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.
Hello Lavi. Congratulations on your blog. I discovered it by chance and find it quite sincere and interesting. I am Mexican but I’ve lived in Spain for the past five years. Regarding Mexico, it is curious how all misconceptions (violence, tex-mex food, drugs) have been created by TV and Movies but still remain nowadays and have spread throughout the globe. I’m glad you decided on spending some time in Mexico to find out for yourself as it is well worth it. I just wanted to point out not all areas are as safe at night, specially in certain areas of big cities (it goes without saying as it is the same in most other countries so why risk it). Also, cartel-related violence is pretty much concentrated in certain focal areas like Tierra Caliente down south and Ciudad Juarez in the north. Still, there are amazing and totally safe places to visit in both States: Michoacán has the day of the Dead tradition around the Patzcuaro Lake (Nov 1-2) and Chihuahua has lovely natural landscapes like Barranca del Cobre (Copper Canyon).
Keep on doing this, traveling is great!
Thanks for the tips, Rodrigo! I’ve heard great things about Michoacán and would love to go one day. There are so many places I didn’t go to that I heard about after I moved on. I’ll definitely be going back to Mexico sooner than later!
I’m sorry you thought Mexico was “safe” and that “people speak English.” You went to CANCUN. That’s a heavily expat, American, Canadian, British and Irish enclave. That is THE part of Mexico where quite possibly half the population is expats from English-speaking countries. And you thought it was “safe” because that part of Mexico IS. Come to Mexico City or Juarez or Tijuana and see how safe you think it is to be walking around female and by yourself. Now, my problem is that I’m being mistaken for a “local” everywhere I go so that’s making it impossible for me to find an English-teaching job because people see me and act surprised that I don’t speak Spanish and that I not only “speak” but have a teaching licence in, English. People in other parts of this country tell me that Cancun is almost not “culturally” Mexico, it’s so full of expats. I think the same goes for Puerta Vallarta and Mazatlan, too. And I can’t imagine why but also Oaxaca; my current couch-surfing host is from Oaxaca (here in Mexico City) but I can’t get enough English out of him to ask him to clarify things like that. And he’s a Physics major at UNAM. So far ever since I’ve been here I’ve wound up in all these areas where there’s almost no English so it gets lonely after a while. I have to drown myself in my translation work just to be in communication with anyone who understands either English or French. Someone offered me their couch in both Cancun and Playa del Carmen and I can’t even afford a bus ticket out there…because unlike you, when I got to this country I promptly got my purse snatched within a week of being here. In broad daylight on a busy street in the middle of the day. Passers-by did NOTHING, and the police did catch the guys but then THEY confiscated my purse and everything in it.
So in a nutshell; you were expecting worse and were pleasantly surprised because you landed in Cancun. I was expecting better and got robbed when I got here because I landed in Tijuana. Different experiences.