Planning your trip to Mexico? This Mexico travel checklist covers all the essentials, from getting your VISA and vaccinations sorted right down to remembering to pack your pants.
Mexico has several different climate zones, as well as beaches, mountains, deserts, jungles and cities. Not to mention that on the very same day we’ve experienced intense heat (bikinis and sunscreen at the ready!) and torrential rain that flooded the streets (hello rain coats!)
If you’re going to be backpacking in Mexico and travelling between different areas, you’re going to need to be well-prepared and well packed. Trying to decide what to pack for Mexico can be a bit overwhelming, right?
Sit back, follow this handy travel checklist for Mexico and get ready to enjoy some tacos:
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VISAs for Mexico
Before you start packing your bags for Mexico, you should check whether you need a VISA and any other travel documents for entry into the country. VISAs and travel documents are on the first section of the Mexico travel checklist and should be organised before you book your flights.
Tourist VISA for Mexico
If you’re a US citizen or a UK citizen travelling to Mexico for leisure, then you will be able to gain a 6-month tourist VISA on arrival into the country.
If you’re flying to Mexico, you will need to fill out a form during your flight or when you arrive at the airport in Mexico. The immigration officer will give you a tourist card on arrival with your date of entry and number of days allowed in Mexico. Be sure to keep hold of your tourist card, as you may be fined if you do not have it when you exit the country.
If you plan on volunteering in Mexico, then you are able to do so with a tourist VISA provided you’ll only be in the country for the maximum 180 days permitted.
Business VISAs for Mexico
Business visitors can also enter Mexico on the same tourist permit as above, but if business plans extend beyond 180 days then a business visit VISA must be obtained. If you need to bring professional equipment into the country, then things can get complicated so you will need to check this on a case-by-case basis.
You should always double check VISA requirements on your country’s government website before booking your flights.
Travel Documents for Mexico
Next on the Mexico travel checklist is to ensure that you have all the relevant travel documents to visit Mexico. Be sure to check that your passport is valid for at least 6 months, though longer if you plan to stay in Mexico for the full 180 days of the tourist VISA.
You’ll also want to bring a driver’s licence as a secondary form of ID and in case you plan on renting a scooter or car in Mexico. You can drive in Mexico if you have a US or a UK driving licence, or an international driving permit. However, much like you would search for a policy to get life insurance over 65 years old, you must purchase a Mexican insurance policy for any vehicle you’re driving in Mexico.
Vaccinations and Medications for Mexico
Travellers to Mexico should have up to date routine vaccinations, including MMR, DPT and polio. It’s also recommended that travellers are vaccinated against Hepatitis A and typhoid, as these can be contracted through contaminated food and water in Mexico.
If you plan on travelling to areas with a risk of malaria, you should arrange anti-malarial tablets in advance of your travels. Malaria risk zones include Chihuahua, Chiapas, Durango, Nayarit and Sinaloa.
For travellers who take regular medication, it’s advisable to stock up before you travel as you may not be able to obtain the same medications on prescription in Mexico. Be sure to bring a note from your doctor in case you need it to for airport security or in order to find medication while abroad.
Travel Insurance for Mexico
Lonely Planet (and many of my favourite and trusted travel blogger friends) recommend taking out Mexico travel insurance from World Nomads. There are a number of different travel insurance options, so make sure to match the type of travel insurance you get to the activities that you plan on doing.
Before booking your travel insurance for Mexico, be sure to read all of the small print and check that you have cover for everything you need. After booking your travel insurance for Mexico, keep a copy of your insurance documents on you and stored on the cloud, and keep a telephone number for the company on your phone.
Though we know it’s probably sensible to book travel insurance, we personally don’t have travel insurance. This is partly because it’s difficult to get travel insurance for long trips that extend over 6 months to multiple different places and partly because we feel that it would be a better option for us to replace items or pay out for medical bills than to pay travel insurance fees over such a long period of time. Over the past year, travel insurance would have cost me somewhere in the region of £420, and set back Luke a substantial amount more because of his haemophilia.
Local Currency in Mexico
The local currency in Mexico is the Mexican peso. You can get Mexican pesos from nearly all travel agents. We tend to check exchange rates on Money Saving Expert and buy our travel money online in order to get the best deal. We also use the XE Currency converter app to check prices and exchange rates while we are getting used to the local currency. Some travelers get one of the payday loans no credit check deals right before they leave on their vacation, just to supplement their own savings. This could be an option if you have a steady income, or have a secured job at home waiting for you.
US dollars are also commonly accepted in Mexico, though less so in areas with fewer tourists and in smaller, more local places. If you are planning on paying in US dollars, be sure to check the exchange rate as you may be quoted a higher price than if you were paying in local currency.
You can withdraw money from ATMs in Mexico with most debit cards. Remember to notify your bank before travelling to ensure that your card is accepted. With many banks, you can now register your trip abroad online. We also recommend bringing a second debit card as a backup, just in case your main card is rejected, lost or stolen.
What to Pack for Mexico
Next up on the Mexico travel checklist is packing your bags! Though it’s nearly always warm in Mexico, you should pack accordingly for the areas and seasons you are travelling to. You should check the average temperature and weather conditions before packing.
If you want to know exactly what Luke and I put in our backpacks, you can read our full travel packing list here. Suffice to say that we’re huge advocate of travelling light and in the Mexican heat, you’re definitely going to what to be carrying as little as possible.
|Backpack||Mexico’s weather is tropical and while that mostly means sunshine, it also means there’s always a chance of rainstorms. I highly recommend bringing a waterproof backpack if you’re travelling in Mexico and Central America, especially during hurricane season. I absolutely swear by my Fjäll Räven Bergen 30 waterproof rucksack
. You can read my advice on the best waterproof travel backpack here.
|Everyday Clothing||Aim to pack clothes and are cool and light. For everyday wear, we simply have t-shirts and two pairs of shorts. We also have a pair of lightweight trainers and a pair of hiking sandals each. We decided against cumbersome hiking boots as we’ve always found them more a burden and rarely necessary.|
|Warm Clothing||In winter in Northern Mexico and around the Copper Canyon, a popular tourist attraction, temperatures can get chilly and there’s a chance of snowfall. Cities at higher altitudes, such as San Cristobal de las Casas, also tend to be much cooler. It’s therefore a good idea to pack a fleece and other warmer clothing.|
|Active Clothing||For hiking and other adventurous activities, we have bamboo base layers which are awesome because they regulate body temperature, stop us from getting sun burnt and wick away moisture. Raincoats are also a sensible addition.|
|Beach Wear||Mexico has some glorious beaches, so don’t forget to pack swimwear and a travel towel. Sunglasses, a hat and clothing to cover your shoulders will also be necessary as there’s very little shade on Mexico’s beaches.|
|Toiletries||You can buy all the essentials that you need in Mexico and most of the well-known brands of shampoo, conditioner, soap, deodorant etc are stocked here. You will be able to find some more natural/organic brands in larger towns and at some local markets. You will want to carry suntan lotion and bug spray on you at all times. Prices for toiletries are comparable to the US and UK.|
|Tech||Camera – You’ll want to make sure you have a camera on you for travelling in Mexico because there are so many awesome sights and beautiful colonial towns to photograph. Though we’ve not encountered any issues with pickpockets or theft, it’s always wise not to keep your camera out or around your neck when you’re not using it. Simply keep your camera in your rucksack or day bag when you’re not using it.
Laptops & Wifi – Wifi is common in most cafes and hostels in Mexico, although the wifi connections aren’t particularly strong. Remember to pack chargers for each and consider bringing a battery-powered or solar-powered charger if you plan to be in rural areas with limited electricity or on-the-move.
Mobiles & SIM Cards – If you plan to use your mobile phone often in Mexico, maybe to call Airbnb hosts or text other travellers you meet, you can easily pick up a local SIM card. You can buy a SIM card in any local phone store or in the local convenience store, Oxxo. SIM cards cost 150 pesos and include 75 pesos of credit.
E-Books – It’s a wise move to bring e-books and have podcasts ready as Mexico is a big country so there can be some long bus journeys between towns. You may find English language books in bigger cities and in hostels with book exchanges, but it’s not a sure bet. Lonely Planet’s Mexico guide is super useful to have around, and if you’re keen to read about Mexico’s history, we highly recommend Lynn Foster’s A Brief History Of Mexico.
Adapter Plugs – Mexico uses two-pronged plugs. In Mexico, the standard voltage is 127V, which means it’s fine to use electrical items from the US, Canada and South America. Standard voltages in the UK and countries in Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia are usually 220V – 240V and you should consider using a power converter in Mexico. For more information on travel adaptors for Mexico and staying safe when using your electrical items when travelling, visit the Electrical Safety First website.
When to Travel to Mexico
There are a number of factors that you should consider before deciding when to travel to Mexico. You may need to add or remove items like raincoats, beachwear, cold weather gear and so on from your Mexico travel checklist if you know you won’t need those items during the time of year you’re travelling and the destinations you are going to.
What Season is it in Mexico?
Mexico has two main seasons: dry season and wet season. The dry seasons runs from October until April, and the wet season is from May to September. However, because Mexico is so big, the weather will be different in each region depending on altitude and where you are in the country.
Rainfall in Mexico
The rainfall and temperature in each season depends on what region of Mexico you are travelling in. In Mexico’s northern states and inland regions, there is very little rain. On the east coast, the southern states and the Yucatán Peninsula experience much more rain. If you are travelling in rainy seasons, it’s advisable to take a light waterproof jacket.
Temperature in Mexico
During the dry season, you can expect temperatures of around 25℃ during the day. The nighttime is slightly cooler, with temperatures in the low 20s. During the wet season, the temperature is like to be around 28-30℃ during the day and again slightly cooler at night.
The hottest months in Mexico tend to be April and May, at the very end of dry season and the beginning of wet season. January is the coolest season, though the weather will still be warm.
Important Festivals, Celebrations and Calendar Dates in Mexico
Mexico has lots of exciting events going on throughout the year. Many travellers like to travel when there are particular events or national holidays in Mexico, so that they can partake in the cultural activities and celebrations. Here are some traveller favourites:
|February||Dia de la Candelaria / Candlemas (February 2nd) – A religious holiday in Mexico, which locals celebrate with processions, dancing and the blessing of candles. In some areas there may be bullfights.
Carnaval (February 4-9) – This five-day celebration leads up to the Catholic lent. Mexicans go all out, celebrating with parades, floats and dancing in the streets.
|April||Semana Santa (Easter week) – As a way to mark the Easter week, Mexicans break confetti-filled eggs over the heads of friends and family.|
|May||Holy Cross Day / Dia de la Santa Cruz (May 3) – Construction workers decorate unfinished buildings and mount crosses. The events are followed by fireworks and picnics.|
|July||Whale Shark Season (July) – Travellers to Mexico can swim alongside whale sharks from June to September, but July is the peak of the season. Tour operators organise trips to swim with whale sharks on Isla Mujeres and Holbox from Cancun and the surrounding areas. Be sure to check for an ethically aware tour operator.
Sea Turtle Nesting Season Begins (July – November) – Female turtles arrive in their thousands on Mexico’s beaches to lay their eggs. Sea turtle nesting takes place on beaches along the Yucatan coast, Pacific coast and Baja California Sur.
|September||Mexican Independence Day (September 16) – On this day, Mexicans celebrate the announcement of the Mexican revolt against Spanish rule.|
|October||Día de la Raza (October 12) – Columbus’ arrival to the Americas and the history of the Mexican race are celebrated on this day.|
|November||Día de los Muertos / Day of the Dead (November 1-2) – Celebrated across the country, Day of the Dead celebrates the lives of those departed. Celebrations are colourful and exuberant with parades and candied skulls.
Monarch Butterfly Migration (mid-November – March) – Millions of monarch butterflies migrate to Mexico during this season and can be seen in the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve. January and February are the best months to see the butterflies.
|December||Las Posadas (December 16) – A religious festival that commemorates Joseph and Mary’s search for shelter in Bethlehem. Candlelight processions and various nativity scenes take place up until January 6.|
Print Yourself a Mexico Travel Checklist
Not sure if you’ve remembered everything? Print out my Mexico travel checklist and work your way through it until you’ve checked off everything.
More Mexico Travel Info
- Mexico Backpacking Guide – Indie Traveller
You’re going to have an awesome time in Mexico, just wait and see. You’ll definitely end up with the odd cold shower and an overload of corn chips, but as long as you can get over that then lots of exciting adventures are on the horizon. Mexico is full of beautiful white sand beaches, impressive Mayan ruins and gorgeous colonial towns. Get out there and see!
Got a question about what you need for travelling to Mexico? Ask me in the comments section below.