Updated on March 2, 2019 by Asher Fergusson
What do you need to go on vacation in Mexico?
I also share what to wear in Mexico, what NOT to bring and FAQs about Mexico travel in general.
In addition to all these physical items definitely make sure to also bring: an open heart & mind, patience, a balanced sense of humor and an adventurous spirit!
When packing for a Mexico vacation, don’t forget these things!
- Universal Waterproof Phone Case
- Affordable Underwater Camera
- Mosquito-Repelling Wristbands
- Long-Sleeved Swim Rash Guard, Women’s and Men’s
- Charcoal Tablets:
- Travel Insurance
- Mesh Slip-On Water Shoes, Women’s and Men’s:
- Swimsuit Cover-Up
- Leave-in Hair Conditioner
- Day Pack
- Virtual Private Network (VPN)
- Waterproof Dry Bag
- Sea Bands
- Packing Cubes
- Beach Bag
- Passport Pouch
This case is amazing. I honestly would not go to the beach or poolside without it. Everyone is aware that getting your phone wet is a no-no, but few people realize how even a little bit of sand can really mess up your phone’s camera. Sadly, I experienced this firsthand when sand granules scratched my lens.
This super-affordable little case also allows you to still use your phone’s touchscreen and takes killer underwater photos and videos with sound.
This little camera takes really great underwater photos and won’t break the bank. It is safe for snorkeling and diving up to 30 feet and also works well as a dry land point-and-shoot.
Unless you are heading to Mexico for a photography trip, I don’t recommend hauling around your giant SLR simply because you won’t want it to get damaged or stolen. This underwater camera is a great compromise, and you don’t have to worry if your friend accidentally spills their sangria on it!
Mosquito-borne illnesses (such as the Zika virus) are still a problem in Mexico. You’ll want to protect yourself against bites. Pack some of these DEET-free wristbands and some insect spray, and be especially vigilant about applying it if you’re going hiking in the jungle.
Getting food poisoning from consuming bad food or water in Mexico is pretty common. If you venture outside of the resorts or anywhere where there isn’t safe bottled water available, you’ll need a quality water filter. The most likely way to ruin your vacation is drinking unsanitary water, so the LifeStraw is a great little item to bring. It’s small, lightweight, and inexpensive.
The Mexican sun can be absolutely brutal. If you don’t want to look like an oversize tomato and be in agony on the first night of your trip, then you need a long-sleeved rash guard for those gorgeous beach days. Getting sun on your skin is nice, but I’ve found that if I’m out all day, I will be burned by day’s end even if I was generous with reapplying sunscreen. This one is both stylish and affordable.
Mexican food is not known to be easy on the stomach. Even if you take precautions with the food and water, you can end up with the dreaded Montezuma’s revenge. If this happens, you will want to have some charcoal tablets with you before it becomes a problem. Taking 2-4 tablets at the first sign of issues will absorb the troublesome pathogens and help you stay healthy on your trip.
Heading to Mexico without travel insurance is never a good idea. You need to expect the unexpected and make sure you are covered in the event of illness, accident, or theft. I recommend World Nomads, as they covered my $4,000 medical bills when I broke both of my wrists falling from a bike while traveling. When something goes wrong, you seriously do not want the financial headache in addition to an already stressful situation. Travel insurance is one of those things you simply cannot afford not to have.
Hiking in Mexico can be epic, especially to places like Los Tuxtlas Biosphere Reserve. It might be tempting to skip hiking shoes to save space in your bag, but having water-friendly walking shoes will make your hikes much more comfortable and enjoyable. To handle the rain and mud, look for shoes that are waterproof, like these styles from Merrell. You can also use these shoes on the beach or to walk to and from your hotel. They are a great buy all around.
Although it is fine to wear your bikini at a Mexican beach or around the resort, unless you want a whole lot of unwanted attention, it’s not the best idea to stroll around away from the beaches, at the markets, or at the store without covering up. A good swimsuit cover-up is a must-have and is super-sexy!
No doubt you’ll be spending plenty of time on the beautiful beaches of Mexico. But too much sun and saltwater will wreak havoc on your hair. The solution is to use this leave-in conditioner, which will protect your hair from the elements and prevent it from drying out too much. Simply apply it at the end of your beach day.
A quality day pack is a must if you’re going to go on any day trips in Mexico. A lightweight day pack like this one from Venture Pal is the best blend of quality and affordable price that I’ve ever used. It’s perfect for carrying all of your hiking needs, such as a camera, rain jacket, snacks, and water.
If you ever use Wi-Fi while traveling, such as at an airport, restaurant, vacation rental, or hotel, then you’re potentially putting your online security at risk. I learned this the hard way in a Paris Airbnb where I had my credit card number stolen after using what I thought was a safe Wi-Fi connection.
With a quality VPN such as Nord VPN, you can protect your sensitive data on all devices with just one click. Also, it’s really affordable, so I highly recommend you check it out before going to Mexico.
Whether you are poolside at a Mexican resort or soaking up the sun at one of the amazing local beaches, you will definitely want a dry bag. It acts as both a way to carry all your belongings and a place to protect your valuables from the water, sand, and sun. Even if you accidentally drop the bag in the water when getting on a boat or paddleboard, your stuff will stay dry. This one from Earth Pak is affordable, high-quality, and super-easy to clean.
If you suffer from seasickness or motion sickness, then this little invention is a godsend. They work by simply applying some pressure to a pressure point on your wrist that has been shown scientifically to restore the balance in your body.
A great way to keep your backpack or suitcase organized is to use these. Just pack your cubes as you would organize your drawers at home and you will be able to find anything you need in an instant without making a mess of everything you have in your bag. After trying countless different brands, I’ve found Shacke Pak to be the highest quality for a lower price.
Whether you are poolside at a Mexican resort or soaking up the sun at one of the amazing local beaches, you will definitely want a beach bag. This one is lightweight and won’t take up much room in your main luggage, but it’s plenty big enough to hold a towel, snacks, and other beach necessities. It’s also waterproof, cute, and super-easy to clean.
Passports can be a massive hassle to replace, especially while abroad, so it makes sense that you would keep yours safe. Keep it in a strong passport holder separate from your wallet. You may want to keep a spare ATM card with the passport: This way, if a thief targets your cash, you don’t also lose your passport and you’re not left without money.
Packing for Mexico: What Else to Pack for Mexico
Spare SD Card
Travel First Aid Kit
Travel Makeup Bag
Travel toiletry bottles
RFID Blocking wallet or card holder
Hair brush and ties
Hard glasses case
Contact lens case & solution
Travel Friendly Multi-tool
Other Mexican packing lists you may like: Cabo San Lucas | Cancun | Cozumel | Mexico City | Playa del Carmen | Puerto Vallarta
Packing vacation clothes for Mexico: What clothes to wear in Mexico for all seasons and activities
When it rains in Mexico it rains hard, so plan for sudden downpours by ensuring you have the proper rain gear available to you at all times. It’s also good to note that many establishments in Mexico really overdo it on the air conditioning – you’ll seldom be very cold outside unless you’re inland in the winter, but you may feel quite a chill indoors. Bring a cardigan or a shawl to help with these situations.
Below is a sample women’s clothing list. (All items link to Amazon.com for your convenience).
While what you wear will vary depending on the region of Mexico that you visit, a good rule of thumb is to wear something comfortable, composed, and not too revealing. Though, in beach destinations, you can get away with wearing revealing clothing. A springtime wardrobe works well in nearly every destination (apart from beaches where it’s always warm), as it tends to be hot during the day and cool in the evening. Mexican women tend to wear tea length, or full-length dresses, or pants and blouses, along with makeup, jewelry, and often high heels.
Visiting women will feel most comfortable in pants and a blouse, or in a dress. Always bring a cardigan or light jacket in case the temperature dips, or you end up in an air-conditioned building. Many cities in Mexico have cobblestone streets, so skip the high heels unless you’re heading to a nightclub. Sneakers or walking shoes are the best footwear for the city, as the streets can be dirty or dusty. Sandals are just fine in beach towns.
Below is a sample men’s clothing list. (All items link to Amazon.com for your convenience).
Men in Mexico typically look put-together, in jeans, a button-down shirt, and polished shoes, or sneakers. Visiting men should go for outfits consisting of jeans or chinos, a button-down, or a stylish t-shirt. Bring a sweater or light jacket for high altitude destinations where it may be chilly at night. Sneakers or running shoes are the most practical for navigating cobblestone streets and uneven sidewalks, while sandals will be easy to slips on and off in beach destinations. Ball caps or straw hats will help keep the sun off of your face, but avoid the kitschy sombreros you find in souvenir shops.
Archaeological sites – When visiting one of Mexico’s many archaeological sites, it’s important to wear comfortable footwear, as you are sure to do plenty of walking. Sneakers or running shoes will cushion your feet as you climb the pyramids at Teotihuacán or explore the jungle in Palenque. Lightweight, breathable fabrics or even exercise attire are your best bet for staying comfortable in the heat. Be sure to bring a hat for extra sun protection.
Museums – Casual clothing is perfectly acceptable for visiting museums in Mexico. Keep in mind that spending an extended period of time walking on a concrete or tile floor is tiring for your feet. Wear cushioned walking shoes or runners. Museums tend to be air conditioned so a sweater or light jacket will keep you comfortable as you soak up Mexican history.
Beach/Pool – Standard beach attire, shorts, a sundress, and a swimsuit are perfect for beaches or pools in Mexico. Polarized sunglasses and a hat go a long way in protecting you from the sun. A tote bag or backpack comes in handy for carrying reading material, extra sunscreen, and water.
Around town – The traditional uniform of jeans and a stylish top is ideal for exploring Mexican cities. The streets and sidewalks are often made from cobblestones or dirt and are typically uneven, so it’s best to wear comfortable shoes. In crowded cities crossbody purses are best for women; carry it in front of your body to deter pickpockets.
Visiting Markets – Mexico’s lively and vibrant markets are a popular destination for tourists and locals alike. Plan for crowds and avoid wearing open toe shoes. Women should carry small purses as theft is more likely to occur in crowded locations. If you bring a backpack to port your goods home, consider wearing it on your front so you can monitor the zippers.
There are two primary seasons in Mexico – the rainy season and the dry season. You’ll find that temperatures are similar year-round apart from occasional coolness in the winter months, but that precipitation and wind can change drastically between the two seasons.
RAINY SEASON (May, June, July, August, September, part of October):
This is the warmer half of the year in Mexico. Notice I didn’t call this the “wet” season – that’s because, while the rains in Mexico are mainly concentrated during these months, it’s still quite dry in many parts of the country. When it rains, the water is soaked up very quickly! Visiting during the rainy season can be delightful. Plants bloom and colors pop, and the rains usually occur more in the afternoons so they shouldn’t interfere too much with your exploring. That said, Mexico does have a hurricane season from June to November, so be sure to check travel advisories and weather forecasts before you go.
Obviously you’ll want a good, breathable rain jacket that will allow heat and moisture to escape while still keeping the rain out, and you should absolutely carry a travel umbrella with you as well. For clothing, focus on breathable, quick-dry fabrics.
Airy tops, sundresses, fun shorts, and active-wear fabrics will suit you well. A swimsuit and a cute cover-up that you can throw on over your suit are perfect for beach and pool time. I also highly recommend bringing an eco-friendly sunscreen. Temperatures average between 70°F to 85°F (21°C to 29°C), sometimes up to 95°F (21°C) depending on the region.
DRY SEASON (October, November, December, January, February, March, April):
Remember, Mexico is largely covered by desert, or arid temperate plains. There are absolutely some lush areas in this big country, but much of Mexico is dry even ith seasonal rains. When traveling in this climate, sun protection and skin hydration are absolutely crucial. You lose a lot of your hydration through sun exposure and sweating, and you’ll want to minimize that when possible. Also, the sun in Mexico is incredibly strong even when it’s cold – almost everyone I know who has gone to Mexico suffered at least one sunburn while they were there.
Linen pants and shirts, plus a good pair of nicer-looking jeans will get you far. High-comfort walking flats will keep your feet cozy and cute, and flip-flops will be handy to have as well, just in case.
Remember that hiking in any kind of sandal is not a good idea – bring enclosed hiking shoes if that’s an activity you plan to do. Most areas don’t get too cold – a light jacket will be plenty. However, some areas inland can get very chilly and may even cause you to want a scarf and a pair of gloves at times. Temperatures average between 50°F to 65°F (10°C to 18°C) but can get down to 45°F (7°C) depending on the region.
Mexico is much larger than many people think it is, and it spans several altitude and latitude zones. Parts of Mexico are at higher elevation with dry desert mountains, others have lush hills. Some areas are more tropical in nature, and some look like you stepped into a cowboy movie in the wild wild west, complete with dust and tumbleweed. Coastal areas, too, vary from inland areas, which can be quite cold in the winter months. The most important bit of research you do for your trip will be to do a quick check of the weather forecast for the week leading up to, the week of, and the week following your trip if possible. That way you know what is coming, and can plan accordingly.
What NOT to Take to Mexico
As nicely as most locals like to dress and present themselves in Mexico, you will find it’s hard to misstep with fashion here. Certainly, as with any travel, you should avoid wearing anything that paints you as a hapless tourist (think: fanny packs, American flag tee-shirts, super white sneakers, souvenir sombreros…), and you should try to dress respectfully. Avoid anything too heavy or not quick-drying or breathable since those items will only make you uncomfortable and take away from your enjoyment of your trip. Opt for breathable linens and moisture-wicking fabrics instead. Try to keep super casual clothing to the beach and poolside areas, and take the opportunity to dress up a little from what you’re used to.
FAQs and tips for traveling to and around Mexico
1) Is the tap water drinkable?
No, as a general rule, tap water in Mexico is not drinkable. It’s advisable to stick to bottled water that is inexpensive at supermarkets and local shops. Always ask if the ice is safe to drink, and if you are unsure, just go for bottles. Or, as mentioned above, check out the LifeStraw.
2) Will the locals speak English?
Anywhere near a tourist resort you will find a high number of English speakers. However, not everyone you encounter will speak English. It’s worth keeping a notepad and your guidebook with you and your hotel’s business card to give to the taxi driver, so they know where you are going. A basic knowledge of Spanish will put you at an advantage, but if it comes to it, there is usually someone around who can help out.
3) How much do I need to tip in Cancun and other tourist areas of Mexico?
In Cancun and throughout Mexico tipping customs are similar to those in the U.S. A 15% tip is adequate for good service in a restaurant. However, it is often already included in the bill under “propina”; be careful to look for that if you do not wish to tip twice. People packing bags in supermarkets do not get a wage, so it’s customary to tip them a few pesos. Other service providers, such as tour guides and shuttle drivers, should be tipped as you see fit. Musicians will often have a tip jar on stage or passed around, so don’t forget to throw in a little if you are enjoying their music.
4) Is it safe to go to Mexico?
The majority of popular Mexican vacation destinations, including Cancun, are, by and large, safe for tourists to visit. However, there are some Mexican states that are simply not safe for tourists. The U.S. State Department has a great resource that provides travel tips and precautions for international travel. Caution should be taken when leaving tourist areas, especially at night. Within the tourist centers, it is mainly pickpockets or muggers you should be cautious of, but still, take precautions.
5) What money should I take to Mexico? Can I use U.S. dollars?
As a rule, you should try to use only Mexican pesos. The exchange rate is in a constant state of flux, but in general, 30 to 80 pesos equals three to five U.S. dollars. This amount will buy a nice meal at an average restaurant. Many places may advertise in USD or state that they take dollars, but it is unlikely you’ll get a favorable rate; you’ll probably be overcharged.
6) How much money can you take with you to Mexico?
There is little advantage to taking large amounts of U.S. dollars with you to Mexico; ATMs are common and almost always work with international cards. Travelers must declare amounts of money exceeding $10,000 USD. There are no duties or taxes to be paid, but it must be declared with a Customs Declaration form.
7) What is the best way to get around?
For the budget conscious with a sense of adventure the local buses are usually a good option. For local buses try to keep some loose change and research which buses you need to take. The intercity buses are much easier and can be booked online or at local bus stations or ticket agents.
Taxis can be inexpensive for short journeys. Always agree on a fare or insist on using the meter if it has one. If you don’t speak Spanish, it’s usually easier to get a taxi from a rank as there will usually be an English speaker around. If you are leaving your hotel, ask the reception to call you a taxi as they will know a safe, reliable firm.
For larger distances it’s often easier to fly, Mexico has an extensive network of domestic flight routes.
8) Can I drive while in Mexico?
Yes. Carry your license at all times when driving in Mexico. Local liability insurance is necessary and should be included in any rental car agreement. The US or foreign auto insurance will not cover you in Mexico.
Take care when driving through towns for pedestrians and animals. Road markings are not as visible after dark so do not plan on driving far if you are not confident. If someone starts flashing their lights at you, they want to overtake. Slow down at police huts; they will usually wave you through, but may have a couple of questions. Watch out for topes, Mexico’s evil speed and barely visible bumps, learn what they look like, they are not always sign posted.
9) Where should I go in Mexico with kids?
If you want to pick a destination in Mexico for the most family fun for people of all ages, consider these locations:
- Riviera Maya
- Mexico City and Chapultepec Park
- Puerto Vallarta
10) Do I need vaccinations for Mexico travel?
No specific vaccinations are required to go to Mexico, but it’s highly recommended that you make sure you’ve been vaccinated against hepatitis A and typhoid. You should also check that your routine immunizations, such as tetanus-diphtheria-pertussis and measles-mumps-rubella, are up to date.
11) Can I get into Mexico without a passport?
If you’re flying to Mexico, you must have a passport. You’ll need either a passport, a U.S. passport card, an Enhanced Driver’s License, or a Trusted Traveler Program card if you’re traveling by land or sea. You’ll also need to get a Mexico tourist card upon arrival.
A Quick list of things to bring on vacation to Mexico:
- Affordable Underwater Camera
- Charcoal Tablets
- Mesh Slip-on Water Shoes
- Leave-in Hair Conditioner
- Virtual Private Network (VPN)
- Sea Bands
- Beach Bag
- Passport Pouch
- Packing Cubes
- Waterproof Dry Bag
- Swim Cover-up
- Travel Insurance
- Long-sleeved Swim Rash Guard
- Mosquito Repelling Wristbands
- Universal Waterproof Phone Case