This edition of my travel column is all about Mexico and what you need to know about traveling there.
I love Mexico and have been there many times over the years, visiting several different parts of Mexico in the past. My favorite destination is Puerto Vallarta, located on the Western coast of Mexico. I recently spent one month there last winter and looking forward to two glorious months there next winter.
Mexico’s official name is The United States of Mexico – Estados Unidos Mexicanos. Mexico is comprised of 32 States. It is also the 11th most populated country in the world with a population of over 118 million people, and the 14th largest country by land. The climate in Mexico is hot and humid – less humid in the interior states. Mexico has the 9th largest economy in the world. Their main industries are: food, beverage, Tequila, Corona beer, tobacco, cotton, iron, steel, and last but certainly not least – tourism. Their rich natural resources are silver, petroleum and natural gas.
Mexico gained its independence from Spain in 1821. Mexico City is the capital, originally built on the ruins of the Aztec capital, which was destroyed when the Spanish conquered the Aztecs. Although the language predominantly spoken in Mexico is Spanish, there are in fact 68 languages spoken there by the natives and approximately 350 indigenous dialects!
In the year 2000, Mexico finally became a democratic country after 7 decades of rule by the Institutional Revolutionary Party, known as the ‘PRI’. Like many other countries in the world, there are parts of Mexico that are safer than others.
Popular Places to Visit in Mexico and Places to Avoid
Currently, there are 7 northern names states and 3 western named states that are on travel advisory lists, mostly due to cartel violence. If you click on the link supplied above with the named states, you will see that specific cities are named on the advisory in the named states. Sadly, some of my fond memories of yesteryear vacations were in the once beautiful Acapulco (in the state of Guerrero) where the cartel has finished off that resort town for travelers. And although the beautiful and serene city of Manzanillo located in the state of Colima, is said to not be part of the advisory of that state, there’s not a shot you’d catch me going back there either.
So where are the safest and most popular tourist locales?
Many people love to visit the rich culture in the heart of Mexico, Mexico City. Another popular place people like to visit, and incidentally, many ex-patriots make their home in is San Miguel Allende, which is a beautiful city located in the interior of Mexico, not far from Mexico City. But the most popular vacation destinations in Mexico are Puerto Vallarta on the Pacific west coast and Cancun/Playa Del Carmen on the eastern gulf coast.
Have a look at the map of Mexico HERE to get a broader scope of where the different cities are located geographically.
I always loved Puerto Vallarta and had spent quite a few vacations there through the years but hadn’t been back there for almost 10 years until last winter because my husband and I got hooked on cruising and exploring the Caribbean. We always said that we must go back to Puerto Vallarta and with the advent of the current administration in the U.S. and the devaluation of our Canadian dollar, we took the plunge last winter and we had the time of our lives.
Puerto Vallarta is a beautiful coastal town, and my, has it grown. I love that it hasn’t lost its native charm, yet, has grown with the availability of many North American amenities. We rented a beautiful condo right on the beach.
We shopped our groceries at Walmart and Costco, a short walking distance, and ate out at some spectacular restaurants. One block away I could get my daily dose of a Starbuck’s Soy Vanilla, Sugar-free latte. A five-minute cab ride north is the beautiful Marina area where the cruise ships dock nearby and many restaurants, yachts, shopping and weekly markets can be enjoyed. A ten-minute cab ride takes me downtown to what’s known as the ‘Malecon’ which is Mexican for the boardwalk where hundreds of people stroll, eat, shop and watch artists at work and displaying their crafts for sale. The people are friendly and the value for our dollar was fabulous. The sunshine is also virtually guaranteed daily, save for their short rainy season from mid-June til October, boasting approximately 300 sunny days per year. Honestly, I don’t recall ever seeing rain in Puerto Vallarta.
The weather in PV is hot and humid by day – usual temps in winter (November thru April) can range anywhere from the high 70s to the mid-90s. We spent last March there, and I found the days became exceptionally hotter once mid-March hit. The nights often offer a cool ocean breeze where I have been known to actually have to throw on a sweater when walking through town.
Cancun, being on the gulf side, is known to have sporadic rainfall and has become quite Americanized through the years. I personally have never gone to that side because I prefer knowing I’m waking up to guaranteed sunshine, and besides the weather, I also prefer the unspoiled feeling of being in Mexico when I’m in Mexico, not feeling I’m in a more commercialized locale, and according to the many I know who have been there, a lot more expensive in Cancun. I don’t need American dollars in Puerto Vallarta, and my Canadian dollars get me great value with Pesos. U.S. dollars are used a lot in Cancun and food and beverage are also more expensive there.
So, let’s get into what you need to know when visiting Mexico.
Facts, Dos, and Don’ts, and Safety
First and foremost, you need a Mexican Tourist Card to both, enter Mexico and to leave. If you’re flying to or on a cruise going to Mexico, the card is supplied to you by the airline or cruise line and included in the price of your flight or cruise. Please refer to the above link for instruction on how to obtain one if you’re traveling by car. You must fill out the card to have ready to hand to Mexican authorities upon entering Mexico along with your passport. This card will be stamped and given back to you at customs. DO NOT LOSE IT! Keep it safely stored with your passport. You will need to hand it in when leaving the country.
Mexican Currency is the Peso. You will get the best value when exchanging your dollars by changing them at a local bank in Mexico, or from using a bank ATM in the bank as opposed to machines located in stores or hotel lobbies. Outside of banks, other ATMs, hotels, money exchange booths, will charge higher fees and offer lower rates on exchange than the banks. You will also receive lower value on your exchange when purchasing Pesos from your home bank.
To give you a general idea, I purchased $500 Canadian worth of Pesos at my home bank before visiting Puerto Vallarta last winter. My bank was charging approximately 12. something Pesos for one Canadian dollar. When I went to the bank in PV, where my brother who winters there annually, suggested I go, I received just over 15 Pesos to a Canadian dollar, whereas the U.S. dollar was getting 19 Pesos. The service fee was only 3 Canadian dollars. This is a beautiful thing for us Canadians because we don’t have to purchase U.S. funds first, losing almost 33% on each dollar to then again have to exchange into Pesos. But please note – I do advise anyone traveling to Mexico to purchase at least $50 to $100 worth of Pesos before leaving home, despite the extra charge because you will need to have some on you for incidentals such as taxi, tips and perhaps a meal before you get settled and have time to go to the bank.
Note: Although you don’t need to purchase American dollars for Mexico, all rental properties – VRBO, Airbnb, etc. rental fees all charged in U.S. dollars.
Drinking Water and Ice Cubes
The old myth of Montezuma’s revenge still exists in Mexico. From my understanding, it’s not so much that the water is bad, but more that the delivery system through the pipes that are often old, and corroding which causes the problem. But have no fears, as long as you are conscious of what you put in your mouth you will be fine.
Most hotels and restaurants in the tourist destination spots in Mexico have water purification systems. As a leery person myself of strange waters, I never drink tap water there, nor do I even drink it at home without my filtration system. If you’re ever in doubt while visiting a restaurant, always ask if their water is purified. You can always play it safe like I do, and order bottled water, but asking about a filtration system will also give you piece of mind if you’re a salad lover because of course, raw vegetables are washed in water too. Also, be careful at buffets with raw vegetables.
Tip: When you’re drinking anywhere, look at the ice. Filtrated ice has a hole inside each ice cube!
In the condo building where we rent, the lobby concierge brings in large filtered water jugs, which we purchase for $3. It comes with a pump and I fill pitchers and ice cube trays with it, as well as wash my fruits and vegetables with (along with my fruit & veggie spray wash I bring from home). I also make coffee with that water and brush my teeth with it. Even though some say the building water is filtered I’d rather be safe than sorry. And of course, we always have cases of bottled water stored too.
Puerto Vallarta is known for its many wonderful restaurants offering a variety of tasty cuisines. There is no shortage of Mexican restaurants, Italian and North American fine dining. And the beef is fabulous there and much less costly than at home. The Malecon in downtown PV has many fabulous restaurants. Many of them are set up on a hill for exquisite views, especially at sunset while enjoying a Margarita!
The Marina area is equally entertaining with its numerous bars and restaurants where you can enjoy a cocktail after the sun or before dinner and watch the yachts come back in.
Eating out is reasonable in Mexico, much cheaper than home here in Canada, and that much cheaper for Americans. We found some fabulous eateries in town on the recommendations of fellow condo renters who are always eager to share their great finds.
Safety and Warnings
As previously mentioned, Puerto Vallarta is safe for tourists, but like anywhere in the world there will always be people with an evil agenda so pay caution when out and about with your purses and wallets. Just carry what you need with you and leave your passports, extra cash and expensive jewelry in your room safe. You never know when a professional pickpocket may be lurking.
Beware the Tides
Be careful when swimming in the ocean – specifically, the Pacific Ocean. Many coastal beaches have some deadly under-currents. It may look calm to the naked eye, but once you get in, you could be swept away by rapid undertows. Because of this, designated swimming areas on all beaches are monitored daily in resort areas. You will likely go to the beach every day and find a different section roped off showing where it is safe to swim that day. I can remember quite a few days walking on the beach and having to walk one hotel over to be able to swim in the ocean because of warnings at the beach front of our own property.
A little story: A long time ago when I was in Acapulco (when it was a safe place to go), I was sitting at the pool in a lounge chair and happened to watch a couple walking on the beach, a few feet away from the water, when a sudden huge wave came up and swooped them both into the water. Thankfully, they didn’t drown. Another time visiting there, 3 people drowned by being swept up by an under tow.
Puerto Vallarta is known for some state of the art medical and dentistry facilities. Many doctors from North America have opened specialty clinics there. In fact, many Americans go there to have elective surgeries that would cost them tens of thousands of dollars at home for nearly 1/10th the price. I’ve met people there who came for knee and hip replacements, cosmetic surgery and dental crowns and root canals. We are blessed here in Canada having our medical paid for, but from what I’m told, a knee replacement could run near 80K in the U.S. and can be done in Puerto Vallarta for approximately 10K! Doctors make housecalls there for a mere $20!
But I also know a few Canadians who get their dental work done there. In fact, last winter, my brother was seeking out recommendations for a good dentist to have a cleaning done while he was there. A dental cleaning/scaling and X-rays typically run us approximately $250 here in Canada. My very picky brother found a dentist in the Marina area and had his teeth scaled, cleaned and X-rayed for $40 Canadian!
There are also 2 hospitals, both 5 minutes away from our rental condo, which I checked out thoroughly before going because even with travel insurance, my husband’s pre-existing condition isn’t covered. I had to make sure if he got ill while away we wouldn’t lose our life savings to do so.
You will find one on almost every corner. And you’ll be stunned to discover (as I was) the pharmaceuticals available without a prescription. I’m talking about the availability of many drugs that are difficult to get a prescription for at home. Just to name a few – Valium, Sleeping Pills (Ambien), Muscle Relaxers, Percocet, and even antibiotics!
I’m quite sure there are users who delight in such access to these drugs and for a much cheaper price. But beware – if you plan on bringing any of these drugs back home and are caught by your customs without a prescription from your doctor, they will be confiscated, and you could be fined according to the laws of your country so be careful. But it’s good to know, in a pinch, that these drugs are available – especially antibiotics.
Taxis are cheap! There is no need to rent a car in Mexico (and believe me I wouldn’t want to drive there), unless of course, you’d like to rent a car/jeep to go exploring. I’d also highly recommend a tour guide go with you for these expeditions as there are certain parts up in the mountains that aren’t safe.
I found that a taxi to anywhere I went within Puerto Vallarta cost 50 Pesos – equivalent to about $3.25 Canadian. You can’t beat that! Although I love to walk a lot, I take cabs downtown or to the Marina and back from grocery shopping.
Just be cautious. It’s always advised to ask your concierge to hire a taxi when leaving your hotel, and you will find designated taxis lined up from many venues such as shopping centers, restaurants, etc. for your return trips. It’s not advised to flag a cab down from just anywhere. The cabs that are lined up in their designated areas are all documented and kept track of. If you’re planning on going to a desolate tour area, arrange for the same taxi that takes you there to pick you back up. And ALWAYS verify the fare before you sit down in the cab!
Alternatively, many tourists enjoy taking public transportation for the experience and the mere pocket change it costs to do so. Often these buses are not air conditioned. But I am more than happy to pay my $3 and take a cab.
Short True Story – The Good Samaritan
Approximately 12 years ago, my husband and I went to a beautiful resort in Nuevo Vallarta, a twenty-minute cab ride north of Puerto Vallarta. While we were touring around there at a market, my husband fancied a money belt that he purchased. When we checked out of the hotel to return home, the hotel concierge called us a special cab that went to the airport. We chatted with the nice driver all the way to the airport, thanked him and I gave him a nice tip.
As we lined up at airport check in, I asked my hub for his passport. He fumbled around for a moment then exclaimed, “I left the money belt in the taxi.” I freaked out and left him in line with the luggage as I was trying to find a policeman or someone who spoke English to get hold of that taxi driver. Finally, someone called the hotel we stayed at to find our which cab had taken us to the airport.
Before he hung up the phone I turned around in the beating hot sun to the sounds of a man shouting, “Lady, lady!” As though it were a miracle and a mirage, it was our cab driver – holding the money belt in his hand. Apparently, within minutes of leaving the airport, he spotted the money belt on the seat and brought it back to us, after frantically looking for us at the airport. I hugged him and couldn’t thank him enough and handed him an American $20 bill. He was elated, and we had hubby’s passport and every dollar he had in there remained.
Moral of the story? There are plenty of honest people still left on earth. Second moral? It was after that trip that I never allowed my husband to wear that money belt again – the one he thought was uncomfortable, so he took it off in the cab. From that trip on, I became the holder of all the money and the passports!
What to Buy?
Mexico is a great place to buy handcrafted items and silver. You will find many artisans crafting their wares at the markets. There are a variety of items you will find from straw bags, to cotton beach coverups, decorative plates, wind chimes, hats and much more. You will also find many of these items being sold on the beach as the Mexicans all dressed in white cotton and big sombreros carry their wares on their backs and hope to make a day’s pay. Always bargain as the prices will start higher than you will end up paying. The Mexico savvy travelers know that you must bargain, it’s half the fun!
What to Pack?
Pack summer clothes. It’s never cold in Mexico. But depending on the season, you may want to pack a couple long sleeves and a sweater. Although the temps are hot during the day, typically, November thru February you will have some beautiful breezy nights.
I found due to the humidity in the air that I never wore anything but sandals on my feet, day or night.
Make sure to pack a few sun hats, sunglasses, and bring your favorite sunscreen or buy it there. Great deals in Walmart! And of course, don’t forget your bathing suits and coverups, pretty much what I live in there.
I hope you enjoyed this edition of my Travel Column – Mexico, and maybe I’ll see you there next winter! Ole!
©D.G. Kaye 2018
I for one would love to visit Puerto Vallerta and my thanks to Debby for such a comprehensive guide to getting the best value for money in the safest and most enjoyable environment.
About D.G. Kaye
Debby Gies is a Canadian nonfiction/memoir author who writes under the pen name of D.G. Kaye. She was born, raised, and resides in Toronto, Canada. Kaye writes about her life experiences, matters of the heart and women’s issues.
D.G. writes to inspire others. Her writing encompasses stories taken from events she encountered in her own life, and she shares the lessons taken from them. Her sunny outlook on life developed from learning to overcome challenges in her life, and finding the upside from those situations, while practicing gratitude for all the positives.
When Kaye isn’t writing intimate memoirs, she brings her natural sense of humor into her other works. She loves to laugh and self- medicate with a daily dose of humor.
I love to tell stories that have lessons in them, and hope to empower others by sharing my own experiences. I write raw and honest about my own experiences, hoping through my writing, that others can relate and find that there is always a choice to move from a negative space, and look for the positive.
“Live Laugh Love . . . And Don’t Forget to Breathe!”
“For every kindness, there should be kindness in return. Wouldn’t that just make the world right?”
When I’m not writing, I’m reading or quite possibly looking after some mundane thing in life. It’s also possible I may be on a secret getaway trip, as that is my passion—traveling.
Books by D.G. Kaye
About Twenty Years: After “I Do”.
In this personal accounting, D.G. Kaye shares the insights and wisdom she has accrued through twenty years of keeping her marriage strong and thriving despite the everyday changes and challenges of aging. Kaye reveals how a little creative planning, acceptance, and unconditional love can create a bond no obstacle will break. Kaye’s stories are informative, inspiring, and a testament to love eclipsing all when two people understand, respect, and honor their vows. She adds that a daily sprinkling of laughter is a staple in nourishing a healthy marriage.
Twenty years began with a promise. As Kaye recounts what transpired within that time, she shows that true love has no limits, even when one spouse ages ahead of the other.
One of the recent reviews for the book
In TWENTY YEARS: AFTER “I DO” the author talks about some authentic problems one encounters when the love of their life experiences health issues of advancing age. In her instance there is an age gap of nearly 20 years, but none-the-less, the difficulties of illness of either partner, the marriage with not only a new partner, but with the partner’s family, and a plethora of other concerns are easily faced by a couple of any age and at any stage of their marriage if love and laughter are part of that union.. I’ve always believed that true love conquers all, and D.G. Kaye confirmed that belief with candor and wit in her book as she talks about the trials and tribulations of her own marriage.
To say that I am a huge fan of D. G. Kaye is an understatement. I love her style of writing, her honesty in telling it like it is, and her never-ending sense of humor. If you haven’t read any of her books, just peruse all the titles and find one or more you can relate to. The author writes in a way that you can easily slip into her identity and find yourself present in a real-life situation that may be similar to your own. You will laugh along with her, sympathize with her, and possibly learn something about life and your own situation.
TWENTY YEARS: AFTER “I DO” is highly deserving of 5 stars.
Read the other reviews and buy the book: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B077V386TL
and Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B077V386TL
Other books by D.G. Kaye
Read all the reviews and buy the books: http://www.amazon.com/author/dgkaye7
and Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/D.G.-Kaye/e/B00HE028FO
More reviews and follow Debby on Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/dgkaye
Connect to Debby Gies
About me: http://www.wiseintro.co/dgkaye7
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/@pokercubster (yes there’s a story)
Thank you for dropping in today and please help spread the news of Debby’s travel column and we look forward to your questions and comments. Thanks Sally and Debby