Mistakes That Can Ruin Your Mexico Vacation - Things Not to Do

Items for planning a Mexico trip - passport, map, camera, notebook, journal, glasses, hat

Taking a Mexico vacation must be one of the best ideas out there! You can experience a different culture and country, see beautiful sights, visit historical landmarks; enjoy sunny beaches, delicious food, great shopping, friendly people—and it's all affordable. There is no shortage of things to do and fun to be had in Mexico, but if you are planning a trip, it's important to be aware of the pitfalls that can happen during your travels. Avoid these top travel mistakes to make your trip the best it can be.

Bringing Guns, Knives, or Ammunition into Mexico

Although it's acceptable in most parts of the U.S., it is highly illegal to be in possession of guns, knives, and ammunition in Mexico. Even a forgotten spare bullet under a seat is enough to land you in a Mexican jail. Be sure to clean out your car and pockets before you go, to be sure there is no chance you will have an issue.

Buying and/or Doing Drugs

Don't bring your own drugs, don't try to purchase drugs, don't ask anyone about getting drugs. Besides being illegal, and highly punishable, the drug situation in Mexico is very dangerous. Despite what you may hear about marijuana being legal in México, it isn't yet. They keep talking about it, but the legislature has not passed the laws needed to implement it. Even if you say yes in the U.S., just say no in Mexico.

Forgetting Your Passport/FMM

This is a big one. You can drive all the way to the border, but without your passport you likely will not be able to get across. Your passport must also be valid for entirety of your trip to Mexico.

You must always have your original travel documents with you. Keep your passport with you when you are out and about in México, along with your travel permit (FMM). If you are stopped by immigration (the only ones who can stop you for this) and asked for them, copies are not acceptable, and you may be detained until your immigration status is sorted out.

Not Getting a Temporary Vehicle Importation Permit

If you're planning to drive beyond the Mexico free zone, you will need to purchase a Temporary Vehicle Importation Permit (TIP) to legally have your car in the country. The areas that comprise the "free zone" are about 50 km from the borders, all of the Baja peninsula, the western part of Sonora (west of the 15D), and the state of Quintana Roo. Outside of those areas, you will need a TIP.

A TIP is not expensive and generally easy to obtain—and you don't want to be stopped without one.

Not Getting Mexican Auto Insurance

Many drivers think they can just drive into Mexico with their U.S. or Canadian auto insurance policy and be covered during their trip. Some policies claim that you are covered within so many miles of the border. But unless your insurance company will be sending an adjuster to the scene of an accident in Mexico, which is unlikely, you need to purchase a Mexico Tourist Auto Policy.

Mexico's driving laws are based on a "guilty until proven innocent" mentality. If you can't pay for damages you cause to others and their vehicles, on the spot, you may go to jail until you can pay the bill. U.S. auto insurance is not accepted in Mexico, so be sure you are covered—just in case.

Purchase Mexican auto insurance from Mexpro to be sure you are getting the required coverage from a reputable, vetted company.

Driving at Night

For a multitude of reasons it is best not to drive at night in Mexico. In general, the roads are not as well kept or as well-lit as in the U.S. and Canada.

Lights on road in Mexico at night by @Chiewr

Taking "Libre Taxi" Services

I have used the libre taxi (by different names) all over the world, sort of Uber, pre-cell phone era. Drivers approach, you wave, and they pick you up. For a small fee you are delivered to your destination. It's a great idea, but not today in Mexico. These drivers can be unlicensed and unsafe, anywhere you go, but they are always unmonitored and unsupervised.

The U.S. Department of State warns of negative consequences when riding in these "libre" or pirate taxis. Avoid taking any taxi not summoned by telephone, picked up in a taxi stand/line, or contacted in advance. If staying at a hotel have a "sitio" cab company called for you. Have the dispatcher provide the driver's name and the license plate number. Be sure a hotel concierge or other responsible individual has the license plate number of the cab you enter. It is also recommended to not ride in a taxi alone, nor sit in the front seat. No surprises: be sure to negotiate the fee before getting into the cab.


Ubers are available in México. They generally cannot pick you up at airports, but they can drop you off. Do not fall for the guys at the airport arrivals offering you an "Uber." Without the Uber backing, you have no idea who they are. Avoid them.

Exploring by Yourself

As much fun as it is to go exploring alone, please avoid it in Mexico, ESPECIALLY if you are a woman, drunk, and/or if you are out at nighttime. Always remain aware of your surroundings.

Drinking the Tap Water

The Rule of thumb is that water out of the tap is not safe to drink. With a sealed bottle of water, you are assured the water is safe—but there is the problem of the waste generated by millions of plastic water bottles. In most popular restaurants, you can ask for a glass of water from the "garrafon de agua" and the water will be safe to drink. Remember that no restaurant will be in business long if it routinely makes its customers sick. Along those same lines, the ice in restaurants is generally safe. Most restaurants get their ice from the local ice plant, which uses purified water. However, you should be more careful in small villages and towns, street restaurants, etc. that may mostly cater the locals.

All-inclusive upscale resorts usually have their own water treatment systems that allow you to drink their tap water but ask first to be sure.

Smoking in Public

In January 2023, México passed a nationwide ban on smoking in public, even outdoors including stadiums and beaches. Establishments are also restricted from advertising tobacco related products, even requiring them to cover up the cigarettes. In practice, this law is not being enforced, with governors in some states saying their entire state would not be enforcing it. If you smoke, pay attention to your surroundings, if no one else is smoking, you should probably refrain from doing so yourself. Note that vaping is also illegal, but enforcement is also lax. Beware of unscrupulous officers who could attempt to use this law to try to extract a bribe out of you.

Not Having Pesos

From tipping to getting the best exchange rate, having pesos can be beneficial and save you money. Get pesos at your bank before you cross the border, and get them at ATMs inside a bank while in Mexico.

Not Knowing Any Spanish

You certainly don't have to be fluent in Spanish to travel in Mexico but it's a really good idea to at least run through a basic book or course so you can communicate a few things in an emergency. Even learning words that will help you order food, ask where the bathroom is, where the nearest gas station is located, or where to get car assistance, can be immensely helpful. Bring along an English-Spanish dictionary and/or use a tool like Google Translate on your phone (its not perfect, but it gets the general meaning across).

Under Planning

You might want to leave details of your trip open-ended so you can fly by the seat of your pants, but to get the most out of your time there, it's a good idea to at least have a loose plan of what you want to do.

The infrastructure of Mexico can be difficult to figure out so you should have a sense of how long it takes to drive between places, where you plan to stay, and how far you are from food and activities you'd like to try. Mapping out a route and asking for tips on a forum like Trip Advisor in advance will be of great help when you arrive.

Be aware that most of the available mapping apps vastly underestimate the time required to drive between towns. A good rule of thumb is to add about a third more time onto the estimate given. This allows for pit-stops, bad roads, detours, and slower driving through towns and villages.

Not Eating Authentic Mexican Food

You don't want to go to Mexico and eat hamburgers, especially during the holidays. The most traditional Mexican dishes include: pozole, chilaquiles, mole, tamales, tortas, gorditas, chapulines, ceviche, chiles en nogada, and tacos, of course.

Mexican food varies a lot by region, so the more you explore México, the more you can expect different food and variations. Yum! I'm getting hungry.

Be cautious when eating street food. Street food in Mexico is great from my experience! But do not eat meat and seafood items that look like they've been sitting out unrefrigerated, and/or uncooked, outside of fresh fish on ice. Be aware that uncooked food or fresh vegetables could be washed with tap water. I would not avoid street food, just be aware.

Taking the First Price Offered at Markets

The markets in Mexico make for fun shopping trips and are great places to find rugs and blankets, pottery, wood carvings, silver, clothing, and more. If you don't do a little haggling, you will miss out on great deals. Don't worry about being offensive, this is a Mexican custom, and the vendors expect it and respect customers who do it.

Plan to offer about a third to half the original price quoted by the vendor, and then go back and forth until you settle. It is not an argument so don't be disrespectful by raising your voice or discounting the quality of the merchandise. It can be fun for both parties; give it a go!

Be aware, though, that stores with a door are not markets and generally the prices are set. Don't embarrass yourself by trying to haggle there. The clerks are just workers and do not have the authority to haggle on prices.

Accepting a Timeshare Appointment

If you are willing to give up a day of your vacation for some free stuff, be ready for a high pressure, hard sell, and a difficult time getting away with your checkbook. Though it may be hard to resist, keep in mind there are many illegitimate time share operations in Mexico. Do your own research before you commit. The best advice when confronted with the timeshare salespeople is to just keep walking, do not make eye contact, do not talk to them.

Getting a Bad Tour Guide

Be sure the companies you use are certified and look for reviews online. It's worth shelling out some extra cash for someone experienced when you go deep-sea fishing, snorkeling, zip-lining, or whatever your adventure, in Mexico.

Not Having a Fishing License

Along with needing Mexican boat insurance, you'll need a fishing license when boat fishing in Mexico. This applies to everyone on the boat, even if only one person is fishing. If you fish on land, however, you don't need a license. Learn all about fishing legally in Mexico on our blog.

Avoid these and your trip to Mexico will surely go smoothly, and you'll have the time of your life!