I have a confession to make. 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 was ill-prepared.
To be honest, I had many assumptions of what Mexico was like, fueled by what I saw and read in the media. I assumed Mexico was 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 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.
This post was updated on May 6, 2021.
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Traveling to Mexico with kids
Over the past three years, we have spent over twelve months traveling through Mexico with kids. In that time, we’ve had a chance to explore over 17 cities in 9 states. And now we have plenty of Mexico travel tips for families who are interested in visiting this country.
I wish we would have had this list of tips for ourselves, before we came to Mexico. It would have saved us so much apprehension and worry about being in Mexico with kids! These days, we feel like we have some knowledge to share about visiting Mexico with kids. And we hope that 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. In total, we visited nine Mexican states with our children, and were comfortable with where we were. Even riding the Mexico City subway 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 when traveling to Mexico with kids
If you’re planning on traveling to Mexico with kids, it’s helpful to know some Spanish before you go. Take a look at some of our tips to learn Spanish for travel.
Depending on where you visit, you may be able to find 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. In La Paz, Baja Sur, we took Spanish language classes from a school called El Nopal Spanish Academy.
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 sad that often in movies it’s reduced to cliches and stereotypes. Before the arrival of the Spanish, Mexico was teeming with indigenous groups, including the Mayans, Aztecs, Teotihuacans, and the Toltecs. You can learn about these indigenous civilizations through the temples and pyramids that 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. We learned a lot about these traditions during our Mexican cooking class in Puerto Vallarta. 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 came, Mexico’s culture became more European-influenced. The traditional religious beliefs were restricted in favor of Catholicism. Books written in indigenous languages were burned by the Spanish, and many temples were destroyed.
After independence, Mexico’s culture flourished even more, fueled by a sense of nationalism. In recent years, interest in preserving and reclaiming the indigenous beliefs, practices, and language has grown among Mexicans. These days, Mexican culture is rich and diverse, with a strong emphasis on family.
#4: Expect to walk around a lot while you’re traveling in Mexico with kids
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 uneven walking terrain. 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. You can get an international driver’s permit from any AAA office. They cost $20.
If you’re planning on renting a car, you will also need to purchase insurance along with the rental. This is 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 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 (we especially love the Puerto Escondido beaches, as well as the beaches and things to do in Progreso!) that tourists love to frequent, there is a LARGE part of the country that is landlocked. In fact, during our first two and a half months in Mexico, we didn’t 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. The two Central Mexican cities we’ve been to, San Miguel de Allende and Guanajuato, are fun cities to explore, 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 brands 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 always many playgrounds
One of the things we missed while being 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 in Guanajuato, we 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 if you’re traveling to Mexico with kids
One of the things we looked forward to when traveling to Mexico with kids was the low cost of living. Throughout our time in Mexico, we thoroughly enjoyed the favorable exchange rate. You truly can feed a family with very little money in Mexico.
For our family, a meal at an average restaurant costs about 300 to 500 pesos, which is roughly $15-$25. This includes three to four entrees (we sometimes split our meals) and drinks for all of us. If we eat at a taco stand, we can get by with paying between 200-300 pesos ($10-$15, including tip). But if we eat at a fancy restaurant, we can sometimes spend around 800 to 1,000 pesos ($40-$50).
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. For example, take a look at some of our favorite San Miguel de Allende restaurants. In some cities, you’ll be able to find a wide selection of cuisines from around the world when you’re visiting Mexico with kids.
#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.
#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 heard fireworks in the night and well into the early morning. And even in Guanajuato, we would 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! We found this to be especially true when we were in Central Mexico, though in the Yucatan peninsula, there weren’t as many stray dogs.
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. However, 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 your kids how to act around dogs, especially if your kids are the type to get scared by dogs.
#15: Don’t be afraid to go off the beaten path when you’re traveling to Mexico with kids
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, Mexico is more than just beach towns. During our time in Mexico, we really enjoyed exploring Central Mexico. We visited old colonial towns, rode horses in the canyons, and walked with butterflies in the forest.
Aside from Mexico City, Playa del Carmen, 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 gives us a chance to really experience the country from a non-commercial perspective.
Why you should consider traveling to Mexico with kids
Mexico has truly captured our hearts. I am so glad we ended up traveling to Mexico with kids during our family gap year. 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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