12 Things to Avoid Doing While Traveling in Mexico
1. Ask people if they speak “Mexican.”
Don’t think we need to explain this one.
2. Assume that by knowing Spanish, everyone will understand you.
Wrong again. Six percent of Mexico’s population — around six million citizens — speak indigenous languages, the second largest group in the Americas (only Peru has more). More than a million speak Nahuatl, while others speak many of the over 60 other indigenous language groups found in the country. All are equally recognized by the government; there is no “official” status of Spanish in the country. In 2003, the General Law of Linguistic Rights of the Indigenous Peoples made all of Mexico’s indigenous languages “national languages”, meaning they now have the same validity as Spanish in the country.
3. Expect burritos, nachos, and giant quesadillas to be “real” parts of the Mexican cuisine.
None of these Tex-Mex delicacies are actually part of local Mexican cuisine. If you really want to try Mexican food, ask for ensalada de nopales, taquitos de lengua, or mole. And if you ask for quesadillas, don’t expect a gargantuan flour tortilla stuffed with an assortment of meat, vegetables, and cheese. Expect an appetizer-sized corn tortilla with queso fresco and maybe one more ingredient, lightly grilled.
4. Take pictures in a church during a service.
Worship isn’t a tourist attraction. Save the pictures for when the mass is over.
5. Assume that marijuana will be completely acceptable by everyone.
Average percentage of the American population that uses marijuana? 13.7%. In Mexico? 1.2%. Contrary to media imagery and stereotypes, Mexican culture actually does not socially tolerate marijuana as much as we’d think. The culture often stigmatizes marihuanos and associates them with the deadly drug trade in the country.
7. (If you are male) Ask around for the “putería”.
Mexican whorehouses have essentially become a Mexican tourism institution. But as thousands of Americans cross the border looking for cheap sex, keep in mind that sex-tourism encourages the rampant child-trafficking already occurring in the area. Some reports estimate that 250,000 children between the ages of 10 and 16 have been the victims of “sexual tourism” in destinations like Guadalajara, Cancun, Acapulco, Puerto Vallarta, and Tijuana. (And, we see it in San Felipe, too.)
8. Stay at an all-inclusive resort.
Though most resorts and hotels in Cancun and along the Mayan Riveria were built to generate income for local business, in actuality, most of the development has benefited foreigners. According to research by the activist group Tourism Concern, in most all-inclusive package tours, about 80% of the travelers’ expenditures go to airline companies, hotels, and other international investors instead of local businesses and workers. This means that though thousands of Mexicans work in the tourism industry, only a tiny fraction of tourist dollars actually benefit the people of Mexico or help boost the local economy.
9. Accumulate more trash than the locals.
In Puerto Vallarta, it is estimated that tourism accounts for approximately half of the total waste stream. One study found that tourists alone produce around 350 tons of garbage a day.
10. Arrive by cruise ship.
Same problems. Some estimate that cruise ships in the Caribbean produce more than 70,000 tons of waste each year. And since guests spend more of their time and money on board, little money actually goes toward the local economy.
11. Haggle too much.
Sometimes, insisting to haggle actually helps the local community. For example, oftentimes, taxi drivers will stop picking up locals, even during emergencies, because they know they can score a higher fare with tourists too afraid to bargain. Demanding a fare price sends the message that taxis should be equally serving everyone.
However, when buying items and services not affecting locals — things strictly touristic in nature like souvenirs, photos, tours, etc. — realize that the local community has to make a living off the lowered price you argued for, and think twice about whether saving a few dollars is actually worth it.
12. Get stoked about Ancient Mayan ruins and archaeological sites…and yet don’t learn anything about the current condition of Mayan culture today.
In a recent article by the Indian Country Today Media Network, Marcelo Jimenez, then head of Quintana Roo’s Popular Culture Office, summarized the issue he had with many tourists to his region:
“Nobody wants to talk about the living Mayans, just the dead ones.”
Mayans, as well as other indigenous groups in the areas, face several challenges
as minorities in the country: exploitation from employers, increased rates of poverty and illiteracy, less access to healthcare and basic education, prejudice and mistreatment by the justice system.
Tours run by Mayan people — like Community Tours Sian Ka’an — help bring income to local communities, while also teaching tourists about both the modern and ancient history of Mayan culture. That way, tourists recognize how the ancient beauty of Mexico’s archaeological sites is deeply connected to the current issues affecting the country. As Nobel Peace Prize winner and indigenous rights activist Rigoberta Menchú stated: “We are not myths of the past, ruins in the jungle or zoos. We are people and we want to be respected.”