Planning a trip to Mexico or anywhere for that matter can be an exciting prospect. But not always an easy one. It can become a daunting task without having a strategy. Without proper planning, the amazing trip you can’t wait to take can become a nightmare. Some of the tips I use are to avoid these mishaps. Just remember no trip is always perfect. Go into the adventure with an open mind and open spirit and it’s more likely you’ll enjoy the trip. Even when you use a travel agent mishaps can happen.
We typically don’t use an agent as I enjoy the planning part myself. However, if your planning on a high-end trip and not necessarily a budget plan, an agent is probably your best bet. Once you’ve decided on the destination, well then the fun stuff begins. Try to pack light read my blog post on KISS keep it super simple. Not having to worry about a lot of luggage will help keep the fun in vacation. Besides this is Mexico its warm here you really aren’t going to need that much.
Learn as much about the area you are planning to visit as possible. This way you’ll have a better idea of what you might like to do. Also, you’ll understand the culture in the particular area as there are many differences throughout Mexico.
First and foremost always be aware of travel scams. Things to keep in mind. If it sounds too good to be true it probably is. If they don’t have a legitimate website and are asking you to pay over the phone this is a huge red flag, just hang up. If the name of the company is different from the company providing the service this again is a red flag. If the company you are speaking with only offers courier service rather than mail this is again a red flag. Please be cautious whenever you think you’re getting a great over the top deal.
CROSSING THE BORDER
There are several ways to cross the border into Mexico. The easiest is when you fly directly into your destination. The flight will land in the area you’ve chosen. Typically while in flight the air flight attendants will hand out the FMM documentation paperwork. Be sure to have your passport readily available. A passport card is not acceptable when flying you will need your actual passport. When you debark you will be directed down a hallway to the border crossing. This line moves fairly quickly be polite and patient and everything will go smoothly. The officials will ask you how long you plan on staying and issue you a tourist visa up to 180 days. The cost is usually included in your airfare. Once you’ve gone through the crossing you will then be lead into baggage area to collect your luggage. Then you will wait in line at immigration and customs this line was a little slower again use patients.
If you’re flying into San Diego and plan on walking across into Tijuana the easiest is the CBX skywalk crossing. To use the CBX skywalk bridge you must have a CBX ticket and airline boarding pass for a flight departing Tijuana with 24 hours each CBX ticket is valid for crossing the bridge one way. So you’ll need to purchase a second one to return.
Another way is to walk across. We’ve done this before it’s a little lengthier of a process. We took a bus from the airport to the trolley that took us to the crossing. Then walked up a hill that leads into the official border crossing immigration there is lots of signage we had no problem finding it. The process is a little different as you’ll fill out all your paperwork at the podiums and you’ll pay there. I think our total cost to cross was around 300 pesos each. Once you finish up with customs you’ll exit into Tijuana. There are plenty of taxis you can take to your next destination from there. Be sure to negotiate before getting in. Also, note there is only one bathroom when you first exit and it is for a fee for 5 pesos not uncommon here in Mexico. In fact pretty much any public bathroom will cost you 5-10 pesos to use.
You can also drive into Mexico. You’ll need to apply for a temporary import permit to drive your US or Canadian vehicle across the border you can do this prior online at the website Banjercito. If you do not apply online or at a consulate, you can apply in-person with your vehicle at the Banjercito booths situated at Mexican customs on the border or at seaports. You can not apply at any of the interior crossings. You will need proper documentation showing your FMM, passport, vehicle documents, and current drivers license. You’ll also be required to purchase a bond. You can pay with either a credit card or cash but keep in mind if you do not return across the border by the end of the permit issuance then your money will be forfeited. The cost of the TIP is around 200$ to 400$ US depending on make and model of the vehicle. You will receive a permit document sticker do not take this off. When you leave you must cross the border checkpoint the officials will remove the sticker and give you a receipt. In order to recover your cash deposit or avoid credit card charges, you must go to any Mexican Customs office located along the border immediately prior to departing Mexico.
Mexico does not require you to have travel insurance like some other countries. But you might want to consider it just in case. If you happen to sprain your ankle or maybe even get bitten by a shark at that awesome surfing lesson. You’ll be glad you have it. Medical services are not outrageously expensive here but it would definitely dig into your vacation funds if you needed any. It’s typically not very expensive so this is something you should seriously consider.
I found that using an unlock phone is the most cost-effective way for Mexico. There are a couple of cellular service companies in Mexico two of the largest are Telcell and Movistar. I myself use Telcell. The sim card and 30 days of usage were just over 300 pesos. To recharge the phone monthly with full-service internet data usage is only 200 peso’s a month. This avoids all the international cost services. Also, keep in mind to dial out of Mexico to the United States you will need to dial 001 then the number. If you’re calling into Mexico you will need to dial +52 first then the number. If it’s a local Mexico phone number you’re calling while you’re here you call dial direct.
I only use my debit card and pesos. If you go to the bank in Mexico to withdraw cash it’s best you get the highest amount you can. It will cut down on the fees. Many places in Mexico do not except any kind of plastic. It is very important to always have pesos on you. I try to be sure to have enough pesos to cover any misc things that occur but not so much as to look wealthy.
WHERE TO STAY
This depends on what type of accommodations you’re looking for. My go to’s are Hostel World and Air BnB. Many of the hostels here in Mexico are actually very nice and most are centrally located which makes exploring easier. Air BnB is great if you’re planning an extended trip since you can feel more like a local and eat at home more. If you’re looking for a hotel experience my go to’s are Booking.com and Expedia. They have some pretty good deals here. Jeff and I typically stay in hostels and Air BnB’s.
Mexico has a ton of different ways to get around. But from the airport, there are typically only a few ways. A shuttle or a taxi. The taxi’s I found is the easiest and will take you directly where you want to go. Most taxis will fit up to 4 people depending on the amount of luggage you have with you. The price is negotiated before leaving for your destination. Shuttles are less expensive but will have many stops usually. So it’s all depending on what your needs are. You can also prearrange a van pick up from many of the tourist companies. They can set you up for airport transfer just look them up under tour guides in the area your headed to. For getting around town there are many ways to get around Uber, buses, taxis, oregas these are open-air truck beds with roofs, and in Mazatlan, they have pulmonoinas which are like little golf carts with open-air roofs. All of these options are inexpensive with the bus being the least expensive, but a little more time-consuming due to all the stops.
Honestly, I’ve never had any safety concerns here in Mexico. I keep my self in the well-traveled neighborhoods and don’t walk around at night in a place I’m not familiar with. The vast majority of the locals here are fantastic people. It’s best to stay in a group when possible and if you’re traveling at night get a taxi, oregas or uber. I also try to keep my overall appearance fairly simple. Don’t make your self a target, no big expensive jewelry or throwing lots of pesos around. I keep a small number of pesos readily available in a pocket and keep any of the larger amounts in my bag or sometimes even my shoe. It’s best to never have it all in one place. If you’re really concerned you can make a dummy wallet so if something happens the real one is still safely with you. Follow the guidelines from the travel advisory board but please understand that this is typically blown out of proportion just be smart about what, when and where you go. Like staying in a border town is probably the worst idea ever.
Before you leave make a color photocopies of all of them. Leave one at home. Bring one set of copies along with your originals. Keep your copies in a locked safe or locker depending on where you’re staying. This will help in case you lose your originals. I also have photos of my documents on my phone. Trust me it will be much easier getting temporarily documents this way.
Taking a guided tour is a great option. Most of them have English-speaking options and are licensed in their fields. This means they will have a ton of knowledge about where ever you’re interested in going. They can also have a lot of ideas and answers for you about the area. I myself even take them here in Mazatlan. Mazatlan is a big place and there are so many things to see and do. Not only in the city it’s self but in the many towns surrounding the area.
CHECK OFF LIST
I always do a quick check off list. This way I can be sure to have everything I need with me and I won’t be constantly double checking. Once I’ve checked it off I can move on the rest of my list. The only thing left after that it to enjoy your trip. I have found this to give me peace of mind and bring a calmness to travel.
This weeks picks
“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined” Henry David Thoreau
If you’re looking for even more information about traveling to Mexico watch for our new e-book “A comprehensive guide to Mexico travel”, being released soon.
Please share in the comments if you have any ideas or things you’ve done.
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