Suggested length of stay
The secret to Mexico is to keep things simple and limit yourself certain regions – wherever you go, there will always be unexpected festivals that will have you wishing you had stayed longer! Two weeks will allow a classic sweep from Mexico City down through the ancient ruins of Chiapas to finish your holiday within the historic cities and dreamy beaches of the Yucatan Peninsula. With another week, you can slow things down, visit the colonial treasures of Oaxaca, Puebla or San Miguel Allende or laze at a resort or a traditional hacienda. Or how about heading off in another direction entirely to take the famous train into the Copper Canyon or explore Baja California with pounding surf and wonderful whale-watching.
Mexico City 2-3 nights, Chiapas 3-5 nights, Yucatan Peninsula 3-7 nights, colonial highlands 3 nights, Baja California 3-5 nights, Copper Canyon 4-5 nights, Oaxaca 2-3 nights
Modes of transport
Mexico has a well-developed infrastructure around the main cities yet travel out to the more “interesting” areas and often the roads are poorly maintained and signed. Within Chiapas any visit to isolated Mayan ruins will involve long car journeys (up to 4 hours) especially to the more remote sites shrouded in jungle. However, these journeys give an authentic insight into traditional culture and reveal a side of Mexico away from the sun-drenched resorts. Similarly, journeys through Baja California and the Copper Canyon can also be arduous yet the scenery, especially for the Canyon, more than compensates.
A combination of road and air is the way forward in Mexico. The country’s skies are dominated by the airline giant Aeromexico who offer a comprehensive network of flights linking all the major cities.
Despite thousands of kilometres of track which cross-cross the country north to south, east to west, Mexico’s rail-network is mainly limited to freight. However, there is one bright light that puts Mexico firmly on the map – the famous Copper Canyon railway lovingly dubbed “el Chepe”. Constructed at the end of the 19th century, the railroad blazes a spectacular trail from the Pacific coast through the dizzying heights of the magnificent Copper Canyon to reach Chihuahua. Climbing close to 2500m and negotiating some 36 bridges and 87 tunnels, el Chepe is one of Latin America’s great rail journeys and a must for all rail enthusiasts.
For natural enthusiasts, there are few bodies of water quite like the Sea of Cortez which separates Baja California from mainland Mexico in the north-west corner of the country. Nicknamed “the aquarium of the world” by Jacques Cousteau, the Sea of Cortez boasts one of the richest marine eco-systems in the world and is home to a wonderful array of species including dolphins, whales (humpback, California Gray, killer and blue whale), manta rays, whale sharks and sea turtles among others. Dedicated 8 day wildlife cruises depart from the ports of La Paz or San Jose del Cabo while shorter whale-watching trips, active kayak adventures or even private schooners are also all available - please contact us for full details. In other areas, you can take a speed boat up the impressive Sumidero canyon, fish off Puerto Vallarta or sail a yacht through the turquoise waters of the Yucatan.
Mexico is a wonderful year-round destination although each region has its own separate micro-climate. In the south, temperatures range between 70 - 90° in the lowlands and on the Pacific and Yucatan Peninsula. Here, days are warmer and more humid between May and October, the rainy season where afternoons often end with a short tempestuous downpour. However, Mexico’s Caribbean coast does lie on the hurricane belt which is at its height between the months of September and October. Travelling north through Mexico’s colonial highlands up into the Sierra Madre Mountains, temperatures drop down into the 50’s and beyond owing to the altitude especially over Christmas although days tend to be bright and generally sunny. Baja California is dry, arid and hottest between January and February, a time that coincides with excellent walking in the Copper Canyon and whale-watching in the lagoons of Magdalena Bay.
Mexico towers over Central America, a huge country of natural contrasts that covers just under 2 million km² bordered to the north by the US and by Belize and Guatemala to the south. Through the spine of the country, the rugged mountain ranges of the Sierra Madre Oriental and Occidental divide Pacific from Caribbean and hide historic, white-washed towns beneath soaring volcanoes. Towards the south-east, the mountains plunge into lush jungle around the Maya heartland of Chiapas and Yucatan, an area of mysterious temples, colonial haciendas and dreamy sun-kissed beaches lapped by calm, turquoise waters. On the Pacific side, things are very different. The tranquil Caribbean is replaced by booming surf which leads up to Baja California, a bony finger of land that juts south from the US and which harbours the natural wonder of the Sea of Cortez, dubbed “the aquarium of the world”.
It is hard not to put weight on in Mexico, a cuisine that has long since conquered the world and even been recognised by UNESCO due its "intangible cultural heritage". In essence it represents a fusion of indigenous Mesoamerican and European (mainly Spanish) ingredients and techniques based around the staple crops of corn, beans and chilli peppers. Of course, this is hugely simplistic yet the huge array of fruits, vegetables and edible flowers at Mexico’s disposal – from squashes, avocados, cocoa and vanilla to guava, prickly pear, mangoes, bananas, pineapple and cherimoya – it is no wonder that the country’s diet is so rich. The classics - Burritos, tortillas, refried beans, tacos, quesadillas etc – are found throughout the country particularly in the north while on the Pacific coast, the sea-food is delicious; Baja California is renowned for its paellas. However, it is in Chiapas and the Yucatan that dishes take on a more Maya influence. Here, traditional ingredients are unrecognisable (and unpronounceable) and you might come across Poc-Chuc (pork with orange and achiote root), Papadzules (stuffed tortillas) and Chiltomate (a blend of roasted tomatoes, onions and chillies). Almost every meal will also be served with “mole”, a traditional sauce based around peppers, chillies and countless regional ingredients including even chocolate.
Although treated, we do not advise drinking tap water in Mexico. Bottled water is very cheap and widely available in all areas of the country.
Visas are currently not required for travel to Mexico for Australian citizens
The local currency is the “New Peso” although US dollars are also widely accepted in hotels and tourist shops. ATM’s are common throughout and credit cards are welcomed although often discounts will be offered for payments made in cash. However, do make sure you have small denominations of local currency to hand when travelling to more remote destinations.
Tipping is common throughout Mexico, a custom they have inherited from their northern neighbours. As a guideline, you should allow US10 for a half day guided tour (US20 for the full day) while for the driver US5 (US8 full day). Of course, only pay for good service. For general transfers, there is no need to tip unless of course they have gone out of their way to help you (ie stopped at a local pharmacy en route).
Inoculations & health precautions
Please consult with your doctor at least 6 week before travel to Mexico as you may require both ant-malarials and a yellow fever jab.
The standard of medical facilities and care in Mexico is generally good within the large towns and cities. There are foreign private medical clinics and hospitals throughout the country with facilities and services comparable to Australian standards. Medical facilities and care at most public hospitals, however, is a different matter and often affected by a general lack of resources. Most hotels work with a private doctor who will visit you at your room, however, both doctors and hospitals will expect cash payment prior to providing medical services, including for emergency care.
It is vital to have good medical insurance before you travel.
Australian Embassy and Consulate-General contacts in Mexico
Ruben Dario 55,
Col. Bosque de Chapultepec,
Telephone + 52 1101 2200
Facsimile + 52 1101 2201
Equus Torre Sur
Ricardo Margain 444
San Pedro, Garza Garcia
Nuevo Leon 66265
Telephone: + 52 81 8158 0791, 8157-0793
Facsimile: + 52 81 8158 0799
Mexican electrical current is 127 volts at 60 cycles. Plugs are 2 flat pins sometimes with central round prong for earth. In remote areas, lodges often run off generators and it is recommended you bring along a small torch.
Mexico is best accessed via the United States. There is a direct daily service with Qantas from Sydney to both Los Angeles and Dallas where you can then connect onto a Qantas code share flight to Mexico. If combining Mexico with Central or South America, you may like to fly internationally on a Lan Airlines codeshare and so take advantage of discounted air-passes for flights within Latin America.
Non-stop flight time Sydney - Dallas approximately 15 hours
Non-stop flight time Dallas to Mexico City approximately 2¼ hours
Time difference GMT - 6 hours