Traveling is more difficult and complicated these days but it is still possible, and Mexico is your best bet so, after spending a month in Mexico, I wanted to share my travel tips for Mexico in 2021 and beyond.
Mexico doesn’t really need much of an introduction – think sunshine, beautiful beaches, colourful colonial towns and fascinating ancient ruins then add tequila, tacos, mariachi bands and friendly people and it’s almost impossible not to have fun in Mexico. Sometimes it feels like the party never stops here.
Mexico has always been a popular tourist destination and, most importantly nowadays where the rules regarding travel change so much it gives you a migraine just trying to keep up, Mexico is literally the only country that has been consistently open to all nationalities without any testing, vaccine passport or quarantine throughout the coronavirus pandemic.
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So it’s not surprising that Mexico has become to the most popular travel destination of 2020 and 2021. Mexico is full of tourists, travellers, backpackers and people from all nationalities and all walks of life who are visiting Mexico for different reasons including taking a much needed vacation in these difficult times to those wanting to escape the lockdowns in their own country, or using Mexico as a way to avoid hotel quarantines and travel bans.
For example, due to the EU/UK – USA travel bans many people go to Mexico for 14 days and are then allowed to enter the USA or to avoid expensive hotel quarantines if they have been traveling in Brazil for example.
When I visited Covid was under control in Mexico but cases are rising again so even if you’ve been vaccinated you should be aware that the majority of Mexicans haven’t had that opportunity yet and Covid is still a risk so please try to bear the safety of the locals in mind when in Mexico!
Why I went to Mexico
I’m from the UK but I was in India and the Covid situation there was getting really crazy. I wanted to get back to the UK but they banned the flights and would put me in a hotel quarantine for 10 days at a cost of £1,750. When everywhere was closed to people traveling from India, Mexico was the only place that would let me in so thank you Mexico!
Even though it wasn’t required I still took a Covid test to be on the safe side. I only needed to stay in Mexico for 10 days to avoid the hotel quarantine and to be allowed back into the UK but I’d always wanted to visit Mexico so I travelled around for 1 month exploring Mexico City, the beaches and Oaxaca. Check out the Mexico route I took here.
It seems like the whole world is in Mexico right now and you’ll meet loads of people with crazy stories. I flew to Mexico with only 48 hours to prepare because I had nowhere else to go and had no idea what to expect so I wanted to share my experiences and travel tips for Mexico in 2021 to help others.
My Travel Tips for Mexico in 2021
With so much confusing regarding traveling right now I wish someone had given me some travel tips for Mexico in 2021. I had always wanted to visit Mexico but had no idea what it was really like, especially during a pandemic.
So some of these travel tips for Mexico are general travel tips and things I wish I’d known before traveling to Mexico in normal times and some of them are specific travel tips for Mexico in 2021.
Travel Tips for Mexico: How to Travel to Mexico in 2021
Mexico has been pretty much consistently open during the pandemic, unlike other countries who change their rules so often you can’t keep up!
Mexico also has some of the easiest entry requirements nowadays – no Covid test or quarantine is required from visitors/tourists of any nationalities (but I’d recommend at least doing one of the free home lateral tests to be responsible). Most nationalities get a generous 180 days visa free on entry! See more Mexico visa info here
Flying to Mexico
You should be able to find flights to Mexico from most countries, although the land borders are partially closed. I look on Skyscanner to check what flights are available but then double check on the airlines website directly to make sure they are running and also double check the entry requirements official government website or official tourism website for the country I’m traveling to. Things can change quickly these days. I wouldn’t advise booking anything more than a week in advance incase things change.
Traveling nowadays is more complicated than it used to be but it doesn’t need to be super stressful. If you’ve gotten used to wearing a mask and made sure you’ve got all the documents you need, then flying can actually be quite pleasant and less stressful than in normal times because airports and planes are quieter and less crowded so it takes less time to get through the airport.
The best part is, that on all of the long haul flights I’ve taken recently, I’ve had a whole row of 3 or 4 seats all to myself so I can stretch out and sleep.
If you find yourself getting stressed out, remember that this is ‘the new normal’ for the airport and airline staff – they’ve been doing this for more than a year now and it’s their job to help you to get there. You just need to have the documents required, or you could get denied boarding, but Mexico has some of the easiest entry requirements. If you’re getting a direct flight to Mexico you shouldn’t even need any extra documents.
Is flying dangerous in Covid times?
In my expereince, I really don’t think so. I’ve taken many flights during the pandemic and I haven’t gotten sick. Scientists have said that flying isn’t as risky as you might think as the airplane is constantly circulating the air. In fact, flying is no more risky than going to the supermarket. Check out this Harvard study on the risk of flying during covid.
If you find a flight that requires you to connect or transit in another country it’s also important to check that you will be allowed to connect/transit there. The requirements are which will depend on your nationality and which country you are traveling from. Even though Mexico doesn’t require a negative covid test, you might need to show one to transit in some countries.
If your flight is all on one ticket with the same airline you would be just transiting ‘airside’ which should be OK. But if you have 2 separate tickets you would be transiting ‘landside’ – therefore you might need to collect your baggage, clear immigration and then check in for your next flight which may not be possible due to entry restrictions in some countries. The best thing to do would be to call the airline and check you are allowed to travel on that route.
Arriving in Mexico
Mexico has probably the easiest immigration I’ve experienced in a long time and the least requirements regarding covid. Most nationalities also get a massive 180 days visa free on entry! See more Mexico visa info here
You simply need to fill out a small slip called a FMM (Forma Migratoria Múltiple) also known as Tourist Card, with basic details like name and address. For most nationalities, the FMM gives you single entry and a 180 day stay. You give this to immigration and get your passport stamped into Mexico. When the immigration officer hands you back your stamped passport, the exit part of the FMM will be in there. Make sure you hold on to this because you’ll be asked for it when you leave the country (if you lose it you might have to pay a fine) This Mexico travel tip is not covid related and not just for 2021.
For 2021 you also need to fill out this online health questionnaire https://www.vuelaseguro.com/ to enter Mexico. The airline checked this but Mexican immigration didn’t check this. If you are taking domestic flights within Mexico you’ll need to complete another health questionnaire and this was checked in the airport before flying.
You may require an onward ticket to enter Mexico but not always – when I was checking in for my flight to Mexico the airline (Air France) did ask to see my onward ticket and I don’t think they would have allowed me to board without one. Mexican immigration asked how long I was staying but didn’t actually ask to see proof of a return or onward flight.
Did you know it’s the airlines responsibility to ensure you meet the entry requirements for the country they are flying you too and they can be fined if you get refused entry so most of the document checking is done before you board your flight.
When I flew from India to Mexico Air France did a lot of checks to allow me to board both in Mumbai and at my connection in Paris. But when I arrived in Mexico, immigration just asked how long I was staying and the purpose of my visit to Mexico. I simply said tourism and told them the date I planned to leave. They didn’t ask for any proof of my onward flight. It was the easiest immigration I’d encountered since the start of the pandemic.
The airline told us to fill out the health questionnaire and checked my onward ticket, proof of accommodation (I’d just booked an Air BnB for the first 3 days), reason for traveling and covid test but Mexican immigration were much more laid back.
When you enter you will fill out a visitor permit (FMM) try not to lose this slip because you’ll need it for when you leave. If you do lose it, you might have a pay a small fine.
While you don’t need a negative covid test to enter Mexico, the places I was transiting through to get there did require it and I wanted to be responsible and make sure I wasn’t sick anyway before traveling. In small print on the airlines website it said that for transit passengers the requirements of the destination country apply. So I probably could have argued my way through without a test stating that Mexico doesn’t require it, but wanted to be responsible and to have stress free travels so I had one anyway but it was not scrutinised.
Travel Tips for Mexico in 2021 – Covid Restrictions in Mexico
Mexico’s Covid Traffic Light System
While Mexico is open to all nationalities without any testing or quarantine it doesn’t mean they aren’t taking covid seriously. Mexico had pretty low cases of Coronavirus when I was there but are still taking many precautions.
The country has a covid traffic light system but in June 2021 no areas are red and most things are open, apart from some museums and tourist attractions.
Getting around Mexico is easy (as long as you don’t mind wearing a mask) and everything is open with covid procedures in place. Mexico City airport is surprisingly busy with affordable domestic flights all over this vast and diverse country.
There is also a good network of comfortable buses, Uber’s, taxis, and collectivos all operating a full schedule. Hotels, hostels, Air BnB’s, campsites, beaches, ruins, restaurants, bars, cafes and shops are generally all fully open and welcoming tourists for all nationalities while also taking precautions.
The outside attractions like Mexico’s impressive ancient ruins and stunning beaches are mostly all open. Just some tourist attractions, especially indoors ones like museums and galleries are closed.
Some attractions are partially open, like the mighty and mysterious pyramids at Teotihuacan – they are open but you need to wear a mask to enter and cannot climb up the pyramids, and Frida Khalo’s house and museum is open but with limited capacity and only if you book your ticket and timeslot online in advance and adhere to a long list of covid precautions and a one way system.
Some things say they are open on Google Maps but when I got there they weren’t, so it’s a good idea to call and double check that the places you want to see will be open, but also know that things can change at short notice these days.
So, while you might be disappointed that a few places you might have wanted to visit are closed, most things are open. Mexico is a noisy, crowded, colourful, vibrant country which is still full of life, fun, colour and music as usual. I’m sure you’ll find plenty to keep you entertained and having a good time in Mexico – as long as you don’t mind wearing a mask while doing most of it!
In the big cities literally everyone is wearing a N95 mask all the time, even when walking alone outside on the streets or in the park, the locals may look at you a bit suspicious if you are not wearing a mask outside but no-ones beating you up or fining you if you choose not to, but you won’t be allowed into a shop or restaurant without a mask.
What’s Mexico like in 2021 during the pandemic
If you’re coming from a country where masks are only worn indoors then it can be a bit of a shock to see literally everyone wearing N95 masks outside on the streets and even in the parks even when not anywhere near to anyone else.
Entering shops and restaurants requires you to wear a mask, have your temperature checked, walk through a sanitizing mat, receive big dollops on hand sanitizing gel and sometimes the staff will also spray you down front and back with a santizier spray. I found this got pretty draining but Mexico seemed to be controlling the virus quite well.
This was mainly happening only in the big cities, in some areas, like the beach resorts and smaller towns, beaches things are much more relaxed and you’ll hardly see a mask or sanitiser in sight apart from the restaurant staff and you can almost forget about covid and relax and enjoy your holiday. Some shops in coastal areas would let you in without wearing a mask and the beach bars and parties were all carrying on like normal.
Travel Insurance that covers Covid
It goes without saying that you shouldn’t travel anywhere without travel insurance that covers Covid in these times. Many insurance companies do now cover coronavirus related claims but check the small print carefully to see exactly what is covered and what isn’t. I would recommend getting cover for cancellations related to covid, illness while your away and the cost of quarantine or changing flights if the rules change or if you happen to test positive while returning to your home country.
Also be aware that some travel insurance companies may not cover you if you are traveling against your government’s advice. My insurance is with Safety Wing. They are perfect for digital nomads, include coverage for Covid like any other illness and cover quarantine costs and, unlike many policies, Safety Wing still cover me even if I travel against the advice of my government.
Returning home and getting a Covid test
It’s also important to check what the requirements are for testing or quarantine to return back into your country and be aware that they may change at short notice.
Most countries including the US and UK require a negative covid test taken within 72 hours of traveling to enter but there are also different requirements for each state in the US and each country within the UK.
Here’s the page for the current advice on returning to the UK – www.gov.uk/uk-border-control and for the US check here – and here’s a good article about the quarantine requirements for different state in the US.
Getting a covid test done to return to your home country or for onward travel can be done easily, cheaply and quickly all over Mexico, especially in tourist areas. You can get one from pharmacies and airports. In Mexico City airport it costs 500 Pesos and takes 1 hour for the results. Most major airports around the world now offer this service so getting a covid test while traveling shouldn’t be a problem.
Just make sure your travel insurance covers you just in case the test happens to come back positive and you need to change your flight, extend your stay or need medical treatment. It’s a good idea to take some of the free, self lateral flow tests with you so you can do a test to check yourself before you pay for the official test to travel home.
General Travel Tips for Mexico
Traveling Mexico in 2021 is a little different from normal times but hopefully the above tips will let you know what to expect. There are loads of other articles about general travel tips for Mexico so I’m not going to repeat them all and instead will link to other articles I found useful at the end. Here’s a few general Mexico travel tips I really feel are worth mentioning:
Learn some Spanish
This is kind of common knowledge but my top travel tip for Mexico is not to underestimate how important it is to learn some basic Spanish! You can survive without as most Mexicans are friendly and helpful and I did manage to travel around for 1 month with literally zero Spanish, but if I had time to prepare my experience would have been so much better if I at least had some basic Spanish speaking and listening skills.
Even in the touristy Centro Historico of Mexico City literally no one spoke any English even the Air BnB hosts, restaurant and shop staff. In Oaxaca too, a popular tourist destination, the hostel staff didn’t speak any English. Thank God for Google translate! I guess I just got spoiled as I’ve always found it easy to find someone who spoke English literally everywhere I’ve travelled in India, South East Asia and Europe so I was surprised to find that even people working in hospitality in touristy destinations didn’t speak English in Mexico.
Luckily there are lots of fun and affordable Spanish schools where you can learn Spanish while traveling in Mexico. Here’s some of the best. There are even surf and yoga retreats that also offer Spanish lessons like Oasis Surf School in Puerto Escondido and I also liked Instituto Iguana in the relaxed beach town and yoga hotspot Mazunte in Oaxaca so if you don’t know any Spanish factor in some time in your Mexico itinerary to learn.
Use Mexican Pesos not Dollars
The currency for Mexico is the Mexican Peso but it can be confusing at first as often this is written with a $ sign. Don’t get confused between dollars and pesos. In some places it may be possible to pay in US dollars but you’ll always get a better rate and better value for money paying in Pesos. Cash in king is Mexico so make sure you’ve always got enough Pesos. Be aware that most ATM’s will charge you for using a foreign card so it’s more cost effective to withdraw money in bulk and, as usual, if you change money avoid doing this at the airport where you’ll find the worst rate.
The ladies bathrooms are marked with ‘M’ and ‘H’ is for men.
A little confusing but the Spanish word for women is ‘mujeres’ so the ladies toilets are marked with ‘M’. Men’s toilets are marked with ‘H’ for ‘hombres’ or sometimes ‘C’ for ‘caballeros.’ Also, the toilet paper needs to go in the bin, it can’t be flushed down the toilet. Most toilets do have toilet paper but it’s a good idea to take a little out with you to avoid getting caught out. Mexican toilets also don’t have the hose/ bum gun like they do in Asia.
Safety tips for solo female travellers in Mexico
Mexico doesn’t have the best reputation for safety but I felt pretty safe as a solo female traveller backpacking Mexico alone in 2021. As a solo woman I felt very safe with the men in Mexico. Regardless of what, or how little, I wore I never got any hassle or creepy vibes from men – even on the nudist beach! It was so refreshing after so long in India. Even the people trying to sell you things on the beaches or around tourist sites were low hassle and left you alone after a polite ‘no, gracias.’ Here’s another good article about solo female safety in Mexico and the best places to visit for solo female travellers.
The most important tip for safety in Mexico City is to do some research into which neighbourhoods are safe and which to avoid. Much like any big city in the world – there are good areas and rougher areas of every city, as long as you are not involved with drugs and gangs, flash expensive stuff, look vulnerable or drunk and use your common sense and stick to the good areas you should be fine. And, as always, plan to arrive somewhere during daylight hours.
I’d heard horror stories about safety in Mexico City and I did worry a little in the first place I stayed (East of the Centro Historico) at night. Everything was eerily shuttered up and the streets were deserted apart from the massive police presence so I didn’t go out alone after dark. During the day time the streets bustled with people shopping and I didn’t have any problems. After I’d had my fill of the wonderful historical sights and colonial architecture I moved to Polanco where I felt very safe, even alone at night.
I would recommend staying in the affluent and safer areas of Roma, La Condesa, Coyoacan and Polanco with their wider, leafy streets, chic cafes, nightlife and lovely parks with doggy day care facilities and popping into the Centro Historico to see the sights there in the daytime.
Weather and Altitude
The best time to visit Mexico is during the dry, winter months from December – April but it is possible to visit at any time of the year. Mexico is a generally warm and sunny country but it’s still wise to pack some warm clothes as the weather changes in different regions of this vast and diverse country. Also be prepared for colder temperatures at higher elevations including Mexico City.
Another thing to be aware of is that Mexico City sits at an altitude of 2,240 meters (7,350 feet) which is high enough to experience altitude sickness. This means you might need to take it easy, avoid alcohol and stay extra hydrated for a few days to acclimatize to the altitude. This also means it can get quite cold in Mexico City – even in May the days were pleasant but I felt quite cold at night so bring some warm clothes and a jacket. Meanwhile the lowlands and coastal areas were almost unbearably hot in May’s midday heat.
Mexico’s rainy season runs from June – October/November but this shouldn’t make you cancel your trip as it doesn’t generally rain all day. In June it was normally warm and sunny during the day leading up to a dramatic thunderstorm or rain at about 6 or 7pm or in the night time so the rain needn’t ruin your daytime sightseeing plans but definitely bring a waterproof jacket. If you’re making a beeline for the beaches of the Yucatán Peninsula be aware that September and October brings a risk of heavy rains and hurricanes. See here for more about Mexico’s weather and when to visit.
Focus on exploring one region
Mexico is a huge and diverse country and while it’s certainly worth exploring it all it’s just not possible to see all of Mexico in a few weeks trip – you’ll just spend all your time traveling and not being able to enjoy it fully. My tip is to stick to exploring one region and do another next time. The Yucatan Peninsula and Rivieria Maya are understandably popular with their tropical beaches and jungles, cenotes, ancient Mayan ruins and colourful colonial towns. Even if you’re mainly in Mexico for a beach holiday make sure you get off the beaches and explore some Pueblos Magicos (Magical Towns).
But for something a little less touristy I opted to explore buzzing Mexico City, relaxed on the laid back beaches of the Oaxaca coast and explored the colourful, historic city of Oaxaca and it’s fascinating surroundings before heading back to Mexico City. This gave me a wonderful taste of the best this diverse, colourful country has to offer. See my Mexico City, Beaches and Oaxaca Route here.
The AU bus is cheaper than the ADO bus
The best way to get around Mexico on a budget is on the comfortable, executive bus network. Mexico’s most popular bus company is called ADO – they offer comfortable, air-conditioned buses with a toilet, Wifi and entertainment. If you’re on a budget also check out AU (Autobuses Unidos) which are alot cheaper. AU buses are still very comfortable and air conditioned and you can rest easy without the blaring movies. AU don’t have bathrooms or wifi but they stop frequently at clean roadside services and you probably already bought a local sim at the airport anyway.
The ADO site is a little hard to use but I used the same BusBud App that I use in the UK to book both ADO and AU buses in Mexico easily and for the same price.
Uber is your best friend
To get around Mexico City I used Uber – it’s safer than hailing a random cab off the street plus, if like me you have limited Spanish skills, you don’t have to worry about getting lost in translation or having the right change to pay. For places where Uber is not available use the licensed taxi or agree on the price before you set off to avoid any nasty surprises or awkward moments.
How to avoid bottled water
You can’t drink the tap water in Mexico but there are alternatives instead of always ordering costly bottled water which is bad for the environment as well as your wallet. To avoid this you could either carry a Lifestraw filtered water bottle. Simply fill up the water bottle and the filter will remove any bacteria or parasites. Or you can ask for a glass of free filter water in a restaurant by saying “¿Un vaso de agua del garrafón?”
Pack Ear Plugs
Mexico is known for it’s lively music and fun festivities. Sometimes it seems like every day is a party in Mexico which makes the country a joy to travel in but sometimes hard to sleep. I always travel with ear plugs or noise cancelling headphones which came in handy many times in Mexico and meant I didn’t miss out on sleep.
More Mexico Tips:
I could go on but that’s enough of my travel tips for Mexico in 2021. There’s other articles written about general Mexico travel tips so I don’t want to repeat what’s already been written so I recommend you to check these out for more tips: