If you have been following my Instagram, then you know I spent the past month in Mexico. I have finally unpacked and finished all my laundry, and thus it’s time to get back to work. And while I could have written a blog post about a past photo shoot, I thought a vacation story or two might be more interesting. So, in this week’s blog I’ll be telling you everything I learned on my trip to Mexico in the hopes that you can enjoy just as exciting a trip for yourself.
My Mexico Itinerary
First, let’s discuss where exactly I visited in Mexico. I was gone a total of 33 days from January 16 to February 17. I started in Mexico City, went up north a bit and traveled mainly through the center of the country. I ended my trip in the Yucatan. In case you are curious, I am not a beach girl nor an influencer, so Cancun and Tulum weren’t on the schedule.
- January 16 – 22: Mexico City
- January 22-24: Guanajuato
- January 24-26: San Miguel de Allende
- January 26-30: Xilitla
- January 30-February 4: Oaxaca
- February 4-6: San Cristobal de las Casas
- February 6-7: Palenque
- February 7-9: Xpujil
- February 9-11: Campeche
- February 11-14: Valladolid
- February 14-16: Merida
- February 16-17: Mexico City
All in all, I think I planned this trip very well. I don’t think I spent too much time in any one city. I could definitely go back to Mexico City in a heartbeat (more on that later), and I do wish I had one more day in San Cristobal de las Casas since I spent my one full day there touring the Sumidero Canyon.
Every city was great in its own right, and the challenge of moving from point A to point B was less of a hassle than expected. My favorite city by far was Mexico City, and I didn’t really have a ‘least favorite’ city. For instance, I wasn’t really impressed with Valladolid, but this is the closest city if you want to visit Chichen Itza.
My Trip to Mexico – The Planning
January and February are great months to visit Mexico – thanks to the weather. At the start of the year, all the Christmas tourists have gone home and the heat of summer has not yet arrived. Mexico City, Xilitla, and San Cristobal were my coldest destinations, but that was only in the early morning or late evening. The rest of my trip temperature-wise was 60s, 70s, and even 80s as I reached the Yucatan. I had one evening of rain my entire trip, and sunny days every day. Compare this with the cold, gray skies of NYC’s nuclear winter.
The beginning of the year is the slow tourist season. Sure, there are more fun festivals scheduled for Easter, the summer, and of course the Day of the Dead in Mexico. But if you want to avoid the crowds, then January is the time to visit Mexico. I found I was one of only three guests at my hotel in Campeche, and I started my stay in Oaxaca being the only guest in the hotel. I hate crowds, so this was blissful. And honestly, for some of the attractions I visited – Chichen Itza and Teotihuacan, specifically – I can’t imagine visiting during the height of the tourist season.
I was easily able to work from the road. Yes, Mexico has the internet. In case you haven’t been reading the news, Mexico City has become a hotspot for digital nomads. But even outside of Mexico City, I found it quite easy to answer emails and send out contracts. To make sure I was always connected, I simply bought a Mexican SIM card from Telcel on Amazon before I left New York. I was able to refill the data on my card online and never lost a day of work. One quick recommendation: if you are going to use a Telcel card and need to top up your card, use the site Recharge.com. Telcel’s website will not accept American credit cards, but Recharge.com uses Paypal and you can use your credit card here.
I planned all of my trip using Google Maps and YouTube videos. Here’s how I always start planning a trip: YouTube. I pick a destination and watch enough travel vlogger videos to make sure I get a well-rounded view of the place. I write down every city that piques my interest, and then determine how long I need to be gone. I figured I had a month, maximum, to travel.
Next, I go online to Google maps to look for attractions, shopping areas, and most importantly, the center of town. The center of the city – normally the historical area — is where I should be able to walk (safely) at night. So, this is where I start looking for a hotel online, and then coordinate the hotels I find with prices on the hotel website and reviews on Google. Only in the case of Mexico City did I not stay in the historical center of town (instead, I stayed in Zona Rosa).
For those of you who don’t have Google Maps, what are you thinking? In San Miguel de Allende I saw couples – old couples – actually using paper maps. I am presuming this is how the Amish go on holiday. Google Maps has an arrow to show which way you are walking, so you know if you are going the right way. This is how you travel. Other apps I relied on were Google Translate (not perfect at all, but you need something like it), Xe money converter, and Turbulence and My Flight Forecast turbulence forecasting apps. I am very scared to fly, and with each flight I take, my fear gets worse.
Spanish language skills definitely help, but aren’t a requirement. I had ‘por favor’ and ‘gracias’ down cold, but that was it when it came to speaking Spanish. There were definitely occasions – booking buses mainly – where speaking Spanish would have come in handy. But in every case, I had Google Translate at the ready and the person on the other end of the conversation also had Google Translate. I was never once at my wit’s end because of a lack of language skills.
You should definitely come prepared with a translator app on your phone, but know that most people working in hospitality will already assume you don’t speak Spanish. One tip: download the Google Translate Spanish file to your phone so that you can use it without the internet. Also, don’t feel shy about pulling out your phone and using Google Translate on museum tours so that you can actually understand what’s going on.
My Trip to Mexico – The Packing
I traveled for a month with only carry-on luggage, and you can too. I packed three pairs of pants, one skirt, eight tops, sweat pants, socks, a bathing suit, and underwear. I had two pairs of shoes – Puma tennis shoes and a pair of Skechers flats. I ended up wearing the tennis shoes every day and they held up remarkably well. Yes, you should plan to do laundry.
The biggest packing challenge I suffered was being limited to travel-sized toiletries. Plan to simply buy what you need while on the road. Yes, Mexico has everything you need. They even have Walmart. With the exception of very light shades of foundation and the supposed expense of suntan lotion (I never bought any on the road, so I never saw the price), Mexico will have everything you need in tiny sizes. Pro tip: Waldo’s is the equivalent of the Dollar Tree in Mexico. I found just about everything I needed there except a small size of hair conditioner.
Best purchase I made before I left: a Grayl water-filtering bottle. You can’t drink the water in Mexico, so you are going to buying a lot of bottled water. The sad fact is that only approximately 5% of plastic is actually repurposed (per a NPR report), and I’m sure that number is way less in Mexico. Do yourself and the environment a favor by bringing a water bottle that filters the water for you. It completely works, and I never got sick during my trip due to contaminated water. (I did get sick once, but I am completely laying the blame for this on the restaurant in Palenque.) This water bottle was useful especially for brushing my teeth and having water to drink at night in the hotel. [Grayl water bottle found on Amazon.]
Do not bother doing your laundry on the road. Instead, take your dirty clothes to a launderer in Mexico. I have traveled all over Southeast Asia, and regularly sent out my laundry while traveling. Sometimes I would find a shirt ruined, and nothing really came back smelling great. In comparison, Mexican launderers are wonderful. For just 70 pesos, you can get your laundry back in a few hours and it will smell fantastic. Just look for any place marked ‘lavanderia’ on Google Maps. I started my trip in Mexico City doing hand washing in an ice bucket every night. What a waste of time.
My Trip to Mexico – Transportation
I flew Viva Aerobus, the Spirit Airlines of Mexico. The airline wasn’t actually that bad. It is a cheaper airline, but they were kind enough to change my flight coming back to NYC when I was scared of flying into a thunderstorm. Paying the premium price for changeable tickets and to select my seat was well worth the money (I selected the Viva Aerobus Smart level). In comparison, I also flew AeroMexico for flights between cities. I found AeroMexico to be just as bad when it came to nickel-and-diming customers and not worth the extra money.
Fly when you can, even though buses are cheaper. While buses are the easiest and cheapest way to get from place to place in Mexico, know that it takes a long time to get anywhere. Flying is always your best option. With the exception of cities in the mountains that were not close to an airport, I flew between destinations. Yes, it was more expensive, but I only had two nine-hour bus rides to endure.
No announcements, just trust. One of the most annoying aspects of my travel throughout Mexico is that no one ever makes an announcement about a bus, flight, etc. being late. In America, transportation hubs know they will have angry passengers on their hands if the flight or bus is a minute late. As such, the travel team tends to keep passengers updated. Not in Mexico. A bus may be twenty minutes late and no one bats an eye. Meanwhile you can visibly see the Americans in the corner getting twitchy. In every case where a bus or plane was late, I still arrived on time. Count this as a Mexican miracle.
Uber is the way to go. For getting around town, taxis are cheap. Uber is the app to have on hand so that you get where you are going without translation difficulties and can easily pay by credit card and not use all your pesos. The other taxi app in Mexico is Didi, but I did not use this app. Note that Oaxaca and some smaller towns like Las Cristobal de las Casas do not have Uber or any other taxi app.
My Trip to Mexico – Hotels
Here is a list of the places I stayed:
- Mexico City – Geneve Mexico City Hotel (fantastic staff and architectural details; great location in Zona Rosa, slow internet)
- Guanajuato – Posada Santa Fe Hotel (lovely hotel and wonderful staff; incredibly loud due to mariachi players outside strumming until the wee hours of the morning)
- San Miguel de Allende – Casa Schuck Bed and Breakfast (my #2 hotel, the staff went above and beyond trying to get me to Xilitla and the architectural details were beautiful)
- Xilitla – Hotel Camino Surreal Xilitla (the staff could not have been kinder, but this hotel was very basic; great hot water and internet, though)
- Oaxaca – Xtilu’ Hotel (great staff and location)
- San Cristobal de las Casas – Casa Santa Lucia (outstanding hotel; I was amazed because I didn’t expect much from San Cristobal; I would definitely stay here again)
- Palenque – Hotel Chablis Palenque (nice hotel, though a bit basic in décor)
- Xpujil – Hotel Mirador Maya (you don’t have many options in Xpujil, so this was probably the best place to stay, but basic is putting it mildly; the shower wouldn’t turn off and the key kept getting stuck in the door; that said, the hotel proprietor had her son drive me to the bus station at no expense)
- Campeche – Casa Don Gustavo Hotel Boutique (my best hotel during my entire trip; beautiful architectural details and a brand new bathroom)
- Valladolid – Colonte Hotel Origen (very hip and very kind staff; I felt like I was transported to Brooklyn)
- Merida – Gran Hotel de Merida (beautiful old hotel – the first hotel every built in Merida – but it’s a shame about the bathroom being so dirty)
- Mexico City – Hilton Mexico City Airport (THIS was my worst hotel: no internet when I arrived, thin walls, and on top of that, they charged me for an extra night; I am still disputing the charge)
My strategy for selecting hotels. I always select a hotel by first heading to the safest and most historical part of town on Google Maps. I also wanted to stay in historical hotels that had interesting architectural details. By the way, I am not an advocate of AirB&B since I feel like they are wrecking the affordable housing market.
Hotel prices in Mexico are very fair. I had great hotel rooms for $100 a night. You can definitely pay less or more either way, but what you get for $100 is the equivalent of a $300 hotel room here in NYC.
The best hotel I stayed in was the Casa Don Gustavo Hotel Boutique in Campeche. The Casa Don Gustavo is a converted historical home and the building and rooms are absolutely beautiful. There really aren’t a lot of tourists out and about now, and I was one of only three people staying in the hotel. My room was impeccably clean, with a sparkling new bathroom. Also, the staff was wonderfully kind. Other standout hotels include the Casa Schuck in San Miguel de Allende and the Casa Santa Lucia in San Cristobal de las Casas.
The worst hotel I stayed in was the Mexico City Hilton. Among other problems: the hotel charged me for an extra night, the internet wasn’t working when I arrived, the room has thin walls so you could hear other guests in the hallway, and neither the coffee maker nor the plug by the sink was working. All of this for $300 per night aside from the airport location. It was the most expensive hotel of my stay and not worth it all. Furthermore, when I asked at the front desk about extending my stay by a night since I was going to be in Mexico City an extra day, the front desk guy told me there were no rooms available. I went online and lo and behold, found several rooms available at an even lower price than what I was paying for a Friday night stay. WTF, Hilton?
I also have to give a shout out to the filthy bathroom in the Gran Hotel in Merida. This is a lovely old hotel with lots of character, but that bathroom should be burned to the ground. The back of the shower door was revolting. No, I’m not going to provide a photo.
My Trip to Mexico – Attractions
Places you should definitely visit. The museums in Mexico City were top-knotch, and better than many I have visited in the US or in Europe. The architecture alone makes these museums worthy of a trip. My favorite museum was the Museo Nacional de Antropologia. Another favorite destination – and this may not be to all tastes – was the Basilica of Lady Guadalupe complex in Mexico City. This was a veritable Catholic amusement park with gardens and churches a plenty. I say this as a non-religious person who just wanted to see how the other side prays. The Basilica can be easily reached on the Mexico City metro. Also, Xochimilco is worth the commute to see the neighborhood, but don’t pay for the boats – those are a waste of money. Another standout museum was the Museo la Esquina (toy museum) in San Miguel de Allende.
The most beautiful churches. The absolute standout church I visited during my time in Mexico was Santuario de Jesús Nazareno de Atotonilco, located just outside of San Miguel de Allende. This is the Sistine Chapel of Mexico and definitely worth the taxi ride to get there. The second most beautiful church I saw during my trip was Templo de Santo Domingo de Guzman in Oaxaca. Other standouts included the Catedral Metropolitana de Oaxaca and the Regina Coeli Pari in Mexico City. The Mexicans really know how to get their Jesus on.
Make reservations. For the Frida Kahlo Museum and Los Pozas garden in Xilitla – both worth a visit – make reservations several weeks in advance.
Come for the mole recipe; stay for the people you meet. The best people I met on my trip were the two couples I met during a cooking class in Oaxaca. These two couples were like-minded travelers who shared a love of cooking and eating. We ended up hitting the local restaurants and drinking mezcal until late in the evening. It was a little difficult to connect with people while traveling solo and without any Spanish skills, but meeting this motley crew was a definite highlight of my trip.
Get there early. For any of the archeological sites – Chichen Itza and Teotihuacan, chief among them – you must get there early in order to avoid the suffocating masses. As an added bonus, if you arrive by 7:30 a.m. at Teotihuacan, you can see the hot air balloons floating over the pyramids.
Tours aren’t always a bad thing. I loathe taking tours. I just feel trapped whenever I am forced to endure a tour. That said, one of my best travel experiences was the tour of Sumidero Canyon in San Cristobal Las Casas. The tour basically took care of the transportation and simply got you from spot to spot for photos. I didn’t connect with anyone on the tour, but I did get to take the photos I wanted. A full day tour, including bus transportation everywhere, a boat trip, three mirador viewpoint visits, and a trip to the town of Chiapa de Corzo, cost $45 as arranged through my hotel.
You don’t have to do a tour. For some places, a tour was your best option because arranging transportation on your own will be more expensive than getting a package deal. But in the case of getting to the pyramids (Chichen Itza, Teotihucan, and Palenque), all you have to do is arrange your own transportation either via bus or taxi.
My Trip to Mexico – Details
The toilet and water situations weren’t a problem. In case you weren’t aware, you can’t flush toilet paper in Mexico. You are supposed to wipe, then place the used toilet tissue in a waste basket next to the toilet. You don’t need to bring toilet paper with you, because it is always provided. Same situation with the water since you can’t drink any water from the tap in Mexico. All of the restaurants I went to used filtered water and water bottles were provided in the hotel.
NYC should follow Mexico’s lead, in the case of bathrooms. Speaking of potty breaks, Mexico has bathrooms galore in every city I visited. Yes, you have to pay 5 pesos to use the facilities, but this also keeps out the homeless. Also, because the bathrooms are manned by an attendant who cleans the bathroom, they are way better than any gas station facilities here in the USA. New York City could learn a lot from this concept. I would gladly pay $0.25 or even a dollar just to not have to con my way into a Starbucks filthy bathroom ever again.
Food-wise, what we think of as Mexican food is actually Tex Mex. I ate some great food in Mexico City at restaurants serving fusion food. I tried several authentic dishes while on the road – including grasshoppers – but I can’t say I really enjoyed it. I have a very salty palette, and I think American food is simply much more salty than traditional Mexican food. I would suggest you simply lower your expectations for what we know as Mexican food, since this is largely defined as Tex-Mex. That said, I was able to get hamburgers everywhere I went and I never went hungry.
For souvenirs, the best place to buy items is the Artist’s Market (Mercado de Artesanías La Ciudadela) in Mexico City. I purchased a lot of things – traditional masks, clay and tin art pieces, and even a stuffed frog – and shipped everything home using Estafeta. [You can’t ship anything breakable using the Mexico postal service.] It cost me $106, but I didn’t have to worry about any of my purchases for the rest of my trip. I did buy a few things in Oaxaca, but I pretty much saw the same items – for higher prices – wherever I went.
What Did I Learn While Traveling to Mexico?
Mexico is a safe travel destination. Before my trip, I poured over blogs and videos with the headline, ‘Is Mexico safe?’ I registered my trip with the State Department and planned my trip to avoid the blazing red ‘do not visit’ destinations. All of this was wasted time. I felt safer in Mexico than I do walking the streets of Manhattan at night or being in the subway late. There were definitely far fewer (if any) mentally ill people roaming the streets than I encounter on a daily basis here in New York. I’m sure there are bad parts of Mexico that are thoroughly unsafe, but like any logical person, I did my research and avoided these areas.
Do not fear the Mexico City subway. One other thing that kept popping up in articles about Mexico was to avoid the Mexico City subway due to pick-pocketers. The Mexico City subway is perfectly safe. In retrospect, these ridiculous articles seem to have been written by frightened little grandmothers who have never been to the big, bad city before. If you can make it on the NYC subway, then you will do just fine on the Mexico City subway. The Mexico City metro isn’t as great as the NYC subway (looooong distances between stations in terms of walking time, and the occasional derailment), but it is the most efficient way to get around town.
You just have to trust. Buses are the easiest way to get from place to place, and the hardest to figure out from the US. Most bus companies won’t take US credit cards and won’t even show up in a US internet search. Rather, you have to use a VPN and trick the internet into thinking you are broadcasting from Mexico. But don’t worry; you will get where you need to go. Just show up and buy a ticket. Provided you are not traveling during the busiest time of year – Easter week, Christmas, or Halloween/Day of the Dead – you should be fine. This tip is specifically in regards to buses, but it really applies to every aspect of travel in Mexico.
A month is a long time to be gone. I had a lot I wanted to see in Mexico, so hence my long itinerary. I’m glad I got to see all the places I did, but I was a bit tired of traveling by the end of my trip. I’m planning to do it all again this summer with a trip to Indonesia, but I am torn because to see everything I want to see will require four weeks.
Everything we know about Mexico is defined through the eyes of Texas. Mexico is a huge country and inhabited by many different indigenous types of people. Saying Mexico is one country with one homogenous group of people is like saying India is one country instead of many different groups contained within one land mass. In actuality, Mexico is a conglomeration of many different countries. So expect – and rejoice – in the differences.
The Mexican people are unbelievably kind. They put up with my bad Spanish and were so hospitable. I have renewed faith in humanity, thanks to the kindness of Mexican strangers.
I can’t recommend Mexico enough as a travel destination. When I originally booked this trip, I simply wanted to go somewhere warm for my birthday. Mexico definitely surpassed my expectations. Of all the places I visited, I would visit Mexico City again, and may be considering it as a quick week or weekend trip from NYC. So hop the border – you won’t regret it.
I would love to hear your input on my trip to Mexico. Any tips for fellow travelers? My next ports of call are Indonesia/Malaysia and New Mexico – any tips for these destinations? Drop me a line to let me know your travel tips and travails. Even better, if you are thinking about Mexico for a destination wedding, then check out my article on destination wedding tips here.
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