How to get to Mexico

AS A COUPLE
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Bordered by countries in both North and South America, there are many options for getting to Mexico. The quickest and easiest way to get to Mexico is to fly, though it is also possible to travel overland from the US via train, bus or car, or by water for cruise passengers.

Airfares to Mexico tend to be 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. The best Mexico travel deals are usually available during the low season (November to April, excluding Christmas and New Year). Find out more about about the best time to visit Mexico.

Flights from the US and Canada

From most places in North America, flying is the most convenient way to travel to Mexico. Aeroméxico flies direct to dozens of destinations in Mexico, and can make connections to many others. The bigger US airlines – especially American Airlines, Delta , United and US Airways – have connections to Mexico City and the more popular resorts from all over the US. Budget Mexican airlines, such as Viva Aerobus, Volaris and Interjet, also run flights into Mexico from a handful of American cities. For the lowest-priced round trip to Mexico City or Cancún in high season, expect to pay around US$420–450 out of Dallas, US$450–500 from Miami, US$400–500 from Houston, US$550–650 from New York or US$400–500 from LA.

There are fewer direct scheduled flights from Canada to Mexico, although Air Canada flies to Mexico City from Toronto and Vancouver, and Aeroméxico flies there from Montréal. Air Canada also serves Cancún from Toronto and Montréal. However, the biggest choice of direct flights is offered by WestJet, which does not serve Mexico City, but does have flights to Cancún and several other beach resorts. Typical lowest high-season round-trip fares to Mexico City or Cancún cost around Can$530–600 from Toronto, Can$550–620 from Montreal or Can$700–800 from Vancouver.

Flights from the UK and Ireland

BA has direct scheduled flights from London to Mexico City and Cancún; Virgin has direct flights to Cancún. There are also (generally cheaper) charter flights to Cancún from Gatwick, Birmingham and Manchester with Thomson. Flying from anywhere else in the UK 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 can be cheaper to take an indirect flight with a European or US carrier. Prices for scheduled return flights from London to Mexico City start at around £550 off-season, but can cost around £900 in August.

Flights from Australia, New Zealand & South Africa

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, your widest choice of airlines is out of Sydney, where there are flights to Mexico with Delta via LA or Houston, with United via LA, with Air Canada via Vancouver, or with LAN via Santiago de Chile. United also serve Melbourne. Otherwise, you can fly with Qantas from almost any Australian airport to LA, continuing to Mexico with an American or Mexican airline. Prices start at around Aus$1500 for the round trip.

From New Zealand, your choice is very similar: Air Canada via Vancouver, an American airline via LA or Auckland to LA with Air New Zealand, continuing with a Mexican or American airline. From other New Zealand airports, you will probably need to change planes additionally at Auckland or Sydney. Prices start from around NZ$1700 return.

From South Africa, your most direct route is with Delta or United from Johannesburg via the US, or on SAA in combination with an American or Mexican airline. You can also fly with a European airline such as KLM, Lufthansa or British Airways via their hubs in Europe. From other South African airports, you’ll usually have to fly via Johannesburg. Fares start at around R14,000 return.

Train travel to Mexico

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 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 16 hours from LA, 19.5 hours 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 catch a bus on to Mexico City. Check current timetables with Amtrak.

Bus travel in Mexico

US 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 12 hours from San Francisco to Tijuana – and at least a further day’s travel from either point to Mexico City.

Greyhound 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. Converted school buses provide reasonably comfortable transport and sleeping space for up to 35 people.

Tips for driving in Mexico

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 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.

Insurance

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, International Gateway, Oscar Padilla Mexican Insurance or the acknowledged leader in the field, Sanborn’s Insurance.

To get discounts on insurance, it might be worth joining a travel club, such as Discover Baja Travel Club or Sanborn’s Sombrero Club. These clubs typically also offer discounts on accommodation and free travel advice.

The American and Canadian AAs 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.

Arriving by boat

If you want to sail to Mexico in your own boat, similar conditions apply to those in effect for motor vehicles.

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.

The Rough Guide to Mexico and related travel guides

In-depth, easy-to-use travel guides filled with expert advice.

Travel advice for Mexico

Find even more inspiration for Mexico here

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Andy Turner
8/29/2020
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