World renowned for being the perfect combination of sunshine, culture, parties, adventure and relaxation, Mexico is the kind of country that can cater to anyone – divers and non-divers alike. Everybody has their own image of what Mexico really is. Some might imagine sleepy towns brimming with rustic charm. Others might picture lazing on a jetty sipping margaritas as the sun sets. Or how about the excitement felt when exploring any underwater cave system that no human has ever seen before? While Mexico maybe be seen by some as a place that has been overwhelmed by tourism, the truth is that this huge and diverse country has something to offer everybody, and it is just as easy to find tranquil, remote, and romantic destinations as it is to find all night beach parties and bars.
Sandwiched between the United States of America to the north, and Guatamala, Belize, and the rest of central America to the south, Mexico is the southern most portion of North America.
With a land area of almost 2,000,000 square kilometres, Mexico is the 5th largest country in the Americas, and the 13th largest in the world. It has a population of nearly 124 million people, making it the 11th most populous country.
The capital and largest city is Mexico City. The population of the city proper is 8.84 million people, however the population of the Greater Mexico City area is 21.3 million, making Mexico City the largest city in North America, and the most populous Spanish speaking city in the world.
Most international flights will come into Benito Juarez International Airport in Mexico City – the counties busiest international airport. From here, you can take domestic flights to local airports, or travel overland.
The official currency of Mexico is the Mexican Peso (pronounced peh-so, not pay-so), and is shown by the symbol ‘$’.
At the time of writing (October 2018) , one Pound Stirling is worth roughly 25 Mexican Peso. Frequently available banknotes are $20, $50, $100, $200, and $500. A $1000 note is available, however use is not recommended due to a large number being counterfeit.
Due to geographical proximity to the USA, USD are frequently used for accommodation, private car rental, and tipping. They are easy to trade at currency exchanges, and due to the small value of even the largest Mexican Peso notes, it is recommended that larger amounts of cash are stored as USD and divided among your person / luggage.
In an attempt to protect the indigenous people of the country, Mexico does not have an official primary language, however Spanish is the most widely used by both citizens and the government for official purposes. An overwhelming 92% of the population – roughly 112 million people – speak Spanish as a first language, making Mexico the most populous Hispanophone country in the world.
A further 63 indigenous languages are considered national languages, with the most widely spoken being Nahuatl, which is spoken by over 1.7 million Mexicans as a first language.
English in not widely spoken in the more remote parts of the country, however in the tourist hotspots there will normally be somebody around who speaks enough English for you to be understood. Mexicans are generally friendly yet proud people, so attempts to communicate in Spanish will usually be met with both patience and gratitude.
According to the 2010 census by the Instituto Nacional de Estadistica, Roman Catholicism makes up around 83% of the Mexican population, with a further 10% declaring themselves as another branch of Christianity. A further 5% describe themselves as non-religious, and the remaining 2% are either unspecified or follow a minority religon.
Mexico is the country home to the second highest number of Roman Catholics in the world (Brazil is first), and many of them are very strict about it, and do not tolerate discrimination of their beliefs.
Citizens of the United Kingdom do not need a visa to travel to Mexico – instead, upon arrival you will receive a stamp permitting you to 30s of day visa free travel. You may, however, need to prove you can fund your stay in Mexico - the minimum amount required is 50 USD per day. If required, this visa can be extended by either leaving the country, or visiting an immigration office and paying a fee.
You can find more information regarding Mexico Visas on the Mexico embassy homepage, or view the UK government foreign travel advice recommendations on travel to Meixco.
Best Things to do in Mexico (Non-Diving)
Explore Ancient Temples
Between AD250 to AD900, the Mayan empire spread across Mexico, and south into parts of Honduras, El Salvador, Belize, and Guatemala. They left behind a number of enormous cities and monuments, many of which are still in immaculate condition – with more sites regularly being discovered in the dense remote forests of the region.
The most famous Yucatan site is Chichén Itzá – an elaborate ancient city that is considered as one of the ‘new wonders of the world’. Chichén Itzá receives over two million visitors a year, and you can take guided tours that cover a number of important historical sites, including El Castillo pyramid, and Jaguar Temple, and the Temple of Kukulcan.
Experience the Hustle and Bustle of Mexico City
Being as your trip is most likely to begin and end in Mexico City, it would be a shame to miss out on what this historical megacity has to offer.
Like any historical capital city, Mexico City has a huge amount of important historical sites to visit, such as castles, palaces, museums, churches and more. It is an excellent destination for budget travellers as many of activities can be done for free, and there are many reasonably priced transport options available.
Eat Real Mexican Food
Unfortunately, the food we often label as Mexican is often Tex-Mex, rather than Mexican, and while Tex-Mex is great, it is nothing compared to the real thing.
It is not just beans and rice either! Mexican cuisine is incredibly diverse and absolutely delicious. By eating at local restaurants and street vendors, you will be tantalising your taste buds with quesillo, chiles rellenos, and mole. As is traditional, you will be expected to wash it all down with a real, locally produced mezcal or tequila.
Witness the Day of the Dead
Celebrated on the 2nd of November, the Day of the Dead is the most internationally famous Mexican celebration, and it is such an important festival for Mexicans that in 2008, it was inscribed in the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.
This multi day holiday is about remembering friends and family members who have passed away. Depending on where you are, celebrations can range from intimate offerings of food or alcohol to the deceased, rituals and vigils in cemeteries, to enormous street parades with costumes and enormous floats of skeletons. Night parties are a frequent part of the celebration, where people celebrate though the night by dancing in the streets in traditional costumes and with faces painted like skeletons.
Scuba Diving in Mexico
Roughly 400 km from Cabo San Lucas – the tip of the Baja Peninsula – lies an archipelago that boasts some of the best diving in the world. Due to the location, it can only really be visited via liveaboard, however everyone who makes the trip thinks it was well worth it.
The islands are famed for common encounters with enormous manta rays, sharks, and humpback whales. Encounters are so common that it is known as the ‘Galapagos of Mexico’, and is being visited more frequently than ever before as it is considered a more affordable alternative.
The open ocean environment, surge, and strong currents makes the Socorro Islands unsuitable for beginners or those who have not perfected their buoyancy yet.
Sea of Cortez
This narrow stretch of water is what separates the Mexican mainland from the Baja California peninsula. The protection of the peninsula shelters you from most of the strong currents and large swells of the open Pacific Ocean, and the narrowness of the sea means that you are never far from land, so it is entirely possible to explore the Sea of Cortez via day trips, rather than liveaboard.
Don’t think that just because the diving is easier and less complicated than the Sacorro Islands, that it is not as good. The Sea of Cortez is teeming with life; from huge schools of hammerhead sharks, dolphins, gray whales, and the real attraction – enormous colonies of playful and curious sea lions.
For divers who are seeking the ultimate underwater adrenaline rush, Guadalupe Island may offer what you seek. This sparsely populated volcanic island lies roughly 240 km west of Baja California, and is famed for having one of the largest Great White Shark populations in the world, if not the largest.
It is only possible to visit via liveaboard, and the single purpose of these liveaboard trips is to see as many of these top predators as possible. The diving is generally done in cages, and what really sets Guadalupe Island from other Great White destinations is the stunning visibility, which means your pictures and videos will not be of large sinister shadows, but instead clear blue water and crisp shots of the worlds most misunderstood apex predators.
The Yucatan Peninsula
The Yucatan Peninsula is one of the most commonly visited diving destinations in Mexico, and for good reason. Here you can find a huge variety of diving in a relativity small area, and there is diving to cater those who are blowing their first bubbles, to the most experienced divers in the world.
From November until March, you can get up close and personal with migrating bull sharks as they arrive in Playa del Carmen to breed. Just off-shore from Cancun lies Isla Mujeres, and between June and September, hundreds of whale sharks gather at this small island, making it one of the best places in the world to encounter whale sharks in the wild.
For many, the main attraction of the Yucatan Peninsula is its enormous cave systems created by the asteroid that collided with the region 66 million years ago, causing the mass extinction of dinosaurs. That collision created extensive sinkholes throughout the region, with many of them being connected via complex underwater tunnels.
The Yucatan is considered the best destination in the world for cave divers, and with seemingly never ending tunnels to be explored and crystal clear water, it is easy to understand why. You do not need to be cave certified to dive in a number of cenotes, as you do not need to be in an overhead environment to see the raw beauty of the inner Earth. For those who are looking at becoming cave certified, the Yucatan has among the highest concentration of cave diving schools, and the best cave diving instructors in the world.
Despite being only 10km from the Yucatan Peninsual, Cozumel requires a section of its own. It is probably the most famous and most visited scuba diving destination in Mexico, and its ease of access, trendy bars, and laid back resorts make it the kind of place that divers want to return to over and over again.
Cozumel is world famous in the diving community for its beautiful walls, crystal clear waters, and high speed drifts. The reef surrounding the island is part of the Mesoamerican reef system, and as such is protected by the Cozumel Reefs National Marine Park, which is home to 26 coral species and more than 500 species of fish. Despite the unabating currents that flow around the island, they are generally predictable and easy to dive, making Cozumel a great destination for both beginner and experienced divers.
When to Visit Mexico
Like many tropical nations, Mexico has two distinct seasons – the wet season and the dry season. The wet season is officially from June – October, and while heavy rainfalls are common, you may find that weeks can pass without any rain whatsoever, followed by an extremely heavy but quick downpour.
Also, just like almost all other Caribbean fringing nations, August through October is the peak of hurricane season. It is essential to listen to warnings from news agencies and residents during this time, as a bad storm can cause catastrophic damage and lead to a huge loss of life.
The dry season is November until June, when you can expect temperatures in the low to mid 30s, and very little rainfall. During this time, northerly winds often blow from the USA, creating choppier surface conditions. This time also coincides with the famous Bull Shark Migration, which is at its best between November and March.
A few things to Beware of..
Like many other cities and big towns across the globe, you can take a taxi if you don’t want to walk or rely on public transport.
In Mexico City, there are some taxi drivers who will rent their taxi to gang members to make a bit of extra money. These cabs are then usually used for shady business – such as drug dealing – however these fake drivers will sometimes pick up fares (more commonly tourist than local) and take them to secluded places and demand money from them.
To avoid landing in this potentially dangerous situation, always check the drivers licence before getting in. The licence should be in the front window or on the dashboard, and have a photo of the driver and it should be registered to that vehicle. Of course, these documents can be faked, but that is a lot of effort for something that most people will never bother to look at.
It is always recommended to only ever use the best taxi companies who have radio communication with one another. Another safe option is to use transportation from your hotel or resort, and if you need to run around town with a taxi, you could look at getting a rental car from a renowned group such as RentalCars.
The beautiful and idyllic tourist areas such as Cancun or Tulum can easy suck people into scams. The best known tourist town scams are probably time shares, and they also happen to be very common around Cancun.
Picture the scene. You are walking down the street and someone gives you a flyer with a scratch card on it, and guess what? You have won a secret prize that could be either an I Pad, 1,000 USD, or a weeks stay in a hotel! All you need to do to claim your prize is sit through a two hour presentation. Sounds great!
You get whisked away in a comfortable taxi to a hotel several kilometres away. Once the presentation begins, the sales people come in and use high pressure sales tactics to sell you a timeshare and extract large amounts of money out of you. They make it very difficult to leave, and can even get aggressive at attempts to leave before they are finished.
Once you have dealt with the barrage of sale attempts, you will be given your prize - which turns out to be a few nights at their hotel, however you must pay a booking fee, it can only be used during very obscure times, and booking must be done months, if not years in advance because this is the same prize everybody else has “won”.
Avoid these scammers at all costs because those people handing out flyers all also quite persuasive, and frequently use the free taxi service as a way to entice you. If anyone approaches you on the street and offers you flyers, kindly decline and walk on – ignoring them if they attempt to follow you.
Anywhere that people gather in large numbers requires a little extra attention to make sure your belongings remain yours, but many of the tourist hotspots in Mexico (such as the pyramids or temples) are notoriously bad.
Most of the time it is not a single individual, but gangs. The most common scam is one will try to strike up a conversation or ask you to fill out questionnaires while another pick your pockets or slashes your bag and hands it to another who will hide it and leave the scene. They are professional scam artists so most of the time people will never notice them doing it.
As unfortunate as it is, Mexico is infamous for its drug cartels.
While some drugs are widely available, and the law looks very lightly on small amounts of almost all recreational drugs, they are still something you should avoid at all costs while travelling in Mexico.
Public use is still illegal, and police may come down hard on a tourist using in order to extract money from them. The drug cartel are notoriously vicious throughout Mexico, and any purchases will often happen through low level gang members. Not the ideal people to be messing around with – especially when it comes to illegal activities.
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