Are you considering a trip to Mexico? Will this be your first time traveling alone or have you been traveling solo for many years? Either way, it’s always good to do some research before setting off to a new country.
Mexico is not only Cancun, tacos, and margaritas on the beach. It is an immensely diverse country with palm-lined beaches, pine-covered mountains, magical towns (yes, they are called “Pueblos Magicos”), and also ultra-modern cities. Some areas thrive on tourism, yes, but there is also so much more to discover in Mexico.
There are many different ways to travel to Mexico and enjoy your time there. You can book an all-inclusive resort and not worry about anything. You can book some Airbnbs, hostels, hotels, and tours. You can also choose homestays paired with Spanish classes (that’s what I did.)
What was initially a three-month Spanish language and homestay trip for me turned into six years of living in Mexico. I quickly made friends, I was offered a job teaching in a language school, and I found a cute apartment to rent. After my three months of Spanish classes, I decided to make it my new home.
I eventually obtained permanent residency and I can safely say that I love my adoptive country. I have traveled quite extensively in Mexico in the last six years exploring and discovering different states. Sometimes accompanied and sometimes on my own.
Here are my tips and tricks for traveling in Mexico as an “older” woman.
The short answer to this is yes.
But, of course, some precautions and some street smarts are required to stay safe. Traveling solo as a woman in ANY country requires more preparedness than is necessary for our male counterparts. I obviously don’t like this imposition, but I also know that it is necessary. Because, well, society still provides unsafe environments for us women all over the world.
One example where Mexico is trying to keep women safe is in the Mexico City Metro System. They have a designated wagon at the front of the trains for women and children under 12 only.
What I mean by street smarts is basic things like staying away from dark streets at night, especially if you are alone. Carrying a purse or bag that has a proper closure and not resting it on the back of your chair, for example. Simply said, keep your eye on it. Busy places like markets and concerts are areas where you need to be extra vigilant.
Street smarts also means not wearing expensive jewelry or carrying a lot of electronics when traveling – stow them in safety boxes when possible. It means keeping an eye on what’s going on around you at all times and keeping your wits about you.
Also, a big one for me when traveling alone is trusting my instincts and my gut feelings. I keep a safe distance from strangers trying to sell me things without being unfriendly or becoming paranoid.
No one would go to Mexico if we listened to the national travel advisories and the bad rap it gets in the media. The shootings you hear about in the news are mostly related to drug and cartel activity. Stay away from cartels and shady activities and you will remain safe.
Mexico has got to be one of the most photogenic countries I have ever been to. From the busy markets selling tons of local goodies to the fascinating pre-Hispanic archeological sites. Mexico truly is a photographer’s dream destination!
Mexicans are known for their friendliness and hospitality. Having lived here for several years now I can testify that they are generally happy people who love to have family gatherings, eat great food, celebrate life, and are proud of their country.
I highly recommend that you don’t shy away from meeting national people while traveling. They can direct you to the best places and can recommend some local services that you may need.
Tip: Join some local Facebook groups where you are traveling. Other travelers (often foreigners like you) can leave recommendations of vetted local people offering services.
Mexico has two very distinct cultures (pre-Hispanic and post-colonization). Some states still have indigenous populations that speak their native languages. Maya, Mixtec, and the Zapotec people (to name a few) carry a strong historical background. These communities are not tourist attractions, and you typically need an invitation to visit.
The Spanish conquest changed the land, the language, and the people. I suggest reading up on the history of Mexico before going.
Contrary to what many people think, Mexico is not a hot tropical climate throughout. Mexico City for example rests at 7,200 feet altitude and the winter months can get quite chilly.
It still beats the freezing winters in Canada, and that’s one of the reasons I decided to live in Mexico.
Mexico’s economy is relatively precarious, and many Mexicans live day-to-day. This means that there are a lot of street vendors (and some are quite insistent) in the tourist areas.
A simple “Gracias” with a NO motion of your head should suffice if you are not interested in their goods.
This one is a tad tricky to address, but Mexico does live with a culture of patriarchism that may be difficult for some foreign women to understand.
Being that poverty is a current fact in the country, Mexico does deal with muggings and theft of personal belongings. Aside from an iPad disappearing in an apartment that was being renovated, I have not had any bad experiences in Mexico. Again, be vigilant about your surroundings and personal belongings at all times.
Mexico is festive! And that means lots of street parades with loud music, weddings that last into the wee hours of the morning, and music inside homes and cars dialed up to high volume.
Also, the vendors with loudspeakers selling produce, gas, and water can get quite cacophonic during the day.
The major hurdle when traveling to a country with a different language than yours is understanding people and being understood.
I suggest learning a little bit of Spanish before heading out so that you can get some basic knowledge. I used Duolingo daily for a few months before my trip to Mexico, and it helped build a little bit of confidence.
Also, a translator on your phone can become your best friend. I like to use the Say Hi app that translates direct conversations.
Most big cities and tourist areas will have staff that speak some English, but you may not find anyone who speaks English in the more rural areas.
Culture is unique to every country, and it may be very different from what you are used to at home. Don’t try to dispute or change the way things are done in Mexico. Go with an open mind and without prejudice, and you will definitely have a better experience than if you arrive with stereotyped ideas.
Different parts of Mexico have different climates. The coastal Pacific area tends to have a hot and rainy season that extends from May to November. Mexico City and other mountainous areas get very cold in the winter months.
It’s best to research the weather patterns of the area you plan to visit before booking your travel dates and prepare what to bring accordingly.
Hostels are not only for young backpackers anymore. Mexico has many safe hostels that are trendy and comfortable. Selina is a chain of accommodations/workstations that offer various types of stays.
Travel light if you plan to stay in hostels and make sure to keep your belongings safe. Typically, they have safety boxes or lockers to store your stuff.
Tip: Hostels are a great way to meet fellow solo travelers. I have often found groups of people to head out to do daily activities with when staying in hostels.
I use AirBnBs a lot when I travel and have had nothing but pleasant experiences. Make sure you read the reviews about the place you intend to book and the host rating. I tend to look for listings that prior guests have commented positively on regarding communication with the host, cleanliness, and easy check-ins.
I booked a homestay with my Spanish language classes and highly recommend it. You get to have meals with the family who are eager to teach you about their country and are equally fascinated about yours. It’s a great way to immerse yourself in the Mexican way of life.
Also, the language schools often book tours and group outings with fellow students.
Tip: Look into volunteer opportunities in the area you intend to stay in for a while. I volunteer in animal shelters and beach clean-ups and that’s how I met some like-minded people who have become friends.
I like to book ahead of time and typically go through a website like Booking.com to get better rates.
Fun Fact: Mexico has Sex Motels. Yes, you read that right. These are places where you can stay and pay for a few hours or up to a whole day. Each room has a private hidden garage area to park (hide) your car. You can use your imagination as to what goes on there.
I stayed in some of these motels when I was traveling with my ex-partner because we had valuables in the truck. The secured garage was a great way to keep the items safe. But I definitely would not stay in one of these motels as a solo female traveler. These motels are typically found on the outskirts of major cities.
There are plenty of family-run small restaurants that offer a daily inexpensive lunch deal that includes an entrée, a main course, a dessert, and a drink. All this is often under $5 USD.
I have never shied away from eating street food, but you may want to be careful if you have a stomach that can be upset easily. Although tacos are the most popular items offered, there is a variety of savory local yummies to discover. Some of my favorites are elotes and esquites (corn on the cob splashed with mayo, cheese, lemon, and hot sauce).
Mexico hosts world-renowned chefs who create unique modern dishes with local ingredients. I have had several first-class dining experiences in Mexico. Generally, I consult Trip Advisor to find the top-rated restaurants in the area that I am in.
You need to pack some warm clothing like a jacket and long pants if you intend to visit the mountain regions. Evenings can see the digits plummet very low.
Sandals are good for the beaches but remember to bring shoes for the urban areas.
Of course, flip flops, sundresses, and swimsuits are all you need if you plan to hit the beaches.
It’s best, of course, to bring your supply of medications as you may not find the exact brands you need.
Also, make sure that you are covered with appropriate travel insurance for the duration of your stay and read your contract well to know what is covered and what is not.
Good to know: Mexico has a very affordable and accessible medical system. Many pharmacies have an adjoining consulting doctor’s office that is sometimes free or costs a nominal fee of about $5 USD for a consultation. These are good for small medical issues, but not for major emergencies.
The travel buses in Mexico are extremely comfortable and very safe. I have used ADO several times while traveling and have had only positive experiences.
Choose the first-class bus and you get a super comfy seat that reclines almost to a bed, your private screen to watch movies, and they give you a snack when you board. Some buses in Mexico City also have security screening before boarding, similar to airports.
City and local buses are very low-cost and can range from an old rickety bus with loud music blaring to more modern suburban vans that are called colectivos. It’s wise to ask about routes (or search online) before heading out because it can be quite confusing.
I take taxis frequently. I make sure to take taxis that are from a reputable company and that the vehicle and driver have identifications. The safest thing to do is to take taxis from taxi stands and not hail them from the street.
Personally, I prefer Ubers because of the safety features available on the app like tracking and forwarding your live trip to a friend. Also, the drivers tend to be more professional because they are rated for each ride. I say this because I have had a few taxi drivers ask me very personal questions that have made me uncomfortable. Never tell them (or any stranger) that you are traveling alone and make up a fake husband if you need to.
I recommend not shying away from traveling to Mexico alone. Make sure to prepare well and research your destination(s) beforehand. Go with an open mind and personal safety smarts, and you will love the colors, the food, and the people.
Have you been to Mexico? Have you ever traveled solo? Tell us about your experiences in the comments below.