Mexico's rich history, diverse flavors, colors, and ecosystems, and warm and welcoming community make this country ideal for first-time visitors.
Mexico receives more than 20 million visitors annually. But, if you've never traveled there and are thinking about planning a trip with friends, family, a partner, or by yourself, here's a starter guide to Mexico for first-timers. Below we'll break down everything you need to know to have a wholesome and memorable group travel or solo experience in this magnificent country, so read on if you want to know it all.
Mexican Culture And Etiquette
In general, Mexicans are hospitable, warm, and friendly. Still, if you travel around the country, you will notice that customs and attitudes vary from region to region. Here are general terms about Mexican culture and etiquette:
● It's common for men to open doors and offer their seats to women.
● Saying goodbye to someone when leaving is always important. A hurried departure without a farewell may imply that the outing was not enjoyed.
● Men are expected to pay for coffee, food, etc., when eating out, even if the woman was the one who arranged the meeting.
● It's essential to show respect to older people. You can do this by yielding your seat to them if all are taken and allowing them to be served before you.
● This may sound common and obvious, but "Por favor" (please) and “Gracias" (thank you) are words you should always use when asking for something and receiving it.
● Saying "salud" after someone sneezes is considered polite. The translation for "salud" is "health" funny, we know, but it's the equivalent of "bless you."
When interacting with someone, it's always important to properly greet them as this will be the very first impression someone gets from you.
When Mexicans greet someone, physical contact is mandatory. In many countries, the typical way to greet someone is through a handshake. While this is still the case in Mexico, the classic greeting is a simple kiss on the cheek and a hug - (although the latter interaction is not frequent among men). The same gestures are repeated when saying goodbye. A handshake is the safest gesture if you are unsure what to do.
When meeting with a group, it is necessary to shake hands individually and/or kiss and hug rather than commonly addressing the group; this will leave a great impression.
During interactions with people with whom they are unfamiliar, Mexicans are usually polite and formal. For example, when talking to someone with whom you have a professional relationship or an elderly person, the proper pronoun "usted" is used instead of "tu."
It's also expected to use polite terms like "señor" for an older or married man and "señora" for a married or older woman. The word "señorita" is used for young women, and sometimes "joven" may be used for young men.
Table Manners And Tipping
When you are enjoying a meal with other people, it is customary to say "provecho" or "buen provecho" just before you start eating and if you have to leave early. To give you an idea, the phrase "buen provecho" is the equivalent of the famous French "bon appetit."
In Mexico, as in other countries, waiting until everyone has their food to start eating is considered polite. Although, when eating out in a group, it is customary to split the bill among everyone or for each person to pay only for what they ate, it varies depending on what each party agrees.
As for restaurant tips, leaving 10% or 15% of the total bill is customary. There are also optional tips for workers such as hotel maids, porters at the hotel or airport, etc. These tips vary according to the place, the service, and the quality of the help. The fancier the place or service, the larger the tip should be.
Although not mandatory or necessary, tipping an Uber or cab driver when traveling long distances is always a kind gesture. Likewise, at gas stations, it is customary to give a small tip to employees at the end of refueling.
Money Saving Tricks
Mexico is known for being a very affordable destination among travelers worldwide, so if you're on a tight budget, you'll be comforted to know that Mexico is an economical country. But, of course, spending a lot of money only happens if you visit high-class places or make the mistake of overpaying for tourist traps. Nevertheless, here are a couple of ways to save money in Mexico:
Travel during the off-season: if, in addition to saving money, you want to avoid crowds, it is advisable to travel to Mexico from February to mid-April (after that date, prices and crowds increase due to Semana Santa) and from September to early December. During these seasons, you will find affordable lodging and flight options.
Use Public Transportation
Public transportation is an excellent way to get anywhere in Mexico, especially in Mexico City. You will find different affordable options, such as buses, metro (only in Mexico City), Metrobus, and colectivo. Just ask which routes are the safest, as some can be dangerous.
The local markets are the best place to buy groceries whether you plan to stay a few days or extend your trip. Every city and town in Mexico has a local market where you will find everything from fruits and vegetables to meat and fish.
Give Street Food a Chance
It might not be too common in the United States or your home country, but street food in Mexico is excellent! Despite its untraditional appearance, many street food vendors offer mouth-watering dishes at really cheap prices. In addition, you can find tamales, tortas, tacos, fruit juices, flavored waters, and much more. The key to finding a good street food place is to look at how many people shop there, if it's clean enough, and if you can ask for references.
Find Restaurants with "Comida Corrida"
If you want to save money or try a full traditional Mexican meal in a restaurant, then comida corrida is the ideal choice for you. Comida corrida menus are usually available from 14:00 until 16:00 or 17:00 and are cheaper than many lunch and dinner options. Another advantage is that it will allow you to taste authentic homemade local flavors.
Visit the not-so-touristic destinations: we know that the popular destinations and places are the ones that attract everyone with a traveling spirit, but sometimes the not-so-touristy areas of Mexico have beautiful things to offer, and you'll be happy to know that you can save even more money by visiting them, as the rates are cheaper.
What To See And What To Avoid
What to See:
Mercados: even if you decide not to buy your groceries at the markets as we suggested above, visiting them is something that you will surely enjoy. The colorful stalls, continuous activity, and products make a scene that's often a novelty for foreign visitors worth checking out.
Archaeological Zones: Part of what makes Mexico so popular is its archeological zones. Sites such as Tulum, Teotihuacan, and Palenque are fascinating historical places to visit.
Natural Attractions: Mexico has endless natural gems that enchant anyone. The beaches, deserts, jungles, and mountains of this eco-diverse country are some of the things that make it a remarkable country.
What to Avoid:
Seeing only the big cities: they might be big and modern, but they don't always offer the experiences, landscapes, and flavors that smaller and less popular destinations can offer. Small towns, also known as pueblos mágicos, are certified by the Mexican government as ideal spots for travelers; these are spread throughout the country and promise memorable experiences outside the concrete jungles.
Only seeing the most-popular attractions: don't get us wrong, many tourist attractions all over Mexico are unmissable. Still, if you want to immerse in a trip out of the ordinary, it'll be worth finding off-the-beaten-path attractions to check out.
Best Time To Visit Mexico
The best times to visit Mexico for good weather and reasonable prices are from November to March, the dry-season months. These are also the months when the weather will be nice, but the airfare and lodging options tend to be higher along with bigger crowds. The top month to visit might be November, when the weather is dry and warm. If you visit Mexico on November 2nd or 3rd, you can catch the Día De Muertos (Day Of The Dead) or the beautiful monarch butterfly migration.
LGBTQ+ Travelers Visiting Mexico
Today there are several LGBTQ+-friendly destinations, such as Mexico City, Puerto Vallarta, and Guadalajara. In addition, the community is highly-visible through pride festivals, parades, clubs, and stores.
As in most places, LGBTQ+ acceptance varies by state and city. Large cities are more welcoming and tolerant than small towns and rural areas. For example, in Mexico City, Guadalajara, and Puerto Vallarta, you will find different neighborhoods to safely visit and be yourself. However, it's important to always pay attention as a tourist and get a feel for the environment and the area; despite the LGTBQ+ acceptance of many, there are still many conservative citizens, so be careful with public displays of affection and always be respectful of the culture and people around you.
Must-Attend Festivals in Mexico
Día De Muertos
The traditional Day Of The Dead in Mexico is celebrated on November 1 and 2 every year to honor and remember the ones who aren't with us anymore. These days are full of color and tradition through beautiful offerings, parades, and more. The biggest and most beautiful festival to witness to celebrate this is the one in Mexico City, the date is different each year, but you can consult it by doing a quick Google search.
The Guelaguetza festival in Oaxaca City displays regional folkloric dances and music. It takes place every year in July at an amphitheater on Fortín Hill and is considered the biggest folkloric party in North America.
September 16th is the day Mexico celebrates its independence; you'll find celebrations at night in any town and city across the country. On this patriotic holiday and weeks prior, you'll see the streets decorated with the colors of the flag, and you'll definitely feel the patriotic spirit.
Must-See Places in Mexico
The following are great destinations not only due to their unique landscapes and features but also because there's a noticeable presence of the black and LGBTQ+ communities. You'll find all-inclusive and regular travel options in these cities, making them perfect for a group tour vacation.
You've probably seen tons of dreamy Tulum photos and videos all over Instagram, and the truth is that it's as pretty as it looks! This historic town and archaeological zone in the state of Quintana Roo is home to crystal-clear water beaches and ancient Mayan ruins, the perfect scenarios for a relaxing getaway in the Caribbean. The average daily expenditure in Tulum is $84.
This Mexican metropolis in the country's center is one where you'll find endless activities and attractions. Mexico City has some of the most incredible architecture, museums, restaurants, and historical sites found anywhere, so you'll have plenty to choose from. The average daily spend in Mexico City is $141.
If you're looking for a nifty and highly pro-LGBTQ+ beach Puerto Vallarta is that place. This resort town on the Pacific coast of Jalisco is known for this and its beautiful beaches, frenzied nightlife, and water sports. The average daily spend in Puerto Vallarta is $79. To see the city at its most festive, Puerto Vallarta Pride is held each May and rightfully deserves its status as one of the world's top-rated Pride festivals.