Mexico is a country that often hits the headlines, sometimes for all the wrong reasons. The North American nation has a fascinating history, a rich culinary scene and a diverse cultural heritage. But there are occasional reports of narco lords, gang violence and border problems with the USA that often make the news.
While these are real issues that contemporary Mexico faces, this isn’t the entire picture by any means. News agencies are often quick to underline that the country must be unsafe for travel. In fact, large parts of Mexico are perfectly safe for travellers.
Mexico has a lot to offer, from beautiful beaches on the Pacific and Atlantic coasts to an intriguing past of Mayan, Aztec and Spanish history. There are ancient ruins to explore, there’s excellent food to sample, and much, much more awaiting you in Mexico.
Of course, in some areas, the security situation isn’t ideal for tourists, but many areas are hugely popular with visitors. Just make sure you take out comprehensive travel insurance and research well before you depart.
Here’s our guide to keeping safe while travelling in Mexico.
Health Concerns in Mexico
When travelling to Mexico, you will want to be aware of what vaccinations you need, and what health concerns you may face while abroad.
Mexico requires no mandatory vaccinations as such, but you will certainly want to ensure that you are up to date on basic injections and booster, for diseases such as hepatitis, polio, diphtheria, typhoid and tetanus. You can get up-to-date information on vaccinations by arranging an appointment at your local GP with the travel nurse, who will be able to advise on any boosters based on your personal vaccination history.
You may also want to consider being vaccinated for rabies, especially if you plan to visit remote areas of Mexico. The rabies vaccination gives you valuable time to get to a hospital for potentially life-saving treatment if you are bitten by an infected animal, such as a stray dog.
Malaria is present in some parts of Mexico; however, it is a very low-risk country and you only need anti-malarial medication in remote and rural areas. In the southern areas, in states such as Chiapas or Quintana Roo, malarial cases are seen, however, these are rare amongst travellers. You will, however, want to take precautions against mosquito bites regardless, and this means using mosquito repellent and covering up arms and legs when mosquitoes are most active at dusk and throughout the night. Mosquitos are also responsible for dengue fever and are carriers of the zika virus, all of which are present if rare in parts of Mexico but cannot be vaccinated against.
Many parts of Mexico, including the capital Mexico City, are found at high altitude. Mexico City is at 2,200 metres, and other destinations can be even higher. If you are arriving from sea level, then you may experience mild altitude sickness as your body adjusts to lower levels of oxygen. The only way to counter altitude sickness is to either allow time for your body to adjust or head to a lower altitude.
Many parts of Mexico also experience high temperatures, particularly during the summer. So you will want to make sure you have adequate sun cream and stay covered up where possible, especially in tourist areas on the coast such as Cancun where beach holidays are popular.
You need travel insurance for Mexico because hospitals require this in order to provide treatment. Medical standards can vary across the country and are lacking in rural areas, so ensure that your policy can provide evacuation and that it will cover you for treatment in private hospitals.
Food and Water
Mexico is a destination for foodies, and the country has one of the most exciting culinary scenes in the world. This is the home of the taco, it’s the inspiration for Tex Mex, and across Mexico, each state has its own unique dishes that blend a fusion of Mayan, Aztec and Spanish styles. In big cities and on the tourist strips such as the Mayan Riviera, you can also find a range of restaurants from around the world, catering to the large number of package tourists.
Despite this glorious culinary history, travellers still need to be aware of the risks of food and water in Mexico.
For starters, the country has seen an unfortunate rise in water-borne diseases leading to traveller’s diarrhoea. Even if you are staying in 5-star resorts in Cancun, you are at risk of catching a stomach bug. While in many cases it can pass quickly as you adjust to the different bacteria, it can disrupt your holiday, particularly if you are only in the country for a short time.
For this reason, it’s important to drink only bottled mineral water or water that’s been properly filtered and treated. Avoid drinking tap water and, if you are travelling to remote locations, consider taking a purification or sterilisation system with you.
A big part of Mexican culture is street food, and some of the best places to eat truly authentic Mexican fare are small eateries and food stands. Be careful eating here, but don’t let the risks discourage you. Just watch how the food is stored and prepared, and if you aren’t happy move on to the next place.
When it comes to travel safety in Mexico, crime is always the biggest talking point. The country is associated with gang violence and narco criminals, and the government is essentially waging a war against these violent gangs across the country.
For the most part, though, these headline-grabbing violent acts aren’t ones that actually affect tourists, and the most popular resorts and tourist areas don’t see the level of violence that other parts of the country suffer from.
Travelling in Mexico is more about being aware of where you are because the gangs aren’t interested in visitors but are more interested in their own problems and law enforcement agencies. It’s good practice to check locally when you plan to travel to different destinations to find out what the situation is like. In cities, the major central areas are usually trouble-free, but there are areas you will want to avoid, especially in places like Mexico City.
Tourists can be at risk of robbery however, even in areas such as Playa del Carmen or Cancun – sometimes more so, as criminals specifically target these touristy areas. It’s best to take taxis where possible after dark and to avoid dark streets or deserted beaches.
The police won’t always be there to help you either. Given the unfortunate levels of corruption in Mexico, you can equally find yourself being forced into paying bribes for minor infractions. This is particularly true when driving rented vehicles.
Despite its problems with gang warfare, Mexico has had very little in the way of terrorism, at least in the western sense of it.
Terrorism risks are very low across Mexico, although in the south in heavily indigenous areas such as Chiapas, you may encounter problems with bandits acting in the name of local paramilitary organisations such as the Zapatistas. They are known to hold up buses or cars and relieve those inside the vehicles of their belongings in the name of their cause, although violent incidents are rare.
Family Travel Safety (Mexico with Kids)
Mexico has a big market for family travel, but it’s mostly concentrated in certain areas of the country that have been heavily developed for tourism. The most popular destinations are in the south along the Caribbean Sea. Places like Cancun and Playa del Carmen have been developed as resort destinations. If you are travelling as a family, these are the most convenient places to visit.
These areas are very safe for family travel, even with babies and small children, and it’s easy to get around and to experience the many family attractions. If you are travelling with kids though, you will want to make sure that on the beaches and in the sea, you stick to designated areas. These areas can be home to crocodiles, so don’t stray from the marked, safe destinations. Currents can also be strong for small children and not all beaches have lifeguards, so remain vigilant.
If you travel further afield with the kids, then be careful when exploring cities, as it’s easy to get lost, particularly in large cities such as Mexico City.
Family Travel Safety (Mexico for Women)
Mexico has somewhat of an over-the-top reputation when it comes to women travelling through the country, in particular, solo female travellers. While bad things have happened in the past to women travelling in Mexico, this can be said of anywhere else in the world. In reality, women are no more likely to be targeted here than in the USA or Great Britain.
As with anywhere, women (and men!) should follow basic travel safety rules. If it doesn’t feel right, don’t go along with it; if the street looks too dark, don’t go down it. Mexicans are generally hospitable and friendly, and while western women might attract a bit more attention in more rural areas, it’s nothing malicious. Learning Spanish can be a big help to unravel uncomfortable situations and even just to get around safely.
Tips for Staying Safe in Mexico
Buy the Right Insurance
Regardless of whether you are male or female, travelling solo or travelling as a family, purchasing the right insurance before you depart is one of the biggest aspects of staying safe on the road.
As well as providing you with much-needed peace of mind, having comprehensive travel insurance gives you the cover you need if something bad does occur.
Make sure the insurance package you buy covers you for all the activities you might want to take part in. You might need more specialist insurance if you are planning on doing lots of scuba diving, or enjoying water sports such as jet skiing. If you’re unsure how much coverage you need, it’s always better to have excess coverage, than no coverage at all.
Learn the Language
Spanish is the language of Mexico, although if you’ve been to other destinations in South or Central America or learnt your Spanish in Spain itself, you will find that Mexican-Spanish can be very different in many ways, with different slang, accents and pronunciation.
While you can get away with English in the resort destinations, if you are planning on travelling outside of these places, then knowing Spanish can be the biggest help. You don’t need to be fluent, but even knowing basic sentences and words will help you to order in restaurants and to find buses. Ultimately that basic knowledge can help to keep you safer on the road than without it.
In some rural areas, Spanish is a second language for many indigenous families, who still speak dialects of Old Mayan or other languages. In these situations, knowing some Spanish is very much a necessity to get around. In Mexico, knowing Spanish can help you to diffuse situations that might arise or misunderstandings that might occur, while it can also keep you out of trouble if you happen to get lost and you wander into the wrong part of a city.
Know the Laws and Culture
Knowing the local laws and local culture while you are in Mexico will also help to keep you safe when you are on the road. While areas like Cancun are used to tourists, other destinations might not be so used to foreign visitors, so it’s best to keep local customs in mind when travelling.
Mexico can be very conservative in many ways, particularly in more rural areas, and it’s best to dress conservatively and to act conservatively when this is the case. Many areas also have lots of indigenous traditions. While they might seem unusual, you should take care to always respect the local way of life.
If you’re booking your holiday to Mexico, contact Navigator Travel Insurance to get a quote for your insurance.