Trip Planning Resources
With a bit of planning, traveling in Mexico can be a safe and highly enjoyable experience. The Nogales, Arizona Chamber of Commerce has put together an excellent, if slightly outdated, resource that summarizes many important details, from renting a car to how much to tip.
Important Considerations When Traveling
Is it safe to travel in Mexico? Increasing concerns about safety have affected tourism in Mexico over the past few years, and you may have concerns about traveling there. While there are definitely issues and things to be aware of as you travel, by taking a few precautions you can have a safe and secure birding trip. Below are a few suggestions for planning a safe and enjoyable adventure.
- Hire a local guide. In addition to supporting a local livelihood, you will be with someone who knows the region, including areas to avoid. If you do not speak Spanish, your local guide can also serve as an interpreter.
- Travel with a group. Individuals are easier targets for crime. Stay with others and do not venture off the beaten track unless you are with a local person who knows the area well.
- Travel by day. Especially if you are in your own vehicle, travel by daylight whenever possible. It is just safer from every perspective, from better avoiding random free-range cattle crossing the highway to dealing with flat tires and avoiding other unsavory situations.
- Use official taxis. Do not get into a random taxi, especially outside of the airport or bus station. Look for a taxi dispatcher or official “sitio”, usually in a booth, who will give you a price based on where you are going, accept your payment, and provide you with a boarding ticket.
Permits, Passports, and Permissions
Traveling in Mexico is straightforward, although you will need to obtain some special visas and permits, depending on your plans. Below are some tips and suggestions for streamlining the process. You can read more detail about tourist travel in Mexico.
- NOTE: Many of the tips we provide below are for U.S. and Canadian citizens, so be sure to check of any special requirements for your country. Requirements differ depending on your home country. We recommend you get in touch with the Mexican Consulate in your country to find out the specific requirements.
- Passport. You need a passport (or a U.S. Passport Card) to enter Mexico (and to re-enter the U.S.!)
- Tourist visa. You will need to get a tourist visa when entering Mexico as a tourist. If you arrive by plane, the flight attendants will give you the necessary paperwork before you land and all fees are included in the prices of your plane ticket. If traveling by car of bus, you will stop to complete this paperwork at the port of entry. When you go through customs, they will stamp the visa, which you should keep with your passport and then return when you leave the country. If entering by vehicle and staying for fewer than 7 days, there is no fee. If your stay is longer than 7 days, you will also need pay the “non-immigrant” fee, which is currently $210 pesos (about $18 USD as of May 2013). You should return your tourist vista to immigration agents when you leave the country. Failure to do so may result in a fine or penalty.
- Vehicles. Depending on where in Mexico you are going, bringing your vehicle into the country can either be very straightforward or somewhat complex. The folks at Solipaso have put together an excellent list of instructions for traveling to Alamos, Sonora, which includes details about dealing with the border crossing and bringing your car (and when you need a permit). If you do get a vehicle permit, it is critical that you return it at the port of entry when you leave the country for the last time. If you fail to do this, you will not be permitted to bring another vehicle back into the country and may be charged a penalty.
- Insurance. If you bring your own vehicle into Mexico, you will need to purchase supplemental Mexico insurance. Organizations like AAA and others provide this at a very reasonable rate (just Google “Mexico vehicle insurance” to find options). If you plan multiple trips to Mexico during the year, you might consider purchasing an annual policy rather than a shorter-term one, which should save you money. One company that is recommended by some of the Mexico Birding Trail Partners is Lewis and Lewis.
- For more information about all of these topics and more, please see the Mexican Secretary of Tourism’s Manual of Tourist Entry.
Eating and Drinking
One of the benefits of hiring a local guide is that they can recommend places to eat that are safe and sanitary. As a general rule of thumb, when traveling in Mexico:
- Drinking water. Some of the larger hotels, especially in the big cities, have their own filtration systems and drinking tap water is safe. In most situations, though, you will be safer sticking to bottled water/beverages. Consider bringing your own reusable bottle and filling up from larger jugs to cut down on the number of plastic bottles you use. There are also some excellent options for hand-held water bottles that include a filtration system.
- What can I eat? It is understandable to be cautious about what you eat, but do not let this stop you from enjoying some amazing Mexican food! If you hire a local guide recommended on this website, he or she will be very happy to suggest eating options that provide delicious meals and sanitary service. For some sites, like the Colorado River delta, your guides can arrange ahead of time for a home-cooked meal prepared by community residents. While in general you may want to avoid uncooked vegetables or fruit that you cannot peel, you can feel confident that any eating establishments recommended by your local guide or provided as part of a tour package has been thoroughly vetted and is safe to eat.
More Travel Tips
Maura Wall Hernandez of Tribune Newspapers put together a nice summary of other tips for Mexico travelers, which we have adapted below (read the original article):
- Travel documents. Leave a copy of your passport with a friend or family member at home while you are traveling, along with the contact information for the local U.S. consulate. If your documents are lost or stolen, you will need to contact the consulate.
- Cash, debit, and credit cards. Call your bank and credit card companies before your trip to let them know where you will be traveling and when you will be back; this will prevent blocked transactions. You can also ask them to set a daily spending or withdrawal limit as well as request that they contact you via telephone about any suspicious charges. ATM ‘kidnappings’ are not uncommon in some urban areas, so having a daily withdrawal limit could minimize your losses if this befalls you. As a general rule of thumb, ATMs are best avoided unless inside a bank. Have all of your card numbers and the customer service numbers written down in a secure place to deactivate lost or stolen cards. While you will be able to use credit or debit cards in many urban situations, traveling in rural Mexico can be very different, so you should always carry some cash on you for these instances. Almost without exception, Mexicans will accept US dollars (generally at a 10:1 peso to dollar exchange rate). You can exchange money before you travel (airport currency exchange kiosks generally do not give the best rate) or just withdraw money from a secure ATM once you get to Mexico; this will generally give you a good exchange rate, although there may be additional ATM fees, both from the Mexican bank, as well as your own financial institute.
- Attire. Nothing screams “tourist” more than a pair of shorts and flip-flops. Unless you’re vacationing at the beach or hanging out at a resort, wear pants and sensible shoes so you don’t stick out. Do not carry your camera or binoculars around your neck unless you are birding, of course. avoid wearing or traveling with expensive-looking jewelry or watches that can make you easily identifiable as a tourist — and a target.
- Tech gadgets and cell phones. The best place for your smartphone is in your pocket or in an interior secure pocket of a purse or other bag that is not a backpack. Walking around with your face buried in your phone or tablet is a good way to draw unwanted attention to yourself. Wireless data also can be quite expensive in Mexico, so contact your provider before your trip to understand the cost, whether you need an international data or calling plan, and other important details.
- Public transit. Depending on the city you’re visiting, there may be limited public transit options. Mexico City has efficient and inexpensive system, but you need to know where you are going. Smartphone apps can help (Metro Mexico DF and Via Mx Free are free; the more elaborate MiRoute is 99 cents, all available at the Apple store), but writing down directions on paper will minimize drawing attention to your gadgets.