Not only does Mexico feature some of the best white sand beaches with clear blue waters where you can see straight to the bottom, but a cornucopia of sights and experiences from the high mountains and deep canyons to Aztec and Mayan ruins and a spicy, delicious, and varied cuisine. It’s tourist and resort towns bring travelers from the world over, but fortunately for US vacationers, it’s in our back yard and exceedingly affordable. As one Mexican beer boasts, Mexico is miles from ordinary and a place to enjoy a thrilling adventure in Copper Canyon or relax and recharge over a pina colada or margarita.
Getting in, out, and about
Considering its proximity to the US, entry into Mexico can be complicated. A valid US passport is all that’s necessary for a trip across the border if you stay within 20 miles of the border and for no more than 72 hours. For longer stays or to venture outside of the border zone, you also need to purchase an entry permit called a Forma Migratoria Multiple (FMM). Minors traveling unaccompanied by a legal guardian need to have a notarized letter of parental consent from all legal guardians with them as well.
Once you have an FMM, you can stay in Mexico for up to six months. This makes an extended stay quite possible, but be advised that there are numerous parts of Mexico that are dangerous for travelers (See Below).
If you drive a vehicle into Mexico you need to get a temporary import permit. You can obtain one either at one of the Mexican consulates in the US or at a Banjercito branch at a Mexican Customs office. You will need to present proof of citizenship, the vehicle title and a registration certificate, and a valid driver’s license, as well as payment for the fee. This permit is then good for up to 180 days. Keep in mind that you won’t be able to get this permit in Mexico’s interior, so don’t venture past the 20 mile border zone if you don’t have it.
You can carry up to $10,000 cash into Mexico without having to declare it. However if you carry any goods with you, they are subject to Mexico’s numerous customs laws. This includes gifts, perishable food, and even such things as donations of used clothing (which is actually restricted). Consult the US State Department’s travel website for additional information: http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/english/country/mexico.html.
While there are no required vaccinations for entry into Mexico, the Center for Disease Control recommends vaccinations for Hepatitis A and Typhoid in addition to being up to date on your standard vaccinations. Depending on your travel plans and activities, you might also want to get vaccinated for malaria, rabies, and Hepatitis B. Well before you plan to leave, consult your local physician to determine which ones are right for you.
Staying safe in Mexico
For years now, the Mexican government has been at war with various drug cartels who are trying to protect their traditional drug distribution routes. Consequently, there has been a spike in violent crime, which makes some areas of Mexico dangerous to travel. The US State Department has issued travel advisories for many of the states of Mexico, mostly border areas and in Mexico’s interior. For more information, please see http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/english/alertswarnings/mexico-travel-warning.html.
While many places in Mexico are rife with violent crime, the Mexican army has made a point to make the tourist areas relatively safe. While you may not be in physical danger of being murdered, sexually assaulted, or kidnapped, even in the tourist areas you should be well aware of your surroundings and moderate your dress to not draw attention – avoid wearing expensive jewelry for example.
Even in tourist areas, police corruption can be an issue. Do not attempt to bribe a police officer if you are detained. This is explicitly against the law. If a police officer tries to elicit a bribe or detains you unlawfully, be sure and note their name, badge number, and patrol car number. If you have to report a problem to the Mexican police, also report the incident to the nearest US consulate or embassy. Also be aware that impersonation of police officers or customs officers is a common illegal activity. Be sure and ask to see an identification in any situation where a supposed official stops you.
When in a major city, if you need to take a taxi, it is much safer to call one in advance rather than hailing one on the street. Make sure you note the cab number and the name of your driver. Many unofficial taxis throng the streets, but instead of taking you directly to your destination, they can often make unforeseen stops where they force you to take out all of your money from an ATM, or do even worse. If you go directly through official taxi services and confirm that the taxi picking you up is the specific one you ordered, you will be safe.
Do not drink the tap water anywhere in Mexico. Although it is potable, it will make you sick – referred to as Montezuma’s Revenge after the Aztec ruler who was defeated by the first Spanish visitors to Mexico. You should also stay away from ice since it is usually made with tap water.
Money matters in Mexico
If you’re smart in avoiding tourist traps, a vacation in Mexico need not break the bank. While there are 5 star hotels that can run over $500 a night, the average price of more moderate three and four star hotels ranges from $75-$150 a night. The prices of meals can vary widely, with more expensive fare available throughout the more tourist oriented areas. If you are looking for a moderate to high end vacation, expect to spend around $200-$250 a day per person including meals, lodging, and sight-seeing.
If you are traveling on a budget, Mexico has many options to suit your needs as well. If you stay in hostels, eat two moderate meals a day, and use bus transportation, you can enjoy Mexico for around $60-$80 USD a day per person. Keep in mind that the interior of Mexico tends to be less expensive than the coastal areas, which cater more to tourists. However, consult the US State Department’s website to confirm you are traveling in a safe area.
The Mexican unit of currency is the peso. Those that have been issued prior to 1993 are currently next to worthless, so do not except them. The exchange rates at the airport tend to be much better than what you get at hotels. Furthermore, considering that credit card fraud and theft can be rampant even in tourist areas, it’s a good idea to make large conversions and secure what you don’t immediately need in a safe place along with your credit and debit cards, and copies of your travel documents.
The more appropriate question is “what isn’t there to do in Mexico?” Here are a few highlights:
These are just a few highlights of a vacation to Mexico. Once you get here, you will find even more fun things to see and do, making a vacation to Mexico one of the best decisions you could make.
The traveler’s tongue
Luxembourg has its own official language, Luxembourgish. However, French is the unofficial national language, and most of the street signs and other signs are in French. German is also spoken quite extensively, with most citizens being trilingual. However, don’t misconstrue Luxembourgish as a dialect of German, despite its similarities. Most of the locals would find that insulting to their culture. English is commonly spoken in some areas, but it is hit or miss. When in doubt, address people in French and ask if they speak English. Most will be glad to help you. If you really want to score points with people, try a few phrases of Luxembourgish, since so few people know the language outside of the country. Here’s your first word to try: Moien, (pronounced moy-en). It means hello, and if you say it with a smile, you’ll be surprised how many doors it will open for you.
Money matters in Luxembourg
Luxembourg is one of the wealthiest nations in the world. Consequently, finding cheap accommodations is a next to impossible task, with even the cheapest of rooms costing no less than €100 a night per person. While there may be some cheaper youth hostels with varying degrees of comfort, your best option is to stay across the border in nearby France or Germany and make a day trip out of Luxembourg.
If you are into camping, the year-long mild climate in Luxembourg does make this a viable option. The landscapes in Luxembourg are varied and lovely, which adds to the pleasure of camping out.
Since Luxembourg is such a small country, getting around by train or bus is actually fairly cheap. It takes no more than an hour to travel from the capital of Luxembourg City to anywhere else in the country. Day passes for the trains and buses come in for around €4.
Dining in Luxembourg is expensive, with even the most modest of meals coming in at just under €20. Tipping at restaurants is unnecessary since your check will include a Value Added Tax that helps support the server.
Since it is a financial capital of Europe, you will have no trouble finding banks or ATM's to change your money in Luxembourg City. In the surrounding areas, these are not as available.
Although the euro is the primary currency for many countries in the EU, and some outside, each country’s version of the euro has a unique identifying stamp on the back of it. If you happen to receive any Luxembourgish coins among your change, keep them because they are less common than other euro coins.
C.W. Garay is an alumnus from the University of North Texas, where he received both his BA in psychology and an MA in English, specializing in creative writing, fiction. When not traveling he resides in Denton, TX, rated as the number one small town in which to live in the US according to Business Insider’s 2013 survey. In addition to writing articles on traveling, he also writes fiction under a pseudonym. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.