The quickest and easiest way to get to Mexico is to fly. If you’re willing to have your journey take a little longer, it is also possible to go overland from the US via train, bus or car, or by water – several cruise lines stop along the country’s Pacific coast.
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 may drop during the “shoulder” seasons – mid-September to early November and mid-April to early June – and the best deals are usually available during the low season (Nov to April, excluding Christmas and New Year). Flying at weekends can also sometimes 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.
Flights From the US and Canada
From most places in North America, flying is the most convenient way to reach Mexico. There are flights 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 (aeromexico.com) fly direct to dozens of destinations in Mexico, and can make connections to many others. The bigger US airlines – especially American Airlines (aa.com), Delta (delta.com), United (united.com) and US Airways (wusairways.com) – have connections to Mexico City and the more popular resorts from all over the US, and the budget Mexican airlines, Viva Aerobus (vivaaerobus.com), Volaris (volaris.mx) and Interjet (interjet.com), also run flights into Mexico from a handful of American cities. For the lowest-priced round trip to Mexico City in high season, expect to pay (including tax) around US$420 out of Dallas, US$415 from Miami, US$550 from Houston, US$570 from New York or US$400 from LA. For a flight to Cancún, you’ll be looking at around US$450 from Dallas, US$460 from Miami, US$450 from Houston, US$515 from New York or US$510 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 (aircanada.com) fly to Mexico City from Toronto and Vancouver, and Aeroméxico (aeromexico.com) fly there from Montreal. Air Canada also serve Cancún from Toronto and Montreal. However, the biggest choice of direct flights is offered by WestJet (westjet.com), who do not serve Mexico City, but have flights to Cancún and several other beach resorts from a number of Canadian airports, supplemented in some cases by Sunwing (flysunwing.com) and Air Transat (airtransat.ca), as well as by winter charter flights. Flying via the US expands your options further. Typical lowest high-season round-trip fares to Mexico City are around Can$525 from Toronto, Can$535 from Montreal or Can$595 from Vancouver. To Cancún, expect to pay around Can$520 from Toronto, Can$505 from Montreal and Can$600 from Vancouver.
Flights from the UK and Ireland
The only direct scheduled flights from the British Isles to Mexico City are from London Heathrow to Mexico City or London Gatwick to Cancún, both with BA (britishairways.com). There are also charter flights to Cancún from Gatwick, Birmingham and Manchester with Thomson (flights.thomson.co.uk). Flying from anywhere else in Britain or Ireland, or to any other destination in Mexico, you will have to change planes somewhere.
Even from London, although a direct flight is easiest, it may be cheaper to take an indirect flight with a European or American carrier. From other British and Irish airports, you can either fly via London with BA, or use a European or North American airline, changing planes at their hub cities (Air Europa codeshares with Aeromexico via Madrid; aireuropa.com). 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.
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.
US passenger train services reach the border at El Paso, on the LA–Dallas line. El Paso is served by Amtrak’s Sunset Limited service three times weekly from New Orleans, Houston, Tucson and LA. The Sunset Limited also picks up Amtrak’s Texas Eagle (from Chicago, St Louis, Little Rock and Dallas) overnight at San Antonio. The journey takes just over sixteen hours from LA, nineteen and a half from Houston, or – including an eight-hour layover in San Antonio – 26.5 hours from Dallas and 48.5 hours from Chicago.
Arrivals on these services (around 8am from LA, 4.15pm from Chicago and New Orleans) give you time to cross the border, have something to eat in Ciudad Juárez and take a bus on to Mexico City.
Check current timetables with Amtrak (1 800 USA-RAIL, 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, or twelve hours from San Francisco to Tijuana – and at least a further day’s travel from either point to Mexico City.
Greyhound (1 800 231 2222 or 1 214 849 8100, 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 City as far north as Houston or LA.
More countercultural, and arguably better value, are overland tours from San Francisco with Green Tortoise Adventure Travel (1 800 TORTOISE or 1 415 956 7500, 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 alfresco cooking is 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 at the border, or online at banjercito.com.mx (click on “Application for Temporary Import Permit for vehicles, boats and RVs”).
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 five years old. This can be done in cash (US dollars only), or with the credit or debit card of the owner of the vehicle (who must be present), 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, and you must be sure to have your importation permit terminated when you finally do leave, or the authorities may assume your vehicle is still in the country; if you write it off while you are in Mexico, you will need to inform Mexican customs and obtain permission to leave without it.
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. To arrange a policy before leaving the US, call Instant Mexico Insurance Services (1 800 345 4701, mexonline.com/instant1.htm), International Gateway (1 619 271 0572, igib.com), Oscar Padilla Mexican Insurance (1 800 466 7227, mexicaninsurance.com), or acknowledged leader in the field, Sanborn’s Insurance (1 800 222 0158, sanbornsinsurance.com).
To get discounts on insurance, it might be worth joining a travel club, such as Discover Baja Travel Club (1 800 727 2252, discoverbaja.com) or Sanborn’s Sombrero Club (1 800 222 0158). These clubs typically also offer discounts on accommodation and free travel advice.
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.
If you want to sail to Mexico in your own boat, similar conditions apply to those in effect for motor vehicles – for further details, see 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.