The developed tourist resorts and big cities are invariably more expensive than more remote towns, and certain other areas also have noticeably higher prices – among them the industrialized north. Prices can also be affected by season and many hotels raise their prices during busy times of the year. Summer, Christmas and Easter are the peak times for Mexican tourists and areas like Acapulco and Cancún, which attract large numbers of overseas visitors, put their prices up during the high season. Special events are also likely to be marked by price hikes.
Nonetheless, wherever you go you can probably get by on US$300/£200 a week (you could reduce that if you hardly travel around, stay only on campsites or in hostels, live on basic food and don’t buy any souvenirs, though this requires a lot of discipline); you’d be living well on US$600/£400.
As always, if you’re travelling alone you’ll end up spending more – sharing rooms and food saves a substantial amount. In the larger resorts, you can get apartments for up to six people for even greater savings. If you have an International Student or Youth Card, you might find the occasional reduction on a museum admission price, but don’t go out of your way to obtain one, since most concessions are, at least in theory, only for Mexican students. Cards available include the ISIC card for full-time students and the Go-25 youth card for under-26s, both of which carry health and emergency insurance benefits for Americans, and are available from youth travel firms such as STA Travel. Even a college photo ID card might work in some places.
Most restaurant bills come with fifteen percent IVA (Impuesto de Valor Añadido, or Valued Added Sales Tax) added; this may not always be included in prices quoted on the menu. Service is hardly ever added to bills, and the amount you tip is entirely up to you – in cheap places, it’s just the loose change, while expensive venues tend to expect a full fifteen percent. for more on tipping.
Citizens of the US, Canada, the UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and some Western European countries do not need visas to enter Mexico as tourists for less than 180 days. Other Europeans can stay for ninety days. Non-US citizens travelling via the US, however, may need a US visa. Visitors entering by land and passing beyond the Zona Libre are subject to a M$210 entry fee (derecho de no inmigrante), which will be included in your ticket if arriving by air.
Visas, obtainable only through a consulate (in person or by mail), are required by nationals of South Africa and most poor countries, as well as by anyone entering Mexico to work, to study or for stays longer than six months. Business visitors usually need a Business Authorization Card available from consulates, but nationals of countries exempt from a tourist visa can enter on business for up to 30 days on a tourist card. Anyone under the age of 18 needs written consent from their parents if not accompanied by both of them (if accompanied by one, they need written consent from the other). For more detailed information on who needs a visa, visit the website of the Insituto Nacional de Migración at wwww.inm.gob.mx/EN.
All visitors, regardless of nationality, need a valid passport and a tourist card (or FMT – folleto de migración turística). Tourist cards are free, and if you’re flying direct, you should get one on the plane, or from the airline before leaving. A good travel agent should be able to arrange one for you, too. Otherwise, they’re issued by Mexican consulates, in person or by post. Every major US city and most border towns have a Mexican consulate. Finally, failing all these options, you should be able to get tourist cards at airports or border crossings on arrival. However, if they’ve run out, you’ll have to twiddle your thumbs until the next batch comes in, and if your passport is not issued by a rich Western country, you may encounter difficulty in persuading border officials to give you a card at all; it’s therefore preferable to get one in advance. Entering from Belize or Guatemala, it’s not at all uncommon for border posts to run out of tourist cards, or for officials to (illegally) demand a fee for issuing them.
Most people officially need a passport to pick up their tourist card, but for US and Canadian citizens entering by land, all that’s required is proof of citizenship (an original birth certificate or notarized copy, for instance, or naturalization papers), along with some form of photo ID (such as a driver’s licence). Passports are still best, however.
A tourist card is valid for a single entry only, so if you intend to enter and leave Mexico more than once you should pick up two or three. On the card, you are asked how long you intend to stay. Always apply for longer than you need, since getting an extension is a frustrating and time-consuming business. You don’t always get the time you’ve asked for and at land borders with Belize and Guatemala, you’ll probably only get thirty days (though they may give you more if you ask); entering via Chiapas, you may only get fifteen days (extensions unlikely), especially if you look like a Zapatista sympathizer. Immigration officers sometimes ask to see bank statements or other proof of sufficient funds for your stay, especially if you look poor (or are from a poor country).
A tourist card isn’t strictly necessary for anyone who only intends to visit the northern border towns and stay less than three days (though you still need a passport or photo ID). In fact, the twenty-kilometre strip adjoining the US border is a duty-free area into which you can come and go more or less as you please; heading further south beyond this zone, however, there are checkpoints on every road, and you’ll be sent back if you haven’t brought the necessary documents and been through customs and immigration.
Don’t lose the tourist card stub that is given back to you after immigration inspection. You are legally required to carry it at all times, and if you have to show your papers, it’s more important than your passport. It also has to be handed in on leaving the country – without it, you may encounter hassle and delay.
Should you lose your tourist card, or need to have it renewed, head for the nearest immigration department office (Departamento de Migración); there are branches in the biggest cities. In the case of renewal, it’s far simpler to cross the border for a day and get a new card on re-entry than to apply for an extension; if you do apply to the immigration department, it’s wise to do so a couple of weeks in advance, though you may be told to come back nearer the actual expiration date. Whatever else you may be told, branches of SECTUR (the tourist office) cannot renew expired tourist cards or replace lost ones – they will only direct you to the nearest immigration office.
Non-US citizens travelling through the US on the way to or from Mexico, or stopping over there, may need a US visa. If there’s even a possibility you might stop in the US, unless you are Canadian or from a country on the US visa waiver programme (this includes Britain, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Germany, but not South Africa), obtaining a visa in advance is a sensible precaution. Application will normally involve making an appointment for an interview at a US embassy or consulate, which should be arranged as far in advance as possible; visit the website of the US embassy in your country of residence for further details. Citizens of countries on the visa waiver programme will need to have a machine-readable passport and to apply on line for authorization to travel via the Electronic System for Travel Authorization at wwww.cbp.gov/xp/cgov/travel/id_visa/esta (this does not apply to arriving in the US by land); also, if your passport was issued after October 26, 2006, it must have an integrated information chip (further details can be found online at wtravel.state.gov/visa/temp/without/without_1990.html). On entry you will be given an I-94 or I-94W form. Be sure to return it when you leave the US: if it isn’t returned within the visa expiry time, computer records automatically log you as an illegal alien. You can keep the same form while travelling through Mexico so long as it will still be valid to hand in when you finally leave the US – otherwise, hand it in when you leave the US for Mexico and get a new one ($6) when you re-enter the US. If for any reason you do not manage to hand in your form when you leave the US, you can mail it (with a letter of explanation and evidence of your departure from the US) to: DHS-CBP SBU, 1084 South Laurel Road, London, KY 40744, USA.
Many US airports do not have transit lounges, so even if you are on a through flight you may have to go through US immigration and customs. This can easily take two hours, so bear the delay in mind if you have an onward flight to catch.
The following all issue visas and tourist cards. To find the address of an embassy or consulate not listed here, see under “Representaciones” at wwww.sre.gob.mx.
Australia 14 Perth Ave, Yarralumla, Canberra, ACT 2600 t02/6273 3963, wwww.mexico.org.au.
Belize Corner of Wilson St and Newtown Barracks, Belize City t223 0193, wwww.sre.gob.mx/belice.
Canada 45 O’Connor St, Suite 1500, Ottawa, ON K1P 1A4 t1-613/233-8988, wwww.sre.gob.mx/canada; 2055 Peel, Suite 1000, Montréal, PQ H3A 1V4 t1-514/288-2502, wembamex.sre.gob.mx/montreal; 199 Bay St, Suite 4440, Commerce Court W, Toronto, ON M5L 1E9 t1-416/368-2875, wwww.consulmex.com; 1177 W Hastings St, Suite 411, Vancouver, BC V6E 2K3 t1-604/684-3547, wwww.consulmexvan.com.
Cuba 1206 Ave 7ma (at the corner of 12 & 14), Reparto Miramar, Municipio Playa, Havana t07/207 9889, wembamex.sre.gob.mx/cuba.
Guatemala 7–57 2ª Avenida, Zona 10, Apartado Postal 1455, Guatemala City t 2420 3400, wembamex.sre.gob.mx/guatemala; 21 Av 8–64, Zona 3, Quetzaltenango t7767 5542 to 4, wwww.sre.gob.mx/quetzaltenango.
Ireland 19 Raglan Rd, Ballsbridge, Dublin 4 t01/667 3105, wwww.sre.gob.mx/irlanda.
New Zealand 185–187 Featherston St, Level 2 (AMP Chambers), Wellington t04/472 0555, wwww.sre.gob.mx/nuevazelandia.
South Africa Parkdev Building, Brooklyn Bridge, 570 Fehrsen St, Brooklyn, Pretoria 0181 t012/460 1004, wembamex.sre.gob.mx/sudafrica.
UK 16 St George St, London W1S 1FD t020/7499-8586, wwww.sre.gob.mx/reinounido.
US 2827 16th St NW, Washington, DC 20009–4260 t1-202/736-1000, wembamex.sre.gob.mx/eua; and in nearly 50 other US towns and cities, among them those in some of the border states listed below:
California 408 Heber Ave, Calexico, CA 92231 t1-760/357-3863, wwww.sre.gob.mx/calexico.
Texas 301 Mexico Blvd, Suite F-2, Brownsville, TX 78520 t1-956/542-4431, wwww.sre.gob.mx/brownsville; 910 E San Antonio Ave, El Paso, TX 79901 t1-915/533-3644, wwww.sre.gob.mx/elpaso; 1612 Farragut St, Laredo, TX 78040 t1-956/723-6369, wwww.sre.gob.mx/laredo; 600 S Broadway St, McAllen, TX 78501 t1-956/686-0243, wwww.sre.gob.mx/mcallen.
Duty-free allowances into Mexico are three litres of liquor (including wine), plus four hundred cigarettes or 25 cigars or 200g of tobacco, plus twelve rolls of camera film or camcorder tape. The monetary limit for duty-free goods is US$300 ($50 if arriving by land). If you are carrying more than US$10,000 with you, you must declare it. For full details, see wwww.aduanas.gob.mx/aduana_mexico (click on “English”). It is illegal to take antiquities out of the country, and penalties are serious.
Theoretically 110 volts AC, with simple two-flat-pin rectangular plugs – most North American appliances can be used as they are. Travellers from the UK, Ireland, Australasia, South Africa and Europe should bring along a converter and a plug adapter. Cuts in service and fluctuations in current do occur, and in cheap hotels an appliance that draws a lot of current may blow a fuse when turned on.
There are no reciprocal health arrangements between Mexico and any other country, so travel insurance is essential. Credit cards (particularly American Express) often have certain levels of medical or other insurance included, and travel insurance may also be included if you use a major credit card to pay for your trip. Some package tours, too, may include insurance.
Before paying for a new policy, it’s worth checking whether you are already covered: some all-risks home insurance policies may cover your possessions when overseas, and many private medical schemes include cover when abroad. In Canada, provincial health plans usually provide partial cover for medical mishaps overseas, while holders of official student/teacher/youth cards in Canada and the US are entitled to meagre accident coverage and hospital inpatient benefits. Students will often find that their student health coverage extends during the vacations and for one term beyond the date of last enrolment.
After exhausting the possibilities above, you might want to contact a specialist travel insurance company, or consider the travel insurance deal offered by Rough Guides. A typical travel insurance policy usually provides cover for the loss of baggage, tickets and – up to a certain limit – cash or cheques, as well as cancellation or curtailment of your journey. Most of them exclude so-called dangerous sports unless an extra premium is paid: in Mexico this can mean scuba diving, whitewater rafting, windsurfing and trekking, though probably not kayaking or jeep safaris. Many policies can be chopped and changed to exclude coverage you don’t need – for example, sickness and accident benefits can often be excluded or included at will. If you do take medical coverage, ascertain whether benefits will be paid as treatment proceeds or only after your return home, and whether there is a 24-hour medical emergency number. When securing baggage cover, make sure that the per-article limit – typically under US$1000/£500 – will cover your most valuable possession. If you need to make a claim, you should keep receipts for medicines and medical treatment, and in the event you have anything stolen, you must make an official statement to the police and obtain a copy of the declaration (copia de la declaración) for your insurance company.
Internet cafés are easy to find in all the larger cities and resort destinations, and the level of service is usually excellent. A fair few offer cheap VOIP phone calls too. In smaller towns and villages, such facilities are still rare. Depending on where you are, internet access can cost anything from M$5 to M$25 an hour. Major tourist resorts can be the most expensive places, and in these areas it’s best to look for cheaper internet cafés around the town centre and avoid those in the luxury hotel zones. Internet facilities in large cities are usually open from early morning until late at night, but in smaller towns they have shorter opening hours and may not open on Sundays. Most home email accounts can be accessed from computers in Mexican cybercafés.
Lavanderías (laundromats) are ubiquitous in Mexico, as the majority of households don’t own a washing machine. Most lavanderías charge by the kilo, and for a few dollars you’ll get your clothes back clean, pressed and perfectly folded, in less than 24 hours. Many hotels also offer laundry services that, although convenient, tend to charge by the item, adding up to a considerably greater cost.
Mexican postal services (correos) are reasonably efficient. Airmail to the capital should arrive within a few days, but it may take a couple of weeks to get anywhere at all remote. Post offices (generally open Mon–Fri 8am–4pm, Sat 8am–1pm) usually offer a poste restante/general delivery service: letters should be addressed to Lista de Correos at the Correo Central (main post office) of any town; all mail that arrives for the Lista is put on a list updated daily and displayed in the post office, but is held for only two weeks. You may get around that by sending it to “Poste Restante” instead of “Lista de Correos” and having letter-writers put “Favor de retener hasta la llegada” (please hold until arrival) on the envelope; letters addressed thus will not appear on the Lista. Letters are often filed incorrectly, so you should have staff check under all your initials, preferably use only two names on the envelope (in Hispanic countries, the second of people’s three names, or the third if they’ve four names, is the paternal surname and the most important, so if three names are used, your mail will probably be filed under the middle one) and capitalize and underline your surname. To collect, you will need your passport or some other official ID with a photograph. There is no fee.
For personal mail, Mexican addresses begin with the street and house number. The number goes after the street name (Juárez 123 rather than 123 Juárez), and is followed if appropriate by the floor or apartment number (planta baja means ground floor). After that comes the cólonia (the immediate neighbourhood), then the town, then finally the zip code and the state (on one line in that order – in the case of Mexico City, “México DF” is the equivalent of the state).
Sending letters and cards home is also easy enough, if slow. Anything sent abroad by air should have an airmail (por avión) stamp on it or it is liable to go by surface mail. Letters should take around a week to North America, two to Europe or Australasia, but can take much longer (postcards in particular are likely to be slow). Anything at all important should be taken to the post office and preferably registered rather than dropped in a mailbox, although the dedicated airmail boxes in resorts and big cities are supposed to be more reliable than ordinary ones. Postcards or letters up to 20g cost M$9.50 to the US or Belize, M$10.50 to Canada or the Caribbean, M$13 to the British Isles, Europe or South America, M$14.50 to Australasia, Asia, Africa or the Pacific.
Sending packages out of the country is drowned in bureaucracy. Regulations about the thickness of brown paper wrapping and the amount of string used vary from state to state, but any package must be checked by customs and have its paperwork stamped by at least three other departments. Take your package (unsealed) to any post office and they’ll set you on your way. Many stores will send your purchases home for you, which is much easier. Within the country, you can send a package by bus if there is someone to collect it at the other end.
In Mexico itself, the best maps are those published by Guía Roji, who also publish a Mexican road atlas and a Mexico City street guide. Guía Roji maps are widely available – try branches of Sanborn’s or large Pemex stations – and can also be ordered on line at wtienda.guiaroji.com.mx.
More detailed, large-scale maps – for hiking or climbing – are harder to come by. The most detailed, easily available area maps are produced by International Travel Map Productions, whose 1:1,000,000 Travellers’ Reference Map series includes the peninsulas of Baja California and the Yucatán. INEGI, the Mexican government map-makers, also produce very good topographic maps on various scales. They have an office in every state capital (addresses on their website at wwww.inegi.org.mx – click on “Centros de información” under “Servicios a usuarios”) and an outlet at Mexico City’s airport. Unfortunately, stocks can run rather low, so don’t count on being able to buy the ones that you want.
The Mexican peso, usually written $, is made up of 100 centavos (¢, like a US cent). Bills come in denominations of $20, $50, $100, $200, $500 and $1000, with coins of 10¢, 20¢, 50¢, $1, $2, $5 and $10. The use of the dollar symbol for the peso is occasionally confusing; the initials MN (moneda nacional or national coin) are occasionally used to indicate that it’s Mexican, not American money that is being referred to. Prices in this book are generally quoted in Mexican pesos (M$). Note, however, that these will be affected by factors such as inflation and exchange rates. Check the Universal Currency Converter (wwww.xe.com) for up-to-date rates. At the time of writing, one US dollar (US$) was worth approximately M$13, one pound sterling (£) approximately M$20 and one euro M$18. Some tour operators and large hotels quote prices in US dollars, and accept payment in that currency.
Carrying your money
The easiest way to access your money in Mexico is in the form of plastic, though it’s a good idea to also have some back-up (cash and/or travellers’ cheques). Using a Visa, MasterCard, Plus or Cirrus card, you can draw cash from ATMs in most towns and tourist resorts. By using these you get trade exchange rates, which are somewhat better than those charged by banks for changing cash, though your card issuer may well add a foreign transaction fee, and these can be as much as five percent, so check with your issuer before leaving home. Local ATM providers may also charge a transaction fee, typically US$0.75. If you use a credit card rather than a debit card, note all cash advances and ATM withdrawals obtained are treated as loans, with interest accruing daily from the date of withdrawal. It is possible to get a prepaid card, like a form of travellers’ cheques in plastic, which you charge up with funds at home and then use to withdraw money from ATMs – Mastercard, Visa and American Express all issue them.
It’s wise to make sure your card is in good condition and, before you leave home, to check that the card and your personal identification number (PIN) will work overseas. Technical hitches at ATMs occasionally occur – though rare, it has been known for machines not to dispense cash but to debit your account anyway. Take extra care when withdrawing money from ATMs, especially at night; it’s best done during the day, in a busy area and preferably with a friend beside you.
As far as other forms of money are concerned (the latter having the advantage that you can get them refunded if lost or stolen), the easiest kind of foreign currency to change in Mexico, obtaining the best rates, is cash US dollars. US dollar travellers’ cheques come second. Euros and Canadian dollars are next best, with other international currencies such as pounds sterling (English notes, not Scottish or Northern Irish), Japanese yen and Swiss francs a poor fourth – and you’ll find it hard to change travellers’ cheques in those currencies. Quetzales and Belize dollars are best got rid of before entering Mexico (otherwise, your best bet for changing them is with tourists heading the other way). It is a good idea to change other currencies into US dollars at home before coming to Mexico, since the difference in the exchange rate more than outweighs the amount you lose in changing your money twice. In some touristy places, such as Acapulco and Tijuana, US dollar bills are almost as easy to spend as pesos.
Banks and exchange
Banks are generally open Monday to Friday from 9.30am to 5pm, often with shorter hours for exchange. Commission on currency exchange varies but the exchange rate is fixed daily by the government. Generally, only larger branches of the big banks, plus some in tourist resorts, will change currencies other than dollars – and even then at worse rates than you would get for the dollar equivalent. A very few ATMs in big city centres and resorts can issue US dollars as well as pesos.
Casas de cambio (exchange offices) have varying exchange rates and commission charges, and tend to have shorter queues, less bureaucratic procedures and longer opening hours. The exchange rates are generally better than at banks, but always worth checking, especially for travellers’ cheques. Some casas de cambio will change only US dollars, but others take euros, Canadian dollars, sterling and other currencies. Again, it’s worth shopping around, especially if you intend to change a large sum.
If you’re desperate, hotels, shops and restaurants that are used to tourists may change dollars or accept them as payment, but rates will be very low.
It’s almost impossible to generalize about opening hours in Mexico; even when times are posted at museums, tourist offices and shops, they’re not always adhered to.
The siesta is still around, and many places will close for a couple of hours in the early afternoon, usually from 1pm to 3pm. Where it’s hot – especially on the Gulf coast and in the Yucatán – everything may close for up to four hours in the middle of the day, and then reopen until 8pm or 9pm. In central Mexico, the industrial north and highland areas, hours are more like the standard nine-to-five, and shops do not close for lunch.
Shops tend to keep fairly long hours, say from 9am to 8pm. Post offices are open Monday to Friday from 8am to 4pm and Saturday from 8am to 1pm, and the central post office in a large town will usually be open until 6pm weekdays. Banks are generally open Monday to Friday from 9.30am to 5pm.
Museums and galleries tend to open from about 9am or 10am to 5pm or 6pm. Many have reduced entry fees – or are free – on Sunday, and most are closed on Monday. Some museums close for lunch, but archeological sites are open all day.
Local phone calls in Mexico are cheap, and some hotels will let you call locally for free. Coin-operated public phones exist but internal long-distance calls are best made with a phonecard (sold at newsstands and usable in public phones on almost every street corner). Slightly more expensive, but often less for international calls, are casetas de teléfono, phone offices, mainly found at bus stations and airports. Calling abroad with a phonecard or from a caseta is expensive. Some internet offices offer VOIP international calls, which are much cheaper (typically M$2 a minute to the US or Canada, M$3 to the rest of the world), but the line will not be as good.
It is also possible to call collect (por cobrar). In theory, you should be able to make an international collect call from any public phone, by dialling the international operator (t 090). If you have a calling card from your home phone company, you can also use the person-to-person direct-dial numbers listed in the box below.
Calling Mexico from abroad, dial the international access code (t 011 from the US or Canada, t 00 from Britain, Ireland or New Zealand, t 0011 from Australia, t 09 from South Africa), followed by the country code for Mexico, which is 52. Mexican numbers consist of an area code (usually three digits, though Mexico City’s, for example, is just t 55), followed by a number, usually seven digits (though Mexico City’s, for example, are eight digits). If dialling from abroad, you dial the area code immediately after the 52 for Mexico. If dialling long-distance within Mexico, or from a mobile, you need to dial t 01, then the area code and the number. If dialling from a landline with the same area code, you omit it. The area code for toll-free numbers is t 800, always preceded by the t 01.
To use a mobile phone in Mexico is expensive if you simply take your own phone and use it under a roaming agreement. If you are there for any length of time, either buy a prepaid cellphone (around M$500, including a varying amount of call credit). You can buy a Mexican SIM-card (around M$100) to get a Mexican number for your own handset, but this involves registering your identity (so you’ll need a passport) and that doesn’t always work for a foreigner, so make sure your mobile works before you leave the store. Your phone charger will not work in Mexico if it is designed for a 220–240v electricity supply. Calls from mobiles are pricey and with a SIM-card from abroad you pay to receive as well as make international calls. Mexican cellphone numbers have ten digits of which the first two or three are the area code (55 for Mexico City, for example). To call a cellphone from a landline, first dial t 044 if it has the same area code, t 045 if not, or the international access code plus 52-1 if calling from abroad, and then the ten-digit number.
Film is manufactured in Mexico and, if you buy it from a chain store like Woolworth’s or Sanborn’s rather than at a tourist store, costs no more than at home (if you buy it elsewhere, be sure to check the date on the box, and be suspicious if you can’t see it). Up to twelve rolls of film can be brought into Mexico, and spare batteries are also a wise precaution. Purchasing any sort of camera hardware, though, will be prohibitively expensive. Slide film is hard to come by, too.
Mexico is not a country that offers any special difficulties – or any special advantages – to older travellers, but the same considerations apply here as to anywhere else in the world. If choosing a package tour, consider one run by firms such as Elderhostel (wwww.elderhostel.org) or Saga (wwww.saga.co.uk), which specialize in holidays for the over-50s.
Do remember that Mexico’s high altitude, desert heat and tropical humidity can tire you out a lot faster than you might otherwise expect. As far as comfort is concerned, first-class buses are generally pretty pleasant, with plenty of legroom. Second-class buses can be rather more boneshaking, and you won’t want to take them for too long a journey.
Senior citizens are often entitled to discounts at tourist sights, and on occasion for accommodation and transport, something which it’s always worth asking about.
Four time zones exist in Mexico. Most of the country is on GMT–6 in winter, GMT–5 in summer (first Sunday in April till last Sunday in October), the same as US Central Time. Baja California Sur, Sinaloa, Nayarit and Chihuahua are on GMT–7 in winter, GMT–6 in summer (the same as US Mountain Time). Baja California is on GMT–8 in winter, GMT–7 in summer, the same as the US West Coast (Pacific Time); and finally, Sonora is on GMT–7 all year round, and does not observe daylight saving time.
Public toilets in Mexico can be quite filthy, and often there’s no paper, although there may be someone selling it outside for a couple of pesos. It’s therefore wise to carry toilet paper with you. Toilets are usually known as baños (literally bathrooms) or as excusados or sanitarios. The most common signs are “Damas” (Ladies) and “Caballeros” (Gentlemen), though you may find the more confusing “Señoras” (Women) and “Señores” (Men) or even symbols of the moon (women) and sun (men).
The first place to head for information, and for free maps of the country and many towns, is the Mexican Government Ministry of Tourism (Secretaría de Turismo, abbreviated to SECTUR; wwww.sectur.gob.mx, but information at wwww.visitmexico.com), which has offices throughout Mexico and abroad. Stock up with as many relevant brochures and plans as they’ll let you have, since offices in Mexico are frequently closed or have run out.
Once you’re in Mexico, you’ll find tourist offices (sometimes called turismos) run by SECTUR, in addition to some run by state and municipal authorities; quite often there’ll be two or three rival ones in the same town. Some are extremely friendly and helpful, with free information and leaflets by the cart-load; others are barely capable of answering the simplest enquiry. We have listed these in the relevant city and regional sections throughout the guide. You can also call SECTUR toll-free round the clock in Mexico at t078 or t 01-800/903-9200, from the US or Canada on t1-800/446-3942, or from the UK t00-800/1111-2266.
Travellers with disabilities
Mexico is not well equipped for people with disabilities, but it is improving. Especially at the top end of the market, it shouldn’t be too difficult to find accommodation and tour operators who can cater for your particular needs.
If you stick to beach resorts – Cancún and Acapulco in particular – and upmarket tourist hotels, you should be able to find places that are wheelchair-friendly and used to disabled guests. US chains are very good for this, with Choice, Days Inn, Holiday Inn, Leading Hotels of the World, Marriott, Radisson, Ramada, Sheraton and Westin claiming to have the necessary facilities for at least some disabilities in some of their hotels. Check in advance with tour companies, hotels and airlines that they can accommodate you specifically.
Unless you have your own transport, the best way to travel in Mexico may be by air; buses rarely cater for disabled people and not for wheelchairs. Travelling on a lower budget, or getting off the beaten track, you’ll find few facilities. Ramps are rare, streets and pavements not in a very good state and people no more likely to volunteer help than at home. Depending on your disability, you may want to find an able-bodied helper to accompany you.
The main public holidays, when virtually everything will be closed, are listed below. Many places also close on January 6 (Twelfth Night/Reyes).
Jan 1 New Year’s Day
Feb 5 Anniversary of the Constitution
March 21 Birthday of Benito Juárez
Late March/early April Maundy Thursday and Good Friday
May 1 Labour Day
May 5 Battle of Puebla
Sept 16 Independence Day
Oct 12 Día de la Razal/Columbus Day
Nov 1–2 Day of the Dead
Nov 20 Anniversary of the Revolution
Dec 12 Virgin of Guadalupe
Dec 25 Christmas Day