“Don’t Drink the Water!” and other Mexico Tips

"Have fun, but don't drink the water!" If I had a peso for every time I heard this statement, I’d be a semi-wealthy woman right now.  Yes, fine, you shouldn’t drink the water, but when it comes to Cancun, there are so many other things to consider to ensure a great trip. If you're headed to Cancun, here are some tips:

  1. The locals are lovely. Very used to tourists and overwhelmingly warm,  local people are more than happy to chat with you. Ask questions! Ask for food recommendations, ask for directions, ask for shopping suggestions. Get in there and strike up a conversation.
  2. A simple Hola and Gracias go a long way. It’s fine if you are not a fluent speaker of Spanish, a little effort goes a long way. Anyone can learn a few key words or phrases and consciously use them when appropriate. It’s respectful and people are really receptive when you make the attempt to communicate in their language. If your attempts take a swan dive, it will be okay, most people speak English fluently. I never studied Spanish, I memorized a handful of greetings and phrases and improvised from there. Luckily for me, I can get by in Portuguese and many of the words were the same in Spanish.
  3. If you allow someone to take your bag, or perform a service such as walking you to your destination, make sure to tip. Tips are expected whenever someone goes above and beyond. If you are just asking for directions, you’re fine, no need to tip, but if the person physically walks you to the destination, a tip is expected. If you don’t want to tip or don’t need to be walked, establish firmly that you are not in need of any further assistance, offer a quick thanks and continue on your way.
  4. When shopping in any marketplace you are expected to bargain. Prices go way up, when Westerners are spotted. Go ahead, get in there and haggle.  If you are not satisfied with the price, you don’t need to settle, go ahead and walk away. One of two things will happen, the seller will put forth a counter-offer, or you will find an exact replica of what you wanted at another stall and will be able to bargain a price you are happy with. Most items can be found easily in duplicate. Shop around. Make sure that you are familiar with the exchange rate and be realistic in terms of what you want to pay. You shouldn't be ripped off, but local artisans also need to be paid fairly for their hard work.
  5. Taxi fare is negotiable. When a Westerner is spotted, drivers see dollar signs. If a fare sounds outrageous, it probably is. Bargain.
  6. Ride the public bus. The buses in Cancun are efficient, cheap, clean and easy to navigate. Don’t be intimidated. Most bus drivers will help you. If you ask, a driver will let you know when your stop has been reached. In many cases, you'll be able to get specific walking instructions as well. The bus is also a great way to check out Central Cancun and interact with locals.
  7. If you are going to eat in the market place or off of the street (and I hope you do), patron places that are busy. Lines and activity usually indicate good food. If you don’t see a line or other customers, chances are the food is stale or worse...
  8. The fish and seafood in Cancun is amazing. Be adventurous. There are so many flavors and textures out there. You will not like all of them, but some you will love. I now have a new appreciation for octopus and have re-kindled my fondness for ceviche.
  9. Get off of the resort! Go ahead and enjoy Cancun, it is so much more than a spring break party destination. Cancun is full of culture, is astonishingly picturesque, and is very safe. Cancun, Mexico is a family friendly and romantic travel destination.
  10. And of course, when all else fails, don’t drink the water! Don’t brush your teeth with the water. Ask for a straw. Beware of ice.