I chose to begin my journey through Latin America in Mexico because the flight to Cancún was affordable, not because I was particularly interested in traveling to Mexico. I confess: I was very nervous about going to Mexico. As an American, I’ve heard a few horror stories about travelers in both touristy and non-touristy locations south of the border. Although I would be traveling only in the Yucatán Peninsula to popular destinations, I didn’t really know what to expect and I was worried that something bad might happen.
From the moment I touched down in Cancún, Mexico surprised me in the best ways possible. To be pleasantly surprised by a country was the greatest feeling. I could see all of the preconceived notions and misconceptions about Mexico shattering in my mind after traveling through the Yucatán Peninsula.
Mexico is underdeveloped
Sure, parts of Mexico I’ve seen are a bit behind the times, but this country is a lot more like the US than I expected it to be. I’m sure this is because Mexico is so close to the US and although I love visiting countries with a culture starkly different from my own, it’s sometimes nice to have access to the comforts of home. There’s a Wal-Mart! It was a godsend to pick up a few supplies in Wal-Mart in Playa del Carmen, where it would have been cheaper to shop in Wal-Mart than anywhere else. Strolling around the aisles in the air conditioning wasn’t so bad either!
The big grocery stores and convenience stores had so much to offer, and the laundromat was quick, cheap, and efficient. Granted, some of the smaller towns I visited like Valladolid and Bacalar didn’t have all these amenities, it was still fairly easy to find anything I needed.
The bus system in Mexico is also great. The ADO bus is comparable to any bus system in Europe and is much cheaper than the buses I’ve taken in the US. I think it would be much easier to traverse Mexico than to do a cross-country trip in America.
Mexico is dangerous
Everyone local whom I crossed paths with in Mexico was incredibly nice and helpful. Even in not-so-touristy neighborhoods, the waiters, store employees, and people I encountered in the streets were friendly and quick to assist when asked. I never thought twice about jumping in a colectivo (shared van) and waiting alone with the drivers for more passengers.
I felt safe walking back to my hostel at night, even as a female. I know it’s not as if I was traipsing around in cartel territory, but places in Mexico that a traveler would be visiting are really no more dangerous than in those in America or Europe.
No one speaks English in Mexico
A LOT of people speak English, at least in the Yucatán. Again, that’s probably because the US is just above Mexico, but I was surprised at how many people speak English. I speak in Spanish to locals and only switch to English when I absolutely have to, but non-Spanish speaking travelers would be able to get by easily in at least some parts of Mexico with English. Even if you don’t speak Spanish, I still think the casual “hola”, “gracias”, and smile go a long way.
All Mexican food tastes the same
This isn’t a misconception that I had, but one that I heard from other travelers. I’m obsessed with Mexican food. I ate tacos almost every single day. I never got sick of them, and I truly miss them since I’ve left the country. But Mexican food is much more diverse than tacos.
There are various soups, rice and bean dishes, and salsas that can completely transform a meal. I ate tacos almost every day because I chose to, but I couldn’t pass up trying out new dishes such as sopa de lima (lime soup), poc-chuc (grilled pork served with avocado and beans), and panuchos (refried tortilla stuffed with refried black beans, and topped with meat, cabbage, and avocado).
Maybe lots of Mexican dishes contain beans and tortillas, but these are two delicious ingredients so I don’t really understand the complaints!
Corona is Mexico’s best beer
Nope. From what I understand, Mexicans don’t consider Corona as one of the country’s best beers, although it is one of the Mexico’s best-known beers globally. That would mainly be us Americans who think Corona with a wedge of lime is amazing. I’ll still drink it, but personally, I prefer Sol or Pacifico.
Shattering my misconceptions about Mexico taught me not to have preconceived notions about a place that I’ve never been to. Things aren’t always what they appear to be in the movies or on TV. Ethnic food at a restaurant in your home country isn’t going to taste like it does in that country. Open your mind and heart to new things and new places and you’ll never be disappointed.
Have you ever had misconceptions about a place and then realized how wrong you were when you got there? Tell me about it!
Note: I only traveled through Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula and my opinions are based on my experience in this part of the country.