General Information

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The word "Mexico" is derived from Mexica (pronounced "Me-shee-ka"), the name for the indigenous group that settled in central Mexico in the early fourteenth century and is best known as the Aztecs.

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Mexico

México, the NUMBER ONE VACATION DESTINATION FOR U.S. CITIZENS, is a land of exciting contrasts from the vibrant colors woven into their textiles, to the stunning hues of its landscape. From mountain ranges that run right down to the ocean's edge to lush tropical jungles and high snow capped volcanoes. The original people of México had advanced knowledge of science, mathematics, astronomy and medicine. That past still permeates the land and can be found in the traditions that have been passed down from generation to generation. It lives in the arts and music, and in the peculiar philosophy about life and death that make the Mexican people so unique and so charming. So whether one goes to explore the archaeological treasures, wander through the colonial cities, or simply relax on the beautiful beaches, rest assured, one will take home memories and some of the magic of México as well. México has a wealth of natural and cultural resources evolved from the diverse climatic conditions and to a historic tradition of more than 3,000 years. This makes the country an ideal destination for international tourists.

 
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Currency

The peso is the official currency of Mexico. Nevertheless, most businesses in major tourist areas accept American dollars. The smallest taco stands as well as the largest hotels have an exchange rates posted. The value of the peso against the US dollar fluctuates on a daily basis.

Current exchange rates as well as currency histories can be converted at www.x-rates.com

It is not necessary for travelers to convert their American dollars into pesos, however, when using dollars it is not uncommon to receive your change is in pesos.

Traveler’s checks can be used at some businesses. Some money exchange kiosks will convert your US traveler’s checks into pesos, but charge a hefty commission for the service. It is becoming increasingly difficult to convert traveler’s checks into pesos at Mexican banks. Try to avoid Mexican banks unless you have an abundance of patience and free time.

By far the best way to obtain cash is by using Automatic Teller Machines (ATMs). The daily exchange rate is automatically calculated and you can withdraw the amount you need. The ATMs do not charge a commission. However, the bank that issued the ATM card will probably charge a flat service charge. ATMs are abundant and they dispense pesos. We recommend that before traveling to Mexico you advise your Credit Card companies and banks that you intend to use those cards in Mexico so you do not find yourself at an ATM just to find out your bank has terminated your card due to suspected fraudulent activity.

 
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Language

You can travel to Mexico without speaking a word of Spanish, especially if you enter the tourist places of Mexico including archaeological parks, beach resorts, hotels and health spas. You can find some places where you will have some problems with the language if you do not speak Spanish, principally in Mexico’s interior and outside of main cities, but it is not a general rule.

Obviously the Spanish in Mexico is comparable to the Spanish spoken in Spain, but the accent is dissimilar, and several words can vary considerably; however the basic language is the same.

 
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Timezones

Mexico uses three time zones. Most of the country uses Central Standard Time. The Mexico states of Chihuahua, Nayarit, Sonora, Sinaloa and Baja Pacific Standard Time.

Daylight Saving Time begins at 2:00 a.m. local time on the first Sunday in April. On the last Sunday in October areas on Daylight Saving Time fall back to Standard Time at 2:00 a.m. The names in each time zone change along with Daylight Saving Time. Central Standard Time (CST) becomes Central Daylight Time (CDT), and so forth. The state of Sonora does not observe Daylight Saving Time.

In 2010 ten Mexico municipalities that share a border with the United States began daylight saving time three weeks earlier on the second Sunday in March and end on the first Sunday in November. Previously all of Mexico, with the exception of the state of Sonora, which does not observe daylight saving time, began and ended daylight saving time at the same time. The Congress of Mexico passed legislation in December 2009 which allowed these ten border cities to adopt a daylight saving time pattern consistent with the United States.

 
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Drinking in Mexcico

In Mexico, tap water is in general not advisable for consumption. You should drink bottled water or purified water, which is readily available in every major tourist area within supermarkets and certainly in your hotel. Additionally, Mexico has a lot of traditional beverages, some of them famed around the world, for example tequila and beer served as a prepared beverage named "michelada", the formula changes depending on the place, but it is frequently beer melded with lime juice. Some of the most popular beverages are:

Tequila - Tequila is Mexico's official drink, it is made from the blue agave (also identified as Agave tequilana azul, Weber's blue agave, and also named Maguey by the local people), part of the lily and amaryllis families, which is native to Mexico.

Pulque - is a milk-white, lightly frothy and glutinous beverage made by fermenting (not distilling) the fresh sap of certain types of Maguey.

Mezcal - Very Popular in the Mexican State of Oaxaca, it is made from maguey plants and refers to all agave-based distilled liquors that are not tequila.

Tepache - is made out of pineapple cortex, some piloncillo or brown sugar and sometimes beer.

Margarita - is the most popular of tequila-based cocktails, made with Triple Sec or other orange-flavored liqueurs, and lime or lemon juice, often served with salt on the glass rim.

 
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Eating in Mexico

Mexican cuisine is famous for its intense and varied flavors, colorful decoration, and variety of spices; traditional Mexican food is delicious, but frequently can be very spicy; if you do not like peppers always ask before if your food include it. (¿Esto tiene chile?). There are several food carts on the streets of Mexican cities and towns; try to be careful when you eat from these carts, as hygienic preparation practices are not always suitable. If you do that, you may (or may not) find some of the most inimitable and authentically Mexican dishes you have ever tasted. From these vendors, you may get tacos, burgers, bread and almost any kind of food and service you would imagine.

Some of the most popular beverages are:

Enchiladas - Usually made with a corn (maize) tortilla dipped briefly in hot lard or oil to soften then dipped in the chosen enchilada sauce. It may have melted cheese.

Tacos - are a traditional Mexican dish composed of a rolled, folded, pliable maize tortilla filled with an edible substance.

Tamales - steam cooked cornmeal dough with or without a filling. Tamales can be filled with meats, cheese (post-colonial), and sliced chilies or any preparation according to taste and zone.

Tortas - traditional Mexican sandwich, the bread is fried slightly; meat fillings are same as tacos, jalapeños, beans, lettuce, tomatoes, onion, mayonnaise and avocado.

Quesadillas - are made of queso or cheese in English, and other ingredients grilled in the mid of a tortilla.

Mole - Frequently you can find it as shredded chicken in mole or “Pollo en mole”; mild to medium spice sauce with hint of peanut over meat.

Pozole - is a Mexican stew of chicken or pork made with a spicy broth and hominy, served with oregano, lettuce, lemon juice, radish, chopped onion, dried ground chile and other ingredients, usually served with a side dish of tostadas, fried potato and fresh cheese tacos.

Guacamole - is a delicious appetizer or made by mashing the avocado sauce with green serrano chile, chopped red tomato and onion, lemon juice and fried tortilla slices "totopos".

Tostadas - fried flat tortilla topped with fried beans, lettuce, cream, fresh cheese, sliced red tomato and onion, hot sauce, and chicken or other main ingredient.

Chicharron - Deep fried pork skin, it is quite crispy and if well-prepared a little oily; try it.

 
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Vegetarian Eating in Mexico

If you're a vegetarian contemplating travel to Mexico, don't worry - you won't starve, and you don't have to survive on a diet of rice and beans either, though these may end up being staples. When ordering beans, particularly refried beans, you will want to remember to ask if they are made with lard (fat, or “manteca” in Spanish).

Ovo-lacto vegetarians will find plenty of options to choose from. Vegans will have a more difficult time and though most Mexicans understand the concept of not eating meat and consider it to be a heathful lifestyle, those who don't consume any animal products at all may meet witin comprehension. Chicken broth (caldo de pollo) is often used in making rice and soups, and lard (manteca) is also used in the preparation of many dishes. Avoiding these hidden ingredients is difficult and if you're able to overlook them your food options will be a lot more varied. If you must have food prepared without these ingredients, you may be in for lengthy negotiations before meals.

Buying and Treating Produce
You'll find lots of fresh fruits and vegetables in Mexican markets. Fruits with edible skin and vegetables that are eaten raw can be disinfected with a product called Microdyn or Bacdyn (brand names), which you can purchase at most grocery stores in Mexico. Add 8 drops for each liter of water, and soak your fruits and vegetables in the mixture for 10 minutes (you can do this in a plastic bag in your hotel sink if you don't have a kitchen). Good restaurants in tourist areas will treat their veggies in this way so you shouldn't have to worry about eating salads. read more tips for preventing Montezuma's Revenge.

Vegetarian Restaurants in Mexico
There are vegetarian restaurants in large cities and tourist areas throughout Mexico. The restaurant chain 100% Natural has restaurants throughout the country and they serve many tasty vegetarian options, though these may not be traditional Mexican dishes:

Vegetarian Dishes to Try:

  • Entomatadas: fried tortillas in tomato sauce, sprinkled with cheese, and garnished with onion slices and parsley
  • Enfrijoladas: fried tortillas in bean sauce, sprinkled with cheese and garnished with onion and parsley
  • Quesadillas: tortilla with cheese inside, sometimes with mushrooms or squash blossom
  • Chile relleno de queso: stuffed chile pepper - (usually chile poblano) stuffed with cheese
  • Papadzules - tortillas stuffed with chopped hard-boiled eggs and topped with a squash seed sauce, a traditional Mayan dish served in the Yucatan

Useful Phrases for Vegetarians:
No la manteca de cerdo por favor (No lard please)
Soy vegetariano/a ("soy ve-heh-ta-ree-ah-no") I'm vegetarian
No como carne ("no como car-nay") I don't eat meat
No como pollo ("no como po-yo") I don't eat chicken
No como pescado ("no como pes-cah-doe") I don't eat fish
No como mariscos ("no como ma-ris-kose") I don't eat seafood
Sin carne, por favor ("sin car-nay por fah-voor") Without meat, please
¿Tiene carne? ("tee-en-ay car-nay?") Does it have meat?
¿Hay algun platillo que no tiene carne? ("Ay al-goon plah-tee-yo kay no tee-en-ay car-nay?") Do you have a dish that doesn't have meat?
¿Me podrian preparar una ensalada? ("Meh poh-dree-an pray-par-ar oona en-sah-la-da?") Could you prepare a salad for me?

Handy Vegetarian Links:
Happy Cow’s List of Vegetarian Restaurants
Vegetarian/Veg-Friendly Restaurants and Food Stores in Mexico
Spanish Terms and Items Commonly Used in Cooking

 
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Entry/Exit Requirements (For U.S. Citizens)

For the latest entry requirements, visit the Embassy of Mexico’s website or contact the Embassy of Mexico at 1911 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20006, telephone (202) 736-1600, or any Mexican consulate in the United States.

Since March 1, 2010, all U.S. citizens - including children - have been required to present a valid passport or passport card for travel beyond the “border zone” into the interior of Mexico. The “border zone” is generally defined as an area within 20 to 30 kilometers of the border with the U.S., depending on the location. Regardless of the destination in Mexico; however, all U.S. citizens age 16 or older must present a valid U.S. passport book or passport card to re-enter the U.S. by land. A passport book is required to return to the United States via an international flight.

All U.S. citizens traveling outside of the United States by air, land or sea (except closed-loop cruises) are required to present a Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) compliant document such as a passport book or a passport card to return to the United States. Legal permanent residents in possession of their I-551 Permanent Resident card may board flights to the United States from Mexico. Travelers with passports that are found to be washed, mutilated or damaged may be refused entry to Mexico and returned to the United States. While passport cards and enhanced driver’s licenses are sufficient for re-entry into the United States by land or sea, they may not be accepted by the particular country you plan to visit; please be sure to check with your cruise line and countries of destination for any foreign entry requirements.

The U.S. passport card has been in full production since July 2008. Beginning March 1, 2010, Mexican Immigration began to accept the passport card for entry into Mexico by air; however, the card may not be used to board international flights in the U.S. or to return to the U.S. from abroad by air. The card is available only to U.S. citizens. We strongly encourage all U.S. citizen travelers to apply for a U.S. passport well in advance of anticipated travel. U.S. citizens can visit the Bureau of Consular Affairs website or call 1-877-4USA-PPT (1-877-487-2778) for information on how to apply for their passports.

As of May 1, 2010, non-U.S. citizens with valid U.S. visas may enter Mexico with the U.S. visa, and do not have to obtain a Mexican visa.

Minors: Mexican law requires that any non-Mexican citizen under the age of 18 departing Mexico must carry notarized written permission from any parent or guardian not traveling with the child to or from Mexico. This permission must include the name of the parent, the name of the child, the name of anyone traveling with the child, and the notarized signature(s) of the absent parent(s). The State Department recommends that the permission should include travel dates, destinations, airlines and a brief summary of the circumstances surrounding the travel. The child must be carrying the original letter - not a facsimile or scanned copy - as well as proof of the parent/child relationship (usually a birth certificate or court document) - and an original custody decree, if applicable. Travelers should contact the Mexican Embassy or the nearest Mexican consulate for current information.

Tourist Travel: U.S. citizens do not require a visa or a tourist card for tourist stays of 72 hours or less within the “border zone". U.S. citizens traveling as tourists beyond the “border zone”, or entering Mexico by air, must pay a fee to obtain a tourist card, also known as an FMM, available from Mexican consulates, Mexican border crossing points, Mexican tourism offices, airports within the border zone and most airlines serving Mexico. The fee for the tourist card is generally included in the price of a plane ticket for travelers arriving by air. U.S. citizens fill out the FMM form; Mexican immigration retains the large portion and the traveler is given the small right-hand portion. This FMM is normally white, blue and green in color. It is extremely important to keep this form in a safe location. Upon exiting the country at a Mexican Immigration (INM) departure check point, U.S. citizens are required to turn in this form. For more information visit the INM website. Business Travel: Upon arrival in Mexico, business travelers must complete and submit a form (Form FMM) authorizing the conduct of business, but not employment, for a 30-day period. Travelers entering Mexico for purposes other than tourism or business, or for stays of longer than 180 days, require a visa and must carry a valid U.S. passport. U.S. citizens planning to work or live in Mexico should apply for the appropriate Mexican visa at the Mexican Embassy in Washington, DC, or at the nearest Mexican consulate in the United States.

 
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Global Entry Program

Global Entry program is a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) program that allows expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers upon arrival in the United States. Learn More.

 
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Health

In Mexico, the stomach ailments are the most common sickness, often called "Montezuma's Revenge" (Venganza de Moctezuma). The reason for this is not so much the highly spiced food but the pollution of the water supply, for this reason is not a good idea to drink water out of the tap. Bottled or purified water is readily available in every major tourist area.

If you travel to places with high altitude, it is also possible to have elevation sickness, which results from the relative scarcity of oxygen and the decline in barometric pressure. Symptoms include sleeplessness, exhaustion, headache and even nausea. So to facilitate your body acclimate, drink a lot of fluids, keep away from alcoholic beverages, and do not over exert yourself the first few days.

 
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Immunize and Vaccinations

Immunizations are requirement in some cases, but in general it is not necessary. Approximately 20 million Americans visit Mexico every year, and many of them do not immunize themselves for these trips. Possibly you do not require that, but the preference is an individual one.

One way or another, immunizations are recommended in some cases, for instance: trip to jungle, places that are not well established, travel in rural or maybe remote areas of Mexico. Nevertheless, if you want to explore Mexico off the normal path, for instance in the Jungle regions, we recommend caution and immunization is a prerequisite.

People who want to travel off the beaten track in Mexico, in general needs immunizations for the some or all of the immunization listed in the chart.

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