Citizens of Canada, the US, the UK, Ireland, EU states, Australia, and New Zealand do not require visas for stays of up to six months in Mexico.
All visitors must fill in a tourist card, which will be stamped with the length of your permitted stay, from 30 days to six months. Make sure you keep it with your passport, as it is collected at check-in when you leave. If you want to stay more than 30 days, ask the immigration officer or apply for an extension at the Immigration Office at Cancún Airport. Entry requirements do sometimes change, so check the latest situation before traveling to Mexico.
The U.K., U.S., Canada, and other countries have consular representation in the region. There are US consulates in Cancún, Mérida, and Playa del Carmen. Canada has consulates in Playa del Carmen and Cancún. The UK consulate is in Cancún.
All tourists must fill in a customs form on arrival. There are restrictions on the import of plants, perishable foods, and especially firearms, which will be confiscated without compensation.
Visitors can get up-to-date travel safety information from the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the US Department of State, and the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
Take out a comprehensive travel insurance policy covering cancellations, loss of baggage, theft, and all medical eventualities, including repatriation. If you plan to go scuba diving during your holiday you may need additional cover, so check your policy carefully before you leave home.
There are no obligatory inoculations for travelers to Mexico, but it is advisable to be immunized against typhoid, tetanus, polio, and hepatitis A. If you are heading into forest or jungle areas elsewhere in Mexico or Central America, consult your doctor about malaria pills. Take a basic first-aid kit with you, including bite cream, antiseptic wipes, and remedies to deal with upset stomachs.
If you need medical care, and have full travel health insurance, visit a private clinic, such as AmeriMed in Cancún or the Centro Médico de las Américas in Mérida, both of which employ English-speaking staff.
In small towns and rural areas, basic public health centers (centros de salud) have emergency facilities. All Mexican villages and towns will have pharmacies, often open 24 hours a day, and these stock a huge range of medications.
The quality of tap water has improved greatly, particularly in Cancún. To be on the safe side, however, it’s best to drink only bottled or purified water (agua purificada). Most restaurants and bars use it to make ice, although it never hurts to check beforehand.
Mangroves are breeding grounds for mosquitoes, which are most active in the early evening, when they spread into neighboring areas – especially around Sian Ka’an, on Isla Holbox, and around watery areas and cenotes behind the coast near Tankah, Puerto Morelos, and some other points on the Riviera. The best way to avoid bites is to stay away from those areas at dusk. Although mosquitos in the Yucatán are not malarial, covering up and using bug repellent is essential. The most effective products will contain DEET. You will have a better choice of repellents if you buy before you come to Mexico.
The Yucatán is generally fairly tranquil, but be wary of pickpocketing and petty crime. There is a certain amount of street hassle in Cancún, Mérida, and Playa del Carmen, while cheaper cabañas are sometimes subject to break-ins. Lone women should be careful in Playa del Carmen and in parts of Cancún and Tulum. It is wise to avoid empty streets at night, lonely beaches around Playa, and obscure areas of Mayan sites.
In tourist areas there are often kiosks with eager staff buttonholing tourists and asking if they want “information.” They are actually selling tours or timeshares, so stick to the official tourist offices.
September to November is when hurricanes are most likely to hit. Mexico has in place extensive anti-hurricane precautions, and many buildings in Cancún and the Riviera have green signs that identify them as an official Refugio Anticiclón, to be used as public hurricane shelter when necessary. Most waters around the Yucatán are placid, but take special care on the eastern beaches of Isla Mujeres and Cozumel and on the surf beaches of Cancún Island, where the seas are rougher and there can be a fairly strong undertow. Check the warning flags before swimming (blue is safe; yellow means use caution; red means don’t swim).
Along the Riviera are several high-standard emergency facilities for divers, all linked to qualified dive-masters.
There are central phone numbers for emergency services in Cancún and Mérida, but in general it is better to call the local police directly, or the Red Cross in case of medical emergencies. In Cancún, private English-speaking clinics also have emergency ambulances. If you are staying in a hotel, your concierge will be able to make a call for you, either for a doctor to visit you at the hotel or for a taxi or an ambulance to take you to a hospital
In most towns, the police station is normally located near the main square or next to the town hall. Cancún and Mérida (and a few other towns) also have dedicated Tourist Police (Policía Turística) units that have some English-speaking officers on their staff.
Larger hotels and resorts in Cancún and Cozumel have good wheelchair facilities, but check before booking. Hotels in colonial buildings can be difficult to access, but sometimes have suitable first-floor rooms. Adapted baths are being installed in official buildings, especially in Cancún and the main resorts, but they are rare elsewhere. Cancún sidewalks have wheelchair ramps at street junctions. Elsewhere you’ll find dips in the sidewalk kerb.
Public transportation provision for the disabled is poor, although there are wheelchair ramps and disabled toilets at Cancún Airport. Buses are rarely wheelchair-accessible, but drivers are generally helpful.
The slow ferries to Isla Mujeres are easier to board than the enclosed boats, and the crews are very helpful. For Cozumel, enclosed boats are the only choice from Playa del Carmen, but staff can help.
Of the other attractions, eco-parks are generally the easiest to visit. Most Mayan sites have steps and narrow, stony paths, but larger sites, such as Chichén Itzá and Uxmal, have relatively smooth walkways. Yucatek Divers in Playa del Carmen has a program for disabled divers. SATH and Mobility International USA are useful resources.
Mexico’s currency is the peso. The usual symbol for the peso is the same as the dollar sign; prices quoted in US dollars usually have the prefix US$ or suffix USD.
Many businesses on the Riviera also accept USD, and many tourists use only USD during their trip. Note, though, that USD prices usually work out higher than pesos.
Most banks have at least one ATM, although they can be hard to find in rural areas. All tourist areas have numerous small foreign-exchange offices (cambios).
MasterCard and VISA are widely accepted for larger purchases in hotels of mid-range level and above, in stores, and at diving schools; American Express is less popular. Credit cards are essential for car rentals, but some restaurants and most smaller shops don’t accept them.
Hotel and restaurant listings in this book are given in US dollars.
To make a call anywhere in Mexico outside of your local area, first dial 01, then the three-digit area code, 998 for Cancún, 997 for Playa del Carmen, or 999 for Mérida (given with all numbers in this guide) followed by the number. Within the same area code, you need only dial the seven-digit number. For all calls to cell phones first dial 044. To call outside Mexico, dial 00 followed by the country code. To call Mexico from abroad, the code is 52.
White, long-distance (lada) payphones are common across the region. Most accept tarjetas de teléfonos, phone cards that are widely available. In every village, there is always a caseta, or phone office. Internet cafés are also common, and most hotels and many restaurants and bars have Wi-Fi.
Stamps (estampillas) can also be bought at any shop with an Expendio de Estampillas sign. The Mexican mail service is very erratic – for anything of importance, it is best to use the Mexpost courier service, available at main post offices.
Most hotels have cable or satellite TV with several English-language news, sports, and entertainment channels, the majority of them American. With a shortwave radio you can pick up Voice of America.
The Mexico News Daily has a useful website. The Spanish-language Diario de Yucatán daily newspaper has information on local fiestas and events. Free English-language magazines, including Cancún Tips, Cozumel’s Free Blue Guide, Yucatán Today in Mérida, and Playa del Carmen’s The Playa Times, can be found in tourist offices, hotels, and cafés. They also have maps of their areas.
Most shops open around 8:30am and close at 9pm from Monday to Saturday, with the more traditional ones closing for lunch 1–3pm. Markets usually open very early, before 8am, and close by 2–3pm. Banks are generally open 8:30am–4pm Monday to Friday, and 9am–1pm on Saturday, but some may not exchange money in the afternoons or on Saturdays. Post offices tend to open 9am–6pm, Monday to Friday, and 9am–1pm, Saturday. Small village branches may open only on weekday mornings.
In 2015, Quintana Roo state, which includes Cancún and the Riviera, changed time zones: it is now 5 hours behind GMT year-round. Yucatán and Campeche, which make up the rest of the Yucatán Peninsula, are 5 hours behind GMT in summer and six hours behind GMT in the winter.
Electricity in Mexico operates on a 110-volt system, as in the US and Canada, and with the same American-type of flatpin plugs. For equipment using 220–240 volts, you will need transformers and plug adaptors.
The Yucatán has tropical weather, with a hot dry season from November to June, and a wet season from June to November. September to November is hurricane season. The peak seasons for vacation travel (and thus higher prices) are from mid-December to March, and July–August. The lowest prices are therefore to be found in May–June, and October–November.
Depending on term dates, in March and April the livelier resorts tend to be popular with young North American college students on spring break.
There are well-staffed tourist offices in Cancún, Mérida, Campeche, Playa del Carmen, Valladolid, and Isla Mujeres. Useful online resources include Mexonline.com, Riviera Maya, Cancun.com, and Isla Cozumel. Mexico Tourism also has offices in the U.K., U.S., and Canada.
Local travel agencies can be good for unusual tours, diving, forest trips, and so on. Among the best is Mayan Heritage in Mérida. Many companies offer guided tours to the main Mayan sites, but few allow more than an hour and a half on-site, and they often arrive all together at the hot-test part of the day.
For simple city tours, Mérida’s Paseo Turístico bus leaves from Parque Santa Lucía several times daily. In Campeche, the Tranvía de la Ciudad runs bus tours from the Parque Principal, and another bus, El Guapo, also has trips to the fortress-museums of San José and San Miguel.
Chichén Itzá, Uxmal, and Cobá have official guides, who can show you round for an hourly fee. Able linguists, they are often highly informative, though guides at smaller sites are less likely to be genuinely knowledgeable.
Agencies in the Sian Ka’an Biopshere Reserve offer some excellent day tours, and a number of companies, such as Alltournative, Ecoturismo Yucatán, and Ecocolors, specialize in nature and bird-watching trips. Fishermen in the Campeche Petenes will be able to take you to places you’d never discover without local knowledge, while boatmen in Río Lagartos and Celestún run trips to see the flamingos.
Most ecotours are run by small-scale operators, who can be hard to find. Essential resources include the websites of the Yucatan Wildlife and Pronatura organizations.
Dive shops abound on the Riviera, many of which also offer snorkeling trips. including Aquatech, Phocéa Caribe, Yucatek Divers, Aqua World, and Squalo Adventures. Several dive companies, such as the Cenote Dive Center, offer cenote tours, with diving or snorkeling, especially around Tulum.
Specialist fishing-trip agencies and fishing lodges get booked up far in advance. For casual fishing, the best places include Isla Mujeres, Cozumel, Isla Holbox, and Puerto Morelos.
For flights in a light aircraft, there’s Aerosaab in Playa del Carmen and Isla Mujeres, or you could try a helicopter flight with Cancún Helicopter.
The Riviera is a huge souvenir repository: you’ll find whole malls dedicated to souvenir items in Cancún and Playa del Carmen. Mérida and Campeche have official handicrafts stores (casas de artesanías), which sell traditional crafts, though prices are a little higher than the norm.
Jewelry stores aimed at cruise passengers are a specialty of Cozumel and, to a lesser extent, Isla Mujeres and Cancún. As well as the bling, they sell items made with local jade, amber, and black obsidian. Playa del Carmen and Cancún have a number of stores showcasing quality silver work.
Fine embroidery of bright flower patterns on a plain white background is one of the foremost traditional products of the Yucatán, most often seen in the simple huípil blouses of Mayan women but also on items such as handkerchiefs and tablecloths. Valladolid and Mérida are the best places to find good embroidery.
Hammocks vary a lot in quality. The toughest ones are 100 per cent cotton. The specialist hammock shops in the market area in Mérida are the best places to look for one.
Panamas make great sunhats, and the best will regain their shape even after being rolled up for packing: head to Mérida market and the small specialist shops nearby.
For tequila, take advantage of the excellent duty-free selection at Cancún Airport. Cheaper and more local Yucatán specialties include fine rums and xtabentún, a sweet, herby, traditional Mayan honey drink.
Haggling is accepted in markets, especially for larger items, but it should not be intensive or drawn-out. Many shops offer discounts if you buy more than one of any item.
A restaurante will usually be more comfortable than a plastic-chaired lonchería (where you eat“lonch”) or a cocina económica (“budget kitchen”), which offers diners good, simple local cooking.
Most waiters will not bring you the check/bill (la cuenta or la nota) until you ask for it. It’s normal to tip – the usual rate is about 10 per cent; on the Riviera, waiters often expect 15 per cent. Some restaurants add a service charge – generally 10 per cent – to the bill.
On most restaurant tables you’ll find two little bowls of sauce. The red one is relatively gentle; the green one, made with habanero chilis, blows the head off the uninitiated. Apart from this, Yucatecan dishes are more fragrant than spicy.
Mexicans snack on a frequent basis. Some dishes are small, others big platters of mixed fish, seafood, and salads. They enjoy comida, which is traditionally the largest meal of the day and is usually eaten in the afternoon. Vendors in every town and village offer tacos, tortas and other antojitos, ice cream and fruit.
The area has a great range of fresh fruits, such as mangoes, watermelon, and native mamey fruit. Juice shops serve it three ways: as straight juice; a licuado, blended with some water or milk; or an agua, with water and ice.
Tequila comes from Jalisco, but is found across the Yucatán, and some bars specialize in tastings of the many labels. Blanco is the youngest tequila; reposado is aged for up to 11 months; darker añejo is aged for up to five years. Being largely exported, tequila has become fairly expensive in Mexico itself.
As well as international beer brands, the Yucatán has its own Montejo brewery, with a fine light beer (Montejo Especial) and a great ale, León Negra. Most restaurants have only a small choice of Mexican wines; upscale restaurants usually serve imported US, European, and Chilean wines, at very high prices.
The cantina is the most traditional Mexican bar. There used to be laws barring women, and decreeing that nobody should be able to see in. You can still find old-style cantinas with secretive, screened doorways, but modern ones are actually quite comfortable.
The region is home to a wide range of accommodations to suit all budgets, from luxury resorts and hip boutique hotels to family-run guesthouses and economical hostels. Bookings.com, Hotels.com, and BestDay.com are useful for bookings.
Cabañas (cabins), often with kitchens, are a good value, self-catering option for families and groups. Haciendas (colonial-era ranches) are atmospheric, but expensive. Another option is to stay in a private home or villa, booked through sites such as Homestay.com, VRBO, and AirBnB.
Centro Empresarial Oficina E7, Blvd Kukulcan, km 12, Hotel Zone, 77599 Cancún
(998) 883 3360
Plaza Paraiso, 10 Av Sur 10, Playacar, 77717 Playa del Carmen
(984) 803 2411
Cancún Airport Open 24 hrs Mon–Fri
(998) 848 7200
Torre Europea, Office 202, Blvd Kukulcan, km 13.5, Hotel Zone, 77500 Cancún
(998) 881 0100
Torre La Europea, Office 301, Blvd Kukulcan, km 13, Hotel Zone, 77500 Cancún
(998) 883 0272
Calle 60, No. 338, at Calle 29 and 31, Col. Alcala Martin, 97050 Merida
(999) 942 5700
Plaza Progreso, Local 33, Carretera Federal Puerto Juárez-Chetumal, 77710, Playa del Carmen
(984) 873 0303
Av Plaza las Américas Bonampak, Cancún
(998) 881 3400
Calle 54, No. 365, nr Paseo Montejo, Mérida
(999) 926 2111
065 or (998) 884 1616
(999) 924 9813
066 or (999) 983 1184
Av 15 North, between C/2 and 4, Playa del Carmen
(984) 803 2836
Casa Seis, Parque Principal
Cancún Town Hall, Av Tulum
Av Rueda Medina 130
Calle 62, Centro Palacio Municipal
(416) 925 2753
(44) 171 488 9392
(212) 308 2110
Av Juárez, corner of Av 15
Southeastern corner of town square
(998) 865 42 25
Playa del Carmen
(984) 803 9999
(984) 875 9020
(998) 197 4324
(984) 876 3285
(998) 884 9580
(999) 920 2772
(999) 924 9267
Playa del Carmen
(984) 873 1210
(555) 635 5054
(998) 274 1644
(998) 274 1644