The quickest and easiest way to get to Mexico is to fly. Going overland from the US won’t save you much money, if any, but becomes more convenient the nearer you live to the border.
To some extent, airfares to Mexico depend on the season. Though ticket prices to Mexico City and other non-resort destinations show little, if any, fluctuation, some fares, especially to resort areas, do vary, and are highest around Easter, from early June to mid-September and at Christmas and New Year. Prices drop during the “shoulder” seasons – mid-September to early November and mid-April to early June – and you’ll get the best deals during the low season (November to April, excluding Christmas and New Year). Note also that flying at weekends may add to round-trip fares. The round-trip prices quoted here assume midweek travel.
Barring special offers, the best airfares carry certain restrictions, such as advance booking and fixed departure dates. You can often cut costs by going through a discount flight agent. Some agents specialize in charter flights, which may be cheaper than any available scheduled flight, but again with fixed departure dates, and typically a maximum two- or three-week stay. Agents may also offer special student or youth fares. Don’t automatically assume that tickets purchased through a travel specialist will be cheapest, however – once you get a quote, check directly with the airlines and you may turn up a better deal.
From the US and Canada
From most places in North America, flying is the most convenient way to reach Mexico. If you’re willing to have your journey take a little longer, it is also possible to reach Mexico overland, via train, bus or car, or by water – several cruise lines stop along the country’s Pacific coast.
There are flights to Mexico from just about every major US city, with the cheapest and most frequent leaving from “gateway” cities in the south and west, especially Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles and Miami.
If you live close to the border, it’s usually cheaper to cross into Mexico and take an internal flight (which you can arrange through your local travel agent). If it’s a resort that you want, you’ll probably find that one of the airlines offers an attractive deal including a few nights’ lodging.
Aeroméxico and Mexicana fly direct to dozens of destinations in Mexico, and can make connections to many others; the bigger US airlines have connections to Mexico City and the more popular resorts. For the lowest-priced round trip to Mexico City in high season, expect to pay (including tax) around US$250 out of Dallas, US$270 from Miami, US$280 from Houston, US$285 from New York or US$310 from LA. For a flight to Cancún, you’ll be looking at around US$245 from Dallas, US$255 from Miami, US$295 from Houston, US$270 from New York or US$345 from LA. There are direct flights to many parts of Mexico from numerous other US airports, but adding a feeder flight from any US or Canadian city to one of the main gateways should be straightforward.
There are fewer direct scheduled flights from Canada to Mexico, although Air Canada, Aeroméxico and Mexicana fly to Mexico City from Toronto, and Mexicana flies there from Montréal and Vancouver too, and Air Canada flies from Toronto, Montréal and Vancouver to Cancún and Toronto to Cozumel, along with plentiful winter charter flights. Your options expand greatly if you fly via the US. Typical lowest high-season round-trip fares to Mexico City are around Can$360 from Toronto, Can$345 Montréal or Can$425 from Vancouver. To Cancún, expect to pay around Can$370 from Toronto or Montréal and Can$415 from Vancouver.
US passenger train services reach the border at El Paso, on the LA–Dallas line. El Paso is served by Amtrak’s Texas Eagle (three times weekly from Chicago, St Louis, Little Rock and Dallas) and Sunset Limited (three times weekly from New Orleans, Houston, Tucson and LA). The journey takes seventeen hours from LA (US$99), twenty from Houston (US$91), 29 from Dallas (US$87) and 51 from Chicago (US$117).
Arrivals on these services give you plenty of time to get across the frontier, have something to eat in Ciudad Juárez and get a bus on to Mexico City.
Check current timetables with Amtrak (t1-800/USA-RAIL, wwww.amtrak.com).
North American bus travel is pretty grim compared to the relative comfort of Amtrak, but you have a wider range of US border posts to choose from. Count on at least 52 hours’ journey time from New York to El Paso (US$83 if purchased two weeks in advance), or twelve hours from San Francisco to Tijuana (US$58 if purchased two weeks in advance) – and at least a further day’s travel from either point to Mexico City.
Greyhound (t1-800/231-2222 or t1-214/849-8100, wwww.greyhound.com) runs regularly to all the major border crossings. Some of their buses will also take you over the frontier to a Mexican bus station, which saves a lot of hassle. Greyhound agents abroad should be able to reserve your through tickets with their Mexican counterparts, which is even more convenient but involves pre-planning. Additionally, many Mexican bus companies cross the border into the US, so that you can pick up a bus to Mexico as far north as Houston or LA.
More countercultural, and arguably better value, are overland tours from San Francisco with Green Tortoise Adventure Travel (t1-800/TORTOISE or t1-415/956-7500, wwww.greentortoise.com). Converted school buses provide reasonably comfortable transport and sleeping space for up to 35 people; the clientele comes from all over the world, and communal cookouts are the rule.
Taking your own car into Mexico will obviously give you a great deal more freedom, but it’s an option fraught with complications. Aside from border formalities, you’ll also have to contend with the state of the roads, the style of driving and the quality of the fuel.
Licences and permits
Driving licences from the US, Canada, the UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and most European countries are valid in Mexico, but it’s a good idea to arm yourself with an International Driving Licence – available from motoring organizations such as the AAA in the US, the CAA in Canada, or the AA in Britain. If you fall foul of a Mexican traffic cop for any reason, show that first; if they abscond with it you at least still have your own licence.
As a rule, you can drive in Baja California, western Sonora and the Zona Libre (the border area extending roughly 25km into Mexico) without any special formalities. To drive elsewhere in Mexico, however, you must obtain a temporary importation permit (US$27 for an ordinary car, US$45 for a camper) at the border, or online at wbanjercito.com.mx. To make sure you don’t sell the car in Mexico or a neighbouring country, you’ll also be required either to post a cash bond, the amount of which will depend on the make and age of your vehicle, though it will be at least US$400 for a car less than eight years old, or to give an imprint of a major credit card (Visa, MasterCard, Diners Club or American Express). This is done using the credit or debit card of the owner of the vehicle (who must be in it) at Banjército, the Mexican army bank, which has offices at border posts specifically for the purpose. You’ll need to show registration and title documents for the car, plus your driver’s licence and passport, and you’ll probably be asked to supply two photocopies of these as well as your tourist card. The permits are good for 180 days, during which time you can drive your car out of Mexico and return, but there are penalties in force if you exceed the limit, including forfeiture of your vehicle. More detailed information on importing a vehicle to Mexico can be found at wwww.mexonline.com/drivemex.htm.
US and Canadian auto insurance policies don’t cover Mexico, so you will need to take out a Mexican policy, available from numerous agencies on either side of every border post. Rates depend on the value of the vehicle and what kind of coverage you want, but figure on US$11 or so a day for basic liability (fourteen days’ basic liability coverage for a US$10,000 vehicle is around US$110, with full coverage for around US$150). To arrange a policy before leaving the US, call Instant Mexico Insurance Services (t1-800/345-4701, wwww.mexonline.com/instant1.htm); International Gateway (t1-619/271-0572, wwww.igib.com); Oscar Padilla Mexican Insurance (t1-800/466-7227, wwww.mexicaninsurance.com); or Sanborn’s Insurance (t 1-800/222-0158, wwww.sanbornsinsurance.com). The last is the acknowledged leader in the field.
To get discounts on insurance, it might be worthwhile joining a travel club, such as Discover Baja Travel Club (t 1-800/727-2252, wwww.discoverbaja.com) or Sanborn’s Sombrero Club (t1-800/222-0158, wwww.sanbornsinsurance.com). These clubs typically also offer discounts on accommodation and free travel advice. Annual dues are US$25–39.
The American and Canadian Automobile Associations produce road maps and route planners for travel to Mexico, and members may qualify for discounted insurance at affiliated border agencies, but their emergency/breakdown services do not cover you once you are inside Mexico.
There are some forty frontier posts along the US–Mexico border. Many of them are only open during the day, and are more or less inaccessible without your own transport. For a full list, see wapps.cbp.gov/bwt or wwww.mexico.us/bordercrossings”.htm. The main ones, open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, are, from west to east:
San Diego, California–Tijuana, Baja California.
Calexico, California–Mexicali, Baja California.
Nogales, Arizona–Nogales, Sonora.
Douglas, Arizona–Agua Prieta, Sonora.
El Paso, Texas–Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua.
Laredo, Texas–Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas.
Brownsville, Texas–Matamoros, Tamaulipas.
If you want to sail to Mexico in your own boat, similar conditions apply to those in effect for motor vehicles (see Insurance) – for further details, see w www.tijuana.com/boatcrossing.
Alternatively, you could take a cruise. Several lines offer cruises on the Pacific coast, most popularly between LA and Acapulco, stopping at Los Cabos, Mazatlán, Puerto Vallarta and Zihuatanejo. Others ply the Caribbean side out of Miami, taking in Cozumel, Playa del Carmen and other Mexican destinations. Prices start at US$400 per person for a week-long cruise, plus airfare to the starting point, and go (way) up from there. Agencies specializing in cruises include those listed below.
Carnival Cruise Lines US & Canada t1-888/227-6482, wwww.carnival.com.
Cruise West t1-888/851-8133, wwww.cruisewest.com.
Cruise World t1-800/228-1153, wwww.cruiseworldtours.com.
Norwegian Cruise Line US & Canada t1-866/234-7350, UK t0845/658 8010; wwww.ncl.com.
Royal Caribbean Cruises US & Canada t1-866/562-7625, UK t0845/165 8414, Australia t02/4331 5400; wwww.royalcaribbean.com.
From the UK and Ireland
The only direct scheduled flights from the British Isles to Mexico are from London to Mexico City, with BA out of Heathrow, or Mexicana out of Gatwick. Flying from anywhere else in Britain or Ireland, or to any other destination in Mexico, means you will have to change planes somewhere.
From London, though a direct flight is easiest, it may well be cheaper to take an indirect flight with a European or American carrier (Lufthansa frequently offers the lowest rates). From other British and Irish airports, you can either fly to London and pick up BA’s direct flight there, or use a European or American airline, changing planes at their hub cities. Of American carriers, Continental offers the widest choice of Mexican destinations, with twice as many as the next contender, American Airlines. Another possibility is to fly via the US and either continue overland or buy an onward flight once in the country. LA and Houston are logical points from which to set off overland, and along with Miami, have reasonably priced onward flights to several Mexican destinations. Prices for scheduled return flights from London to Mexico City (including tax) start at around £470.
Charter flights to Mexico are fairly common, flying from Gatwick, Birmingham, Glasgow or Manchester to Cancún, or occasionally Acapulco or Puerto Vallarta. Charter fares, sometimes under £450 in the low season, can also be very good value any time outside school holidays, though they can go as high as £800 in August, and your stay will probably be limited to one or two weeks. The best way to find out about charters is to call or log on to Sky Deals (t0800/757 757, wwww.skydeals.com), who sell tickets for all the main operators, or My Travel (t0871/895 0055, wwww.mytravel.co.uk), the main charter operator to Mexico.
If flying via the US, it’s worth checking if your transatlantic carrier has an airpass deal for non-US residents – most major US airlines do – by which you purchase coupons at a flat rate for a certain number of flights in North America (with a usual minimum of three). Depending on the airline, the pass will usually also include one or more destinations in Mexico and Canada.
From Australia, New Zealand and South Africa
The high season for flights to Mexico from the southern hemisphere is mid-June to mid-July and mid-December to mid-January, though prices do not vary vastly between seasons. There are no direct flights to Mexico from Australia, New Zealand or South Africa, so you will have to change planes somewhere en route.
From Australia, most options involve changing planes in Los Angeles. Your widest choice of flights is from Sydney, where you can fly with Delta via LA, or LAN via Santiago de Chile. United flies via LA from both Sydney and Melbourne, and Qantas flies from almost all Australian airports to LA, where you can continue to Mexico with Mexicana, American or United. You can also take an Air New Zealand/Mexicana combination, with an extra change of planes at Auckland. Prices start at around Aus$1200 (including tax) for the round trip.
From New Zealand, your choice is very similar: either LAN Chile from Auckland via Santiago, or else Auckland to LA with Air New Zealand, or with Qantas via Sydney, continuing with Mexicana or United. From other New Zealand airports, you will probably need to change planes additionally at Auckland or Sydney. Prices start from around NZ$2400 return (including tax).
From South Africa, your most direct route is with Delta or United from Johannesburg via the US, though European airlines such as Air France, Iberia, Lufthansa and British Airways will fly you via their respective hubs in Europe. From other South African airports, you’ll usually have to fly via Johannesburg. Fares start at around R14,000.
Packages and tours
Hundreds of companies – particularly in the US – offer good-value package trips to Mexican resorts, as do the tour arms of most major North American airlines. Packages are generally only available for the more commercialized destinations, such as Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlán, Puerto Vallarta, Acapulco, Ixtapa and Cancún, and travel agents usually only give you one or two weeks. In addition, literally hundreds of specialist companies offer tours of Mexico based around hiking, biking, diving, bird watching and the like. Remember that bookings made through a travel agent cost no more than going through the tour operator – indeed, many tour companies sell only through agents. for information on tour operators.