Steer clear of the tap water at all costs in Mexico. Drinking from the tap can make you very sick indeed. Few restaurants, especially in big cities, would ever serve customers tap water. But if you’re enjoying a meal in a remote, rural location, it’s best to check that salads are not washed under the tap and any ice cubes are made from bottled water.
Although public drinking does happen in Mexico, especially in popular tourist destinations, it’s technically illegal. Do not drink on the street in big cities, because doing so will quickly attract the attention of the authorities.
Mexican food is laced with spicy flavors that can be intense for those not used to them. Even if you enjoy hot food, go easy in Mexico on your first few days and start adding spice when you know you can handle the heat. Stomach problems and diarrhea are common among visitors to Mexico, so avoid the hot sauce until your system has settled.
Don’t take it personally if people are late for appointments. You will probably hear a range of excuses regarding traffic or delayed buses, but you will soon realize that the main reason for the lateness is cultural. Relax and enjoy your trip, Mexican time is flexible and trying to impose foreign standards of punctuality is a highly unproductive strategy.
Mexico’s tipping culture is less pronounced than the United States, but it is common courtesy to include at least 10 percent of your bill for the waiter. This rule applies for restaurants, cafés, and even bars, where you will pay for drinks when you are billed at the end of the night.
Mexicans are rightly proud of their food, so avoid the social faux pas of casually dismissing it. You might not be a fan of greasy tortillas or melted cheese, but even UNESCO added Mexican cuisine to its cultural heritage list in 2010. Each of the country’s diverse regions uses unique ingredients and cooking techniques that define their dishes, so avoid generalizing about a source of national pride.
Markets are the cultural and economic center of life in many Mexican communities and are a great place to find amazing food, clothing, jewelry and handicrafts. If your Spanish is up to speed you should try your hand at haggling. Let the merchant offer the price, then counter with a lower number.
There’s nothing wrong with taking vacation snaps, but pack your camera away when it is not in use. Opt for simple jewelry as opposed to flashy diamond rings and keep your visa and passport locked away in your hotel. Pickpockets operate in major Mexican cities so be careful with your valuables on the metro.
For security reasons, it is best to avoid hailing a cab in major cities such as Mexico City and Guadalajara. Instead, have your hotel call a driver or use the official taxi sites (such as those in airports) where the cabs are fully licensed.
You may associate Mexico with sandy beaches and sandals, but wearing proper shoes is a must in most places. Potholes and hilly streets are scattered across Mexico City, while cobblestoned avenues and unpaved paths are common in small towns.
Don’t miss out on the area surrounding the major cities, which offers stunning little-known getaways into the heart of Mexican culture. Towns like Tepoztlán near Mexico City, or Tapalpa near Guadalajara allow visitors a taste of the real flavor of Mexico.