote locations where English may not be widely understood.
Filtered water bottle
To avoid any potential waterborne illnesses, always opt for bottled water. A reusable bottle with a built-in filter can be an environmentally friendly choice.
Whether you're exploring ancient ruins or meandering through bustling markets, good walking shoes are essential.
Swimwear and beach accessories
Mexico's stunning beaches call for swimwear, a beach towel, and a captivating book.
First aid kit
Pack a basic first aid kit with band-aids, antiseptic wipes, and any prescribed medications you may need. Also consider including over-the-counter remedies for common travel illnesses.
Mexico's rich marine life is an unmissable sight. If you plan on snorkeling, bringing your gear can be more cost-effective and hygienic than renting.
8 basic Spanish words and greetings to know for a trip to Mexico from the U.S.
If you're planning a trip to Mexico from the U.S., having a few basic Spanish words and greetings under your belt can significantly enhance your travel experience.
Here is a list of common Spanish phrases that may come in handy during your visit.
1. Hola (Hello): This is the most basic and widely used greeting in Mexico. Use it to greet hotel staff, shopkeepers, or fellow travelers.
2. Por favor (Please) and Gracias (Thank you): Remembering to be polite in any language will always go a long way. You may use these phrases often while in Mexico.
3. Sí (Yes) and No (No): These words are simple yet crucial. “Sí” is pronounced as “see” and it means “yes”. “No” in Spanish is the same as in English.
4. ¿Dónde está...? (Where is...?): This phrase is especially useful when asking for directions. For instance, “¿Dónde está el baño?” means “Where is the bathroom?”
5. Lo siento (I'm sorry): If you accidentally bump someone in a crowded place or make a mistake, “Lo siento” is the phrase to use.
6. No entiendo (I don't understand): If you're having trouble understanding what someone is saying, simply say “No entiendo.”
7. Habla usted inglés? (Do you speak English?): While many people in Mexico do speak English, especially in tourist areas, it's always polite to ask.
8. ¿Cuánto cuesta(n)...? (How much is/are...): This phrase comes in handy while you are shopping in Mexico, especially if you are in a market and there are no price tags.
Public holidays to know about when traveling to Mexico
When planning a trip from the United States to Mexico, it's essential to be aware of both nations' public holidays. It’s helpful to know when you might need to adjust your plans because of significant crowds, traffic, and closed facilities. You may even want to partake in local festivities.
Here we dive into some of Mexico's key public holidays so you can plan ahead and decide on the best time to visit Mexico for your vacation.
New Year's Day (Día de Año Nuevo): January 1
Just like in the U.S., New Year's Day is a public holiday in Mexico. Expect most shops and attractions to be closed.
Constitution Day (Día de la Constitución): February 5
This holiday celebrates the Mexican constitution's ratification in 1917. It is usually observed on the first Monday in February.
Benito Juarez's Birthday (Natalicio de Benito Juárez): March 21
A day to commemorate the birth of one of Mexico's most loved presidents, Benito Juarez. The holiday is typically observed on the third Monday of March.
Labor Day (Día del Trabajo): May 1
Similar to the U.S., Mexico celebrates Labor Day—but on May 1st. Rallies and parades are common, especially in larger cities.
Independence Day (Día de la Independencia): September 16
Much like Fourth of July in the U.S., Independence Day in Mexico is a significant celebration complete with parades, fireworks, and special events across the country.
Revolution Day (Día de la Revolución): November 20
This holiday commemorates the Mexican Revolution of 1910. Expect to see parades and public celebrations, particularly in Mexico City.
Christmas Day (Navidad): December 25
Christmas is broadly celebrated in Mexico, with many customs and festivities leading up to the day.
In addition to the above, Mexico also celebrates several other national and local holidays, including Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos) and Epiphany (Día de Reyes). Be sure to check your travel dates alongside Mexico's public holiday calendar to make the most of your visit.
Ready to travel to Mexico?