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Travel tips for first-time visitors to Mexico

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Mexico has beautiful Spanish colonial towns, white-sand beaches and mysterious Mayan ruins. Millions travel to Mexico each year to experience their history, culture and food. Some book a week in one of the luxurious riviera maya homes for rent while others spend their time backpacking around the country. But visiting Mexico can be a daunting experience, especially if it’s your first time. Keep reading and discover these essential travel tips to make sure your trip goes smoothly.

Staying safe in Mexico

One of the biggest concerns facing travellers to Mexico is the poor safety record in the country. Switch on any news channel and you’re bombarded with stories of gun crime and drug-related incidents. Others focus on how street crime and robberies target tourists. But this is usually blown out of proportion. Yes, Mexico does have a poor safety record. But not every town and city is the same. The vast majority of resorts such as Los Cabos and Cancun are completely safe. As are the smaller colonial towns in more rural areas. If you travel to Mexico City or areas that are notorious for drug trafficking routes, you should exercise a lot of caution. But for most tourists, vacationing in Mexico is no more dangerous than staying at home. Most of the hype you hear is just that – hype.

Brush up on your Spanish

If you’re planning to explore Mexico outside of the resorts, having a basic knowledge of Spanish is a must. While most people in and around the tourist areas can speak some English, it’s unlikely they will be able to in the local areas. Learning a few phrases can go a long way. And many Mexicans will appreciate that you’re making an effort to learn their language. Apart from putting a smile on the shopkeepers face, a bit of Spanish can unlock doors and allow you to experience the real Mexico. Knowing how to bargain in their lingo also reduces the chance that you’ll pay the tourist price. You don’t need to be fluent. Instead, grab a guidebook or watch a few videos on YouTube to learn a handful of basic phrases.

Make the most out of Mexico’s ruins

Egypt has the pyramids and Mexico has Mayan ruins. The ancient civilisation reigned in Central America for centuries leaving vast temples and cities behind. The most famous is Chichen Itza on the Yucatan Peninsula. But most towns and cities have ruins of varying sizes within a short drive of the centre. Tour companies offer an excursion to the nearby ruins. Or you can rent a car and visit them independently. If this is your first time, it’s a good idea to learn more about this ancient culture. Having the chance to visit the ruins and experiencing the best of Mayan traditions is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It’s strongly recommended to research which ones you want to visit. Don’t fall into the trap that other tourists do and see it as ‘just another ruin’. Instead, embrace the vast and diverse shapes and styles of the ancient Mayans in Mexico.

Always research tour companies

Signing up for a tour is one of the best ways to see Mexico. Most towns and cities, especially those near touristy areas, take visitors out to the sea, inland or to Mayan ruins. But because of the surge of visitors and an endless supply of customers, the quality of some have dropped dramatically over the last few years. The best policy is to shop around and don’t sign up for a tour just because it’s the cheapest. Research the company and read reviews on TripAdvisor. Some of the less professional agencies don’t meet the safety requirements, overcrowd buses and lack the knowledge to explain the attractions in depth. It might be better to splash out a bit more on a more reputable company. But the only way to make sure is to do a bit of research before arranging an excursion.

Want a bargain? Don’t forget to haggle

Because a large part of Mexico’s coastal regions rely on tourism, some of the more unscrupulous locals see international visitors as cash machines. When you ask for the price, they will often quote up to two or three times higher. This includes buying souvenirs, street food and pretty much anything outside of a shopping mall. The key is to haggle. Speak to somebody who you trust beforehand to get an idea of what the going rates should be. Prepare to pay slightly more, but be persistent to stop them from completely ripping you off!

Embrace the Mexican hospitality

Whenever you meet a Mexican, they will almost always greet you with a smile. Family life is the centrepiece of Mexican life and this transfers onto how they treat their guests. Striking up a conversation with a local is easy – especially if you know a little bit of Spanish. Most people that you meet will always be happy to practice their English on a tourist. And occasionally, this leads to an invite back to their house for a beer or shot of tequila. Travel around the country and you’ll be welcomed and receive excellent hospitality. Embrace it and show your warmth back to them in return.

Preparing for your trip to Mexico

Learn a few phrases of Spanish and be ready to barter for bargains. Always research tour companies and find recent travellers’ experiences before booking anything up. Take the chance to learn about their Mayan heritage and embrace the Mexican hospitality. And finally, Mexico is a lot safer to visit than most people think!

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