When I told my friends and family that my around the world travel itinerary included spending a month in Mexico they thought I had ﬁnally, completely lost it.
“What about the drug lords and cartels?”
“What if they kidnap you and take you for ransom?”
Even though it was frustrating to be faced with this line of questioning, I can’t say I blame them for being concerned. The news reports and media blurbs we get back home are ﬁlled with violent images and summaries of bodies lying in the streets.
I’ll admit, as much as I love this country and culture I was a bit intimidated myself.
It had been six years since I’d spent a semester living and studying in Morelia, a city that sealed my love for Mexico forever. Even though I spoke fluent Spanish and had traveled extensively in Mexico before, times had changed and I had never traveled alone. Still, in spite of my fears and the misgivings of my friends, I decided to pack my bags to see how or if Mexico had really changed for myself.
I chose an itinerary that included some of the familiar places I’d visited in the past, as well as some new destinations. I wanted to rediscover my favorite spots as well as taking the time to visit some of the most famous tourist attractions I hadn’t seen yet.
I started my travels in Oaxaca and traveled north to Mexico City, Morelia, Guanajuato, Guadalajara and San Blas by bus. I added an extra week onto my travel plans and also traveled to the Yucatan where I passed through Merida, Tulum, and Cozumel.
I was hesitant to return to Mexico, but it’s everything I remembered it to be and more.
The landscapes are still breathtaking, the food every bit as delicious, the ancient ruins still awe inspiring. What I love about Mexico is its diversity. You can get lost in the lush jungle of Chiapas or ﬁnd yourself in the arid desert of Oaxaca. You could spend weeks in Mexico City and still not see all of the art and culture it has to offer.
Prefer a relaxed vibe with beautiful beach views and surﬁng? Mexico has that, too.
Mexico has something to offer every type of traveler but the real secret to Mexico’s attractiveness lies in its people.
I’ve always been impressed by the hospitality I’ve experienced in Mexico and this time was no different. From the small village of San Blas to the burgeoning capital city, every encounter I had with the people was friendly and welcoming. Mexicans are some of the warmest people I’ve encountered throughout my travels and they take a genuine interest in helping you.
“Mi casa es tu casa” applies in many situations and they will go out of their way to make you feel comfortable and happy in their country. Their passion for life is contagious and you’ll soon understand why so many artists and creative types are drawn to this culture.
Have I convinced you to give Mexico a chance yet? Are you packing your bags and dreaming of eating hot, steamy street tacos and being serenaded by mariachis after spending a day on the white, sandy beach? Just in case you’re still worried about staying safe while you travel, here are a few tips:
The majority of couch surfers in Mexico are male. If you are traveling alone make sure you only stay with those who have an extensive list of references including previous solo female travelers. I felt more comfortable staying with couch surfers who had roommates to make the one-on-one time less awkward. Also inquire if they will be giving you a spare key so you can come and leave independently of their schedule. I couch surfed in Oaxaca, Morelia, and Mexico City and had a great experience each time.
My sister and I camped in San Blas, a small beach town. We had a small combination lock to secure I belongings while we were away from our tent (really just to make us feel better) and placed our tent in a public space with a lot of people around. We had absolutely no problems and were even upgraded to a cabana at no extra cost by the owners of the campground.
Hostels in Mexico are cheap and unique. I stayed at one in Cozumel with an in ground pool and full kitchen for around $10 a night. Breakfast is often included as well as wi-ﬁ and all of the usual amenities. I didn’t personally have an issue while staying at a hostel in Mexico, but one of the guests had her camera stolen during my stay in Guanajuato. It had been left in the open instead of secured in the locker, but unfortunately this can happen anywhere. Just a reminder to always lock your belongings!
Men and Cat-calls
If you’re not used to it, Mexican men can seem forward and almost aggressive at times. This is just part of their culture. If you don’t look Mexican, expect to get a lot of stares and comments in Spanish and English. Ignoring them and avoiding eye contact will usually do the trick and though it can be unpleasant, the attention is usually harmless. That being said, if you ever feel uncomfortable or feel the cat-calls are bordering on harassment, stand your ground and let them know their behavior will not be tolerated. Soliciting the company of an older female or a male friend can also be effective. If you plan to go to any bars or clubs prepare to have a lot of advances from the men unless you are in a large group.
I’ve rarely used taxis in Mexico, however in general they are very safe. It’s always best to ask the price before agreeing to the fare and you can negotiate if you feel the price is unfair. It’s always safer to call a taxi or go to the taxi sitio (taxi stand located in each neighborhood) than to hail one from the street as there have been incidences of robbery.
The metro in D.F. is very useful and easy to navigate. The fare is less than one dollar and the stations are open until midnight. That being said, the metro can be overly crowded so watch your belongings carefully to avoid being pick pocketed. There are some train cars set aside for women only which can be a nice reprieve from the men staring at you.
Taking the Bus
There are different classes of bus travel in Mexico and I was surprised to discover even the second class bus is nothing like the “chicken bus” reputation people often think of. The second class buses are cheaper and make more frequent stops on the route but they are air conditioned, comfortable, and safe. First class buses have even more features such as a complimentary snack and beverage, reclining seats, and power outlets. Unlike many second class buses, they’re also required to take a video of every passenger for security measures. Larger cities have public buses which are very safe though they may not run late into the night.
So, is it safe to travel in Mexico alone? Throughout my four weeks traveling I criss-crossed the country by bus and couch surfed. I stayed in hostels and walked alone at night. Not once did I encounter any violence, or even hear about any violence. I traveled freely and met other women who were doing the same. Mexico is like any country you will visit. Use practical sense, try to blend in, and you will be ﬁne. If something seems sketchy, leave. Follow your intuition and be sensible.
Don’t let the fear mongering of your friends and family or the sensational news reports deter you from exploring this amazing country!
About the author
Mariah is a former nurse who quit her job this year to travel indefinitely. She’s passionate about learning new languages, living in community, and chocolate macaroons. She’s currently writing from a village in Ghana where she’s attempting to teach English grammar and computer skills at the local school. You can follow her travels as she continues seeking a life of simple adventure across the globe.