Travelling in Mexico can be amazing but sometimes a little challenging, here are a few friends that can help make the journey just that little bit easier.
1. The people.
Travels in Mexico quickly reveal that Mexicans are a vastly diverse bunch, but certain common threads run through almost everyone here – among them a deep vein of spirituality, the importance of family, and a simultaneous pride and frustration about Mexico itself! However, one thing you can never do with Mexicans is encapsulate them in simple formulas. They’re hospitable, warm and courteous to guests, yet are most truly themselves within their family group. They will laugh at death, but have a profound vein of spirituality. They embrace modernity while remaining traditional in essence. I have found Mexican people to be incredibly helpful and truly welcoming.
The closest ‘tienda’ (shop) you can get to a traditional convenience store back home, and pretty much offering everything you will need on a day to day basis – from topping up your Mexican cellular to buying snacks and drinks. You are guaranteed to find one on nearly every street corner in major towns and cities across all of Mexico.
OXXO has over 14,000 stores. It is the largest chain of its kind in Mexico and was founded in 1977. In the first stores, the only products sold were beer, snacks and cigars. The success of the stores was such that the project kept growing and OXXO built new locations rapidly, becoming an ubiquitous presence in Mexican cities and towns.
Despite an extensive rail freight network, no passenger trains operate in Mexico (apart from a few ‘tourist’ options. Buses are your key to getting from A to B. Thankfully Mexico has a good road network and comfortable, frequent, reasonably priced bus services connect all cities. Most cities and towns have one main bus terminal from which all long-distance buses operate. Normally called ‘Terminal de Autobuses’. Bus stations in major cities tend to be generally clean, safe and highly functional.
DELUXE & EXECUTIVE
De lujo services, primera plus and the even more comfortable ejecutivo (executive) buses run mainly on the busier intercity routes. They are swift and comfortable, with reclining seats, plenty of legroom, air-conditioning, movies on (individual) video screens, few or no stops, toilets on board (sometimes separate ones for men and women) and often drinks, snacks and even wi-fi. They use toll roads wherever available.
Primera (1a) clase buses have a comfortable numbered seat for each passenger. All sizable towns are served by 1st-class buses. Standards of comfort are adequate at the very least. The buses have air-conditioning and a toilet, and they stop infrequently. They show movies on TV screens. They also use toll roads where possible.
Segunda (2a) clase or ‘económico’ buses serve small towns and villages and provide cheaper, slower travel on some intercity routes.
4. A Mexican chip (SIM) for your smartphone. Without one I wouldn’t be able to interact with some of the following.
5. Maps.me is an amazing app that I first started using in Cuba (google maps does not function in Cuba). It is especially useful for getting your bearings in a town, and most importantly helping you locate your accommodation. This app has saved me a fortune in taxi fares over the past year.
6. Trail Wallet is an easy travel expense tracker for iPhone and iPad. Designed to be fast, it takes the headache out of expense tracking. I have a daily budget and trail wallet helps me keep tabs on how I am doing. It has proved invaluable.
7. Trip Advisor. A great app to help find and book accommodation, as well as helping to find a decent restaurant, and suggestions on what to see and do in places.
8. Google translate. Invariably I get presented with Spanish words that I don’t understand, this is my personal translator. In addition this amazing app has a feature whereby you can take a photo of text and it will instantly translate it – really useful in museums where the context can be somewhat challenging.
9. WhatsApp. Great for keeping in touch with friends – both old and new.
10. Santander ATM’s. Most banks give you a terrible exchange rate, when withdrawing cash here in Mexico. Santander has consistently provided me with the best rates. Note: HSBC were the worst! Thank you also goes to my Halifax Clarity Credit Card – no charges from them either!