I have a confession to make. I feel like I was completely unprepared for traveling to Mexico with kids. Sure, I had all the standard travel preparations done: we had our passports, we had lodging arranged, we had tickets booked. But in terms of mentally preparing for a trip to Mexico, I feel like I was ill-prepared.
To be honest, I had all these assumptions of what Mexico would be like, fueled by what I saw and read in the media. I assumed Mexico would be poor, that I would have to be on guard all the time, and that we would have a hard time adjusting to the culture. But when I did come to Mexico with kids, these assumptions turned out to be all wrong.
We have had such a fun time here in Mexico. I don’t even know why I was so apprehensive about traveling to Mexico with kids in the first place! I should have spent more time researching Mexican culture and history, and talking more with friends of ours who come from Mexico or who have lived there.
Traveling to Mexico with kids
We’ve been in Mexico for about three months now. In that time, we’ve had a chance to come up with a few Mexico travel tips for families who are interested in visiting this country.
I wish we would have had this list ourselves, before we came here to Mexico. It would have saved us so much apprehension and worry about being in Mexico with kids! But now that we’ve been here for some time, we feel like we have some knowledge to share, so other families won’t have to go through the worry that we did.
If you’re planning on traveling to Mexico with kids, here are fifteen things you need to know before making the trip.
#1: Mexico is safe for families
There’s a sad misconception that Mexico is too dangerous for families. It is true that Mexico has a much higher homicide rate than the United States. According to the World Bank, Mexico annually has over 19 murders per 100,000 people compared to the United States’ 5 murders. And it is also true that the drug industry in Mexico has made parts of the country quite dangerous.
But even though parts of the country may not be safe, it doesn’t mean that the whole country is unsafe. There are still many parts of Mexico that are perfectly safe for families to travel. So far, we’ve been to three Mexican states with our children, and have not once felt unsafe. Even walking through Mexico City was fine for us!
If you’re planning to spend some time in Mexico with kids, rest assured that you and your family will be safe. Research ahead of time the parts of the country that may be dangerous, and avoid them. But don’t be afraid of explore the rest of the country.
#2: A little Spanish goes a long way
If you’re planning on traveling to Mexico with kids, it’s helpful to know some Spanish before you go. You may be able to find a few English speakers in the cities, but in our experience so far, people will treat you much nicer if you speak to them in Spanish.
If you’re staying for an extended period of time in one place in Mexico, you may be able to find a local Spanish tutor. However, if you’re only visiting for a short time, one of my Mexico travel tips would be to download a translating tool on your phone, like Google Translate. If you’re looking for an app to teach you Spanish, Duolingo is a helpful one that even kids can use.
#3: Mexican culture is more than just tequila, sombreros, and pinatas
Mexico has a rich culture, and it is a bit sad that often in movies it’s reduced to cliches and stereotypes. Before the arrival of the Spanish, Mexico had a rich culture of indigenous groups, including the Mayans, Aztecs, Teotihuacans, and the Toltecs. These indigenous civilizations left behind temples and pyramids which many travelers to Mexico can still visit.
In addition, some of the Mexican foods and traditions stem from the indigenous cultures that existed before the Spaniards came. Chocolate, maize, and avocado all come from the indigenous Mexican civilizations. And traditional celebrations, like the Day of the Dead, have their roots in indigenous traditions.
When the Spanish arrived, Mexico’s culture became more European-influenced, and the traditional religious beliefs were replaced by a strong belief in Catholicism. After independence, Mexico’s culture flourished even more, fueled by a sense of nationalism. These days, Mexican culture is rich and diverse, with a strong emphasis on family.
#4: Expect to walk around a lot
Unless you’re planning on bringing a car when you’re traveling to Mexico with kids, or renting a car while you’re in Mexico, expect to walk around a lot. Bring along some comfortable shoes that you can walk around with. For our kids, we have Keens and Crocs, which work perfect for them. And for me, I have a pair of Chacos and Danskos that work great for walking through the streets of Mexico.
Most of the Mexican cities we’ve visited still have cobblestone streets, so be prepared for some uneven terrain to walk on. If your kids are still learning to walk, it might be helpful to carry a backpack carrier like ones by Kelty, or an Ergobaby if your little one is light enough. While I’ve seen families with strollers in Mexico, it may not be ideal due to the uneven sidewalks and roads.
When walking through some of the city streets, make sure you practice road safety. Cars can drive pretty fast through the streets, so be sure your kids know to stay off the middle of the road.
#5: You don’t need a special license to drive in Mexico
If you do plan to drive a car as you’re traveling to Mexico with kids, rest assured you won’t need to have a special license to drive if you’re from the United States. Mexico will honor your US driver’s license.
For nationals of other countries, you will most likely need to have an international driver’s permit. And even if you are a United States citizen, it might be helpful to go ahead and get one as well before you go to Mexico with kids. If you’re planning on renting a car, you will also need to purchase insurance along with the rental, as it’s required by Mexican law.
#6: Uber is available in most cities, but taxis are still the more reliable option
A lot of cities in Mexico have Uber, so if you have that app on your phone, you are able to use it while you’re in Mexico with kids. However, waiting for an Uber to pick you up can take upwards of 15 minutes. In most cases, a taxi is still a more reliable option, if you’re trying to go distances within the city that are too far to walk.
Taxis in Mexico don’t use a meter. So one of our Mexico travel tips is to do some research ahead of time to get the going rate for a taxi ride. Ask other travelers, or better yet, ask locals. In our experience, distances of 1-2 kilometers usually costs around 50 pesos. Most hotels will have taxis waiting near the entrance, so you won’t have to go far to find one.
#7: Buses are a great way to get around Mexico
If you’re planning on traveling between cities in Mexico, consider taking a bus rather than flying on a plane. Buses are inexpensive, and a great way to take in some scenery.
There are many bus companies that run throughout Mexico. The one we’ve used the most is ETN. They run between many of the major cities around North, Western, and Central Mexico. Another bus company that other travelers have recommended is Primera Plus.
Around Eastern Mexico and the Yucatan Peninsula, the major bus company is Ado. All of these bus company allow tickets to be purchased ahead of time online. Plan to arrive at the bus terminal about an hour before departure to avoid missing your bus.
#8: Not all Mexican cities have beaches
I’m a bit embarrassed to admit this, but before traveling to Mexico with kids, I had this image of Mexico as being full of tropical beaches like those found in Cancun or the Riviera Maya. While it’s true that Mexico has many beaches and resorts that tourists love to frequent, there is a LARGE part of the country that is landlocked. In fact, in our three months in Mexico, we have yet to see the beach!
Most tourists who come to Mexico will overlook the interior cities in favor of coastal towns, but I think that’s a shame. Mexico City is an amazing place to explore, with its Spanish architecture and modern designs. And the two other cities we’ve been to, San Miguel de Allende and Guanajuato, are fun cities to explore as well, despite being far from a beach.
The Mexican landscape is vast and diverse, from canyons to rainforests, and modern cities to ancient pyramids. Set aside some days in your Mexico trip to visit cities without beaches.
#9: You can buy almost anything you need in Mexico
Before traveling to Mexico with kids, I thought that I would need to stock up on supplies for travel. Little did I know that you can pretty much get anything you need in Mexico.
Despite what the news media might portray, Mexico is not a poor country. In 2017, the gross domestic product (GDP) of Mexico totaled $1.15 trillion. This is $500 million less than Canada’s GDP, but $450 million more than the GDP of countries like the Netherlands and Switzerland. And according to the World Bank, Mexico holds the distinction of being an upper middle income country, similar to countries like Costa Rica, Peru, and Thailand.
This is all to say that you won’t need to worry about not being able to find things in Mexico. We’ve bought things like clothes, medicine, phone chargers, and pretty good wine while we’ve been here! The brand may not be the same as in the United States, but you’re better off saving space in your luggage for souvenirs anyway.
#10: There aren’t a lot of playgrounds
One of the things we’ve been missing while being we’re here in Mexico with kids is access to playgrounds. There is unfortunately a lack of playgrounds for families here in Mexico.
While we were in San Miguel de Allende, we frequented the Parque Juarez quite often. It was the only free city playground in San Miguel de Allende with slides, swings, and play structures. But here in Guanajuato, we’ve found that the city is sorely lacking in any kind of playgrounds.
However, you’ll find that most cities will have gardens and public squares where kids can run around. So while there aren’t very many playgrounds in Mexican cities, there are plenty of open public spaces where your kids can play and burn off some energy.
#11: Feeding a family won’t cost you a fortune
One of the things we looked forward to when traveling to Mexico with kids was the low cost of living. Since we’ve been here in Mexico, we have been thoroughly enjoying the favorable exchange rate. You truly can feed a family with very little money.
For our family, a meal at an average restaurant will cost us about 200 to 400 pesos, which is roughly $10-$20. This includes two entrees (we split our meals) and drinks for all of us. If we eat at a taco stand, we can get by with paying between 120-180 pesos (including tip). But if we eat at a fancy restaurant, we can sometimes spend around 500 to 600 pesos.
If you’re traveling on a budget, you’ll be able to get by eating at the cheap restaurants. Or better yet, hit up the local markets for some great (cheap!) produce. But if you want to enjoy yourself while you’re in Mexico, you can certainly do that too. There plenty of higher end restaurants serving cuisines from all corners of the world.
#12: Take along a water bottle with a filter
Although some travelers will say otherwise, Mexican tap water is not really safe to drink. In San Miguel de Allende, for example, the water has very high levels of arsenic. If you’re planning on traveling to Mexico with kids, be prepared to buy bottled water.
A more environmentally friendly alternative to buying bottled water is to bring along a water bottle with a filter and purifier. For our family, we use a water bottle from a company called GRAYL. These bottles have a built in water purifier and filter that takes out particles, metals, and pathogens from your water. So we feel perfectly safe drinking water from the tap, once we’ve filtered it through our GRAYL bottle.
With all the walking and activities you’re sure to do in Mexico, having plenty of water will be absolutely important. You can buy GRAYL bottles online through Amazon or through their website.
#13: Get used to random fireworks
From what we’ve observed during our time in Mexico, people here will find any excuse to celebrate. It’s one thing I admire about the Mexican culture.
One of the staples of Mexican celebrations are fireworks. During the Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico City and in San Miguel de Allende, we would hear fireworks in the night and well into the early morning. And even here in Guanajuato, we’ll hear random fireworks go off in the middle of the night.
If your kids get scared of fireworks, prepare them ahead of time before coming to Mexico. Most of the time, you will hear them but may not be able to see them.
#14: There are tons of dogs everywhere!
Another unusual thing about Mexico is that there are dogs everywhere! Walking down the street in Mexico with kids, it’s not rare to come across a few street dogs scavenging for food or roaming the streets. Besides the street dogs, many Mexicans also have dogs for pets. We’ll sometimes walk past a gate or a wall, and get surprised by a dog barking on the other side of it.
In general, the dogs you’ll come across here will be fairly harmless, though they may bark at you when you pass them by. Just in case, before traveling to Mexico with kids, it’s good to review with them how to act around dogs, especially if your kids are the type to get scared by dogs.
#15: Don’t be afraid of exploring outside the standard tourist destinations
There are so many amazing places to explore in Mexico! If you really want to get a feel for Mexican culture, it’s best to go beyond the standard tourist destinations when you’re traveling to Mexico with kids.
As I mentioned earlier, we have yet to go to a beach town while we’re here in Mexico, although we’ve been dying to take a swim in the beach. But I’m really glad we did it that way. Exploring Central Mexico has been so much fun. We’ve visited old colonial towns, ridden horses in the canyons, and walked with butterflies in the forest.
Aside from Mexico City and San Miguel de Allende, the places we’ve visited in Mexico have not had very many foreign tourists. We like the idea of exploring the less touristy parts of Mexico, because it’s given us a chance to really experience the country from a non-commercial perspective.
Why you should visit Mexico with kids
Mexico has truly captured our hearts. I am so glad we ended up traveling to Mexico with kids during this around the world trip of ours. It’s a truly beautiful destination.
In our opinion, Mexico is a great country to visit with kids. There are so many cultural and historical sites to see. And if your kids are into nature, you can explore the forests, beaches, and mountains throughout the country. It’s so easy to get around Mexico, and once you have even a basic understanding of Spanish, you’ll be able to communicate with people where ever you go.
Have you had experience traveling to Mexico with kids? Share your Mexico travel tips in the comments below!
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