Nothing earthshaking but maybe one or two will be helpful
We spent just two weeks in three very different cities–Puebla, Taxco, and Mexico City, but picked up a few ideas about what to do/look out for that might help you on your next Mexican journey.
- Do not fear the buses–once you are on, they are really superior modes of travel. No chickens in the aisle or scary driving, really! However, get some help if you can from your host or hotel in understanding how to reserve and purchase seats. See the earlier post on bus travel for some examples.
- Street food is great. We ate everything that looked good and had nary a stomach upset. We found no reason for any continued concerns about lettuce or ice cubes.
- The fruit/juice stands are a bargain and the juice could not be fresher. They seem to open at 8am Monday-Saturday, and in Mexico City they are in steel booths, permanently installed on sidewalks so they are reliable when you need something to drink. An enormous (styrofoam) cup is around 38 pesos. We would buy one on the way back to the hotel from coffee/breakfast, mix it with bottled water, and we carried these with us all day. More nutritious and renewing than plain water and delicious. We were there in the mandarin orange season so could get orange (jugo naranja) or mandarin (jugo mandarino). These stands also sell various kinds of fruit and fruit salads. Ask.
- We also recommend the agua frescas that are sold in stands all over the place. You may see up to 10 big glass jars of different colors lined up on the counter–do not be shy about asking what they are. We always asked, but so did everyone else, natives and tourists alike. When you see agua fresca on a menu, just ask which kinds. Typical in restaurants, like here, are horchata, tamarindo, and jamaica (ha-my-ee-ka), but they often have others. Because the flavors change often everyone asks, not just dumb tourists.
- It is tricky at times getting change for large bills, large being anything from 100 pesos and up. While everyone is very gracious about getting you change, it can be a hassle for them so try to plan ahead. Our hotel had change once of the four or five times we asked, so it wasn’t easy but we tried.
- Uber is safe, reliable and very inexpensive–quite a bit less than taxis. Because of the potential change issue we were wary of taxis (and having to understand the amount quoted and figuring out a tip–though tips are not common in taxis unless there’s a lot of luggage wrangling involved). Uber drivers were unfailingly polite and some were positively delightful, offering ideas for what to see, interested in our reactions to Mexico. None but one spoke any English, so sitting quietly was just fine. We used Uber about 20 times in two weeks including many that were 30+ minutes, and the total we spent, with tips, in Mexico was less than we paid a Lyft driver to take us home from the Oakland airport, a 20 minute ride.
- Silver jewelry shopping in Taxco is highly recommended. Prices are good but the selection is infinite. If this is a high priority for you, do visit on a Saturday when the weekly market is a riot of vendors, including many buying in bulk to sell elsewhere.
- Museum gift shops do tend to carry high quality examples of artisan items and at good prices. They seem to curate their inventory pretty carefully, and you often see items that are elsewhere but a step up in quality. They are also well equipped to wrap breakables–street vendors and small shops, such as in La Ciudadela in Mexico City, do not have bubble wrap.
- YouTube travel and foodie videos are worth the time before you go. We found several places that had been recommended and were very glad we did (e.g., Tia Calla in Taxco). We also stumbled on a very short video explaining how to find the bus ticket counters at the airport (see below) which, being our first day in Mexico was very comforting.
- If you are flying to Mexico City and going on from there by ground, do not worry about bus connections. The Mexico City Airport has bus ticket counters and very frequent buses to many cities and you can count on walking right up and getting on a bus within the hour, often much less. While there are discounts for old people (65+) and children, they are limited in there are only a certain number available per bus. So you may qualify but they are simply sold out. Bus tickets are so cheap this shouldn’t concern you, but don’t think you’re being scammed if they say there are no child fares or if the ticket seller says she has to check to see if there are any available. The only time we felt something strange was going on was when, two times, our bus was stopped and boarded by officials asking about “discuentas.” They were checking ID to make sure the discounted tickets had been sold appropriately.
- Random help from strangers was common and we were never steered wrong. If you look confused it’s common someone will come up and try to help. It was always sincere and a few times it made quite a difference. For example, when we walked out of Teotihuacan and were standing at the road looking around for the stop for the bus back to Mexico City, a young guy who was selling something (hats? tour guides?) came over to us and asked if we were looking for the bus back to “Mexico” as they call Mexico City. When I said yes he quickly pointed across the intersection and said (in Spanish) “That’s your bus–hurry!” Don’t be overly suspicious is the tip here.
- Beggars were somewhat common, always women, older indigenes women or young women with babies. Just say no if so inclined. They can be persistent but never obnoxious. We saw more local people giving money than obvious tourists.
- This is a very personal piece of advice. I never bargain with street vendors and suggest you do the same. There’s nothing wrong with paying the stated price. You’re not getting taken advantage of. You are not being scammed because you look like a gringo. Get into your head a quick translation of pesos to dollars so you can remember that everything is extremely inexpensive (because they use $ for pesos it takes a day or so). As a visitor with the money to buy a plane ticket and eat in nice restaurants and even hire private tour guides, you can easily afford to pay the price without haggling.
- A second piece of advice–don’t take photos of people (or of their dogs) without asking. If it is a vendor I ask only after purchasing something–anything. The local people are not there to look picturesque for you, they are trying to make a living. Be respectful, in other words. I was never refused, and just asking makes all the difference. Memorize the sentence “may I take a photo please?” in Spanish and use it.
- Have fun in Mexico!