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Mexico Travel Guide
With a Native American heritage and a distinct Spanish flavour, Mexico is vibrant, colourful and unique. Its varied terrain ranges from cactus-studded deserts to white sandy beaches and blue waters, tropical rainforest and jungle-clad hills to steep rocky canyons and narrow gorges, and from snow-capped volcano peaks to huge, bustling cities. The extraordinary history of the country is visible in the ancient Mayan temples strewn across the jungles, the ruins of Aztec civilisations, rural indigenous villages, Spanish colonial cities, silver mining towns, and traditional Mexican ports.
Since the height of the Mayan and Aztec civilisations, Mexico has suffered the destructive force of the Conquistadors, European colonial rule, civil and territorial wars, rebellions, dictatorships, recessions and earthquakes. Despite all this, Mexico's people remain warm and friendly, much of the countryside remains unspoilt by development, and its cities boast a unique blend of architecture. Mexican Buildings display a striking combination of colonial and pagan architecture, blending together Art Nouveau, Baroque, Art Deco and Native American design in churches and public structures. The country's culture displays a similar blend of the traditional and modern, where pagan meets Christian in a series of festivals, or fiestas, throughout the year.
Besides a combination of unique culture and fascinating cities, Mexico also boasts several hundred miles of coastline extending down through both the Pacific and the Caribbean, which has branded the country as an extremely popular beach resort destination. Beach resort cities such as Acapulco, Cancun and those of the Baja California peninsula are accepted vacation havens. The countryside enclosing these summer retreats is also rich in archaeological treasures with pyramids, ruins of ancient cities and great stone carvings of ancient gods standing as testament to a country once ruled by the Aztecs and Mayans.
Despite recent reports of drug wars and safety issues Mexico remains a hugely popular and predominantly safe tourist destination. Violence linked to the drug cartels is widespread but seldom aimed at tourists and generally does not spill over into the resort areas.
130 volts, 60Hz. Two-pin flat blade attachment plugs are standard.
Mexican currency is the New Peso (MXN) divided into 100 centavos. Credit cards are widely accepted, particularly Visa, MasterCard and American Express. ATMs are available in most cities and towns and are the most convenient way to get money, but for safety reasons they should only be used during business hours and vigilance is advised. Although most businesses will accept foreign currency it is best to use pesos. Foreign currency can be exchanged at one of many (exchange houses), which have longer hours and offer a quicker service than the banks.
Spanish is the official language in Mexico. Some English is spoken in tourist regions.
Tipping is customary in Mexico for almost all services as employees are not paid sufficient hourly wages and often rely on tips. Waiters and bar staff should be tipped 10 to 15 percent if a service charge hasn't already been added to the bill. The American custom of tipping 15 to 20 percent is practiced at international resorts, including those in Los Cabos.
Those entering Mexico from an infected area require a yellow fever certificate. There are no vaccination requirements for visitors to Mexico, however visitors should take medical advice if travelling outside the major tourist areas. A malaria risk exists in some rural areas, but not on the Pacific and Gulf coasts, and dengue fever is on the increase. Vaccinations are recommended for hepatitis A and typhoid. Travellers who may come into close contact with animals and may be at risk of bites should consider a rabies vaccination.
Sensible precautions regarding food and water should be followed and visitors are advised to be cautious of street food and stick to bottled water. Medical facilities are basic, so comprehensive medical insurance is recommended. As medicines may be in short supply in certain areas travellers should consider taking along prescription medications, in their original packaging, and accompanied by a signed and dated letter from a doctor detailing what it is and why it is needed.
There is a risk of indiscriminate terrorist attacks in public places. Crime is high in Mexico, especially in Mexico City, where robberies and muggings are prevalent. Travellers should avoid displays of wealth and be particularly vigilant on public transport, at stations and tourist sites. Only use authorised taxi services, from the taxi rank. All bus travel should be in daylight hours and if possible it is advisable to travel first class. Women travelling on their own should be alert, especially in tourist areas, as a number of serious sexual assaults have occurred in Cancun recently. Visitors drawing money from cash machines or exchanging money at bureaux de change should do so in daylight hours and be especially vigilant on leaving.
There have been reports of tourists being approached by 'questionnaire agents', who use visitors' personal details to mislead relatives about their well-being, so be cautious. Visitors are advised to be wary of people presenting themselves as police officers attempting to fine or arrest them for no apparent reason, leading to theft or assault; if in doubt ask for identification, and, if possible make a note of the officer's name, badge number and patrol number. The practice is most common in Cancun where increasing numbers of motorists in rental cars have been stopped and threatened with imprisonment if an immediate fine is not paid.
Recent reports of the drug cartel wars in Mexico may seem alarming to tourists travelling to Mexico, however most of this violence is concentrated along the border between Mexico and the United States. The violence is generally between drug cartels and law enforcement agents and tourists are generally unaffected provided they keep to tourist zones and do not travel to the affected areas. Having said that, travellers should research possible dangers before setting off.
Hurricanes may affect the coastal areas between June and November.