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10 Things to Know Before Traveling to Mexico

Mexico, one of the most visited countries on the planet, is both exciting and challenging at the same time. Here are a few things that you need to know before traveling to the 13th largest independent nation in the world.
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"Everyone has seen photographs of Mexicans wearing those big sombreros. When you come to Mexico, the astonishing thing is, nobody wears these hats at all."
― Bruce Beresford

The North American country of Mexico, officially the United Mexican States, is one of the most interesting countries. Dense forests, expansive desert landscape, bustling cities, snow-capped volcanic peaks, a beautiful coastline, and lagoons teeming with awe-inspiring wildlife―Mexico conjures up more contradictions than those that meet the eye. This is true not only in case of the country's natural bounties, but also in the case of man-made wonders. From the stunning, old-age remains of the mighty Mayans to the gorgeous Spanish creations of the colonial times, to top-class, modern museums and galleries featuring the works of great Mexican artists like Diego Rivera, to an extremely vibrant music and dance scene, everything just seems to exist in perfect harmony. Even food lovers will be treated well by the hearty Mexicans with their sensational chili-laden flavors and unique liquors.

Whether you are on your first trip to Mexico or whether you have been there before as well, the country will seem different to you each time, and every time you will only but wonder in awe. For all those who have Mexico on their travel wish list, here are a few things to know about the country before you land there.

Mexico
In the clockwise direction, starting from top―Mayan pyramid in Chichen Itza; a beach resort in Cancún; cenote in Yucatán; traditional Mexican dance performance; view of the Zócalo Public Square, Mexico City

It is Good to Research Well Before Finalizing Your Destination.
Tourism is a big industry in Mexico, and most of their tourist activities are centered around beaches or the Mexican Altiplano in central Mexico. Those aiming to get a little off the beaten path can head to some of the interior regions in northern Mexico. For American tourists, the most popular destinations are the Baja Peninsula, Cancún, and Puerto Vallarta. However, the Europeans prefer places like Playa del Carmen, San Cristóbal de las Casas, and Guanajuato.

It is Important to Know the Weather.
Mexico experiences a different kind of climate in its different parts. On the mainland, the low-lying regions have an arid climate, whereas the northern, high-lying regions tend to be colder. On the other hand, the northernmost part of the Baja Peninsula that lies on the Pacific coast has a more Mediterranean climate, while the southern part that faces the Sea of Cortez experiences an arid climate. Moreover, La Paz and Cabo, which lie to the extreme south of the Baja Peninsula, have a desert climate, and from Tampico region down to Cancún, one experiences a tropical climate.

You will Need Some Time to Acclimate.
Mexico has a highly varied landscape, and some of the best places in the country are located on elevated terrains. If any such locations are in your itinerary, understand that your body will need some time to get used to the altitudes, and that you might even suffer from altitude sickness. Some of the symptoms of altitude sickness include dizziness, shortness of breath, severe headache, and dehydration. Apart from drinking plenty of water to cope with this problem, it is also important that you do not push yourself too hard, and give your body the necessary amount of time (at least a week) to adjust with the changed conditions.

As a Non-Mexican, You Will be Easily Identified.
Most Mexican towns and cities have a fairly homogeneous population, and hence, as an international tourist, you will be quite easily noticed. The way you look, the way you dress, the manner in which you talk, etc., will all make you easily stand out, and people will stare at you on the streets with curious eyes. Taxi drivers may be eager to take you places, and beggars may also target you. While it is good to be a little careful and cautious in such situations, it is worth mentioning that most of these people are just curious, and may not be harmful.

There are Numerous Assumptions About Americans and Westerners.
At some places, especially in smaller towns (unlike bigger cities like Mexico City), you might find that people will assume certain things about you on their own. More often than not, many of these assumptions just tend to be stereotypical images of Americans and Europeans that they might have built on from movies and television shows. For instance, they may think that since you are an American, you have a lot of money. While some of these assumptions may seem to be outrageous, it is a good idea to try to change such opinions by behaving just as you normally do.

Some Things Will be Completely Different (and Challenging).
Traveling in Mexico, especially when you are alone and on your own, can truly be a challenging task. You will come across or have to deal with many things that you may not have known or even expected, for that matter. Crossing the busy roads is one such challenging task; the vehicles, especially the buses just don't seem to slow down. Well, such things might scare you off in the first instance; however, you will know the trick after doing it a couple of times.

There Are Several Tourist Traps Out There.
Mexico is known for its numerous tourist traps, and unless you are very alert and careful, it may be very difficult to recognize a trap. Foreign tourists, especially Americans and Europeans, are often overcharged while shopping on streets, or approached by strangers with tempting offers. Unless you are absolutely sure about people you are interacting with, it is advisable to turn down all such offers politely, and not to trust strangers, irrespective of whether or not they seem to be genuine. It may also be a good idea to have a local Mexican host, who you can trust, in order to escape getting trapped into such scams.

It is Good to Know Some Basic Spanish.
Spanish is the main language spoken in Mexico, and so it is a very good idea to learn some basic Spanish phrases before getting there. You will especially need to know some basic Spanish while communicating with people like porters, taxi drivers, waiters, bus conductors, etc. If you are staying in a big resort, you will find people speaking some English; however, knowing the local language always helps. Carry an English-to-Spanish pocket dictionary just in case you need help.

Tap Water May be Harmful.
Unlike America and most of Europe, drinking tap water may be harmful in Mexico. Even if you are staying in a good hotel, do not drink water from the tap unless the hotel proclaims it to be purified and safe to drink. Buy bottled water instead; it is easily available, pretty cheap, and of course safe. Even if you are traveling on a tight budget, do not risk your health by drinking tap water, just to save on a handful of pesos.

Do Not Ignore Your Safety.
Numerous violent crimes are known to take place in Mexico from time to time, and one always needs to be cautious while on the go in the country. Moreover, drug traffic issues are on a rise since the recent past, and while overseas tourists are not the common targets, it is always advisable to be careful. Furthermore, practice general precautionary measures―do not trust strangers, do not leave your belongings unattended, and avoid driving/strolling alone at night.

The best time to visit Mexico is between the months of November and March, when the climate around the country is pretty favorable. June to October is Mexico's hottest and wettest period. So, head to Mexico, try out new things, explore all the must-see places, and indulge in some adventure. You will definitely return with memories worth cherishing.
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Published: February 3, 2014
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Good information - Anthony Adams [February 4, 2014]