Most travel guides will give you lists of things to do in a destination, but often the “what not to dos” are just as important considerations. Whether you are going to a Baja beach, a Yucatan resort, a small mountain village, or a big city south of the border, there are certain things to keep in mind when visiting this great country. We would hate for you to commit a social faux pas or put yourself in grave danger, so here’s our list of 21 things NOT to do in Mexico to ensure you have the safest, most memorable trip ever.
1. Don’t Hitch a Ride in a Libre Taxi
Taxis are extremely popular amongst tourists, but when it comes to getting around Mexico, you’ll definitely want to avoid this mode of transportation. Many taxi companies are unlicensed, resulting in their drivers being unmonitored and unsupervised. Before hopping into the back of any ol’ vehicle and potentially putting your life in danger, make sure the taxi has clear and proper signage. Your hotel should also be able to vouch for which companies are legit. And as a bonus tip: negotiate your fare before getting into the cab.
2. Don’t Flaunt Your Valuables
This one is a no-brainer, but we thought we’d add it as a friendly reminder just in case you’re planning on packing all of your fancy duds for your Mexican vacay. Walking around with blinging jewelry, an expensive camera dangling from around your neck, and an expensive handbag hanging from your shoulder will make you an easy target for thieves. To play it safe, try to blend in with the locals by taking a less-is-more approach when it comes to your clothing and accessories.
3. Don’t End Your Night Without Going to Dietrich Roma
Taking inspiration from German actress Marlene Dietrich, Dietrich Roma in Mexico City is a mansion-turned-cocktail bar where the who’s who of the city convene. After a day of exploring and enjoying some of the country’s finest cuisine, Dietrich Roma is the perfect place to get a nightcap, from their fruity Lily Tequila or their rum-filled Man by the Roadside. And don’t forget to take a picture in their on-site photo booth before heading out!
4. Don’t Over-Plan
Leave some room for serendipity and spontaneity. That is when the magic of travel happens, not on a pre-scheduled tour bus or around the hotel pool. Get out there and explore Mexico a little. You never know when you’re going to find a cozy cafe, stumble upon a street performance or get swept up in a zocalo fiesta.
5. Don’t Use the Metro System During Rush Hour
When hora pico (rush hour) comes around, the streets and highways of the major cities in Mexico turn into parking lots. During the peak hours of 7-10 a.m. and 5-8 p.m., you’ll want to refrain from using the metro system – that is unless you don’t mind getting stuck in traffic and being crammed inside a packed bus.
6. Don’t Drink the Water, ‘Montezuma’s Revenge’ Is Very Real
Let’s start with the obvious. Beyond Cancun and the up-scale resorts/restaurants that use purified water filtration systems, the “don’t drink the water” advice is sound. Stick to bottled H2O – and plenty of it. You need to stay hydrated in this hot climate. Bottled water is cheap and everywhere, so stock up and swig frequently. Make sure the bottle you buy is sealed and not just refilled from the tap. If you can, it’s best to brush your teeth with bottled water, too. You know, just to play it safe.
7. Don’t Expect to Find Toilet Seats Outside of Tourist Areas
In many smaller towns and establishments away from the tourist centers of Mexico, toilet seats seem to be an optional accessory to the throne. You’ll be presented with the standard porcelain rim, but not the flip down seat that makes the process all the more comfortable (especially for women who sit down more than men for these purposes). Prepare to flex those quads, gals. It’s a delicate balancing act to hover there for however long. Another toilet tidbit – flushing toilet paper down the pot is not a widespread practice here. Again, the plumbing at the fancy resorts can probably handle it, but elsewhere you will find a trash can beside the commode in which to deposit your paper wads.
8. Don’t Plan on Eating Before 9 p.m.
If you think you’re lonely now, wait until you attempt to eat at a Mexican restaurant before 9 p.m. Travelers who are accustomed to enjoying an early dinner will be in for a surprise once they enter most Mexican establishments. Latin countries are notorious for dining late. Sure, you’ll still be served and will be able to enjoy a traditional Mexican feast, but don’t be surprised if you look around and notice you’re eating solo.
9. Don’t Overindulge on Rich Food and Drink
More than tainted water, most sicknesses amongst travelers stem more from excessive eating and imbibing. Tourists in vacation mode tend to throw good judgment out the window, and it doesn’t help that all-inclusive buffets make you want to get your money’s worth. Piling our plate with creamy sauces, cheesy dishes and spicy salsas washed down with copious cocktails will definitely make your stomach rebel. By all means, enjoy the delicioso Mexican cuisine. Just go easy on the portions and pace yourself lest the gastro gods punish you for your gluttony.
10. Don’t Expect the Waiter to Bring You The Bill Until You Ask For It
Waiters in Mexico will wait for you to ask for the bill rather than present it to you after you’ve finished your dessert and coffee. They don’t want to rush you and will wait all night until you finally flag them down for it rather than assume you’re ready to call it a night. This might be different from how things are done back home, so you’ve been warned. Don’t take it as a sign of disrespect or inattentiveness. When you’re ready to wrap things up, flag your server down and ask for the bill (la cuenta, por favor).
11. Don’t Offer to Split the Bill
If you’ll be dining out with a local, one of the rudest things you can do is suggest you split the bill. Going dutch may be customary in your hometown but in Mexico, splitting the bill is not common at all. If you’re inviting someone out to eat, just be prepared to cover the whole tab and, trust us, the same will be done for you if you’re on the receiving end of a dinner invitation.
12. Don’t Forget to Eat at Biko
Mexico and Spain come together in this fusion restaurant located in Mexico City. Biko has been crowned one of Latin America’s 50 best restaurants and is one of the city’s most popular high-end establishments. Using locally sourced veggies and ingredients, you can have your fill of delicious dishes made with tender meats and unique desserts, such as foie gras candy floss.
13. Don’t Let Your Fear Stop You from Trying Local Specialties
Don’t just stick to the hotel restaurant or American-styled eateries when traveling here. Mexico has a rich tapestry of culinary delights and you would be missing out on one of the greatest pleasures of travel if you don’t seek to sample some authentic regional offerings, not just sanitized tourist grub. You must try pozole, chilaquiles, mole, tamales, tortas, gorditas, chapulines, civiche and so many other amazing dishes. Taco Bell is not a fair representation of Mexican culinary treats! Don’t be too timid to try street food and market fare, either. As long as the facilities are clean, serve piping hot food and has a good crowd to vouch for it, that’s part of the adventure.
14. Don’t Fall for Timeshare Scams
In many Mexican resort areas, you will be approached by offers to attend a no-obligation timeshare presentation, perhaps with some bonus enticements like free tours or restaurant vouchers to sweeten the deal. You think, why not? What’s a few hours of time to get some easy freebies. Well, do you really want to suck up your precious vacation time in a conference room? Some of these deals are scams, full of lies, misrepresentations and deceitful sales pitches that sound so good at the time. If you are really interested in the timeshare concept, you’d be better off doing your own research and due diligence rather than making it an impulse buy while you’re on holiday.
15. Don’t Leave Without a Trip to Palacio de Bellas Artes
Palacio de Bellas Artes, or Palace of Fine Arts, should be at the top of your itinerary if you’re craving a huge dose of culture. Some of the most popular music, literature, and art exhibits have been hosted in the building’s theater. The third floor of the structure houses the National Museum of Architecture – complete with pieces designed by some of the most famous Mexican architects. When you’re finished perusing all it has to offer, don’t forget to venture outside and behold the pristine and meticulously maintained gardens.
16. Don’t Just Sip Tequila, Try Some Organic Wine, Too
The tequila will definitely be flowing at any bar, restaurant, and lounge you visit, but why not shake things up and go for something different during your stay? A tiny wine bar called Loup Bar in Mexico City off Roma Norte is known for its selection of traditional Latin fare and organic French and Mexican varietals to wash it all down with.
17. Don’t Skip Out on a UNESCO World Heritage Site
The ancient Mesoamerican city of Teotihuacán can be found in the Valley of Mexico, and this location is the home to one of Mexico City’s many UNESCO World Heritage sites. At the center of the small city lies the Pyramid of the Sun and Pyramid of the Moon, two towering structures that date back to AD 100. The surrounding Palace of the Plumed Butterfly, a showcase of various winged creatures, is also a must-see, and the museum, Museo de la Sitio, contains various artifacts from more than 2,000 years ago.
18. Don’t Forget to Brush up on Your Español
Most Mexicans who work in the front-end of the tourist industry speak fluent English. However, not all the service staff, drivers, or shopkeepers you may encounter necessarily do. Certainly, if you venture away from the tourist hotspots don’t expect to get by using English alone. It’s a Spanish speaking country for goodness’ sake, so it behooves you to learn a little survival Spanish to communicate – not the other way around. There’s nothing more cringe-worthy than seeing a frustrated tourist repeat themselves loudly in English in a futile attempt to be understood as if the volume was the roadblock. Get a guidebook or a free app, such as Duolingo, and learn how to ask for directions, order food, and be polite in the local language, por favor.
19. Don’t Be Too Shy to Get Your Groove on With the Locals
In the bustling financial district of Cuauhtémoc, Mexico, Salón Rios is a traditional cantina-style bar. With wallpaper covered in shrubbery and plant print, as well as the exquisite brass details, the ambiance of this magnificent place is more than enough reason to pop in for a cocktail and a plate of tacos, enchiladas, or carnitas. If you happen to be in town on a Thursday night, take the flight of stairs to Babalú, the dance hall where live music is blaring and the locals are practicing their best bachata and salsa moves.
20. Don’t Be Afraid to Haggle a Little Bit
Exploring the food, craft and folkloric markets around Mexico is one of the highlights of any trip. You may have to weed through some tacky tourist tchotchkes, but you’ll also find fine silver, pottery, tapestries, wooden carvings and other items that are good buys. Unless you’re at a set-price store, they expect you to haggle at the markets. Let the merchant offer the opening price, then counter with a number close to half of that. You’ll go back and forth until you settle on a mutually agreeable price. Don’t get too greedy – you’re probably only quibbling over a few dollars, which is no doubt worth more to them than to you. But don’t get taken for a ride, either. They are in on the game and will never accept a price that is too low, so have fun with the bargaining process.
21. Don’t Hesitate to Enter Xaman Bar
Sure, it’s located in a dark basement in a building in Cuauhtémoc, but you’ll feel right at home the second you walk into this cozy little bar. Xaman’s dim lights go perfectly with the mellow music that seeps softly through the speakers, and the cocktails made with locally-sourced ingredients, such as guava, will set your taste buds on fire. This is the go-to place for business professionals after a long day of work, so if you want to surround yourself with the city’s young and hip crowd, this is the place to be. ¡Salud!